Tagline Sports 2022 College Football Preseason Preview

College football is back again! Just eight months removed from a huge shakeup of the college football world, with Georgia capturing the National Championship, Group of Five Cincinnati & Michigan making the playoffs, and the last year of expected normalcy in the sport, we return with shaky grounds and a very uncertain (but hopeful) future. With conference realignment starting next season, the 2022 College Football Season is the last chance at a season of what we know… but also brings in perhaps the most intriguing season in recent history. With the final year of many “extra year of eligibility” coming up this year, and young players finally getting a full year under their belt, the fusion of talent and age comes together in what will present itself as a great year for both up and coming programs and perennial champions. The SEC looks to be one of the closest years in a long time while the ACC looks to rebound with a very strong QB class. Meanwhile, the Big Ten tries to shake up the table again with more improving programs while the Big 12 and Pac-12 look to get back to the big boy table with squads that are ready for a playoff run. And will the Group of Five be able to build off last season’s success with Cincinnati and find themselves back in the hunt once again? The 2022 College Football Season presents itself with many questions and few answers this preseason. Tagline Sports takes you on a season preview – ranking the prospective best teams in the nation, taking a look at potential conference winners and previews, and a look at the most anticipated games of the upcoming season.

Alabama, Ohio State, and Utah return a lot of talent and will be three of the most dominant schools to deal with throughout the year. Georgia looks to follow up its Championship season with another successful year with depth at all positions. Big 12 darlings Baylor and Oklahoma State aim to continue their upward trend, while ACC hopefuly NC State and perennial contender Clemson try to put the conference back on the map. And the two up and coming SEC programs round out the Top 10 as Kentucky and Texas A&M look to find their way into the playoff hunt.


1Alabama Crimson Tide
2Ohio State Buckeyes
3Utah Utes
4Georgia Bulldogs
5Baylor Bears
6NC State Wolfpack
7Oklahoma State Cowboys
8Clemson Tigers
9Kentucky Wildcats
10Texas A&M Aggies
11Pittsburgh Panthers
12Arkansas Razorbacks
13Wake Forest Demon Deacons
14Notre Dame Fighting Irish
15Oklahoma Sooners
16Purdue Boilermakers
17BYU Cougars
18Ole Miss Rebels
19Oregon Ducks
20Tennessee Volunteers
21Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
22Houston Cougars
23USC Trojans
24Michigan Wolverines
25Cincinnati Bearcats


Utah Utes

Maybe calling this program on the rise is an insult, but the Utes have finally found themselves in the right spot coming off their first Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance. Now, they get a highly awaited matchup with Florida to open the season in the Swamp, national attention, and perhaps a smooth path to the Pac-12 title game again with the chaning format. A dangerous defense led by CB Clark Phillips and an offnese that won’t let up led by QB Cam Rising will be a one-two punch that no one will want to go against.

NC State Wolfpack

Dave Doeren has spent years building up this Wolfpack squad and with QB Devin Leary this looks to be the year. Hopes are high after a win last year over Clemson as well as a combination of many dominant wins… but also close losses. The schedule isn’t easy, especially with a trip into Death Valley, but get around that, and the sky is the limit for this team that keeps a ton of talent. This is a group that is built to sustain, with a strong offense and a veteran defense – year’s of taking little steps forward will finally provide the success they’ve been looking for.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Keeping things in the ACC – Pitt may have to find a way to keep up the momentum without Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison, but they return pretty much everyone else and get Kedon Slovis in to start. With the expectation of a more balance offense and a schedule that leans to be easy (but with revenge games on the slate at Western Michigan and at Miami), this can be a continued move forward for a Pitt team that is trying to take over a constantly shifting ACC.

Purdue Boilermakers

If any school is to shake things up this season, it’s the boys from West Lafayette. Aidan O’Connell may very well be the third best quarterback in the country and leads a veteran offense through a schedule that will allow them to make noise. Opening on a Thursday night against Penn State is the perfect showcase of their talents. The Purdue defense will be their kryptonite, but you only need so much when you have a high powered offense.


Michigan Wolverines

Losing pretty much all of the stars of this Wolverines defense will provide a huge hit to a team that was built on defense. The offense led by Cade McNamara and Ronnie Bell will need to find the late season magic they found last year to overcome the numerous defensive holes they have. Luckily, the schedule leaves a lot of wiggle room – one of the easiest in the country – which is likely to only feature matchups against 2 or 3 ranked teams at most.

Cincinnati Bearcats

This will be Luke Fickell’s toughest test as a Cincinnati’s head coach – finding a way to not let the momentum stop. Losing nine of their top players, including Sauce Gardner and Desmond Ridder, to the NFL Draft will take huge toll on their offensive and defensive strength, and they get no easy start to figure things out, with an opener against the Razorbacks. While success should be had this year, the Bearcats will be taking a huge step back and will need to retool ahead of their move to the Big 12.

Michigan State Spartans

Another group losing a ton, the Spartans were one of the nation’s slowest performing teams when the ball wasn’t in Kenneth Walker III’s hands. Payton Thorne was a mess when needing to lead the offense and will need to find ways to score against the continuing to strengthend defenses in the Big Ten. After overachieving last year, it looks for Mel Tucker to finally see his squad take a step back.

Iowa State Cyclones

Take away Hall, Purdy, and Kolar and this Cyclones squad just isn’t the same. Matt Campbell has done a great job building and keeping consistency with Iowa State over his last six seasons there, but this will be his ultimate test. Recruiting has been near the bottom of the Big 12 the last few seasons and transfers just aren’t brining in enough talent to match up with the loss. For a group with so much promise the last few years, this looks to be another underperforming year… and with trips to Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma State, and TCU this year, a bowl trip might be a stretch for this group that has made five straight.


ACC: NC State Wolfpack over Pittsburgh Panthers
Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers over Ohio State Buckeye
Big 12: Baylor Bears over Kansas State Wildcats
Pac-12: Utah Utes over UCLA Bruins
SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide over Kentucky Wildcats
American: Houston Cougars over SMU Mustangs
C-USA: UTSA Roadrunners over Charlotte 49ers
MAC: Central Michigan Chippewas over Miami (OH) Redhawks
Mountain West: Fresno State Bulldogs over Air Force Falcons
Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers over Texas State Bobcats


Playoff Predictions

(1) Alabama Crimson Tide

(2) Utah Utes

(3) Baylor Bears

(4) NC State Wolfpack

The College Football Playoff will find itself in familiar territory yet foreign grounds this year. As we’ve see the College Football Landscape change shape the last few years, so has the quest for the top. With a nearly brand new CFP grouping last season, with two suprisers in Michigan and Cincinnati, another surprise could be in store this year.

The Crimson Tide, led by Bryce Young and Will Anderson, will be the most difficult team to play week in and week out (when are they not). This may be one of their toughest schedules in years, with road trips to Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, and Ole Miss, and a mid-season tilt against Texas A&M, but the talent on this team just makes it a force to be reckoned with. Hard to see a home loss on the schedule and even an in-conference loss will be tough. Expect this Alabama group to roll into the playoffs unscathed.

Kyle Whittingham has been one of the top coaches and most underrated coaches in college football since he took over Utah 17 seasons ago. He has taken the Utes to great heights, including a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl Game appearance last season. QB Cameron Rising leads an army of top caliber talent through a challenging but doable schedule that will put them near the top. A championship is in reach if they can run the table in the Pac-12.

Baylor looked very different with Blake Shapen under center last year, and led a strong offense to a win in the Big 12 Championship Game. This group had a strong kick on offense that should lead them to season success. The schedule on hand is managable with most of their tough tests at home. And their defense continues to get better, led by DT Siaki Ika.

NC State will be the shocker here, but will take a bit of luck and a nice ACC schedule to the plate and try to knock down the door to the playoffs. QB Devin Leary was able to build himself into a college QB last year in his first full season of starting, after a redshirt year and an injury lost year. This development was key in helping him evolve into the quarterback that he has been trying to become. NC State will be better with him this year, and Dave Doeren has built a talented and hungry team around him. Carter-Finley will be rocking in a way unlike any other, and if thye can find a way past Clemson in Death Valley on October 1st, this group will be punching their ticket ot the CFP.

Championship Game

(1) Alabama Crimson Tide vs Utah Utes (2)

It will be an East vs West test in SoFi Stadium come January, as the SEC and the Pac-12 face off. These teams have all the makings of champions and will continue to find success throughout the year. But unfortunately for the Utes, the size of Alabama will get to them and the Crimson Tide will take home another National Title.

Kentucky Derby 2022 Weekend Analysis

Once again, all eyes will be on the Twin Spires as twenty three-year-olds take a stand to see who will join the hall of immortals as a Kentucky Derby winner. Legacies are abound in this wide open edition, a race that will cap off a huge fitfteen stakes weekend.

This year, contenders come from all over with different levels of experience. Many, may fall to the favorite, Zandon, after an impressive victory in the Blue Grass at Keeneland just a few weeks ago, or perhaps go to the bayou for Epicenter, the strong Louisiana Derby winner. Perhaps the young Taiba will get revenge for Medina Spirit, flying the same silks as winner of the Santa Anita Derby. Two international contenders join the fray too – with Crown Pride and Summer Is Tomorrow joining after contending in the UAE Derby. Or perhaps the ageless D. Wayne Lukas will grab himself one more garland of roses with Ethereal Road, who hasn’t shown all the ability in the world, but might be peaking at the right time. This wide-open Derby cements a huge weekend of racing at Churchill Downs, where Mint Juleps will be flowing, hats will be showing, and races will be the prime occasion. With that, here is my analysis of the Kentucky Derby contenders and selections for the full slate of races.

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2022 NFL Draft First Round Mock

One of the best times of year is finally among us – the NFL Draft! This year is filled with intrigue and mysteries, as there really isn’t any clear favorite for any spot in the draft, including the first overall pick. Jacksonville has their pick of players, with a major need in defensive end, which likely leads them to either Travon Walker from Georgia or Aidan Hutchinson from Michigan. Hard to say what will happen here, but this class is filled with depth along the offensive line and defensive edge, and has more potential star wide receivers than any time in recent memory. As for the QBs – will it be Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis to pop off the board first.

With all that said, here is how I see the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft playing out, as well as what players I’d pick if I was the GM. Take a look below and download the PDF copy of the Mock Draft, complete with my draft big board and position rankings.

PkPlayerProjected PickMy GM Pick
1Jacksonville JaguarsTravon Walker, DE GeorgiaTravon Walker, DE Georgia
2Detroit LionsAidan Hutchinson, DE MichiganAidan Hutchinson, DE Michigan
3Houston TexansIkem Ekwonu, OT NC StateKayvon Thibodeaux, DE Oregon
4New York JetsAhmad Gardner, CB CincinnatiIkem Ekwonu, OT NC State
5New York GiantsCharles Cross, OT, Mississippi StateTrevor Penning, OT Northern Iowa
6Carolina PanthersEvan Neal, OT AlabamaEvan Neal, OT Alabama
7New York GiantsDerek Stingley, Jr., CB LSUGeorge Karlaftis, DE Purdue
8Atlanta FalconsJermaine Johnson, DE Florida StateKyle Hamilton, S Notre Dame
9Seattle SeahawksKayvon Thibodeaux, DE OregonCharles Cross, OT Mississippi State
10New York JetsGarrett Wilson, WR Ohio StateAhmad Gardner, CB Cincinnati
11Washington CommandersDrake London, WR USCTreylon Burks, WR Arkansas
12Minnesota VikingsTrent McDuffie, CB WashingtonJordan Davis, DT Georgia
13Houston TexansKyle Hamilton, S Notre DameTrent McDuffie, CB Washington
14Baltimore RavensTrevor Penning, OT Northern IowaDylan Parham, G Memphis
15Philadelphia EaglesJordan Davis, DT GeorgiaGarrett Wilson, WR Ohio State
16New Orleans SaintsChris Olave, WR Ohio StateDrake London, WR USC
17Los Angeles ChargersDevonte Wyatt, DT, GeorgiaNeil Farrell, DT LSU
18Philadelphia EaglesJameson Williams, WR AlabamaDerek Stingley, Jr., CB LSU
19New Orleans SaintsTyler Smith, OT TulsaTyler Smith, OT Tulsa
20Pittsburgh SteelersMalik Willis, QB LibertyMalik Willis, QB Liberty
21New England PatriotsDevin Lloyd, LB UtahDevin Lloyd, LB Utah
22Green Bay PackersJahan Dotson, WR Penn StateJahan Dotson, WR Penn State
23Arizona CardinalsGeorge Karlaftis, DE PurdueJermaine Johnson, DE Florida State
24Dallas CowboysZion Johnson, G Boston CollegeArnold Ebiketie, DE Penn State
25Buffalo BillsAndrew Booth, Jr., CB ClemsonChris Olave, WR Ohio State
26Tennessee TitansTreylon Burks, WR ArkansasChristian Watson, WR North Dakota State
27Tampa Bay BuccaneersKenyon Green, G Texas A&MKenyon Green, G Texas A&M
28Green Bay PackersArnold Ebiketie, DE Penn StateDavid Ojabo, DE Michigan
29Kansas City ChiefsChristian Watson, WR North Dakota StateJameson Williams, WR Alabama
30Kansas City ChiefsDaxton Hill, CB MichiganJalen Pitre, S Baylor
31Cincinnati BengalsTyler Linderbaum, C IowaTyler Linderbaum, C Iowa
32Detroit LionsLewis Cine, S GeorgiaLewis Cine, S Georgia

2022 Penn State Nittany Lions Football Preview

Ahead of the Penn State Blue-White Scrimmage, Tagline Sports takes a look at where the Penn State Nittany Lions football program is going in 2022 and previews the upcoming season.

The Penn State Nittany Lions have not had the greatest of seasons these last two years, with a five-game losing streak to start the COVID shortened 2020 season and then a collapse from 4th in the nation to unranked a season ago. James Franklin’s squad had all the possibilities of a dream season with wins at No. 12 Wisconsin, versus No. 22 Auburn, against reigning MAC Champion Ball State, and 2020 Big Ten darling Indiana, but from there it was all downhill, with a tough to watch loss at Iowa in a match-up of 3 versus 4, a 9 OT dredging defeat at the hands of Illinois, and then an Ohio State loss that always felt like one play away from victory. Poor play plagued the Nittany Lions with losses against Michigan, Michigan State, and Arkansas, which made the highs of the season seem so distant. But so, they return, with new hopes under nine-year coach James Franklin, who just inked a new ten-deal to outlast both the outgoing President and the outgoing Athletic Director that brought him in from Vanderbilt, and long-time quarterback Sean Clifford, who hopes his fourth year at the helm will be his best. The first true dark offseason for Franklin in his tenue did lead to a few key transfers, with likely offensive line starter Des Holmes heading to Arizona State and potential defensive line start Joseph Appiah Darkwa on his way to Temple… though perhaps the biggest loss was in running back Noah Cain, who took his talents to LSU in hopes that his injury and running woes will be left behind in Happy Valley. Meanwhile, fan hopes were high with a tremendous recruiting class, 6th in the nation and 2nd in the Big Ten, with potential future start due Drew Allar and Nick Singleton leading the pack. While most of these recruits will take time to get into the system, many hope that the answers to the big National Championship question will be among them. Maybe the best welcome addition will be on the sidelines, as former Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz takes up the defense, with star players in Joey Porter Jr, Kalen King, Ji’Ayir Brown, Nick Tarburton, and PJ Mustipher ready to lead. Still, the Nittany Lions hopes may rest on the shoulders of the offensive line, which has been the bane of the Nittany Lions’ existence the last forever years. With constant liability Rasheed Walker gone, younger guys like Olu Fashanu and Landon Tengwall will look to strengthen the line alongside veterans Juice Scruggs and Caedan Wallace. In a Big Ten that keeps getting bigger, stronger, and faster, will Penn State’s highest players be enough to take James Franklin to the promise land? Or will it be more of the same – close but no cigar – for the Central PA faithful.

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Breeders’ Cup 2021 – Saturday Selections

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Day One of the World Championships of Horse Racing proved to be full of excitement and surprises. From dominant performances from Twilight Gleaming, Echo Zulu, and Corniche, to the oddity that was the Juvenile Turf, Future Stars Friday gave us everything and then some of what we had hoped. But now onto the meat and potatoes of what makes this weekend tremendous – Saturday.

A full slate of races are on tap for today, capped off with the Breeders’ Cup Classic – which includes the Pacific Classic winner returning to the site of his greatest victory, the Pennsylvania Derby winner, the Belmont & Travers winner, the Pegasus World Cup & defending Dirt Mile winner, the Woodward winner, the Kentucky Derby & Awesome Again winner, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. One of the most stacked Classic fields we have had in years. Also on the undercard we find champions Gamine looking to win two straight in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, multiple Group One winner and champion Love, sprinting star Jackie’s Warrior, and champion distaffers Shedaresthedevil and Letruska. This day is filled with the best horses in the world,

My Top Three for Each Race of Future Stars Friday

Race 4 | Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1)
$1,000,000 | For Older Fillies & Mares | 7 Furlongs | Dirt

5 – Gamine
Am I really going to bet against Gamine going around one turn? Nope. She is deadly in one turn races. Instant lock. Next race.

Race 5 | Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1)
$1,000,000 | For Older Horses | 5 Furlongs | Turf

6 – Lieutenant Dan
Turf sprints at Del Mar are some of my favorite races to handicap. The 5 furlong course at Del Mar has two specific angles that play out more often than not – dropping down in distance and being a horse for course & distance. Lieutenant Dan is both of them, dropping from the downhill Eddie D Stakes and having already marked two 5f wins at Dmr this year, the Steven Miyadi trainee could be a steal in a wide open turf sprint with no clear choice. Last year’s winner Glass Slippers – who was much the easy choice then – doesn’t have the same form nor is on her favorite going to be a threat, while others just don’t seem to be peaking right.

2 – Emaraaty Ana
Last year international speed showed the way and this year it could again, with this Kevin Ryan trainee. Emaraaty Ana was a longshot type who just kept stunning races across the pond and now takes his form to San Diego to try on firmer turf. That seems to be what this gelded son of Shamardal has excelled the best on and is coming into form well. Lots to like about his back class and might just be the one Euro to take home this usually speedy race.

3 – Golden Pal
At the end of the day, Wesley Ward has one great little colt by Uncle Mo that might steal this one on the front end. Super quick and super dangerous. Think he might be overmatched here, but can’t ever leave a Ward off the ticket in these turf sprints.

Race 6 | Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1)
$1,000,000 | For Older | 1 Mile| Dirt

5 – Life Is Good
If he is on his game, he is an easy winner. The best dirt miler in America right now and looks to add another to the books.

2 – Pingxiang
The Hideyuki Mori pair intrigue me. While Jaspar Prince has no shot (though good to see him back after his poor showing in the Sprint last year), Pingxiang, one of Mori’s best horses currently in training, is coming into this race in good form and showing a lot of speed in his 7 furlong efforts. Now, stepping up in distance, Pingxiang should favor this spot, get the early lead, and maybe hold on for a spot of the money late. Definitely one not to forget about.

3 – Ginobili
This one is interesting – he fits my angle for betting dirt mile races at Del Mar and seems to favor this track. I’m not 100% sure he is genuine, but his back races fit with what should be expected of a top choice. If he can find a clean trip, he might be able to pounce on Life Is Good late and take this one.

Race 7 | Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1)
$2,000,000 | For Older Fillies & Mares | 1 3/8 Miles | Turf

1 – Going To Vegas
This is not the greatest of editions of the Filly & Mare Turf, with most of the probable favorites coming in with just so-so form, so anything can happen. I’m going to lean towards the likely front runner here, the Richard Baltas trainee and daughter of Goldencents. She is in solid form, always runs well, and is coming in with some strong workouts. The form cycle is favoring her to run a big one here. The only question is if it is big enough to beat the best in this field.

12 – Audarya
Last year’s champion is back to contend again, and while not in the same form as she was last year, she gets back to firm turf which she favors and looks to be finding her way back to form. She needs to step up a bit to go back-to-back, but in a weaker field, maybe she has a chance. I favor her over a lot of others in this field.

Race 8 | Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1)
$2,000,000 | For Older Horses | 6 Furlongs | Dirt

9 – Dr. Schivel
There is a ton of speed packed into this Sprint, with plenty of the pack looking to press Jackie’s Warrior. Which leads me to the horse on the outside who has already won once at Del Mar this year in Dr. Schivel, the Bing Crosby & Santa Anita Sprint winner. This is a horse that loves this course and loves this distance, has tactical speed, can rate well, and can do just about anything even with trouble. Every time that the field has gotten tougher, he has stepped up more and more. He is a fighter and should be the one hitting the wire first. I’ll be using him with Jackie’s Warrior, C Z Rocket, & Firenze Fire underneath.

Race 9 | Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1)
$2,000,000 | For Older | 1 Mile| Turf

7 – In Love (BRZ)
One of the new kids on the scene is the aging veteran from South America for Paulo Lobo, In Love. after moving through allowance class, Lobo stepped In Love up to stakes company to rousing success, capturing the TVG Stakes and the Keeneland Turf Mile in his last two. The Brazilian-bred does have a much tougher group, but his turn of foot is near the top of this group and puts him in a good spot to take this at a slight price.

10 – Blowout (GB)
It wasn’t long ago that she was a top choice of mine in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. Since then, she has gotten better. Although slayed by the graveyard of champions at Saratoga, she came away well and captured the First Lady at Keeneland last out. She is familiar with Del Mar and has been improving in form with each start. This will be her most difficult test yet. I’ll side with her and hope for the best.

3 – Space Blues
Love the angle of horses stepping up in distance to a mile on the turf at Del Mar. Space Blues fits the profile for winning this type of race at Del Mar, has great turn of foot, and might be the most talented horse in the field. Plus, who is going to doubt Charlie Appleby this year.

Race 10 | Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1)
$2,000,000 | For Older Fillies & Mares | 1 1/8 Mile| Dirt

8 – Shedaresthedevil
Letruska might have gotten the best of Shedaresthedevil earlier this year, but this daughter of Daredevil has the advantage across two turns. Brad Cox has given her a very easy year, only giving her a few freshen ups on her road to the Distaff. She has a great form progression heading into this race and is poised to run her best.

11 – Dunbar Road
If a speed duel grows on the front end, don’t forget about Dunbar Road. This Chad Brown trainee always shows up and is an excellent stalker. She is the type that just waits and waits until she finds a spot where there is a fast pace and then pounces to take a spot. The outside draw should help keep her going and is one to include on exotics.

Race 11 | Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1)
$4,000,000 | For Older | 1 1/2 Mile| Turf

11 – Gufo
All year, Gufo has been a prime contender at these long distance turf races. He has dueled with the best, been just less than a few lengths away from Domestic Spending at times, and has been getting stronger each race. He tends to get in trouble when drawn to the inside, but now gets a clean trip on the outside and doesn’t need to worry about his rival in Domestic Spending. With a clean run, Gufo should be able to beat this field easily.

1 – Rockemperor
A strong winner of the Turf Classic at Belmont Park, Rockemperor is coming on to his own at the right time. He’s been prone to wide trips in the past, something he won’t have to deal with drawing the inside, and seemed to pop well taking the blinkers off. He is a different animal this year and looks to be getting better. Dangerous in this spot.

7 – Walton Street
Everything Charlie Appleby brings over this year is live and this one is no exception. This 7yo gelding by Cape Cross has been a major player throughout the year in international trips, winning the Canadian International at Woodbine last out, finishing just a few length behind eventual Arc Champ Torquator Tasso, and not being too far back from champions Mishriff and Chrono Genesis in the Dubai Sheema Classic. Tough to say that the Breeders’ Cup offers him some class relief from what he say in Germany and Dubai, but that seems to be the case. Godolphin stable jockey James Doyle returns with a very live mount here.

13 – Tarnawa (IRE)
The defending champion returns, with better form than she had when she shocked Magical last year. The runner up by less than a length in the Arc and Irish Champion Stakes, Tarnawa wants to cap off her fall with a win – and maybe this is the right spot. She gets a much lighter crowd than what she beat last year, but she doesn’t get the pace that she had last year – she was aided by a slower pace at Keeneland, but this field tends to be quicker. She is uber talented and a must include on all tickets, but winning might be a bit tougher.

Race 12 | Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)
$6,000,000 | For Older | 1 1/4 Mile| Dirt

9 – Max Player
Tactical speed is the name of the game here – the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban winner looks to be one of the few that doesn’t need to get the lead early. Likely this race will come down to a duel between Max Player and Essential Quality down the stretch, and I’ll take the older gent here. He is a very different horse from what he was last year. I give him the benefit of the doubt in his first two starts this year – the trip to Saudi Arabia going one turn wasn’t easy for a type that likes the long, classic distance, and trying to rebound for Pimlico in just a few months isn’t something to go well. But since getting acclimated back to the states, he has been dominant on the NY circuit, being two really awesome horses in Mystic Guide and Happy Saver – who both would’ve gotten play from me had they been in this spot. He has taken to Del Mar well and finds himself in a good spot. This is a perfect race for him to step up.

4 – Essential Quality
The other horse with tactical speed, Essential Quality has followed up his Belmont Stakes victory with wins in the Jim Dandy and the Travers. Now, off a long layoff, he looks to notch another championship win for Godolphin. Could he go from Juvenile winner to Classic winner? Perhaps. I would’ve preferred for him to have had a start between the Travers and here, as he doesn’t tend to run his best off a long layoff, but with just one blemish on his resume, how can you not like him. Lot to like in him if he gets to the front at the top of the stretch.

Breeders’ Cup 2021 – Friday Selections

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The World Championships of Horse Racing are Back where the Surf Meets the Turf at Good Ole Del Mar! One of my favorite racecourses in the world plays home to the two best days in racing in North America. Most of the stars of the thoroughbred world are out for these two days, ready to show off their best against all of the best the rest of the world has to offer.

This year’s Breeders’ Cup is one of the most interesting – and even – in recent memory. While there are the usual big favorites, most of the races are wide open, which is sure to make a great betting weekend. Let’s see what we got going on with the Future Stars Friday card.

My Top Three for Each Race of Future Stars Friday

Race 6 | Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2)
$1,000,000 | For Two-Year Olds | 5 Furlongs | Turf

6 – Twilight Gleaming (IRE)
Here is one that will improve in the return to the US. The Wesley Ward trainee excelled in her two starts on this side of the pond before heading off to Europe and being a close second in the Queen Mary before capturing a race a Deauville in France, both on her off-preferred surface. The return to firm ground will help her excel and she should be fond of taking the lead early. Based on the training form of Ward’s pack, look like he wants Irad to send her to the lead early. Looking for her to go gate-to-wire here.

1 – Twilight Jet (IRE)
Wouldn’t a twilight-exacta be night? When was the last time we saw a 2yo go out for their 11th start of their career, let alone one in the Breeders’ Cup. But here we are. Now… is he a longshot – yeah… and does he have a great chance… not quite – but a great angle at Del Mar is taking 6f-7f horses cutting down to 5f. He won last out at this distance, contended with similar company, and has been so consistent this year. Looks like he needs a bit firmer ground to run his best compared to what he got in England and Ireland. While the price will be huge, this one has a lot of speed and ready to use.

7 – Armor (GB)
Hard to leave this race without considering Armor. Ryan Moore would love to collect his first Juvenile Turf Sprint and he has one horse that has a lot in the tank. Cutting back from 6f is a great angle and getting back to firmer ground will help. He has been getting closer and closer with every stride – I’ll take him in the trip over from England.

Race 7 | Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1)
$2,000,000 | For Two-Year Old Fillies | 1 1/16 Miles | Dirt

5 – Juju’s Map
The Florent Geroux-Brad Cox combo is my single here. She is far and away the best in this field and keeps getting better with each start. She has been training so well and is just a driving winner of success. Should cruise easily in the tepid upset of Echo Zulu.

Race 8 | Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1)
$1,000,000 | For Two-Year Old Fillies | 1 Mile| Turf

6 – Hello You (IRE)
Give me the Rockfel winner every time in this field – Hello You has been a slowly growing wonder as the races get longer in England. Loved her going into the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot and just had too much to deal with in Sandrine. Now she has improved tremendously and continues to get better. She did have a slipup at Goodwood back in August, but Goodwood isn’t for everyone. I’m impressed with what she has done and looking at her being a very strong finisher. A standout here for me.

7 – Consumer Spending
Klaravich & Chad Brown team up for this daughter of More Than Ready. She has been up against weaker company at Laurel last out, but it was an excellent prep for this one. Her training has been going well at Belmont and she fits well in this field. Her adaptable turn of foot puts her in the right spot and could be sitting on a big one with Flavien Prat aboard.

11 – Haughty
Young… very young… but showing lots of promise. Going to play her here as she is at the right spot in her form cycle. Don’t want to miss her at a very big price.

Race 9 | Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1)
$2,000,000 | For Two-Year Old C&G | 1 1/6 Miles | Dirt

1 – Jack Christopher
Oh man, is Jack Christopher a standout here! Romping winner first time out and then easy winner of the Champagne, Jack Christopher has been the ideal son of Munnings through two starts. Finds himself against a pretty average field of 2yos otherwise. If you need a lock on Friday, Jack Christopher looks to be the one.

5 – Double Thunder
While more of the money will be on the other Pletcher here, Double Thunder might just be the better of the two. Improving in each start, this son of Super Saver runs one of the best races of the field when he stays out of trouble. His closing kick is dangerous and Flavien Prat is one of the best at getting everything from who is under him. Getting blinks on should keep him out of trouble and into the winners circle.

9 – Pinehurst
Baffert has a few here as he makes the trip down to Del Mar. I’ll stick on the one that is two-for-two at Del Mar, Pinehurst, over the others. Solid winning effort in the Del Mar Futurity over this course and has been training well. Looks to have the most adaptable running style compared to all the other Bafferts.

Race 10 | Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1)
$1,000,000 | For Two-Year Old C&G | 1 Mile | Turf

4 – Tiz The Bomb
It wasn’t too long ago that longshot Hit It A Bomb was lighting up my Breeders’ Cup weekend. Now his son Tiz The Bomb hopes to do the same. The Bourbon and Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile winner has not let anything get in his way enroute to Del Mar. Kenneth McPeek has him in top form and on the best form cycle for this race. His turn of foot is far above the others in this field and the overall pace sets up well for him to stalk and pounce late. Looking to win big here.

2 – Albahr (GB)
Does Frankie get a chance at a patented leap in the winners circle this year? The ageless Italian has a great shot with this Appleby trainee for Godolphin. Winner of the Summer Stakes at Woodbine last out, Albahr has won his last four in great fashion, leading and then pulling away late. The son of Dubawi is regally bred and has a lot to like. Only question is how he will handle the faster pace here in this race, but otherwise he’s going to be one to want throughout.

6 – Mackinnon
Doug O’Neill has a sleeping giant in his barn with this son of American Pharoah. Winner of three straight, including the Del Mar Juvenile Turf over this course and distance and the Zuma Beach last out, Mackinnon has been inching closer and closer to top turf 2yo company. Well bred and showing lots of late burst, this young trainee is one to watch on Friday. While needing a bit of luck to get out of what is sure to be a bunched field, if he can get free, he will be tough to stop down the stretch.

2021 Belmont Stakes & Undercard Selections

The Final Jewel of the Triple Crown, the Test of the Champions, the Belmont Stakes always offers excitement and plenty of storylines. While the Derby winner Medina Spirit won’t be here after the suspension of Bob Baffert and his failed bid in the Preakness, we do get Preakness winner Rombauer, 2yo Champion Essential Quality, and a flight of other top quality 3yos. While we may not have a Triple Crown on the line, the August Belmont Memorial Cup will be going to a very deserving champion – one that will join the names of some of histories best horses.

Race 3 – Woody Stephens Stakes (G1)
12:47pm ET | $400,000 | Three Year Olds | 7 Furlongs Dirt
(3) Jackie’s Warrior | (6) Caddo River | (2) Drain the Clock
Jackie’s Warrior returns to the site of his biggest win, the Champagne Stakes last fall, and gets a race that suits so well for him. While he will need to deal with a bit more pace pressure with Caddo River, his form is too tough to test – should be able to escape this race easily with another victory – shaping up to be an excellent one-turn horse. Backing up are Caddo River, who I am excited to see return to one-turn, and Drain the Clock, who comes in well and improving out of many similar races.

Race 4 – Brooklyn Stakes (G2)
1:22pm ET | $400,000 | 4YO and Up | 1 1/2 Miles Dirt
(2) Ry’s the Guy | (7) Ajaaweed | (9) Lone Rock
A wide open affair in the older horse version of the Belmont. One of the oldest races run at Belmont Park, the Brooklyn offers older marathon runners a chance at big money – and joining many historic champions in graded stakes glory in this spot. I have faith that Ry’s the Guy will return to his winning ways in this one. He was just beaten in his return in the Marathon at Churchill Downs last out by Lone Rock, but that was his first back in months. This races sets up well on his form cycle and like the move to Jose Ortiz. Meanwhile, Ajaaweed looks to continue to step up as the races get longer; his pedigree and style screams distance to me – love him in this spot to improve but may still be a race away from winning. Finally, distance is the name of the game for Lone Rock, who may be the best marathoner in the US right now. Should run well, but is stepping up a bit in this spot.

Race 5 – Acorn Stakes (G1)
2:01pm ET| $500,000 | Three Year Old Fillies | 1 Mile Dirt
(2) Obligatory | (3) Miss Brazil | (6) Search Results
There is a ton of speed stacked up in this elite race for three year old fillies – which brings the Eight Belles winner against the Kentucky Oaks runner-up. Could Obligatory go from last to first once again? I hope so – she reeled in the whole field in the Eight Belles and faces a very similar task here with almost everyone else being full of speed. Meanwhile, Miss Brazil – the newcomer of the group, looks to take them all the way after she did just that over this course last out; she has the speed and the talent, but can she beat the tougher class? And I can’t leave Search Results out – the Kentucky Oaks runner-up should be better suited for the one-turn mile than she was for the testing course she saw at Churchill Downs last out.

Race 6 – Jaipur Stakes (G1)
2:41pm ET | $400,000 | 3YO and Up | 6 Furlongs Turf
(4) Fast Boat | (11) Got Stormy | (6) Bound for Nowhere
I loved Fast Boat in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint and will be riding with him again here; this son of City Zip swallowed the field up late to take the race last out and has the running style to win here in a Jaipur that is often won in a blanket finish. I do like the cut back in distance for Got Stormy, who I appreciate far more when she goes sprinting; Mark Casse preps her sprinting with these one mile affairs and then turn her back in distance for very good runs – hopeful for more of that here. And won’t leave Bound for Nowhere off the ticket – he has been an impressive sprinter throughout his career for Wesley Ward, although most of his success has come at Keeneland, and has a win over this course a few years back. He seems to be in good form off his win in the Shakertown last out and will be one to watch if he enters well.

Race 7 – Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1)
3:18pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up F&M | 1 1/16 Miles Dirt
(5) Shedaresthedevil | (6) Water White | (2) Valiance
The unfortunate scratch of Swiss Skydiver means we won’t see the rematch of Swiss Skydiver v Shedaresthedevil v Letruska. This also changes the pace scenario up, which I think favors Shedaresthedevil heavily. She is my top pick here and should run away with the field. I will put Water White underneath as she is one that loves the one turn and has been running well with the best of them; just a few lengths away from competing. And watch out for Valiance – she has been sharp entering this race off the layoff; she upset Shedaresthedevil in the Spinster last fall and proved herself running second to Monomoy Girl in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff – watch out if she turns up well!

Race 8 – Just a Game Stakes (G1)
3:58pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up F&M | 1 Mile Turf
(11) Blowout | (9) Summer Romance | (3) Daddy Is a Legend
The Belmont turf tends to trend towards front runners in mile races and outside of Blowout, there really isn’t anyone looking for the lead. Blowout took them gate to wire impressively in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile last out and looks to do that again. She is dangerous on the front end and Flavien Prat has got her where she wants to be – this Chad Brown trainee is going to be tough to real back in. Meanwhile Charlie Appleby brings in two, with Summer Romance and Althiqa; when he ships to the US, he does so to win – with nearly a 50% click in wins with his last 7. I would include both on any ticket, but Summer Romance is my top selection coming off the win in the Balanchine; in real good form, the better of the pair, and should enjoy this trip. Finally, Daddy Is a Legend is a longshot for George Weaver that is always well placed; George Weaver had her cranked up well last out in her return to the stable, and she has done her best running at Belmont Park – with a shot at the price.

Race 9 – Metropolitan Handicap (G1)
4:42pm ET | $1,000,000 | 3YO and Up | 1 Mile Dirt
(1) Mischievous Alex | (2) Dr Post | (5) By My Standards
The Carter Handicap winner, Westchester winner, Oaklawn Handicap winner, Churchill Downs runner up, Oaklawn mile winner, and Pegasus World Cup/Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner all line up for a stacked edition of the Met Mile. This competitive field gives us six horses that all have a chance. Personally, I’m playing this as if Knicks Go needs one after his trip to Saudi Arabia, though I will use him in multi-race wagers. Instead, I play with Mischievous Alex – the winner of the Carter last out; he has improved leaps and bounds since switching to Saffie Joseph, Jr. and has some of the best speed in this field. I do play with Dr Post, who has a lot of talent and is entering in good form for Todd Pletcher – this might be a bit tougher in class for him, but he has shown a lot of skill in his past races and will try again here to capture a big one, and with By My Standards, who also shows his best stuff and his pedigree suggests that he will show better when running around one-turn miles.

Race 10 – Manhattan Stakes (G1)
5:38pm ET | $750,000 | 4YO and Up| 1 1/4 Miles Turf
(9) Gufo | (7) Channel Cat | (4) Domestic Spending

Last year’s Hollywood Derby has already given us G1 winners in Domestic Spending and Smooth Like Strait from the top three… now it is Gufo’s turn. He was so close in the Man O’ War last out, but was just short against Channel Cat. He gets a firmer turf than that time here and looks to upset the Pegasus World Cup Turf Winner in Colonel Liam. He won over this course and distance last year in the Belmont Derby and looks to try again here. I’ll be playing with Channel Cat, the winner of the Man O’ War (although no one has done the Man O’ War – Manhattan double since Gio Ponti in 2009), who battled everyone out last out and should get the lone lead here – going to play catch me if you can and not sure who here can other than Gufo. Finally, Domestic Spending is uber tough and I don’t want to be caught in a spot where I don’t include him – he is a winner of three straight, although never this long, and has been improving with each start.

Race 11 – Belmont Stakes (G1)
6:49pm ET | $1,500,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 1/2 Miles Dirt

Race Notes:
1- Bourbonic: One of three for Pletcher here as he looks to take another Belmont Stakes. Bourbonic was the huge upset winner of the Wood Memorial, coming from the clouds to just get up. Bourbonic and Carmouche teamed up again in the Kentucky Derby, but finished well behind in 13th, but did improve down the stretch. His pedigree suggests that he should love the added distance, but the Belmont Stakes isn’t one to win coming from the clouds. If the pace is quick, he has a chance to upset, but otherwise not going to consider him a win factor. However, closers love to peak up in the exotics – so keep him in mind there.
2- Essential Quality: Four of the last ten Belmont Stakes winners have been by Tapit, and a fifth winner is real possible with the 2yo champion. The Kentucky Derby didn’t go as planned after a bumped start and trying to make ground on a very speed favoring course. He finished a solid length back of Medina Spirit. Now, all eyes are on him once again and he has all the inclinations of the Belmont Stakes winner. The way he runs, how he trains, and what his pedigree is, suggests he has this. He should run well here and Brad Cox has a dangerous one here to try and get his first Triple Crown race win.
3- Rombauer: The Preakness winner returns on short rest to try and grab the third jewel in the Belmont Stakes. Not sure he will take to such a long distance, or a race that doesn’t set up with for him with little pace, but he has proven himself a tough one when the pace is slow – just look back on Essential Quality’s Blue Grass. Worth a look, especially in the exotics, and will be an exciting horse to watch throughout the year.
4- Hot Rod Charlie: The Louisiana Derby winner has been getting a lot of attention lately in the lead up for the Belmont Stakes. He finished a solid third last out in the Kentucky Derby after facing traffic and looks to try and change the course here and flip the script. Going to depend a lot on if he can get clear early and really what Flavien Prat (who chooses back on him over Preakness winner Rombauer) does with him early. Just don’t think he wants anything to do with this distance and he has peaked back in Louisiana. Not a play for me.
5- France Go de Ina: The Japanese import tries his hand again at a Triple Crown race and looks for that Belmont Stakes bonus that is available. The Preakness served as a prep for him and now he gears up for this. The Japanese horses have been solid in the past in the Belmont Stakes, including fan favorite Lani a few years ago. Can France Go de Ina add his name to this list of Japanese runners hitting the board? Hard to say – but the prep in him and running style tends to mean he will be up there – huge exotics chance.
6- Known Agenda: The Florida Derby winner has turned out well throughout his career – but really excelled on the switch to Gulfstream Park. Perhaps he is a horse for course, and it could be that, but the move from Gulfstream Park to Belmont Park always seems to work well for Todd Pletcher. While we don’t know who the jockey is after the injury to Irad Ortiz, Jr., Known Agenda has the right running style to be up there at the finish – going to be one that should sit close and try to make a run at the end.
7- Rock Your World: The Santa Anita Derby winner lost all chance last time out when he got off slow and started near the back in the Kentucky Derby. Now, he tries to break well and get to the lead. Even with a slow start, the lack of traffic here should lend itself to allowing Rock Your World to get back on top. He is a dangerous threat in the lead and the Belmont Stakes tends to favor speed. My only major concern would be the lack of stamina on the sire-side, but he does have Empire Maker on the dam-side, which may be enough to allow him to sustain his front running talent all the way around.
8- Overtook: The Peter Pan third place finisher and Withers runner up is well overclassed, but Todd Pletcher has him improving with each start and should do well at the longer distance. I love this horse from marathon races later in his career, and I’ll give him a long look at going here to finish in the money. Blinkers on may help.

Race Selections:
My Belmont Stakes horse is going to be the 2yo Champion, (2) Essential Quality. Everything on paper and everyone on film makes sense here. He is going to be forwardly placed, his pedigree suggests he will love this, his back races suggest so much talent, and he just fits the bill. Brad Cox said months back that this was his Belmont horse, and he may be right. Essential Quality might not pay much but will be worth the play. Outside of him, (6) Known Agenda and (7) Rock Your World should be placed well, with Rock Your World the likely early pace. Both are going to be must uses for me underneath. Rounding out my exotics are led by Rombauer and France Go de Ina. The Preakness winner always runs a solid race and this should be no exception. Meanwhile the Japanese import is going to be looking for a top three finish to get a nice check and getting a much more normal (and stress free) road to this race might do him enough to finish near the front.

2021 Preakness & Undercard Selections

It has definitely been one of the most eventful Preakness weeks in recent memory, and all for something off the track. Yet, with all of the distractions surrounding this race, the Second Jewel of the Triple Crown stands with a field that, while small, is very competitive. We don’t have too many names from the Derby, just a handful, but we have many top quality horses entering the Triple Crown field, including another Bob Baffert in Concert Tour. Meanwhile, Chad Brown takes two bullets at winning another Preakness with entrants Crowded Trade and Risk Taking. And then there is the Coach, D. Wayne Lukas – who most recently won it nearly ten years ago with Oxbow – tries to win this race again with a son of American Pharoah, Ram. Or perhaps the very quirky Japanese import, France Go de Ina, will be the one to come out on top.

Race 1 – Sir Barton
10:30am ET | $100,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 1/16 mi Dirt
(1) The King Cheek | (3) Market Cap | (4) Hozier
As good as Hozier may be class wise, I can’t fathom betting a horse odds on that lost by 19 lengths last out. Instead, going with the speed to the inside, which was key on Friday, with The King Cheek. I scratch out the two bad beats at Aqueduct – it is clear that this sone of Laoban is a bleeder; now staying on Lasix and coming out of a win, this speedy horse should excel with the move up in distance. Market Cap could be a good price on the return to racing and adding of Lasix; maybe not the class of some of the better horses but could be good on the return. Have to include Hozier in any bets, but definitely not one that I’d recommend betting to win.

Race 3 – Chick Lang (G3)
11:41am ET | $200,000 | Three Year Olds | 6 Furlongs Dirt
(2) Mighty Mischief | (4) Jaxon Traveler | (3) Hemp
This is going to be a very quick race – two speedy horses ship in from Oaklawn to try and take this gate to wire. I am going to go with the larger price of the two, Mighty Mischief, who steps into stakes company for the first time; I prefer the jockey here in Ricardo Santana, Jr. who should be much more aggressive to get the lead over Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Jaxon Traveler. As for him, I’ll use him next, as the Bachelor Stakes winner has a lot of sprinting promise. This pair of Steven Asmussen runners both look primed for big things. If for some reason the pace ends up being too much, Hemp would be the one to get the play as a nice stalker who might be fresh enough to pass our tired leaders late and take home this race.

Race 6 – Gallorette (G3)
1:28pm ET | $150,000 | 3YO and Up F&M | 1/16 mi Turf
(5) Mean Mary | (3) Flight Lady | (2) Great Island
Another race with a heavy favorite, the Gallorette has a horse in Mean Mary that is almost impossible to get past. I won’t be betting against her in her seasonal debut. Probable lock to win. To make some money, I will be putting the European import Flighty Lady underneath – a Group One placed horse in France who was a solid winner in debut last out at Aqueduct for Chad Brown; and another Chad Brown in Great Island, who looks to be in good form coming into this race and may improve now being taken off Lasix.

Race 8 – James W. Murphy
2:45pm ET | $100,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 mi Turf
(1) Indian Lake | (5) Extrasexybigdaddee | (7) Charles Chrome
Going to take a big stab at a price on the inside with Indian Lake, the son of Daredevil out of a Stormy Atlantic mare. Love how this pedigree responds to the turf and think this horse, who has been doing well in last two, will take a step up on the surface switch. Perhaps it’s a stab that won’t work, but I’m not sold on this field being competitive with many horses coming out of bad performance of trying turf to see what they got. I’m going to then play with one of the two Michael Trombetta runners with Extrasexybigdaddee, who faced much tougher and was somewhat competitive early last out; gets a much easier field and has a chance to upset this field with Jose Ortiz aboard. Then will continue to play against this heavy favorite here, taking the son of California Chrome on seasonal debut with Charles Chrome – showed a lot of promise as a 2yo and now gets to return off a layoff and finding a spot that should work well for his come from behind running style.

Race 9 – Skipat
3:25pm ET | $100,000 | 3YO and Up F&M | 6 Furlongs Dirt
(6) Dontletsweetfoolya | (8) French Empire | (5) Chub Wagon
Lacey Gaudet looks to steal one with this Maryland-based sprinter; the daughter of Stay Thirsty reeled off five straight sprint victories before faltering in the Barbara Fritchie last out. That was much tougher of a spot than what she will see today, and with a fair bit less pace pressure on the front end. Getting Lasix back and dropping to six furlongs puts her in a real good spot – very live. Then the new addition to the Brad Cox family, French Empire, finds her way in against mostly younger as she moves into stakes company. She found her best stuff sprinting at Oaklawn in live races and looks to improve on the trainers switch. Finally the undefeated Chub Wagon is very tough to get by here – only thing against him is that this is a step up, but he has been dominant each out and will be really tough to beat if he gets a clear easy lead; don’t love the price, but this is one you cannot leave off any ticket.

Race 10 – Jim McKay Turf Sprint
4:05pm ET | $100,000 | 3YO and Up | 5 Furlongs Turf
(1) Boldor | (2) The Connector | (5) Hollis
One of my favorite races year in and year out, the Jim McKay Turf Sprint is a brilliant sprint race that pits some of the speediest turf sprints against one another. This race comes my best bet in the day with Boldor for Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana, Jr. While not with a lot of turf experience, this son of Munnings has been very impressive this spring, with a strong victory at the distance at Delta Downs in the Sam’s Town, and then followed up with a win in the King Cotton and a much better than expected 5th in the Hot Springs behind C Z Rocket, Whitmore, and Flagstaff. He then got sent to Keeneland for a very tough allowance, finishing a strong second – I think he follows up these performances with a dominant win here. Underneath, watch out for the Keeneland winner The Connector for Mark Hoffman – strong winner last out and has a lot of good runs at this level and distance; huge perk seeing Jose Ortiz aboard. And don’t doubt Hollis, who might be the speed of the speed here; if he can get the lead, very strong chance he takes them all the way.

Race 11 – Maryland Sprint (G3)
4:41pm ET | $150,000 | 3YO and Up | 6 Furlongs Dirt
(3) Mucho | (8) Special Reserve | (11) Seven Nation Army
This rendition of the Maryland Sprint is loaded with speed – so much so that it is really tough to warrant a play on a front runner. Instead, I land on the former Bill Mott trainee, Mucho, who has shown glimmers of prowess closing in on a fast pace at this level. Should get a better ride this time out with Jose Ortiz and might be one of the few fresh horses running late. Meanwhile his brother Irad has a very live mount in the Mike Maker trained Special Reserve, coming out of the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland against a very tough Flagstaff. The cutback in distance and class break should help. And don’t leave Ron Moquett off your ticket as Seven Nation Army ships in from Oaklawn in good form and last time he shipped out of Moquett’s Kentucky-Arkansas circle, he was a winner of the David M. Vance Sprint at Remington Park. Major threat.

Race 12 – Dinner Party (G2)
5:38pm ET | $250,000 | 3YO and Up | 1 1/16 mi Turf
(5) Sacred Life | (8) French Empire | (5) Chub Wagon
I hate to go with the heavy favorite here in the Dinner Party Stakes, but this race sets up well for the Chad Brown trainee who finished third last out in the Maker’s Mark Mile. Sacred Life should be able to sit behind the early pace and round down the leaders on a turf course that has tended to favor well with late runners in these longer races. He outclasses all here and will be a tough competitor to beat. As prices to bolster underneath, I’ll be using the improving Midnight Tea Time, who looked good in victory last out at Keeneland, and the young Kuramata, who makes his fourth career start here.

Race 13 – Preakness (G1)
6:47pm ET | $1,000,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 3/16 mi Dirt

Race Notes:
1- Ram (Ricardo Santana, Jr./D. Wayne Lukas): The six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas is looking to win a Triple Crown race in five straight decades with a new shooter and son of American Pharoah. The Coach wouldn’t be sending this horse here without at least chance at victory. Although it took eight chances for him to break his maiden, Ram followed up his victory with a second, coasting home at Churchill Downs at the beginning of the month to win easily. The allowance race victory looked professional and showed a lot of promise for this one. He may need a few more starts at this class before becoming competitive, but nothing would surprise me here. His pedigree suggests he will relish this distance, and is one of the few horses in the field to score high points on the pedigree (only Medina Spirit comes close). Worth a long look at a big price to at least hit the exotics.
2- Keepmeinmind (David Cohen/Robertino Diodoro): The Kentucky Derby did not bode well for this son of Laoban. Besides being a deep closer, his slow break and wide position proved too much to overcome; however, he did move up well from 19th to 7th by the end of the race, passing a mix of tired runners and those trying to move forward. Still, that effort combined with his previous performances do not lend much to a chance here.
3- Medina Spirit (John Velazquez/Bob Baffert): It has been an eventful week for the Kentucky Derby winner. Say what you want about what happened this week, but nothing should be taken away from his wire-to-wire victory. Medina Spirit enters trying to win back-to-back and put himself in a spot for a Triple Crown in the Belmont. But to do that, he needs to get past nine rivals that will all be gunning for him. The big problem last out was that no one really went to challenge him early on a very speed favoring course, giving John Velazquez an easy lead and ability to take them all the way. This time, I don’t expect that to be the case, and will be playing against the Derby winner here.
4- Crowded Trade (Javier Castellano/Chad Brown): Skipping the Derby might have been good for the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial. He had an awful trip last out that made him put in far more effort than he really should have. I expect him to get much better this time around. However, I don’t see much in his pedigree to put him in the mix to win here and likely will be running up the track down the stretch. Chance to catch the exotics, but that is about that.
5- Midnight Bourbon (Irad Ortiz, Jr./Steven Asmussen): Last out is not how you win a horse race. Midnight Bourbon did not have a great start and was pushed well off his preferred spot. Rather than being able to be close to the lead, he chased all the way around, ultimately ending up too far back to make a difference. I’m hoping that Irad Ortiz, Jr. gives him a much more aggressive ride out of the gate and gets him towards the front, where he does his best running. His pedigree suggests that he will do better at much longer, which that combined with his performances may make the case that this is too short of a race for him. Still, very live here if he can get near the front early.
6- Rombauer (Flavien Prat/Michael McCarthy): One of the new shooters here, Rombauer has been getting a lot of talk entering this race. He ran about even last out against Essential Quality and Highly Motivated, before being given a rest up to this race. His best race came two back in the El Camino Real Derby, a winner over the all-weather at Golden Gate Fields. His past running lines suggest he may be better on turf and that this doesn’t fit well for him. A lot of money will go his way, but I just don’t see it.
7- France Go de Ina (Joel Rosario/Hideyuki Mori): Not quite sure what to make of the Japanese import. He was excellent in Japan, taking two strong wins out at Hanshin Racecourse to end last year. However, his debut this year in the UAE Derby left so much to be desired. He never looked right and just had no chance throughout. This week, he has had a few eventful cases of dumping the rider and just doesn’t seem like he wants to be here. But, he has a lot of talent and if he can find a way to keep calm and push forward, will be a horse worth a look for the exotics.
8- Unbridled Honor (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher): One of the horses to watch here! A very strong runner who charged home and nearly got to King Fury in the slop last out. Getting back to dry dirt should help improve his closing kick and put him on the path to an exotics spot. He has ideal pedigree that has a lot of upside at this distance and race style, and his back form shows he fits right here. With an anticipated fast pace, this race gives him a huge shot at an upset. Must use.
9- Risk Taking (Jose Ortiz/Chad Brown): Scratch last out and you have a solid horse that would’ve been one of the favorites. He bobbled at the start in the Wood Memorial and had no chance after that. He is very dependent on a strong break and that may be his downfall, but Risk Taking has all the things you like to see. His Withers win was impressive, especially winning the way he did with very little going his way. Not sure how he will respond with a tougher class, but Chad Brown has a huge chance to take another Preakness with the same silks that won him his first.
10- Concert Tour (Mike Smith/Bob Baffert): In most years, Concert Tour would be the favorite here. The Rebel winner faltered last out in a duel late, missing out on winning the Arkansas Derby. Some time off seems to do him well as he has been sharp in his recent workouts as he comes back ready to run in the Preakness. Each start he seems to get more impressive and there is little to not like about him. Does Mike Smith capture another Triple Crown race? Very likely with this one. Hard to say no – all depends on if he comes back in form.

Race Selections:
My play ends up on a horse I loved in the Kentucky Derby, (5) Midnight Bourbon. The break cost him all chance last out, but he showed prowess and, with a more aggressive ride, could’ve tested Medina Spirit. I was impressed with how he finished up the race and looked good in the company. He didn’t end up exerting much, unlike the winner, and looks to be mostly fresh. I look for Irad to give a much more aggressive ride, take the race near the front, and try to make every poll a winning one. Both (8) Unbridled Honor and (10) Concert Tour are ones to watch – new shooters here – and either could’ve had favoritism most years. Underneath there is a slew of horses with chance with my favorites of Ram for Lukas and France Go de Ina, who should improve here. Lots to like about this field – and should be a race to make some money too!

2021 Black-Eyed Susan & Undercard Selections

Race 8 | Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3)
3:07pm ET | $150,000 | 3YO and Up F&M | 1 1/8 Mi Dirt
(8) Lucky Stride | (2) Dreamalildreamofu | (6) Mrs. Danvers
Lot of speed in this race with more than half the field going to the front. I’ll take the third place finisher in the Top Flight last out with Lucky Stride. Would’ve placed better had it not been for an awkward break that put her well behind. If she breaks sharp, she should be well placed behind the early speed and her late kick is one to watch. Should enjoy Pimlico. Behind, I’ll use a price in Dreamalildreamofu with Florent Geroux aboard – last out winner of the Latonia at Turfway Park returns in good form and on fire with two easy victories. Good price for a horse that should be one of the better ones in the F&M division this year. Then add in Mrs. Danvers who really needed these last two runs on her return to the races – eligible to improve this out.

Race 9 | The Very One
3:38pm ET | $100,000 | 3YO and Up F&M | 5 Furlongs Turf
(3) Caravel | (2) Gogo Shoes | (10) Dendrobia
Elizabeth Merryman is not a trainer that I’m very familiar with, but she has one horse that has peaked my interest a lot, and enough that Florent Geroux hops aboard. I love Caravel on the cutback in distance – she was spectacular early in her career at 5f and, while stepping up, showed a lot of early pace at longer. The cut back should help her sustain and go gate to wire. Gogo Shoes also is improving and returned to the races well – this is a big step up for her but should enjoy the continued move to sprinting. Finally, taking a price near the outside to hit the board with Dendrobia, who was stealing ground left and right in this race last October; the last two starts have been against tougher and should enjoy the cut back down to her class – not a win contender in the slightest, but chance to hit the board with this hot pace.

Race 10 | Miss Preakness (G3)
4:09pm ET | $150,000 | 3YO Fillies | 6 Furlongs Dirt
(7) Inject | (5) Street Lute | (2) Red Ghost
This is a major step up for this Brad Cox trainee – but Inject looks the part here as she takes on tougher after her strong victory last out at Keeneland. She has come a long way since her 8th place finish in the Pocahontas last fall, improving in each start. The local horse Street Lute is a must use – she has been a top sprinter in her class in the region and looks to show it off against out of town foes. Finally, nothing worse than losing to a Wesley Ward sprinting filly – and Red Ghost looks to play the part – going to be a tough one to beat if she is on her game with John Velazquez aboard.

Race 11 | Hilltop
4:40pm ET | $100,000 | 3YO Fillies | 1 Mi Turf
(5) Bubbles On Ice | (9) Journeytothemoon | (13) Phantom Vision
Christophe Clement has the clear favorite here in Bubbles On Ice, and after her brilliant US debut, it is hard to doubt her. She won the Memories of Silver after a very troubled trip and going wide throughout, needing to make a huge sweeping move to win. Her inside draw should help and now should improve in her second start here. Journeytothemoon makes her first start on turf and honestly that couldn’t be a better move; her pedigree on both sides suggest she will love the turf, and a mile is exactly in what her real chances fall at. If she responds well to the turf, she could be one to hit the board or even win at a price. Last out didn’t go so well for Phantom Vision, but this speedy daughter of Declaration of War should improve upon the step up in distance – her form suggests she is right where she needs to be to possible steal this one.

Race 12 | Pimlico Special (G3)
5:12pm ET | $250,000 | 3YO and Up | 1 3/16 Mi Dirt
(11) Last Judgement | (10) Alwaysmining | (1) Modernist
An up and coming handicap division horse, Last Judgment, looks to be one to contend with the top – he was impressive in victory in the Challenger and then couldn’t hold on last out in the Ghostzapper on what was a tiring course. Now he gets a favoring course and lone speed – a huge matchup for success. Training really well coming into this races is the Maryland-bred Alwaysmining. Although not in the same form as he was a few years ago, this five year old son of Stay Thirsty has put in some very good bullet workouts as we enter into this race – should be sharp and could stalk and pounce. Finally going to put in the Excelsior winner Modernist – loved him last out and should improve off that start.

Race 13 | Black-Eyed Susan (G2)
5:44pm ET | $250,000 | 3YO Fillies | 1 1/8 Mi Dirt
(9) Adventuring | (4) Forever Boss | (1) Army Wife
Could the other top Godolphin 3yo be poised for success on a Triple Crown weekend? Adventuring looks solid entering here off a romping 6.5 length maiden breaking score and then a dominant win in the Bourbonette Oaks. Even though they kept trying to put her on the turf, the dirt has been her home and she has relished it in each start. She fits very well here and should do really well moving forward. I’m very intrigued by Forever Boss as this daughter of Tapiture moves onto conventional dirt for the second time off a huge maiden breaking score at Keeneland. Finally throw in Army Wife and Joel Rosario who should improve on the switch to a more favorable course – has lot of previous races that put her up in the charts.

2021 Kentucky Derby & Undercard Selections

With the Kentucky Derby returning to its normal spot at the First Saturday in May, so do fans underneath the twin spires. Louisville will be the center of the sports world once again as 19 three-year old colts line up with the chance of a lifetime on the line. The favorite, the juvenile champion Essential Quality for Godolphin and quickly rising young trainer Brad Cox. Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, Essential Quality has extended his undefeated streak to five with wins in the Southwest and the Blue Grass. His top foe could come right to his outside in Rock Your World, who rocked Santa Anita with his win last out in his first career start on dirt. Elsewhere, perhaps it is Irad Ortiz Jr getting his first Derby win with Pletcher & Known Agenda, or maybe Medina Spirit giving Baffert win number 7, or the Asmussen family connection with Super Stock.

Race 6 – Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2)
1:14pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up F&M | 1 mi Turf
Although Chad Brown has been the big name in turf stakes races the last many years, it has been Brad Cox that has dominated this race as of late – winning last two with Beau Recall. But there is no Cox here and two Brown runners – She’s Got You and Blowout. I prefer the latter, (6) Blowout, who has been an unlucky cookie in her last two, getting nailed at the wire by Viadera in the Noble Damsel and Matriarch; but now she gets away from her rival, gets time off, and looks to find her way wire to wire in this mile affair. Her figures are the best in this field and her style should let her get away early and not look back. Additionally, look for the longshot (7) Abscond to improve in her second start off the layoff. The form cycle she is currently in puts her well in the top company and gets Joel Rosario who has been hot as of late. (4) Zofelle is hard to leave off any tickets even after last out, where she lost to Got Stormy after being wide throughout – this may be a better trip for her to put her into contention.

Race 7 – Derby City Distaff (G2)
1:56pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up F&M | 7 Furlongs Dirt
The last thing I want to bet against is (4) Gamine as lone speed going around one turn. The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint champion makes her seasonal debut in a race that she should win by five lengths or more. I’ll take (3) Bell’s the One right behind, as she has been one of the closest to Gamine in the past and loves Churchill Downs, and (5) Hibiscus Punch who looks to be in form right now.

Race 8 – Pat Day Mile (G2)
2:48pm ET | $500,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 mi Dirt
This is a wide open edition of the old Derby Trial – with no true standout, this is the race to find an excellent price. I start with (5) Prevalence, who ran well to start the Wood Memorial but ultimately couldn’t go that long. He now heads back to one-turn and this well bred Godolphin looks to jumpstart big things with a win here. His early speed and draw should help and his recent workouts have been lights out. I then pull in the outside pair to complete my top three. (12) Joe Frazier had a great tune up last out and is peaking at the right now for Brad Cox and Florent Geroux; he keeps finding more as the races get tougher. (11) Noble Reflection should improve on the cut back down in distance and fits well in this spot.

Race 9 – American Turf (G2)
3:40pm ET | $500,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 1/16 mi Turf
The son of Sky Mesa, (13) Scarlett Sky, is a must use in one of the toughest races to handicap this weekend. While nothing here is a sure thing – this race is wide open – Scarlett Sky’s win in the Transylvania last out was one of the most visually impressive turf wins of the year thus far, showing a huge turn of foot to just get up late after being wide and showing nothing for the most part elsewhere. In a race where there is a ton of speed signed up, it looks to set up for him as long as he is on his game. I’ll also be taking (1) Excellent Timing, who will be making a big step up after two straight wins by six or more lengths against NY-bred company; perhaps its too easy to pick a Chad Brown on turf who is crushing foes, but he seems to fit. Lastly, Brad Cox has an interesting runner in (6) Royal Prince who is exiting the Bayou City at Sam Houston. His last two races have shown he is on the improve and may finally fit in this class. His tactical speed and turn of foot makes him a solid choice and at a price.

Race 10 – Churchill Downs (G1)
4:31pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up | 7 Furlongs Dirt
Some very familiar foes line up in the Churchill Downs Stakes, being held for only the second time as a G1 as it was skipped during 2020. The ageless Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Whitmore returns, although Churchill Downs has not been kind to him in his five career starts here under the Twin Spires, having only won once and finished dead last in his try at the Kentucky Derby. With both an unfavorable course and distance, Whitmore regretfully has to be a toss for me, as much as I’ll be rooting for the old man. Instead, I go to a youngster in (5) Tap It to Win, who had seen some success last year when trying to make it to top quality three-year old races, like the shortened Belmont Stakes and the H. Allen Jerkens. He got time off after the Pat Day Mile last September and came back with a tune up in the NYRABets Sprint at Tampa Bay Downs in state-bred company. While not a tough field, he drove home and pulled away down the stretch after having a very troubled trip. With Mark Casse runners, that is the type of return you want to see. He is coming in sharp and should love the one-turn seven furlong distance. Underneath, I’ll use (4) Flagstaff, who just finished behind Whitmore two back before winning last out impressively in the Commonwealth at Keeneland. His figures aren’t where I’d like them to be, but his form is sharp and should continue to improve – especially at his preferred distance. Finally, I’ll take the other seven furlong specialist in (11) Hog Creek Hustle who, although slightly outclassed here, is eligible to improve with the return to Churchill Downs.

Race 11 – Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1)
5:27pm ET | $1,000,000 | 4YO and Up | 1 1/8 mi Turf
The Pegasus World Cup Turf winner (3) Colonel Liam has been one of the top turf horses in the world thus far, showing impressive turn of foot in that race and then easily coasting home in the Muniz Memorial Classic to get to this spot. He is a stand out here. He is my top pick as he towers over this field, but watch out for (1) Masteroffoxhounds, who is really coming into top form. Last out in the San Luis Rey was just too long for him – he gets a cut back in distance to a much more favorable nine furlongs. And I’ll be throwing in the South American import (4) Ivar who makes his return to racing after having last been seen finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The slightly longer distance should do him well; will be in the mix if he returns off the layoff well.

Race 12 – Kentucky Derby (G1)
6:57pm ET | $3,000,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 1/4 mi Dirt

Race Notes:
1- Known Agenda (Irad Ortiz, Jr./Todd Pletcher): beat a huge field last out in the Florida Derby; didn’t show much last out early – got break of not getting caught in traffic; moved up on the backside; small compared to the field; fought valiantly but was a big green in victory last out; needs to grow up a bit; did not take to the TB surface; prefers a more tepid pace; didn’t take to wet ground; may be a horse for course at Gulfstream; blinks on was something he needed
2- Like the King (Drayden Van Dyke/Wesley Ward): slow breaker; short stride; been a horse for course at Turfway; got lucky late with a bunched up field last out; came on strong in last few strides; still pretty green; gets going after a bunch of pushes; needs a lot of help and urging; once gotten going though, he has dangerous speed; could be a live longshot; improving on figures.
3- Brooklyn Strong (Umberto Rispoli/Daniel Velazquez): sharp breaker; little thin; makes solid moves down backstretch against slow pace; performs much better on off track; may do better at longer; ran his race in Wood but not pace of lead pack; no late run last out; working well; may improve second off layoff; right now – no chance
4- Keepmeinmind (David Cohen/Robertino Diodoro): does not break well; tends to lag behind the field; real late mover; passes tired horses; never pace of the winners; no chance
5- Sainthood (Corey Lanerie/Todd Pletcher): breaks well; great pedigree; really game closing kick; probably should’ve own last out; been working well; live longshot
6- O Besos (Marcelino Pedroza/Gregory Foley): strong pedigree; not pace of winner last out but still tried; snuck along live pace in Louisiana Derby to make up ground; definitely a cut below
7- Mandaloun (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox): championship pedigree; quick early speed; sharpened up first after getting blinkers in Risen Star; just empty last out – odd; perhaps not comfortable with fast pace; doesn’t fit on dosage index; toss
8- Medina Spirit (John Velazquez/Bob Baffert): unique pedigree for this – lots of sprinting speed; just seems to get faster and faster each furlong; visibly impressive in each race; misses the turn often; need the lead; doesn’t have a late closing kick if challenge
9- Hot Rod Charlie (Flavien Prat/Doug O’Neill): bred out of dam of Mitole and shows lots of speed in pedigree; starts well but needs more practice breaking – comes out a bit bobbled each time; runs a lot better from front end; starting to grow each time and turning into form; very strong runner; blossoming; hot right now and tough; very live
10- Midnight Bourbon (Mike Smith/Steven Asmussen): Godolphin Arabian descendant hasn’t won this race since War Admiral; very professional and mature; strong breaker; always puts in good effort; should improve late under Mike Smith; may be peaking at the right time; one to watch
11- Dynamic One (Jose Ortiz/Todd Pletcher): was all out last time; ran valiantly in Wood; been working sharp and wouldn’t be a shocker; lightly raced at the class; needs to move forward a bit to contend
12- Helium (Julien Leparoux/Mark Casse): snuck by in the Tampa Bay Derby; just had a blessed trip last out; eligible to improve second time off layoff; likely a cut below
13- Hidden Stash (Rafael Bejarano/Victoria Oliver): strong pedigree; shoots out of the gate like a rocket; settles nicely; very calm; fights each time; too much to do last out to catch leaders; needs to improve, but has exotics chance
14- Essential Quality (Luis Saez/Brad Cox): regally bred; 2yo champion; calm breaker; cruises easily through race; running style fits the bill; tactical speed; runs on any surface; may do better as a presser; can set pace well; prefers outside; has a bit of an issue changing leads; may not love the distance; sharp worker; the one to beat
15- Rock Your World (Joel Rosario/John Sadler): lots of stamina in the pedigree; gets Joel Rosario; second start on dirt; unraced as a 2yo; very muscular; sets a very strong early pace; does not let go once he finds the lead; has a bit of trouble paying attention late if not challenged; speed figures put him along the best of them
16- King Fury (SCRATCH)
17- Highly Motivated (Javier Castellano/Chad Brown): regally bred with dam of Practical Joke; not the greatest at breaking from the gate; does not like being in traffic; seems to lack the late kick you want to see; figures are deceiving
18- Super Stock (Ricardo Santana, Jr./Steven Asmussen): mature and racing a long time; improved when being ridden as a midpack/stalker; long strider; prefers to escape traffic; although passing tired horses last out, did so while driving and was very impressive; if he can stay out of traffic, should have a huge shot to upset
19- Soup and Sandwich (Tyler Gaffalione/Mark Casse): Into Mischief crossed with Tapit; lightly raced; impressive on debut and in win at Tampa against lesser; just races so easily as stalker; probably would’ve been passed earlier in the stretch last out if had not blocked; needs a target; no strong chance
20- Bourbonic (Kendrick Carmouche/Todd Pletcher): well bred; good breaker from gate; does not need fast pace; caught great run last out; longer stretch at CD should help; huge stride; major shot to hit the board or maybe even upset if pace is fast enough

Race Selections:
For me, (14) Essential Quality has been the best horse in every start, and while he hasn’t peaked yet this year, he has done everything he needed and some to win his last two as a three-year old. Really hard to get past what looks to be one of the best favorites in some  time. After him, (10) Midnight Bourbon is a hard trier whose best is yet to come – I love his majority each start and should be getting better with the added distance; plus getting Mike Smith aboard is an instant boost. Finally, the other Asmussen may be the biggest shocker as (18) Super Stock is peaking at the right time and his Arkansas Derby win sets him up well; the most experienced horse in the field (in what is the least experienced field for a Derby on record) may be the one to wear the garland of roses.
The way the pace is setting up makes Super Stock seem like the top contender, and should be a must use on all tickets behind Essential Quality and Midnight Bourbon. Hot Rod Charlie is hot right now, though I have doubts that he can get the distance at this pace. Going to be using Known Agenda, Hot Rod Charlie, Dynamic One, Hidden Stash, Rock Your World, Bourbonic, Like the King, and Sainthood in a variety of trifectas and superfectas in the 3rd and 4th spot.
Personally, a part of me really hopes that Midnight Bourbon wins – a win in the Kentucky Derby would make history as the first Godolphin Arabian descendant to win the race since War Admiral; the dying sire line’s last hopes rest in the progeny of Tiznow and this may be his best if he can win. A Derby win would put him as a potential top sire going forward.