Race of the Week: Indiana Derby
July 13, 2018
by Joe Wulffe
Saturday July 14th: Race 9 at Indiana Grand. The $500,000 Grade 3 Indiana Derby run at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for three year olds. (Post Time: 9:48 EDT).
(8) King Zachary: The barn of trainer Dale Romans ships in this son of Curlin looking to build upon an impressive victory four weeks ago in the Grade 3 Matt Winn. Saturday’s edition of the Indiana Derby will mark just his third foray into racing against graded stakes competition, but given how well he accounted for himself in the Matt Winn (G3), King Zachary appears to be the best in this field. In that last outing on a hot and muggy night on June 16th over 8 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs, King Zachary, with jockey Robby Albarado, broke alertly from the gate and was content to sit just back of the early leaders and stalk the pace. He made a three wide bid for the front as the field neared the lane, drove past the leader and seized control in the stretch. He easily drew away from his rivals under a brisk pace, eventually winning by 4 3/4 lengths. For his efforts in that race, King Zachary earned a 99 Bris Speed Rating which is not only the highest speed figure amongst the entire field at the distance but also is tied for the highest last race speed figure as well. In addition, King Zachary’s converted 104 Brisnet late pace figure also ranks as the best amongst the entire field. Moreover, it appears that the eight and a half furlong distance of Saturday’s race is to King Zachary’s liking as he already is a perfect three for three at that distance.
Thus far in his career, King Zachary has displayed great tactical versatility in his running style. In some races he has shown an ability to stalk the pace while sitting just back of the early leaders yet, in other efforts he has demonstrated that he is just as capable when closing from further back. The TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated a likely fast pace for Saturday’s race, as there are several entered in the field of nine that project to be forwardly placed and setting fairly quick initial fractions. Although the tempo of the Matt Winn was much more moderate compared to the anticipated pace for the Indiana Derby, King Zachary should have no issues dealing with faster initial fractions. Furthermore, it is quite possible that the pacesetters could become engaged in a speed duel early on and wear themselves down in such a manner that when King Zachary moves up to challenge for the lead, they simply have no response to his bid. Thus it appears that the race should set up well enough for King Zachary to have another successful day on Saturday.
Trainer Dale Romans had originally intended for King Zachary to compete in the Kentucky Derb,y but after a disastrous sixth place finish in the Wood Memorial (G2) back in April, King Zachary was pulled off the Triple Crown trail and instead allowed to regain his confidence against lesser competition. Thus far, Romans has done alright when shipping in horses to race, as he has won 13% of his 408 starts under those conditions over the past three years. Additionally, Romans does well with runners that won their last race as those horses have come back and won 16% of their next races through 187 starts so far. On Saturday, King Zachary will once again have Robby Albarado on board. In fact, Albarado is the only jockey to have ridden King Zachary throughout his career and has compiled a 6-3-0-2 record while riding him. Albarado has done well when racing routes as he is currently winning at a 16% rate. However, where Albarado really stands out is when he has hooked up with Romans. Over the past 60 days, he has won with 32% of his mounts for the trainer.
King Zachary’s most recent workout on July 7th over five furlongs at Churchill Downs was exceptionally sharp. However, the weather forecast for Saturday is a little worrisome as parts of the Midwest, including Indiana, are currently going through a heat wave right now and it appears that temperatures will likely still be in the mid to upper 80s even around 10 PM tomorrow nigh,t along with a good deal of humidity. Given the way King Zachary handled the weather conditions in his last race, it is fair to presume he should be able to cope well with the heat and humidity once again on Saturday. King Zachary certainly has enough talent to be able to succeed against this field of assembled rivals and the projected pace scenario should certainly work to his advantage as well. If the most recent BSR that he produced in that effort in the Matt Winn is indeed a true indicator of his actual potential and if he can find some way to either repeat or come close to that figure again on Saturday, then King Zachary is definitely the one to beat here. Otherwise if that performance was merely a fluke then he will be difficult to trust and there may be others that merit a look instead. His initial ML odds are 6/5 and are likely to dip even lower at post time, so take that into consideration when including him in any wagers.
(7) Title Ready: The barn of trainer Steve Asmussen ships in this promising young son of More Than Ready looking to avenge a narrow defeat in his last out effort in the Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown on June 23rd. Although Title Ready broke sharply from the gates and was initially well placed, just a few lengths off the pace, by jockey CJ McMahon, he found himself caught up in traffic from the get go and would remain surrounded by rivals throughout nearly the entire race. As the field turned for home, Title Ready attempted to vie for the lead while going two to three wide and was making a determined effort to catch the leaders yet found his path cutoff down the stretch and a result his challenge was stymied; however, he still ran well enough to manage to finish fourth, losing by only one and a half lengths. His performance over nine furlongs was good enough to garner a career best 98 BSR, which ranks as second best amongst the entire field. Moreover, as Saturday’s race marks a slight cutback in distance for Title Ready, he should once again give a good account of himself as he has managed to hit the board in two of his four attempts at eight and a half furlongs (along with two additional four place results). Furthermore, Title Ready has proven himself in his last four races with relatively solid efforts against stakes company.
Title Ready’s preferred running style is that of a pace presser that likes to be very forwardly placed and in fact his two career victories have come while on the front end of the pace. However, if he tries to employ similar tactics again on Friday and run close to, if not on, the lead that may prove to be his undoing. The Pace Projector has indicated that not only will there likely be a fast initial pace for the Indiana Derby, but also that Title Ready will be a part of the early pace. It is likely that he will not be alone at the front ,as there are several other contenders in this field that have shown good early speed. While the pace does not project to be quite as fast as those opening fractions set in the Ohio Derby, it could still be relatively modest enough that any horses found setting the pace early on may end up weakening late. Moreover, it appears that Title Ready has had the most success throughout his career when running at a more modest pace, a situation he is unlikely to encounter on Saturday. Thus in order for Title Ready to have a chance to even hit the board, it would be in his jockey’s best interest to restrain Title Ready initially and not allow him to become involved in a speed duel whilst contending for the lead. Therefore, if Title Ready were allowed to sit just back of the leaders and stalk the pace instead, he could potentially be in an excellent position to seize the lead when his rivals begin to falter.
Title Ready’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, has done well over the past three years not only when shipping in horses to race as he is winning at a 19% rate from 1873 starts so far but also when entering his runners into route races (19% win rate from 2675 starts). Furthermore, Title Ready will again have veteran jockey Ricardo Santana Jr aboard on Saturday with whom he has hit the board twice and finished fourth twice in four starts. Santana has done exceptionally well when racing at route distances so far as he is currently winning at a 21% clip. Additionally, over the past 60 days when Santana has hooked up with Asmussen, he has won with 31% of his 90 mounts for the trainer.
Throughout his career, Title Ready has shown flashes of talent and certainly has the potential to do well on Saturday against a field of mostly inferior rivals, at least from a class standpoint. However, Title Ready has yet to put it all together and prove himself against stakes company as his best finish to date was a well-beaten second place effort in the $100k Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on May 19th. Although his most recent BSR does figure to make him competitive on Saturday, he will likely need to improve once again in order to have any chance of success. Ultimately, Albarado will need to hold him back, at least initially, and avoid getting caught up in a possible speed duel on the front early on. If he can manage this and have Title Ready positioned well as the field turns for home, then it is entirely possible that Title Ready could run a massive race and finally secure his first stakes victory and likely at a decent price too.
(4) Dark Vader: Trainer Peter Eurton ships in this son of Tale of Ekati from California as he looks to redeem himself after finishing second in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont on June 9th. In that last outing over 8 1/2 furlongs, Dark Vader bobbled at the start and yet recovered quickly enough to get back into contention and challenge the leader going down the backstretch. Although Dark Vader was well positioned between horses just inside the 3/8ths pole, he began to be coaxed and asked for more by Prat and then briefly took the lead coming out of the turn. Dark Vader dug in determinedly while being challenged down the stretch by a pair of rivals and was finally bested by a neck at the wire. For his efforts in that race, Dark Vader earned a 95 BSR which was actually a regression from the career best 97 BSR he posted in his race prior to that. Moreover, the Easy Goer has in fact come back not quite as strong as initially thought, as Rugbyman, who bested Dark Vader by just a nose, gave a very poor showing of himself in the Dwyer Stakes last Saturday.
Similar to the previously mentioned Title Ready, Dark Vader has displayed a preference for running on or near the pace in the majority of his races. However, unlike his rival, Dark Vader has better tactical speed and has demonstrated more versatility through his willingness to either press the pace or sit back and stalk depending upon the pace scenario. The Pace Projector has indicated that it is likely that Dark Vader will be one of those horses either on or near the lead contesting those initial fractions. Additionally, it appears that Dark Vader would appreciate a more moderate pace scenario than the one he will encounter on Saturday. If he is forwardly placed, at least throughout the early stages of the race, those initial fractions could prove to be too much for him and he may fade down the stretch. Simply put, there are several other contenders in the field that have good early speed and it would behoove Dark Vader’s jockey to let those horses instead duel on the lead while sitting back and rating with Dark Vader.
Peter Eurton rarely ships his runners outside of California (over the past three years he has shipped his horses out just 48 times), yet when he does, he has found success, as he is currently winning at a 17% rate under those conditions. Moreover, as case in point, throughout his career Dark Vader has had eight starts at six different tracks in four states and still managed to finish in the money in five of those starts. Additionally, Eurton has done quite well when entering his runners into graded stakes races as he has won 20% of 85 starts over the past three years. Also Eurton brings with him West Coast jockey Corey Nakatani to ride Dark Vader on Saturday; Nakatani won his only start so far on Dark Vader, a $75k allowance/optional claimer back in May at Santa Anita. While Nakatani has been fairly cold racing at route distances so far (just a 10% winning jockey), he has done better when riding E/P type horses such as Dark Vader as he is currently winning at a 16% rate with those types of mounts.
Dark Vader’s last two workouts over five furlongs earlier this month at Santa Anita were both particularly sharp and should indicate that he is coming into this race in good form. Additionally, Eurton has always held this colt in high regard and appears to have spotted him well against this field on Saturday. While Dark Vader certainly has the potential and talent to be able to best these rivals, he has yet to show that he can take that next step and succeed when competing against stakes competition. It is not a question of if he will win at this level but more a question of when he will win. Again, as is the situation for his rival Title Ready, Dark Vader’s best chance for success on Saturday will come if Nakatani can avoid becoming entangled in a speed duel early on and instead allow his mount to sit back and stalk the leaders before striking late as the field turns for home. If Dark Vader can somehow accomplish this, he will likely find himself running in contention late down the stretch. A win against the likes of King Zachary and possibly Title Ready may be a bit much to ask of Dark Vader, but an on the board finish is certainly within the realm of possibility.