Thursday, May 31, 2007

Epsom Angles

On Saturday one of racings great traditions will be carried on. The Epsom Derby will be run for the 228th time. This is the original Derby and in fact the inspiration for the naming of countless other "Derbies" run worldwide. Strange to think that the race only became known as The Derby after the Earl of Derby won the naming rights in a coin toss with Sir Charles Bunbury. The Kentucky Bunbury just wouldn't have the same ring to it.

The Derby is run at Epsom Downs and I don't think you can really appreciate the arduous nature of the Derby without seeing an overhead of the course. Below you'll see a drawing of Epsom race course. It doesn't look much like the traditional American race courses. Horses will make just one left handed turn while navigating 12f but its the undulations that really catch the eye. The starting gates are at the lowest point of the course. The horses will climb about 150 feet over the first 5 1/2 furlongs to the high point of the course before descending around the sharp Tattenham Corner. The course then heads up sharply again in the final furlong. It is quite a testing ordeal and although the turn looks large and sweeping like Belmont in the drawing, the final corner into the straight known as Tattenham Corner is especially sharp. The difficulty of navigating it is compounded by the fact that the horse are hurtling downhill at the time. A horse must be agile to handle Tattenham Corner but also very stout to have something left for the tough uphill finish.

This years race is actually looking a little bit weak. You can view the field of 19 runners here. Authorized is the hot favorite despite having run only 3 times in his life. However his favoritism is more due to the fact that none of the rest of his competition truly look like G-1 level horses. I have developed a bit of a historical profile for the Derby much like my Kentucky Derby 20-20 system but far less complex and not nearly as refined. I have just taken 8 simple factors and combined them into a profile. The results over the last 10 years have been decent. 37 horses earned a perfect score and there were 8 winners among them along with another 10 horses who earned a placing. In this years race only Authorized is a qualifier so the stats seem to be saying the same thing that most handicappers are. This is his race to lose. Perhaps the greatest value to be derived from this race will come from finding the horses to fill out the frame. Aiden O'Brien has entered an incredible 8 horses in this race and I do fancy at least one of his to hit the frame. Soldier Of Fortune seems to be his best option. He is listed at 16/1 at present but is 5-3-2-0 lifetime. He did lose his career debut and a G-1 to Passage of Time but Passage of Time is the hot favorite to take the Oaks and had her connections put her in this race she would be the second choice. He is unbeaten as a 3yo and has good form over the soft ground. I also like Acapulco a 66/1 O'Brien horse. He is the longest shot of the Ballydoyle octet but I think the bettors are undervaluing him a bit. He has run only twice lifetime and in his second career start he ran a decent second in the Newmarket Stakes behind Salford Mill. He was very unprofessional in that race and he looks entitled to improve. I also think Lucarno can run a big race the Derby. He is about 20/1 and he was also rather late to come to hand. But he improved massively in the Fairway Stakes last out and John Gosden knows his way around Epsom Downs. So I would likely take Authorized for first and use Soldier of Fortune, Acapulco and Lucarno underneath him.

The Epsom Oaks and Coronation Cup are also being run this weekend. In the Coronation Cup I like last years Derby winner Sir Percy. Sixties Icon is the real hot favorite but one of the worst finishes of his life came in last year's derby and I wonder how well he handles the course. Sir Percy has not won since the Derby but he comes out of the tough Dubai Sheema Classic where he was 4th. Many horses have already come back from that race to win and Sir Percy really is a classy horse and I think class matters on this course.

For the Oaks I think it is between Passage of Time, All My Loving and Light Shift. All three are very different fillies. Passage of Time is a once beaten filly from the Juddmonte farms who looks very burly, almost coltish. She is not a quick horse, more of a galloper who does only what she needs to do in order to win. In that way it's hard to get a feel for how good she really is. I think she'll be well suited to the tough Epsom course. Light Shift, like Passage of Time is trained by Henry Cecil and this is a smallish but rapier quick filly. I don't know how well she really finishes, her quick turn of foot could be valuable but also could see her unhinged if used too soon. All My Loving is an O'Brien filly and you have to respect what he's done in this race. This will be just her third start but she looks every inch an Oaks horse. She was moved a bit soon in the Cheshire Oaks and cut down by Light Shift but she was on level terms again after the wire and should come on for the run.

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