The Grade 1, $300,000 Frontrunner has 10 two-year-olds going a mile and 1/16 on dirt, and according to the TFUS Pace Projector, the race will be run at a fast pace, one that might well harm the chances of frontrunners.
However, it is worth pointing out that the two horses that the Pace Projector shows at the front of the pack early, Lord Nelson and American Pharoah, are both trained by Bob Baffert. Since trainers generally avoid having their front-end chances ruined by their own horses, we are inclined to dial back the fast pace projection a little bit. But with several horses trying two turns for the first time, we do expect the pace to be honest, at a minimum.
Now let’s take a look at the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Texas Red (8-1):
Broke his maiden in his third start, when he finally got to go around two turns. Has improved his speed figure in every start. The 81 from his victory still leaves him a little light in here, figure-wise, but young horses who have never gone backward are big threats to go forward again. Draws the perfect post for this and gets Kent Desormeaux again. A threat at a price.
Lord Nelson (8-1): Broke his maiden in his debut, at five furlongs. Now makes the big stretch to 8.5F. The TFUS breeding stats show both the stretch-out and the synthetic-to-dirt move as neutral for him. Trainer Bob Baffert gets ratings of 98 with second-time starters, 98 with first route, and 92 with synthetic to dirt. Could be in line for a lone-frontrunner trip if Baffert has American Pharoah rate.
Sky Preacher (10-1): Dirt numbers are too slow. Improved on turf. Has improved his speed figure in every start. The private clockers have him training extremely well for this. Dangerous.
Daddy D T (6-1): Makes dirt debut off a dirt Breeding Rating of 90. Has the best Late Pace rating in the field: an 87. Will be hoping there’s a pace meltdown.
Red Button (20-1): Expensive, well-bred colt is too slow to this point in his career. Will need to find 10 points in a hurry to have a chance at hitting the bottom of the trifecta.
Reflected Star (30-1): Will need to find 20 points in a hurry to have a chance at hitting the bottom of the trifecta.
American Pharoah (8-5): Was training up a storm going into his debut, eliciting raves from the private clockers. But caught a fierce maiden field in his debut. The race received a TFUS Race Rating of 98, which is six points faster than the preliminary Race Rating for today’s Grade 1. Finished fifth while still earning a powerful TimeformUS Speed Figure of 95. Then helped to verify that ambitious speed figure by entering the Del Mar Futurity as a maiden and blowing the field away while earning a speed figure of 101. Makes dirt and two-turn debut today. His Breeding Ratings support the two turns but are less optimistic about the dirt. Given that both of his entrants have big early speed, it is possible we will witness the patented Baffert “1-2-1-2″ routine today, where one of his frontrunners takes the lead and the other one sets up in a “first over” position and ensures that the frontrunner receives no early pressure–at least from him. It’s good work if you have the horsepower to do it, and Baffert often does.
Conquest Panthera (8-1): Ran a big speed figure (90) in his debut despite trouble. Breeding is more or less neutral for the extra distance and the real dirt. Trainer Mark Casse gets ratings of 95 with second-time starters and 82 with first-time route. At a nice price on the morning line, this is an interesting horse.
Skyway (5-1): Breeding is mildly negative on the added distance. Has run into strong speed biases (note the Race Rating box color-coded in dark red) in two of his last three starts. Has speed figures that are competitive with all but the fastest horses in here.
Calculator (8-1): Good speed figures. Has never gone backwards. Middling breeding. Bad post position. We will be looking elsewhere if he goes off at odds anywhere near his morning line odds.
The play: We feel American Pharoah is the most likely winner. Our favorite longshot is Texas Red. We’ll use those two in multi-race wagers, and we’ll include Daddy D T, Sky Preacher, Lord Nelson, and Conquest Panthera on the bottom of vertical exotics.