Today in Racing, March 31, 2014

Constitution earned a TFUS speed figure of 101 for his win in the Florida Derby. That number, a prime cut below some of the top figures earned by other Kentucky Derby contenders, was downgraded from a raw final time figure of 105 due to the moderate pace. Additionally, the son of Tapit benefited from a perfect stalking trip tucked on the rail behind the two leaders, General a Rod and Wildcat Red.  And he saved all ground when he was able to slip up the rail.  And he also benefited from a slow pace, as well as a strong speed bias, when he won his prior effort.  He certainly has not experienced anything close to the logistical issues that a 20 horse field can present, even with an ideal post draw.

Whats more, as you probably know, no horse who did not race at two has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882.  In addition, only two horses whose name starts with a ‘C’ has won the Derby since 1964.  No horse with a single word name containing 12 letters has won it since Middleground in 1950, and nobody even remembers who the hell that horse was.  His trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won only one Derby in its 139 runnings.

The point being: there are a lot of reasons to stand against Constitution when he goes postward in the Derby on May 3.  Some of them are the usual nonsense, but some of them are quite real.  However, there is one very legitimate reason to give him a big shot: this crop of 3yo’s is, overall and for the most part, proving itself to be increasingly mediocre with each passing weekend, as horses at or near the top of many top ten lists continue to disappoint, and speed figures remain stagnant and/or moderate. Constitution is a horse with seemingly unlimited potential.  He has won on the lead and has shown the ability to utilize his speed tactically to stay close and pass horses in the stretch.  He has now shown that he can hook up with a rival and grit out a win over a horse who has proven to be a tough (if not particularly fast) competitor himself.  He came home in 12.70 seconds for the final furlong; 36.87 for the last 3/8ths, which certainly qualify as “racehorse time.”

Sure, he may – may – have to improve his TFUS speed figures to compete with horses such as Samraat (110) or California Chrome (111) who have run faster than he.  But that raw final figure of 105 isn’t too far off, and remember that our adjustments for pace are subjective.  He won while facing stakes horses for the first time in only his third start, and did so in game and gutsy fashion.  That’s gotta be worth something that is not quantified in any speed figures.

Wildcat Red earned a figure of 100 in his grudging defeat.  This is a horse who, with every increase in distance, I’ve been anticipating that his sprinter pedigree would catch up with him.  He’s proven me wrong in each case, and he has earned my admiration and respect. And I’ll be making the same bet against him in the Derby, a race in which he figures to have plenty more company up front than just General a Rod (a 99 for his third).

Cairo Prince had little excuse for his flat 4th place finish.  Sure the pace was slow and they came home quick enough to make his task difficult.  But surely his connections expected more than a steady fade in the final sixteenth.  Still, if he can sneak into the starting gate given his precarious position points standings, I’d consider taking a flyer should his odds fully reflect the disappointing performance.

In the Louisiana Derby, Vicar’s In Trouble, another speedy type with a suspect pedigree, earned a 102 for his front-running win.  It would be easy to dismiss the rest of them considering that he tired to a final furlong of 13.62 seconds, and nobody was able to make up appreciable ground on him.  But I didn’t at all hate the second place effort by Intense Holiday.  He didn’t need to win this race to qualify for the Derby, and it seemed as if Mike Smith took the Toddster-trained colt to school.  He was closer to the pace than usual, took a lot of dirt in the face, raced between horses, was forced to check approaching the turn; but quickly recovered and made a nice move on the turn before flattening out.  He was not abused late.  Has a long way to go in the speed figure department – he earned a figure of 97, equal to his career high earned in his Risen Star win – but I believe he’s a colt headed in the right direction who is better equipped for the Derby now than he was before the race.  And that’s what a prep is supposed to be for, right?

Palace Malice earned a career best 116 for crushing Normandy Invasion in the New Orleans Handicap.  And man, I knew that the latter wasn’t going to go off at his morning line odds of 7-2….but was pretty shocked when I saw that he was the even money favorite!  As I mentioned in my preview of the race, he’s one of those horses that the public just falls head over heels in love with, for whatever reason.  And he still hasn’t won around two turns.

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