Recapping My Preview Day Picks
A chronic problem for me on the big days is looking past the obvious in favor of wide-eyed speculation at what might be possible from other quality horses in deep stakes fields. I see a very high quality horse at double-digit odds and think that's a good bet because of the value, often ignoring the fact that there are other more likely winners at shorter but fair odds.
Let's look back at my top picks for each of Saturday's six stakes and try to figure out where I went astray.
I had my only winner of the six stakes in the Pan Zareta and it was a cagey one, with Double Espresso paying $14.20 as the longest shot on the board in a four-horse field. I had loved her very fast work in between starts this month and thought this was a fast filly in top form. I wasn't quite as smart as I thought, though, as odds-on Dubai Majesty was probably the best filly in the race but broke last and then came up a head short. Dubai Majesty's trainer, Bret Calhoun, said it made him "absolutely sick." Hopefully the sickness wore off when Bret won the next two. Anyway, Amoss said he might stetch Double Espresso out in the New Orleans Ladies against Rachel Alexandra. If you're going to test two turns you might as well do it against the best horse in the world, right? I'm not sure how you gauge the success of such an experiment--if you finish within 15 lengths of Rachel is that a good two-turn debut?--but I admire trainers that don't back down from trying their horses in tough spots. If by some miracle Double Espresso pulled off that shocker Tom would be like the Allen Jerkens of the South.
In the Colonel Power I almost got lucky with another tardy start from the Calhoun entrant, Chamberlain Bridge, but this one overcame the break and was much the best, beating my pick, Country Day, by three-quarters. Looking back at my comments, my only reason for playing against the eventual winner seemed to be that I wanted a better price. How lame and greedy. Just bet the best horse, stupid.
In the Silverbulletday I actually thought I bet the best horse despite the low odds on favored Devil May Care, but she was a bundle of nerves in her 2010 debu, was fractious in the gate, and probably didn't get a chance to show her best. Meanwhile, I have to admit I didn't believe in Jody Slew after the Tiffany Lass but she showed a lot of guts running down Quiet Temper from way out of it.
I went with 10-year-old gelding Silverfoot in the Fair Grounds Handicap, who never was in the mix and passed only tiring horses. The winner was Blues Street, owner of the highest last-race Beyer for a world-class jockey and trainer combination. I went with others with more graded stakes experience, ignoring the obvious, which is that Todd Pletcher is one of the top trainers in the world (I might say the best if not for our own leading trainer and two-time Eclipse Award winner Steve Asmussen), knows what type of horse it takes to win major races here, and would only ship here if he had one that fit.
Ditto for Discreetly Mine and the Risen Star. Despite the media's completely unfair obsession with his absence of a Kentucky Derby winner, Pletcher is one of the best at getting a top 3-year-old ready to win a graded stakes race. My pick, Drosselmeyer, ran a fine race for fourth and Kent Desormeaux said he was pleased; he just had no pace to run at. We'll see more of these than usual come back in the Louisiana Derby, as everyone has the soft pace as an excuse. That aside, though, why would I not trust in Pletcher here?
I actually came out against the top two choices in the Mineshaft, Friesan Fire and General Quarters, but I picked the wrong alternative in Giant Oak. True to my prediction, the marquee names did set it up for a closer, but the one that came up and got them was Stonehouse. He had earned a half-million dollars and won six-figure stakes before, and once again the longest shot in a short field prevailed. This one I won't beat myself up over, as I'm looking back at the PPs right now and am still in shock over it.
In any case, lessons from yesterday are: a) when Pletcher ships in, just bet them, and b) don't get starry-eyed over prices on big days because there will always be value in good stakes races; just worry about finding the most likely winner.