Kentucky Derby 2019: Cooper Family Live Draft

It’s Derby week and it’s already been a doozy.

A wide open race opened up even wider when Omaha Beach, the early betting favorite, was scratched with a breathing issue on Wednesday. He might be back in time for the Preakness, but he will not be running at Churchill Downs this weekend.

This obviously changes everything.

The bummer is that after my miserable performance last year, I’ve got the top pick in the draft Saturday morning. I would’ve likely taken Omaha Beach, but now I have no idea which horse I’m going with. I’ve narrowed it to…5. Yeah, I think just 5.

Every year I write up my angle on the race, and, after the news broke Wednesday, I think it makes sense to just go through the horses I’m considering and talk about how I think this race plays out for each.

But first, let’s look at all the horses…

The Horses

As I understand it, the scratch of the #12 horse means everybody will move up a spot in the starting gate but wear their original number. (So, for example, Code of Honor will now start from 12 but wear 13.)

UPDATE: Haikal has now been scratched too with a foot abscess. Nineteen horses will run from gates 2-20.

Here’s the list with updated bets as of Thursday afternoon…

  1. War of Will (15-1)
  2. Tax (20-1)
  3. By My Standards (15-1)
  4. Gray Magician (50-1)
  5. Improbable (5-1)
  6. Vekoma (15-1)
  7. Maximum Security (8-1)
  8. Tacitus (8-1)
  9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1)
  10. Cutting Humor (30-1)
  11. Haikal (SCR)
  12. Omaha Beach (SCR)
  13. Code of Honor (12-1)
  14. Win Win Win (12-1)
  15. Master Fencer (50-1)
  16. Game Winner (9-2)
  17. Roadster (5-1)
  18. Long Range Toddy (30-1)
  19. Spinoff (30-1)
  20. Country House (30-1)
  21. Bodexpress (30-1)

After watching all the prep races and considering the running style and gate positions, a few stand out as potential picks to win this year: War of Will, Maximum Security, Tacitus, Improbable, and Game Winner.

War of Will

This horse seemed destined to be a Derby favorite for most of the prep season, but after an awkward misstep a few lengths out the gate in his last race, the Florida Derby, he just hung with the pack and finished 9th. Prior to that step his trajectory was looking very strong. Derby winners are almost always coming off a podium finish in their last prep. War of Will isn’t.

That said, all the workout buzz this past week has been extremely favorable. The inside rail would normally be a bad draw, but this horse will need to get out near the front to help pace the pack regardless. In an overall slower race, I like War of Will to do well. It’s a matter of how well he has healed since Florida, and he seems healthy.

UPDATE: Haikal scratching means everybody shifts out from the wall. More room for War of Will to work. Post 1 doesn’t look so bad now.

Maximum Security

The only true pacesetter in this race. With Omaha Beach out, I don’t think he’ll be as pressed to push the tempo. If it’s a slow race, which I think it will be, Maximum Security could go gate to wire.

But can he go the extra distance in a longer race? He has managed every distance to date. We’ll see, but he’s also the only horse here who has never lost.

Improbable

He’s never finished worse than 2nd. After winning his first 3, he finished 2nd in the Arkansas Derby to Omaha Beach and the Rebel Stakes to Long Range Toddy. Both races were slightly wet ones, and it looks like rain may be in the forecast this weekend in Louisville. Omaha Beach was probably the better horse, but Improbable was forced 3-wide and couldn’t catch up. When Long Range Toddy beat him Improbable was forced to race four-wide the whole race cause he started far outside. He’s in prime position this time around, and Omaha Beach isn’t running.

Game Winner

Like Improbable, this horse has always finished Top 2. Two first place finishes back in late 2018, and two second place finished this spring: by a nose to Omaha Beach at the Rebel Stakes, and by a half-length to Roadster at Santa Anita.

Game Winner has the pedigree to suggests he can go longer distances. The gate shift from 16 to 15 is a significant one, because now he’s positioned on the inside edge of the auxiliary gate, which means he’ll have more room to work with to start. On top of that, the four horses to the inside of Game Winner – Master Fencer, Win Win Win, Code of Honor, Haikal – are ALL closers, so he will have plenty of space in which to maneuver early.

Tacitus

The 8-spot is the perfect starting gate. With the pacesetter to his left and a closer to his right, Tacitus won’t get pinched early and can settle in comfortably behind Improbable/Maximum Security/War of Will.

Around the last turn he’ll be silently lurking almost lazily off the lead mid-pack then suddenly emerge with a lot left in the tank. That’s his move. You almost forget he’s even in the race until he suddenly emerges and you’re wondering if he somehow just materialized in front. This feels like a Tacitus-type race in that it’s slow and with no clear favorite, it’s not hard to imagine that sort of finish.

Also of note: jockey Jose Ortiz chose to ride Tacitus over Improbable, then Ortiz’s brother Irad was then tapped for the latter.

Those are the horses I like.

Now let’s talk about a few I don’t…

Roadster

Omaha Beach and Roadster were both jockeyed by Mike Smith, who was forced to make a choice between the two for the derby. He picked Omaha Beach. If he wasn’t good enough for the jockey, he’s not good enough to pick at #1. I was all prepared to say that nobody has ever won from gate position 17, but now that Omaha Beach is out, he’ll slide into #16 instead. Still wearing 17, however.

Long Range Toddy

Instead, LRT will be in Gate 17. Bad luck. No can do. Even if he did best Improbable a few months ago….can’t do it. Although, he does finish well.

Master Fencer

Okay, he’s 50-1, so this isn’t a bold prediction here at all, but every year they invite a horse from Japan who qualifies to travel to Kentucky. This year they invited 3 different horses until somebody – Master Fencer – finally said yes.

For some reason the 4th best horse from Japan traveling halfway around the globe doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Plus Que Parfait

Two years in a row the Dubai winner has finished dead last in Kentucky – Mendlessohn (2018) and Thunder Snow (2017). Mendlessohn won in Dubai last year by like 17 lengths. Parfait stalked well before he made a slick move down the stretch to win it this year. Don’t care. I won’t be conned by the UAE Derby winner again. I’m not touching PQP.

Tax

Tax is a poor man’s Tacitus with a terrible starting position at #2. No way he escapes the stronger contenders to the outside and War of Will inside. Good horse, but not this race.

Okay, that’s enough of what I think for this year. Not sure which way I’m going to go yet, but I better know by Saturday!

Just writing it out has helped me narrow it to 3.

Family Draft Order

The draft order is based on the previous year’s results. All horses are picked. We pick 1-8 then snake back to the start. Remaining picks go to the back end again.

Here’s how the picks play out…

  • APC (1 & 16)
  • Jeff (2 & 15)
  • Q (3 & 14)
  • Karlie (4 & 13)
  • Anna (5, 12 & 20)
  • Dad (6, 11 & 19)
  • Mom (7, 10 & 18)
  • Holly (8, 9 & 17)

Like I said, this is not the year to have the #1 pick. But here we are.

Holly, of course, won with Justify last year, who went on to win the Triple Crown. Dad picked Audible at 1 allowing to Holly grab Justify at 2. #Regrets

The Draft

The draft is going down Saturday, 9:30AM CST.

  1. Tacitus (APC) – He’s coming off a win, he appears to be getting better and he’s never out of it. The others have more question marks. I think he sets up right where he wants to early and gets to run his race. Plus he’s gray.
  2. Game Winner (Jeff) – Could definitely win. This is a fast horse with a not-as-bad-as-it-looks gate position.
  3. Improbable (Q) – Another contender. I’m betting Improbable to show for sure. He’ll be there late.
  4. Maximum Security (Karlie) – Can he hold on to the lead gate to wire??? Recent history shows that’s the way to win the Derby.
  5. Roadster (Anna) – The remaining Baffert horse and top contender. Could win. I don’t like it.
  6. Vekoma (Dad) – Weird pick but a good one. He’ll be up near the front and could outlast others.
  7. Win Win Win (Mom) – This is the perfect time to remind everyone that this race is wide open and like 10 horses could actually win this thing.
  8. Code of Honor (Holly) – This horse’s betting odds have skyrocketed today. I was kinda sitting on him as a possible dark horse to sneak on to the podium.
  9. By My Standards (Holly) – The betting nerds love this guy and I’m not really sure why.
  10. Tax (Mom) – He could do it. Needs a lot to break his way.
  11. Spinoff (Dad) – Stretch pick, but I like his speed. He’s the type of horse who could win if there weren’t 15 horses better than him.
  12. Country House (Anna) – Worst horse name ever. It’s so bad I almost like it.
  13. War of Will (Karlie) – I’m shocked WOW is still here. I happily would’ve taken him in the 6-10 range. Love that he has the extra room without anybody in Gate 1. He’ll get a good break. If he’s healthy I could absolutely see him winning.
  14. Plus Que Parfait (Q) – UAE Derby winner is a no no. But whatever.
  15. Cutting Humor (Jeff) – Best horse available.
  16. Long Range Toddy (APC) – LRT is better than I expected at #16. I don’t think he’ll win, especially if the track is suboptimal, but he managed to win a prep race which is more than the other 3 can say.
  17. Grey Magician (Holly) – My son likes this horse because his name is cool and he didn’t have the attention span to listen past the 4th horse. Best horse left.
  18. Master Fencer (Mom) – Japan horse. No way.
  19. Bodexpress (Dad) – Deep closer. Doesn’t have a shot really, but what if everyone else like falls over and he’s the only one left?

That’s the draft!

I’m running Tacitus and Long Range Toddy. Great draft from Karlie, who has two of my favorites and could be running 1-2 into the final turn (which is exactly when Tacitus will sneak up and take over). Improbable will be there. Probably Game Winner too.

The race runs at 5:50PM CST. I’ll check back in then with the results.

The Results

Results will be posted after the race.

Photo – Sports Illustrated, accessed here: https://www.si.com/horse-racing/2018/05/05/justify-wins-144th-kentucky-derby

2018 Kentucky Derby: Cooper Family Live Draft

It’s Derby Week! And, as usual, the Cooper Family is gearing up for another live draft.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

The Tradition

Welp. Another favorite ended up wearing the roses again in 2017.

The favorite has won every year I’ve posted about it. Granted, I’ve only been documenting things here since 2014, so the streak isn’t long but it’s a streak nonetheless, and three out of the four years was with the 1st overall pick…

  • 2014: California Chrome (Karlie – 1st)
  • 2015: American Pharoah (APC – 3rd)
  • 2016: Nyquist (Mom – 1st)
  • 2017: Always Dreaming (Quinten – 1st)

One could argue that Always Dreaming wasn’t the obvious favorite last year – he didn’t even open with the best odds on race day (Classic Empire was 4-1, while McCraken and Always Dreaming were co-second favorite at 5-1), but by the time betting closed, Always Dreaming had dropped to 9/2, which was ultimately the best. Truth is, if I’d had the top pick last year, I would’ve looked elsewhere, just like both Karlie and Mom did in 2015 when they let American Pharoah fall to me with the 3rd pick.

So sure, the favorite keeps winning, but there’s no telling who the true favorite even is sometimes, and there’s no guarantee the person picking 1st will even take the horse with the best odds. To quote Ned Ryerson: It’s all one big crapshoot anyhoo.

Quinten did take Always Dreaming first overall, and the horse did break well beating everyone inside him to the rail and that’s all she wrote. Well done, Q.

I finished surprisingly well with long shot closer Lookin at Lee finishing 2nd. I added him with my final pick at #18 and got lucky. Dad made the mistake of selecting the #17 horse, Irish War Cry, who finished 10th, which earned Dad the top pick in this year’s draft.

We do this every year, and these annual posts are mostly for my own documentation at this point. Maybe some of you enjoy them. Who knows.

Ok let’s look at this year’s group.

The Horses

Yes, the favorite keeps winning, but this year looks dicier. This year we get to talk about a CURSE!!

The Curse of Apollo.

Every horse in the Kentucky Derby is a 3-year old. It’s a requirement for the race. This means each racehorse has only run handful of competitive races up to this point. Most began racing as 2-year olds, but occasionally there’s a horse or two who arrived late to the track and never ran before turning 3.

In 1882, a horse named Apollo won the Kentucky Derby after only running as a 3-year old. Since then, 61 horses have tried to do the same not a single one of them has won. In 136 years…not a single one.

There have honestly been just a few who even came close. Of those 61 horses, just 3 finished 2nd (most recently – Bodemeister, 2012) and only 1 finished 3rd (Curlin, 2007), and the rest didn’t even make the podium.

So, the Curse of Apollo…is it real? Do you believe in curses? Because it’s about to be seriously tested as two of the top contenders never raced as a 2-year old: Justify (opened as the favorite at 3-1) and Magnum Moon (third favorite at 6-1).

Justify is 3 for 3 in prep races though, most notably a wire-to-wire win in the Santa Anita Derby. Likewise, Magnum Moon is 2 for 2 including a win at the Arkansas Derby.

Other top options include Mendelssohn (5-1) who dominated the UAE Derby by like 19 lengths (!!!), Bolt D’Oro (8-1) who was the closest to taking over Justify down the stretch in the Santa Anita, and Audible (8-1) winner of the Florida Derby, the race that has produced the most Kentucky Derby winners in recent years (last two, and 3 of the last 5). Going back even further, 11 of the last 14 Kentucky Derby winners won either the Arkansas, Florida, or Santa Anita.

And truth is, if that’s as far as you cared to research this thing, I totally get it. Lots of correlation there to bet on already.

But humor me. I’ve got more to say.

When I went back and watched all the major prep races, there was one only one moment that truly blew me away.

It happened in the Louisiana Derby, a race won by Noble Indy, but it wasn’t the winner who impressed me. It was My Boy Jack.

This horse is the ultimate closer, and I admit I’m a sucker for closers. It’s just so much more dramatic, and I think more impressive.

Ok look at this screenshot…

This is the first turn, fresh out of the gate. My Boy Jack is the one in the back just doinking around. He practically trots out of the gate.

Fast forward another half a mile around the far turn and let’s see what’s changed…

Nothing! See that horse head barely peeking into the frame? That’s our boy. This is entering the final turn. The race is over in another quarter mile and he’s barely in the picture!!

But then…

…like a ROCKET. Fwoooosh! Out of nowhere it’s like he’s in fast forward. In one turn he goes from entirely out of the picture to almost neck-and-neck with the leaders. How does he have that much gas in the tank?! I could easily be convinced that Jack is the most fit horse in this race.

Here’s the finishline:

That’s My Boy Jack in the middle of the picture farthest from the rail. A photo finish to show. Just missed it. The rest of the horses are a dozen lengths behind them.

If he had just closed that last little length, managed to find a hole to slip through instead of having to bounce way outside, then My Boy Jack likely comes into this weekend as one of the favorites. Instead he’s opening at a 30-1 underdog.

But do I think he’ll win? Maybe? A lot would have to break his way, but…maybe?

Let’s look at the full gate lineup and see how things look. I liked how I did it last year listing the running-style too, so you’ll see that along with the opening Vegas odds following the position draw Tuesday morning.

  1. Firenze Fire – Closer (50-1)
  2. Free Drop Fire – Closer (30-1)
  3. Promises Fulfilled – Pacesetter (30-1)
  4. Flameaway – Pace/Press (30-1)
  5. Audible – Stalk/Close (8-1)
  6. Good Magic – Stalker (12-1)
  7. Justify – Pacesetter (3-1)
  8. Lone Sailor – Closer (50-1)
  9. Hofburg – Stalk/Close (20-1)
  10. My Boy Jack – Closer (30-1)
  11. Bolt D’Oro – Stalker (8-1)
  12. Enticed – Stalker (30-1)
  13. Bravazo – Presser (50-1)
  14. Mendelssohn – Pace/Press (5-1)
  15. Instilled Regard – Stalk/Close (50-1)
  16. Magnum Moon – Pace/Press (6-1)
  17. Solomini – Stalker (30-1)
  18. Vino Rosso – Stalk/Close (12-1)
  19. Noble Indy – Press/Stalk (30-1)
  20. Combatant – Closer (50-1)

I could make a case for about half of these horses, and if I looked at most of them long enough I could convince myself they’re definitely going to win (see above re: My Boy Jack), but here’s what I see…

First, let’s talk about the early pace.

Promises Fulfilled and Justify will lead the pack early. Flameaway may be there too, but that name is so dumb it’s hard to think he’ll be relevant. Promises Fulfilled is the fastest sprinter in this race, and with two closers on the inside there’s no reason why he shouldn’t bolt out the gate and establish himself out front. Justify has a little more work to do as does Flameaway, but both should be right there. Promises Fulfilled doesn’t have the stamina to last beyond about the 3/4 mile mark, but Justify will hang around. If Justify is going to win, it’ll have to be wire to wire, and he’s going to have to use a lot of speed early to establish position.

All that to say, Justify is in a great spot at #7. The 5-10 range is the most desirable gate position: close enough to shorten the run, but far enough out that you don’t get pinched on the rail. The big question for me when it comes to Justify is whether having Promises Fulfilled to the inside causes him to overdo it early and then fade late if he wears down? He didn’t have much trouble holding off Bolt D’Oro to go the distance in the Santa Anita, but the horses are stronger, the race is longer and the pace is likely faster. We shall see.

Audible has a really nice position on the inside nestled in among pacesetters and closers. The #5 spot has produced a ton of winners over the years, including Always Dreaming a year ago. Good Magic is another good horse in the same bunch. The Bluegrass Stakes winner has finished top 3 in all of his races, but let’s not pretend Bluegrass is on par with Florida, Arkansas or Santa Anita.

As a stalker, Bolt D’Oro wants to find a comfortable spot in the pack early and slowly creep up as the pace slows down late. I think this setup, with closers on the inside, lets him do exactly that. But he didn’t have the stamina to catch Justify in the Santa Anita, so I don’t expect him to somehow catch him in Kentucky where the race is even longer.

Mendelssohn is in a fine spot at #14, I suppose. This horse is like Bowser in Mario Kart – takes some time to work up to speed, but once he does there’s no stopping him. His cruising speed is a huge advantage in a long race.

I mean, just look at this margin of victory:

IMG_7921.PNG

And he was still pulling away. Crazy top speed.

The main issue with Mendelssohn is that the UAE Derby hasn’t really translated to success in Kentucky so he’s sort of a wildcard. Could go great, could totally bomb. Shoot, just last year Thunder Snow won the UAE, then went rogue out the gate and didn’t finish in KY. I like this horse a lot and could honestly see him making a joke out of it, but there’s also quite a bit of risk here.

Magnum Moon got stuck out in the appendage gate, which isn’t ideal for a horse that likes to be out front. Statistically speaking, if you’re going to be out wide, #16 is where you want to be as it’s resulted in the most wins out there, but with Mendelssohn trying to execute the same gameplan from the other side of the gap, it’s going to be a tough go to break the Curse. The biggest race Magnum Moon has won was a slow pace from start to finish, so he’ll have to run much faster and use a lot more energy to get it done here.

That said, if you want to listen to the best race call of the season, watch this starting at the 2:20 mark. Mercy.

Really tough draw for Vino Rosso, winner of the Wood Memorial, at #18. While the 17 gate (Solomini) has never had a winner, number 18 has only had 2. American Pharaoh just did it from there in 2015, but he turned out to be a freak. Vino’s just not a strong enough horse to make the longer trek from what I’ve seen.

Which brings me to the closers. A quarter of the horses in this race are closers and nearly half like to start slow and let the race develop. I’m a little concerned about that. When My Boy Jack finished so strong the Louisiana Derby, he only had to beat 9 other horses, and 7 of them were pacesetters or pressers. Basically the perfect formula for a closer.

Another closer, Lone Sailer was actually the 2nd place horse in that same race, but found a better line. Interesting to note: In the Louisiana Derby, Lone Sailer was #8 and My Boy Jack was #9 just outside him. On Saturday, they’ll be #8 and #10 respectively. We could be in for a similar result. It’s just so much harder to maneuver through 20 horses than it is 10. A long shot, but I won’t be disappointed if I end up with him as a late round pick.

Hofburg is worth mentioning here too. He finished second behind Audible and looked strong in the Florida Derby.  His positioning on the inner half flanked by a couple closers bodes well for finding space to maneuver early.

Beyond that, the rest aren’t worth talking about.

I like…Justify, Mendelssohn, Audible, My Boy Jack, Hofburg, Lone Sailor.

I don’t like…Bolt D’Oro, Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso, Good Magic, Solomini

As always, there’s the chance I’m just making crap up to throw off my family. Reverse psychology.

Works like a charm.

The Family Draft Order

Picks are based on the previous year’s finish. After the first round is over, we snake backwards to the start. With the remaining picks we circle back to the end again. (Additional picks in parentheses.)

  1. Dad (16)
  2. Holly (15)
  3. Karlie (14)
  4. Mom (13)
  5. Anna (12, 20)
  6. APC (11, 19)
  7. Quinten (10, 18)
  8. Jeff (9, 17)

And welcome to the draft, Jeff! My sister’s boyfriend finds himself in the mix this year which we all agree is a very big deal. We’ll honor Jeff’s presence among us by letting him pick dead last. Good luck.

Since my son’s name is Jackson, I really doubt 5 different family members pass up the opportunity to pick My Boy Jack, but If they do, the top 5 horses picked will likely be Justify, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Audible and Bolt D’Oro. Maybe Good Magic. Anna will take Bolt because of her love for its endearing jockey, Victor Espinoza, and when someone inevitably takes Jack, that means I’ll have my pick of whomever is left between Justify, Magnum Moon, Audible or Mendelssohn. My get tells me Audible’s still there.

Hofburg would be a sweet add with #11, but I doubt he’ll make it back around – slim pickings with an 8 person draft! If he is gone, I’ll probably just spring for Lone Sailor and call it a day. If you can’t get the horse you want, at least pick a closer. That’s my new motto.

The Draft (May 5, 8:30AM CST)

Check back in at 8:30AM on Saturday to follow the draft. As always, I’ll be updating it live.

Pick 1: Dad – Audible

Dad picks the Florida Derby winner with the top pick. I think this is a great pick. Takes guts to pick against the favorite.

Pick 2: Holly – Justify

Who cares about the Curse? No brainer. Great horse. Great position.

Pick 3: Karlie – My Boy Jack

My wife gets her son’s namesake. I still think MBJ may win this race, and clearly everyone else does as his odds have moved from 30-1 to 5-1 in 48 hours.

Pick 4: Mom – Good Magic

A good horse in a nice gate position. He hasn’t really been tested like the other contenders, but not a bad option.

Pick 5: Anna – Bolt D’Oro

Anna gets Victor for the 39th straight year, but this year he’s on a good horse. We all saw this coming.

Pick 6: APC – Mendelssohn

Which means I get Mendelssohn. I was hoping either he or Audible would fall here and he did. After rewatching the UAE I’ve convinced myself Mendelssohn is going to dominate.

Pick 7: Quinten – Lone Sailor

Quinten’s rolling the dice! Wins once and thinks he can just pick any random horse and it’ll all work out. Kidding – we all know I like this horse.

Pick 8: Jeff – Magnum Moon

The Curse and gate position causes the top Road to the Derby point receiver to fall all the way to 8th. You’re welcome, Jeff.

Pick 9: Jeff – Hofburg

Okay, but you didn’t have to go and pick the target of my next pick here!

Pick 10: Quinten – Vino Rosso

The only good horse left.

Pick 11: APC – Free Drop Billy

And, as expected, there’s nobody else I really want available here so I’ll take a closer and hope for the best. Same position I was in last year with Looking at Lee last year, so expect some second place fireworks. I also took a Buzzfeed quiz earlier asking “Which Derby Horse Are You?” and I got FDB.

Pick 12: Anna – Promises Fulfilled

Anna’s going to have a really fun opening minute, but this horse could end up finishing dead last.

Pick 13: Mom – Noble Indy

The last 7 Kentucky Derby winners won their final prep race. Horses that fit that description here: Justify, My Boy Jack, Audible, Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Mendelssohn, Vino Rosso…and Noble Indy.

Pick 14: Karlie – Flameaway

Good luck keeping anything in the tank in the end. A bad horse surrounded by pacesetters.

Pick 15: Holly – Solomini

Gate 17. Good luck, kapeesh?

Pick 16: Dad – Enticed

Better win with Audible, cause…no.

Pick 17: Jeff – Firenze Fire

A closer on the rail? I could see it.

Pick 18: Quinten – Bravazo

I know nothing about this horse and won’t act like I do here.

Pick 19: APC – Combatant

Late pick closer out of Gate 20! Let’s have some fuuuuun!

Pick 20: Anna – Instilled Regard

Currently 99-1. This horse is just happy to be here.

The complete draft results courtesy of self-declared draft emcee, Holly:

54722108355__AD462262-2ECE-4C1C-BB09-464D95FF1BE7.JPG

Picks by family member…

  • Dad: Audible, Enticed
  • Holly: Justify, Solomini
  • Karlie: My Boy Jack, Flameaway
  • Mom: Good Magic, Noble Indy
  • Anna: Bolt D’Oro, Promises Fulfilled, Instilled Regard
  • APC: Mendelssohn, Free Drop Billy, Combatant
  • Quinten: Lone Sailor, Vino Rosso, Bravazo
  • Jeff: Magnum Moon, Hofburg, Firenze Fire

The Results (May 5, 5:50PM CST)

Holly wins with Justify! Dad really blew it.

Speaking of blew it Mendlessohn finished 73 1/4 lengths behind Justify, which was good enough for dead last. Followed that up with Free Drop Billy (16th) and Combatant (18th), so I’ll be picking first next year.

Finish:

  1. Holly (Justify)
  2. Mom (Good Magic)
  3. Dad (Audible)
  4. Anna (Instilled Regard)
  5. Karlie (My Boy Jack)
  6. Quinten (Bravazo)
  7. Jeff (Hofburg)
  8. APC (Woof)

Way to go, Hol! Pressures already on for next year’s first pick.

Image source: @BreedersCup on Twitter, accessed at Racing.com.

World Series Game 2: An incredible game of inches (feat. Puig’s glove & bat).

What a game. The Astros beat the Dodgers last night in one of the more entertaining World Series games you’ll ever see.

Dodgers led early. Astros tied it late and took the lead in extras. Dodgers tied it up again. Astros took the lead back. Dodgers brought the tying run to the plate in the 12th, but couldn’t close the gap a second time. Astros won 7-6.

As is the case with most baseball games played at the highest level, the one came down to a handful of plays that tipped the scale the Astros’ way. This one seemed to have a dozen such moments – “game of inches” moments where neither team necessarily did one thing better than the other, the ball simply found a glove or didn’t, and they all would’ve had drastic implications on the turnout of the game.

For example, the ball that landed in front of a diving Chris Taylor. Instead of bouncing over the centerfielder’s head and rolling to the wall for a possible triple or inside-the-park home run, it caught the bill of Taylor’s cap and rebounded directly into the hands of Joc Pederson in left. Game of inches.

Or another example: In the bottom of the 11th, down two runs, both Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit rockets off Houston reliever Chris Devenski. Seager’s found the mitt of Cameron Maybin deep in the outfield, Turner’s was hit directly to Carlos Correa. If either of those balls are hit slightly up, down, left or right on the bat/ball, Charlie Culberson‘s home run is a 2- or 3-run shot instead, and his reaction around the bases is much more appropriate to the situation. Game of inches.

A third example: In the bottom of the 10th with the game tied and two outs, Devenski tried to pick Enrique Hernandez off of second base. The throw was wild and sailed 10 feet to the shortstop side of the base. Cameron Maybin was shifted towards right field and there was a lot of green grass available out in left-center. For a moment, it looked like Hernandez was going to advance to third, and potentially score if Maybin wasn’t able to scamper over to it quick enough. Instead, the ball hit umpire Laz Diaz in the thigh, thudded to the ground. Instead of being the winning run, Hernandez wasn’t able to advance advance at all. Game of inches.

The moment that defined the game for me more than any other is really two moments – the second a response to the first. This “game of inches” moment happened in the top of the 8th, with the Dodgers leading 3-1.

Alex Bregman led off and sliced a fly ball into the right field corner. Off the bat it seemed destined to find grass, but Yasiel Puig made a long long run and looked to have a beat on it and this wouldn’t be his first magical defensive play. He dove headfirst toward the corner, glove hand extended. The ball found leather, but not enough leather. It ricocheted off Puig’s glove, bounced once off the outfield grass and over the short wall in the right field corner for a ground rule double. Game of inches.

Within a matter of seconds, Puig hopped to his feet and did this:

102517_lad_puig_glove_spike_med

A quick aside: Yasiel Puig is wonderful and so good for the game of baseball. He’s having fun, but not at the expense of his team or his own success. There have been times a times when many of us – myself included – wondered whether he would be able to dial it in to where his energy was a positive and not a negative. When he was sent down to AAA in Oklahoma City last season I wondered if Puig’s actions were indeed misguided. I think he’s proven this season that he can be fun and quirky and play with significant passion without it negatively impacting the outcome of the game.

Yet announcers continue to use words like “emotion” and “passion” (which I recognize I also used above) to describe him, but their words are still laced with so much disdain.  No one defends him. No one says they like him or support him or even enjoy him. Instead, they drop judgmental comments about his antics and say loudly that they disapprove without needing to say it at all. So of course when he stands up from missing the fly ball, the internet and the broadcast booth are too focused on the outburst and fail to understand what’s totally happening in that moment.

Puig’s glove spike reminded me of Moises Alou’s outburst in the 2003 NLCS when Steve Bartman leaned over the left field rail at Wrigley Field and interfered with a ball that probably would’ve landed in Alou’s glove. Alou threw a tantrum, spiked his glove and glowered at Bartman from the left field foul line. I remember watching that game thinking he was acting like such a baby. Throwing your glove because and barking at a fan? Cmon, man.

But there’s an obvious difference between the two situations. Alou was crying about someone else, about something out of his control. Alou’s screaming and whining is directed away from himself and toward Bartman. Puig is mad at himself, his own effort. Which is always totally fine in sports.

The glove spike communicates three things to me:

  1. Yasiel Puig desires to perform to the best of his ability.
  2. Yasiel Puig wants to win very badly.
  3. Yasiel Puig understands the situation well.

And what’s the situation? Instead of making the first out of the inning, there’s now a runner in scoring position in a 2-run game with the Astros best bats coming up in Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Second, and of perhaps even more importance, Dave Roberts is forced to turn to Kenley Jansen earlier than desired to get the final 6 outs. If the tying run isn’t at the plate, Jansen likely stays in the bullpen and starts with a fresh 9th.

Altuve advanced Bregman to third on a ground out. Correa slapped one up the middle for a single, scoring Bregman and making it a 1-run ballgame. Jansen then gave up a solo homer to Marwin Gonzalez in the 9th to tie the game, 3-3.

Now, if Puig catches that ball, it’s the first out of the inning, Altuve’s grounder is the second out, and Correa is stranded at first because Yuli Gurriel popped out immediately after and that would’ve ended the inning. Granted, all of those happenings could have changed with 1 out and nobody on and Brandon Morrow still pitching instead of Kenley Jansen.

Baseball-Reference.com gave the Astros a 13% chance of victory before the Bregman double, and a 22% chance after – the miss cost the Dodgers 9%. If Puig catches the ball, that number likely drops from 13% to something like 7%, a difference of 4%. Overall, a 15% swing in winning probability added (WPA).

Here’s the other thing that moment did though: it lit a fire in Yasiel Puig. Yes, he always plays with passion, but a moment like that gets under your skin and effects how you view the game from that point farther. Puig feels responsible for a chunk of the team’s winning probability (again, around 15%), and he wants to do right by himself and his team. A player like Puig wants to fix where he erred, and his opportunity to do it is at the plate.

Which brings us to the second moment – the response to the first.

By the time Puig bats again, he’s leading off the bottom of the 10th and the Astros have taken a 5-3 lead. Houston is sitting pretty at a 91% chance to win the game.

Puig, of course, destroys the baseball and does this:

giphy-2

Do you see what Puig does here?! He is re-writing his own narrative. This is so great, and I hope I can do a solid job explaining what I love about it.

First, he unloads on the baseball, undoing the damage he feels he inflicted by being unable to corral the catch earlier (which few players even get to, let alone nearly catch). That homer dropped the Astros’ WPA from 91% to 80% according to Baseball-Reference. That’s 11%, which is greater than 9%, if you’re keeping score at home like Puig undoubtedly is in hi ahead. If he’d made an out, the Astros WPA jumps to something like 96%, a jump of 5% and an overall net of 16%, which is greater than 15%, the overall WPA adjustment when he didn’t catch the ball. In one swing, he has mathematically salvaged what he feels he shouldn’t have allowed earlier.

But he’s not done – and this is the amazing part: Puig, the guy who is notorious for smooth yet obscene batflips in all sorts of moments, slowly and methodically places the murder weapon on the grass.

Why?

Because he spiked the glove in the field.

Do you see what he’s doing?! It’s brilliant. He made up for the ground rule double by hitting the dinger, but he’s also reconciling his reaction to the play. Setting down the bat undoes his glove spike! His response in the good undoes his response in the bad. If he bat flips, he’s doubling down on passion. But by setting the bat down gently, he is actively adjusting his own narrative away from the out of control player with too much emotion for the game and toward the centered ballplayer who is focused enough to perform calmly in the biggest of moments.

Of course, after reconciling his performance and his character, he’s back even when he came up to the plate as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the 11th. This time he doesn’t have a score to settle so who knows what he’s going to do.

He struck out.

Photo: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrell. Accessed here.

 

Double Cornea Transplant

I’m having a double cornea transplant.

On December 6, they’ll numb my left eyeball, shave off the front of it, replace it with some dead person’s cornea and stitch it back on. Five months later, when my body has accepted it and it’s been given time to heal, it’ll be my right eye’s turn to go under the knife. I’ll also be awake the whole time.

I’ve had poor vision my entire life. Both of my parents have perfect vision, and I remember as a kid trying to convince them mine was flawed, but attempting to articulate something others have no schema for is near impossible. Finally around the third grade we went to the eye doctor. I tried to read the letters off the board while my mom sat in shock in the corner of the room unable to grasp my inability to relay the bold text on the illuminated screen.

I’m nearsighted, but my major issue is my astigmatism, or the misshapenness of my eyeball. I have what’s called keratoconus which basically means instead of being perfectly rounded like a normal persons’s eye, my corneas are egg-shaped, thin and constantly shapeshifting. Which means multiple things:

  • Egg-shaped: My vision is distorted and i see double, often triple. This can be temporarily corrected by thicker toric contact lenses, but never all the way to 20/20 vision.
  • Thin: My eyes are extremely sensitive to light causing headaches and burning, tired eyes. There’s just not enough cornea there to filter the light. If I leave the house without sunglasses, a headache is only about 30 minutes away.
  • Shapeshifting: Since my eyeballs aren’t uniformly spherical, the pressure inn’t consistent in every direction causing the cornea to morph and change slowly every couple months. This renders contact lenses useless after about 2 months of wearing.

And like I said, contacts can’t fix it entirely. They can get me to around 20/40 or so in both eyes, but contact technology has never been good enough. Even if it was, with my ever-changing astigmatism, the lenses I buy don’t match within a few short months so I have to go back and get a new prescription and pay for a new supply. Since insurance only covers a one year supply, this gets expensive really quick.

Glasses aren’t an option for me. Why would I lock in a pair of lenses that are just going to change two months later? They’d be useless almost immediately. Lasik surgery isn’t an option either. My corneas are too thin to fix, and that would only solve my nearsightedness, not my astigmatism. So my only option is a transplant. It’s been on the horizon for a long time and it’s finally here.

I’m not sure what your bodily reaction is to phrases like “shave off the front of it” and stitch it back on,” but I shudder every time. I would say I’m not remotely nervous, just freaked out by the whole idea. Nobody likes having their eyes touched, let alone shaved and stitched. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Ultimately, the surgery is one of incredible hope for me. It’s hard to for me to express – or even understand – how limiting my eyesight is in my life. It impacts every facet of my life – professionally, socially, interpersonally, creatively – it really sucks. A couple stories:

  • Professionally: The final straw was when I was trying to research and write a lesson plan and couldn’t read the book I was reading let alone type out a document on my laptop. I sat in my office cursing my eyes, and that’s what finally got me to make the phone call and set up a consultation with the surgeon.
  • Socially: Over the weekend my family and I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there were people everywhere. Since I can’t be sure of anyone’s face until they’re like 10 feet away from me, there’s no telling how many people I “saw” whom I knew but said nothing to because I didn’t actually see them. Coffee shops are a nightmare. Meeting people in public places where I have to see them from across a crowded restaurant is the worst. I always try to get there 10-15 minutes early so they have to find me and not the other way around.
  • Creatively/Productively: I can’t write when my eyes aren’t locked in. Whenever I get new contacts, I have about a 6 week window where I’m really productive. Then I can’t do it anymore. I’ve written the majority of this post with my eyes shut, only opening them to edit the paragraph I’ve just transposed.
  • Interpersonally: This one is the most frustrating and it’s different than socially. There are different sizes of social space – public, social, interpersonal, intimate – and interpersonal space is effected differently than social space. The struggle with social space is recognition. The struggle with interpersonal space are things like eye contact, facial expressions and nonverbal cues. Believe it or not, double vision makes it hard to read other people’s faces and all it takes is one blink for my contacts to go wonky. Then I have to look away and blink until they settle back in. It’s rare for me to be able to be fully present with others.

All that to say, this surgery will change my life in every way, and I don’t say that flippantly or without meaning it. This will change my life. I’ll still need to wear contacts to correct my nearsightedness, but without an astigmatism it’ll be a permanent prescription. I’ll be able to call 1-800-CONTACTS and simply renew my previous prescription once a year. No more blurry double vision, no more headaches and burning, heavy eyes. Constant, unchanging, undistorted vision. It’ll be 20/20. It doesn’t totally feel real.

It’ll a long road. It’ll be a full year from now when I’m totally healed and my eyes can be considered my own. It’s weird. It’s freaky. It’s hopeful. Bonus: I think I’ll get to wear an eyepatch for a few days so that’s cool.

2017 Kentucky Derby: Cooper Family Live Draft

It’s time. The 143rd Run for the Roses is here, and I’m spewing my prognostications all over the place. Let’s get at it.

The Tradition

By now you ought to be aware of my family’s somewhat random affinity for the Kentucky Derby. (If not, check out our past drafts here.) Every year we do a snake draft. All the horses are picked so somebody’s always a winner. We’re all amateurs around here, so it’s important to remember that we really don’t know what we’re doing despite the fact I post about it every year and act like I do.

Last year was another dud, to be honest. We all knew there were only two horses who were really in the mix. My mom took Nyquist #1 overall, and my sister, Holly, snatched up Exaggerator with pick #2. It was over the moment the draft began. In fact, 2016 marked the 4th consecutive year the favorite horse won the race – Nyquist (2016), American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014), Orb (2013) – but historically that’s actually a rare thing.

In the late 70s there was a similar season of domination by favorites – Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), Spectacular Bid (1979) – but between 1980 and 2012 the favorite won only a handful of times and didn’t win at all from 1980 to 1999. This race tends to be much more random than in recent years. Now, that’s not to say some horses aren’t still better than others here. There are four horses whose road to the Derby suggest they’re a notch above the others, but the dropoff from there is small and it levels out even more from there.

The Horses

I’ve watched all the most recent “Road to the Kentucky Derby” races this year. That’s right, I’ve committed to a new level of research, and I loved every moment of it.

A different horse won each:
Santa Anita Derby – Gormley, Arkansas Derby – Classic Empire, Louisiana Derby – Girvin, Florida Derby – Always Dreaming, Wood Memorial Stakes – Irish War Cry, Fountain of Youth Stakes – Gunnevera, Blue Grass Stakes – Irap. Throw Thunder Snow into the mix too, the horse from Ireland who won the UAE Derby in Dubai by the tip of his nose.

But these same winning horses all looked kinda bad at other times too. Some favorites have dealt with injuries. Some long shots have been consistently in the mix but never won. Shoot, Classic Empire barely beat out a horse in the Arkansas Derby who wasn’t even nominated to run in Kentucky (Conquest Mo Money). Every race I’d watch another horse push toward the wire and think, “Woah…that guy is moving up my draft board.” I said that about at least 8 different horses.

I mean, if the different horse trend continues into this weekend, then NONE of these past winning horses will win the actual Derby and it’ll be somebody like Hence or Patch or State of Honor this time around.

I’m telling you, it’s wide open.

That said, the horses considered top contenders are, in no particular order, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, McCraken and Irish War Cry. They all have very clear paths to victory. The issue is so do like 10 other horses, and all 4 of these come with red flags.

Classic Empire has been terrific when healthy, but has dealt with an abscess in one of his hooves. Always Dreaming dominated the Florida Derby down the stretch but is stuck inside this time and surrounded by speed. McCraken suffered an ankle injury two months ago and Irish War Cry faded badly in the Fountain of Youth Stakes back in March, not to mention drew the historically-winless-for-whatever-reason post 17.

From there you’ve got a large group of horses who certainly have a shot this year who probably wouldn’t in years past. Last year there were about a dozen horses who had no shot of winning. This year, there might be half that number. If things break the right way, about 14 different horses are realistic in 2017.

I focused a lot on post positions in last year’s draft blog, and they’re no less important this time around, but I’ve found myself obsessing over running style more going into this race. Contrary to what you might think, the race isn’t just a dead sprint from start to finish. This isn’t Vin Diesel and Paul Walker (RIP) lead-footing a quarter mile. There’s strategy here and each horse is different. A sprinting colt is bound to get tired and fade way before even reaching the home stretch. There are an infinite number of factors to consider here, and how a horse likes to run is one of the most significant.

There are 3 (maybe 4) types of horses when it comes to running style: pacesetters, pressers, stalkers and closers. 

  • Pacesetter: this horse likes to bolt out the gate and lead the pack. The key here is monitoring speed – fast enough to stay ahead without wearing down too early.
  • Presser: this is the “maybe 4th” style – this horse is basically a pace/stalk hybrid. The horse doesn’t lead the pack, but still wants to push the speed a bit without totally sitting back.
  • Stalker: this horse sets up a bit off the  lead “stalking” behind the pace/press horses waiting to make a move. The key here is timing – the jockey is waiting for a hole to emerge late and only wants to make one major move to emerge from the pack.
  • Closer: this horse keeps it all in the tank until the final stretch where they hope to overtake the group. The key here is patience – the jockey is intentionally slower out the gate and waits until the last moment before hitting maximum speed down home the stretch.

There are more levels here, a continuum with Pacesetter on one end and Closer on the other, and horses can fall between these categories depending on the competition. Most aren’t a “one trick pony,” if you will. For example, depending on the competition Classic Empire races as either a presser or a stalker. If there’s a lot of speed, he’ll sit back and be more patient, but if there’s not, it benefits to push the pace a bit faster and wear down the competition to overtake them later.

Post positions were drawn Wednesday morning. Here’s how the horses line up (with running style and opening betting odds listed):

  1. Lookin at Lee – Closer – 20-1
  2. Thunder Snow – Pace/Presser – 20-1
  3. Fast and Accurate – Pacesetter – 50-1
  4. Untrapped – Stalker – 30-1
  5. Always Dreaming – Pace/Presser – 5-1
  6. State of Honor – Pace/Presser – 30-1
  7. Girvin – Stalk/Closer – 15-1
  8. Hence – Stalk/Closer – 15-1
  9. Irap – Presser – 20-1
  10. Gunnevera – Closer – 15-1
  11. Battle of Midway – Pace/Presser – 30-1
  12. Sonneteer – Closer – 50-1
  13. J Boys Echo – Closer – 20-1
  14. Classic Empire – Press/Stalker – 4-1
  15. McCraken – Stalker – 5-1
  16. Tapwrit – Stalker – 20-1
  17. Irish War Cry – Pacesetter – 6-1
  18. Gormley – Press/Stalker 15-1
  19. Practical Joke – Stalker – 20-1
  20. Patch – Presser – 30-1

A quick post position refresher: 1-4 isn’t ideal as you can get pinched inside on the rail, and 16-20 isn’t great either as you’re farther out and literally must run a longer race. Somewhere around the middle are the best spots – 8 and 10 have yielded the most champs. It’s basically it’s a bell curve that peaks around there, although 14-15 have a little extra space created by the gate appendage so that’s a slight boon. Number 17 has never yeilded a winner.

So that means, in a perfect world, our horses ought to turn the first turn in an order something like…

Fast and Accurate – Irish War Cry
Thunder Snow – Always Dreaming – State of Honor – Battle of Midway
Irap – Patch
Classic Empire – Gormley
Untrapped – McCracken – Tapwrit – Practical Joke
Girvin – Hence
Lookin at Lee – Gunnevera – J Boys Echo – Sonneteer

But this isn’t a perfect world. No no, horses get pinched and blocked and bumped. They break poorly out of the gate. They get miserable post positions and are surrounded by nasty competitors. It can get messy real quick. Here’s my best shot at sorting things out.

First thing my mind does when I see the lineup is it splits the gate into thirds – the outer, inner and middle.

Let’s start with the outer third. Irish War Cry is the only speed horse on the outside, so look for him to push hard out the gate and be in contention early. Gormley – winner of the Santa Anita Derby, as was Nyquist last year – ought to stick to Irish War Cry if he can. If he loses the pace early he’s in big trouble. Same goes for McCraken stalking Classic Empire, though both of those horses have the extra appendage room to work with. Tapwrit, Practical Joke and Patch have very little shot with this heavy-hitting bunch. If any of them were sitting in the 7-13 range they’d be immediately in the mix, but alas, no.

Irish War Cry and Classic Empire ought to have no trouble running their race from here. Same goes for McCraken. Look for them to be around late.

The inner third is all about speed, which is a disaster for Untrapped who will absolutely not live up to his namesake. Lookin at Lee will start slow and hope to be patient but this first quarter mile is going to be extremely fast and I’ll be shocked if he’s still around late. I like Fast and Accurate to emerge early (and fade early) with Always Dreaming right there in pursuit. If State of Honor can beat Always Dreaming out the gate, the latter could get pinched on both sides and lost in the herd, but that seems less likely. Thunder Snow traveled all this way just to get stuck with the worst draw of the field – on the rail, flanked by speedsters – and I can’t see how he gets through. Plus, how would you feel if you were the only Irish in the field and somebody else had your War Cry?

Always Dreaming should come out of this group – he’s the best in the bunch – but he’ll have to execute well and get a great jump out the gate. If he can do it, the horse has shown the stamina to be able to maintain a lead gate to wire.

The middle horses are fascinating – they’re all closers! Gunnevera is probably the best of the bunch, but he’s been as disappointing as he’s been impressive recently. He literally starts dead last every time but slowly works his way through the group…but what happens when Hence and Girvin mosey out to his left while Sonneteer and J Boys Echo take their sweet time to his right? I have NO IDEA how this plays out over 1 1/4 miles, but this is the grouping where the all the major moves will happen. Meanwhile, Irap is just sitting there thinking, “Alright! A free pass into contention! Thanks, you guys.” Same goes for Battle of Midway. Even though those two ought to be neck and neck early out of this third, I can’t imagine they’ll be relevant in the end trying to keep up with what’s happening inside and outside.

This third is all about the patience and timing of Girvin, Hence, and Gunnevera as the race progresses. This will be a beautiful chess match – three knights side-by-side hoping to outthink and outmaneuver their brethren.

What happens from there? Pssh. Got me. My gut tells me the opening quarter mile is going to be really really fast with the speed inside and the outside trying to maintain pace. If I’m right, that puts the stalkers and closers in the middle at a terrific advantage late. So here’s what I’ll be watching for…

Inside: Is it Always Dreaming or State of Honor who has the strongest start inside?
Middle: Who emerges late between Girvin, Hence and Gunnevera?
Outside: Can Irish War Cry streak from gate to wire ahead of Classic Empire and McCraken?

Those are my questions. There are more I’m not even asking. I think I know which way I’m leaning, but I’ll wait until the draft is over on Saturday to say any more. Gotta keep SOME cards close to the chest here.

The Family Draft Order

We pick in reverse order from how we finished the year before. In an age of favorite domination, we gotta maintain some sense of parity in our picking order. Here is this year’s picking order, 1-7 with additional picks in parantheses.

  1. Quinten (14)
  2. Anna (13 & 20)
  3. APC (12 & 19)
  4. Dad (11 & 18)
  5. Karlie (10 & 17)
  6. Holly (9 & 16)
  7. Mom (8 & 15)

My bro-in-law, Quinten, could pick anybody, a true wild card. My sister, Anna, will probably pick Gormley since he’s saddled by her boy, Victor Espinosa. That leaves me with a lot of options, and a lot of pressure to pick well because by the time pick 12 comes back around, I have a feeling I’ll be staring at a bunch of names I’m not interested in.

The Draft

Pick 1: Always Dreaming (Quinten)

Turns out Q isn’t such a wild card after all! He takes one of the favorites right out the gate. Word on the street is this horse has some personality issues. Not a huge fan of a hyped up colt sitting in the gate forever while he waits for 16 others to get loaded up. Probably the most athletic, but the red flags are worrisome.

Pick 2: Gormley (Anna)

Anna can’t help herself. Victor Espinosa forever. But who knows – the Santa Anita Derby is usually the best indicator of who’s going to win the Derby.

Pick 3: Classic Empire (APC)

Love this horse – it was between Empire and McCraken here for me, and 14 is my favorite number. His issue is he’s had some troubles in training leading up to the Derby. Without setbacks, Classic Empire would be the true favorite. I don’t think this horse has peaked yet.

Pick 4: Irish War Cry (Dad)

Dad picks the speedster. No chance from #17.  Kidding, it’s been raining in Louisville this morning and that usually helps the pacesetters a bit, and he’s been getting a lot of early wagers today.

Pick 5: Gunnevera (Karlie)

I really love this horse. I don’t think he’ll win, but I’m certain he’ll finish in the money. Regardless of his finish, I think he’ll be the most exciting horse in the race – slow starter, monster finisher.

Pick 6: McCraken (Holly)

Pick of the draft here. My #2 overall option falls all the way to #6. Holly got a steal. Home field advantage too which is always helpful in front of 160,000 people.

Pick 7: Thunder Snow (Mom)

No clue how Thunder Snow will run. He’s the biggest unknown in the race, and with all the top contenders now gone, why not roll the dice here? Good pick, okay horse.

Pick 8: Hence (Mom)

This is a great pickup for Mom. Hence has a lot of buzz right now. I think he’s got the best chance of closing late after Gunnevera, and the post positioning is awesome.

Pick 9: Girvin (Holly)

Girvin could win this thing. He’s one of the most decorated coming into the race. Holly has a great pair of horses here.

Pick 10: Tapwrit (Karlie)

Karlie: “I think I’ll take Tapwrit, he looks pretty good…okay, now I have to find something I like about Tapwrit.” Let’s be honest, the best horses are gone. Shot in the dark here.

Pick 11: Patch (Dad)

I’ll be honest – I know nothing about Patch, but I see his positioning outside three of the top contenders and don’t see any way he can be relevant in this race, but I don’t really know.

Pick 12: Irap (APC)

Like I said above – I think Irap will be in this thing from the get go. The issue is how strong the late competition will be around him. If the race is fast, and he can be ultra-patient, he could have a path here. Still a long shot.

Pick 13: Battle of Midway (Anna)

Okay the pickings are slim. Not sure what to say here.

Pick 14: J Boys Echo (Q)

Worst name award goes to JBE.

Pick 15: Practical Joke (Mom)

This horse could make some noise. In the races I watched, he seemed to be around the lead well into the race. I’m not sure he has the endurance to close but he’s not awful.

Pick 16: State of Honor (Holly)

Could beat Always Dreaming out the gate. If he does, he’s in it. If not, doubtful.

Pick 17: Sonneteer (Karlie)

This was the last horse into the race. Late closer, and it’s been well documented how I feel about closers this year.

Pick 18: Fast and Accurate (Dad)

The first 30 seconds ought to be fun for Dad here. He’ll be at or near the front around the first turn. Might finish last.

Pick 19: Lookin at Lee (APC)

Sure, why not. Inside rail isn’t ideal, but it’s a long race and anything can happen for a closer!!! Would much rather have this horse than pretty much anybody taken between my last choice and this one.

Pick 20: Untrapped (Anna)

No chance. Sorry.

So here’s where we ended up…

  • Quinten: Always Dreaming, J Boys Echo
  • Anna: Gormley, Battle of Midway, Untrapped
  • APC: Classic Empire, Irap, Lookin at Lee
  • Dad: Irish War Cry, Patch, Fast and Accurate 
  • Karlie: Gunnevera, Tapewrit, Sonneteer
  • Holly: McCraken, Girvin, State of Honor
  • Mom: Thunder Snow, Hence, Practical Joke

The Results…

Always Dreaming broke well and never looked back. He beat Fast and Accurate to the rail, which meant he was pretty much able to coast to the win uncontested. The first pick wins again! The only horse to lead Always Dreaming around the first turn was the horse to his left, State of Honor (who ended up being the last horse to finish the race). I had expected this as a possibility, but I’d also assumed Fast and Accurate would be there on the opposite side. He wasn’t, which meant Always Dreaming had the rail.

The first quarter mile played out almost exactly as I expected – speed outside and inside with the middle starting slow and hoping to close. Interestingly enough, the only closer who had a shot at catching Always Dreaming was Lookin at Lee who started on the rail. The rest of the horses around him took off, and left this giant void on the rail right off the pace. It was clear he had more in the tank down the stretch without having to run so far. A surprise second place finish and a really well run race.

And Battle of Midway finished third!? Kudos to anyone who had him to show. He was an also-ran for me. The rest of the contenders finished in the next chunk of horses: Classic Empire ran 4th (he was the only one really in the conversation down the stretch), Gunnevera 7th, McCraken 8th, Gormley 9th, Irish War Cry 10th. As much as I was off about Always Dreaming, I couldn’t have been more correct about Irish War Cry. Started fast but couldn’t find the lane to the front, ended up way outside and had nothing left in the tank down the stretch.

The final family draft results…

  1. Quinten – Always Dreaming
  2. APC – Lookin at Lee
  3. Anna – Battle of Midway
  4. Mom – Practical Joke (5th)
  5. Karlie – Tapwrit (6th)
  6. Holly – McCraken (8th)
  7. Dad – Irish War Cry (10th)

Another year without the first pick finishing about as well as I could, albeit not the way I expected. Someday I’ll compile a spreadsheet with our collective draft pick success. Since the first pick continues to be the winner, it might be time to expand how we deem success in the draft. Example: Dad having the 4th pick and finishing 10th is really bad. Mom having the 7th pick but finishing 4th is good. I’ll have to do some thinking there – maybe use the NFL’s way of grading drafts as a starting point. I’ll probably give it a couple more years to have a bit more data to work with, but that could be a fun visualization down the line.

Another fun year of drafting, and congrats to Quinten on his first Kentucky Derby win!

See you in 2018.

Photo: Eclipse Sportswire, accessed here.

2017 MLB Predictions

Take a deep breath as you gaze upon the glorious striped stirrups of Francisco Lindor and calmly repeat to yourself, “Baseball is back. Baseball is back. Baseball is back.” Repeat it as many times as you need to until college basketball, the NBA and NFL Draft buzz completely dissolve into the peripheries of your brain. 

“Baseball is back.” 

Now exhale and remember: the darkness is behind us. Winter’s time is over. This is our time. Baseball – along with those two-toned beauties – is back.

Phew. Repeat as many times as necessary. It’s going to be okay, you guys.

It feels like an eternity has passed since we had some meaningful baseball to enjoy. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have October baseball in Kansas City last season. Or maybe winter just always feels this long. Winter is just the worst.

We’ve had a fortnight of rain in KCMO, which means spring has sprung, and somewhere some kids are really enjoying sliding practice. We made it, you guys. Opening Day is here! Which means it’s time to post another set of predictions for a new MLB season.

But first, I gotta hold myself accountable for last season’s performance. Let’s talk a bit about my 2016 picks…

<Stands up. Opens window. Jumps out window.>

Not great.

As always, the National League was much easier to predict – I got the Nationals and Cubs winning their divisions, and I’ll give myself a pat on the back for knowing either the Cardinals or Pirates would miss he playoffs…turns out they both did. I had the Giants making it, and they did, but as a Wild Card. Didn’t have the Mets as a Wild Card either.

My biggest gaffe was excluding the Dodgers. I took a gamble on the Diamondbacks and goodness gracious everything that could possibly go wrong did. AJ Pollock was injured before the season starts. Zack Greinke had a horrendous year, and Shelby Miller was comically worse. How did I ever pick them over Los Angeles? Woof. That’s what I get for over thinking these things.

The AL was just atrocious. I was all-in on the Astros, but they never recovered from an 8-18 start, and going 15-4 against their inter-state rival didn’t help. The Rangers ran away with it. I at least had them as a Wild Card team.

I picked the Royals, hoping with all my heart, but injuries derailed their chance at a third straight AL pennant. The Indians were my first team out. They ended 1 run away from winning the World Series.

The AL East is the hardest to pick every year, and this year will be no different. How hard is it? Well, I picked the Yankees and Rays in 2016 and the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles all made the playoffs. Goodnight.

So what’s that…4 of 10 postseason teams?! Yuck. I shouldn’t even be allowed to make predictions after that nonsense. (But hey – I knew Corey Seager would win the AL Rookie of the Year, so that’s a consolation prize or something, yeah? Please. Candy from a baby.)

In retrospect, I either overthought it or picked with my heart. But not this year. This year is all brain (but not too much!), and zero emotion (okay maybe a little?). Trust me – we’ll be dissecting a perfectly predicted postseason bracket here come October.

Believe me. Nobody picks winners like I do. I make the best picks. I’m going to bat 100% on picks this year. Believe me.

(Postseason teams in italics.)

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Atlanta Braves
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

Washington boasts arguably the best rotation in baseball, and Bryce Harper is going to bounce back in a monster way. The Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes and return essentially the same roster as last year featuring their strong rotation. The Braves are young (including newly-acquired and forever-young Bartolo Colon). They may surprise us and be decent. The Marlins lost a step with the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. The Phillies are still bad.

NL Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

The reigning World Series champs are going to be tough to beat, and for a long time. We all know this. The Cardinals pulled a Reverse Jason Heyward signing Dexter Fowler away from Chicago. He’ll replace Matt Holliday in the outfield which is an all around improvement. Their starting rotation will improve as well – Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright are both All-Stars and the drop off to Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake isn’t drastic. But make no mistake – nobody’s dethroning the Cubs.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Diego Padres

This division is a two team race. Both LA and SF are playoff teams, it’s a matter of which avoids the Wild Card game and, in turn, the Cubs in the NLDS (not that meeting the Nationals in the NLDS would be a cakewalk, but you get it). I’m going with the Dodgers. They re-signed Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill. They added Sergio Romo (double whammy since the Giants lost him), and the Darkhorse Move of the Offseason is LA acquiring Logan Forsythe from the Rays.

The Diamondbacks could bounce back behind Greinke, but I’m not counting on anything from them after last season, and the Rockies will score about 80 runs/game but they’ll give up 100. The Padres are young and won’t contend, but keep an eye on them in 2019 and beyond.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Red Sox were already good before they traded for Chris Sale. The Yankees are getting better – Greg Bird is back from injury and hit more HRs in Spring Training than anybody. They also brought back Aroldis Chapman, and signed Matt Holliday. The Orioles re-signed Mark Trumbo who can’t possibly have another boomstick season like 2016, but I’ve been wrong about the Orioles before – Manny Machado and Adam Jones have the clout to get it done.

I just don’t like the Blue Jays. They probably won’t finish last, but they sure look good there.

AL Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Minnesota Twins
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Chicago White Sox

The Indians added Edwin Encarnacion, so they’re immediately better than last year. Their starting pitching is strong despite Trevor Bauer‘s personality. Andrew Miller should maintain his recent dominance (although, he seemed very human in the World Baseball Classic, but that doesn’t count for much). If I could pick any one position player to build a team around, it’d be Francisco Lindor. The Indians are the team to beat here.

The Royals and Tigers are the other two notables here. The Tigers are getting older, so health is going to be their greatest concern. Justin Verlander seems to have figured out how to pitch as an old man, but the margin for error on this team is thin.

The loss of Yordano Ventura hurts in so many ways – even still, the addition of Jason Hammel, Nathan Karns and Travis Wood makes this Royals rotation actually better than it was last year. Danny Duffy has arrived and could win the Cy Young (I heard he’s going at 33-1 right now). The additions of Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler beefs up their lineup. This isn’t your 2014 high contact, low strikeout team anymore. They’re going to hit homeruns, and I, for one, am disappointed.

But…Alex Gordon will improve on a bad bad bad 2016 campaign. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcedis Escobar and Mike Moustakas are all in contract years, so you know they’ll “Come to Play.” Raul Mondesi Jr. won the 2B job and will bring speed and excitement to the bottom of the lineup. I think #Ace30 becomes a catalyst for this already-motivated group. They’ll be in it down the stretch, but I think they miss again this year. Hope I’m wrong. If they’re out early, a fire sale starting with Eric Hosmer wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Dang. I told myself I wouldn’t get carried away talking about the Royals, but alas, here I am. Onward.

AL West

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Houston Astros
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland Athletics

The Astros are going to be fun. They added Carlos Beltran to DH and Brian McCann to catch. Their rotation is…fine, but they’ll win because of their young offense. But the Rangers seem to have their number and I see no reason to pick against them again this year.

The intriguing team in the mix here is, as always, the Mariners, who, thanks to their never-satisfied, always-ready-to-make-another-move GM, Jerry Dipoto, have kept their core but flipped the rest. There are 18 new faces on their 40-man roster. Typically I’d be skeptical of any team with that much instability, but these are all supplementary guys. Jarrod Dyson finally gets his shot as an everyday center fielder. This team will be knocking at the door come September again this year. I think they make some deadline moves and sneak in as the second Wild Card.

Angels and Athletics are meat. It’s unfortunate the best player in the game plays on one of the least interesting teams in baseball. Mike Trout deserves better.

***

Not risking much this year, but outside of the last AL Wild Card spot, I don’t see a lot of surprises. Every division appears to be clear or a two team race. The NL Wild Card is really only between 4 teams (STL, PIT, and 2nd place in the East and West). So here are my postseason predictions:

National League: Dodgers over Cubs

American League: Red Sox over Indians

World Series: Dodgers over Red Sox

It’s baseball season, you guys. Go hug somebody and spread the good news.

-apc.

Photo Cred: Sports Illustrated, accessed here: http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/06/28/fantasy-baseball-francisco-lindor-cleveland-indians

 

The Royals are 60-60: So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

This is the second year in a row I’ve done absolutely no blogging in June or July. When the Kentucky Derby ends, this site just sits idle until mid-August when the postseason race heats up. Not by choice, necessarily. It’s a time commitment thing. Summer is busy. August, on the other hand, is not.

So let’s talk Royals.

I want to talk about two different things today. First, a quick look at how we got here. Second, stew a bit about what we’re rooting for the rest of the way.

How did we get here…what went wrong?

Nearly everything has gone wrong that could’ve gone wrong. 

Looking at pitching first: Luke Hochevar is done for the season. Offseason addition, Joakim Soria, has been mostly terrible in his Royals return. Kris Medlen is done for the season. Wade Davis is on the DL. Chris Young spent time on the DL and was atrocious in the rotation. Hopeful September call up, Kyle Zimmer, is done for the year (again). Mike Minor has had setbacks on his return. It’s a mess, really.

On the offensive side of the game: Mike Moustakas is out for the season with an ACL injury. Alex Gordon missed some time on the DL too, but even when he was healthy he’s been terrible. Gordon’s batting average was below .200 as late as August 9, yet somehow Eric Hosmer has been even worse since winning All Star Game MVP. Lorenzo Cain spent time on the DL. If you’d told me all those things at the start of the season, I’d tell you we’d only win 70 games.

How did we get here…what went right?

Yet somehow this team is 60-60 with 42 games left. They sit 9.0 games out of the Central behind Cleveland and Detroit and 6.5 games out of the Wild Card behind a half dozen different teams. And therein lies the biggest problem – no matter what the Royals do down the stretch, there are enough teams ahead of them it’s still extremely unlikely they’ll break into the postseason. But we’ll get there in a second.

For as much misfortune as the Royals have had, it’s easy to overlook the fact that a lot of things have actually tipped their way. Things like Paulo Orlando competing for a batting title and Cheslor Cuthbert hitting .290/.327/.443 and turning in a different web gem nearly every night in Moose’s absence. Cuthbert has been so good that we’re literally asking the question, “What do we do with this guy when Moustakas comes back?” (The answer, of course, is that he takes over at DH for Kendrys Morales next season when he doesn’t return.)

Danny Duffy is 10-1 with a 2.73 ERA and is in the AL Cy Young conversation. Yordano Ventura has taken another step. Ian Kennedy – despite leading the majors in home runs – has been more than adequate. Kelvin Herrera has been his normal dominant self and if Matt Strahm has been equally solid since being called up this past month. #VoteOmar has been cut and replaced by #2HitWhit and #RAM. 

If you told me all that stuff back in April, I’d’ve thought we’d been pace to win 95 games.

So when you think about it, of course they’re .500. They’ve balanced the good and the bad, injures with unexpected success stories. All in all, it’s been a very polarized season, but over the course of a long long baseball season, extreme good and extreme bad have a way of averaging out to .500.

On July 31, the Royals were 49-55 and 12 games back in the division. On August 9 they were 6 games under .500. Since then they’ve gone 7-1 and if they haven’t resurrected their season yet, they’re at least resurrected a blog post like this one. Sure, suddenly this team is .500 again, but .500 teams don’t play in the postseason. So the Royals will have to finish very strong to defend the crown in 2016. And some other things probably need to tip their way too.

For the sake of time and energy let’s say the Royals finish something like 27-15. They’ve got 10 games left against the Twins and 7 against the White Sox, so that number is certainly possible. And with the exception of next week’s road trip to Miami and Boston, the remainder of the schedule is either at home, or on the road vs AL Central opponents. That finish would put KC at 87 wins, which is right on the bubble of being a Wild Card team.

The Wild Card

The issue here is not the record – 6.5 games back with 42 to play is absolutely doable. If it was about the record, I’d just end this post now by saying, “The Royals need to win 27 or more games before they lose more than 15” and wrap it up. Cause that would do it, it it was just us vs another team. The issue, as I said at the top of this post, is the number of teams the Royals are chasing.

Here’s the current American League Wild Card standings:

  • BOS 67-52 (+1.0)
  • BAL 66-53
    —-
  • SEA 64-55 (2.0 GB)
  • DET 63-57 (3.5)
  • HOU 61-59 (5.5)
  • NYY 61-59 (5.5)
  • KC 60-60 (6.5)

The Royals need to pass FIVE different teams to land the final Wild Card spot currently held by Baltimore. The Red Sox and Mariners are hot. The Tigers and Astros are not. Baltimore and Yankees are somewhere in between. Additionally, the Red Sox are only 1 game behind the Blue Jays in the AL East, so Toronto is actually in the mix as well.

Boston, Baltimore and Toronto: The first thing that must happen is at least one of these teams needs to have a bit of a free fall. The Orioles are the most obvious option as they’re in 3rd, but I sure do hate Toronto. The Red Sox are rolling, it’s tough to think thy’ll let off the gas.

Which leads to the second thing that needs to happen: The other two teams need to stay hot. I know that sounds counterintuitive at first, but all these teams play each other multiple times over the next 6 weeks. Baltimore/Boston: 7 games left. Baltimore/Toronto: 6 games left. Boston/Toronto: 6 games left. The best way to gain ground on the final Wild Card spot is for the Sox and Jays to hand the O’s a combined 13 losses. That opens things up immediately.

If those teams all split the series, then the Royals likely won’t gain enough ground to overtake any of them. Doesn’t matter which one plummets, but one of them has to. And the best thing that can happen is the other two mow down the rest of the competition around the league.

Detroit: Just swept these guys, and it did wonders for our chances. We can’t waste our time worrying about what Detroit will do. We have 6 games left against them. If we take care of business against them, we can make up the ground ourselves. Assuming the Royals do their part, we control our own destiny against the Tigers to some extent. That said, they’re playing the Red Sox this weekend, and if Boston is going to be one of those teams to pull away, might as well root for the Sox this weekend. We’ll know more on these guys by Monday, but if we’re worried about the Tigers, then we’ve already lost.

Yankees: What a shock to see this team in the mix. Major sellers at the trade deadline, yet due to an influx of youth, they’ve hung around are are in the mix in late August. What do we want from the Yankees? Well, we want them to follow suit based on what the other three AL East teams do. They have 9 games against the Orioles left, 7 against Toronto and 6 against the Red Sox. They need to help beat the team that fades, but lose to the two teams that pull away. But again, if we’re worried about the Yankees, then we’ve already lost.

Astros and Seattle: I’ve been high on Houston from the beginning. While the White Sox were busy fooling everyone into wondering, “Is Chicago for real?” the Astros were so bad out the gate, many thought their season was over. Not me. The season is long, and good teams rise to the top and bad teams eventually drown. And here we are in mid-August and the Astros are in the mix.

The Mariners, on the other hand, are on a surprising surge. They’re finally looking like the team many of us believed would be great back in 2014 and 2015. These two teams play each other 6 times down the stretch. Houston has 4 games vs Baltimore this weekend and Seattle has 3 games vs Toronto in September. Otherwise, it’s AL West matchups galore for them. We need to be huge Angels and Athletics and Rangers fans.

So there’s a lot here, but again, none of it means anything if the Royals don’t finish strong themselves. The best thing you can do to make the postseason is win a lot of games. Right.

The Division

And then there’s Cleveland, currently sitting at 68-50. They’re 18 games over .500 and up 9.0 games on the Royals in the division. The two teams play each other 6 times the rest of the way. 

If you look at it a certain way, it’s actually easier to make the playoffs by winning the division than it is by winning the Wild Card. If we continue to assume the Royals finish at least 27-15 (a big assumption, sure, but understandably necessary), and the Indians finish 19-25, then, eureka!, we’ve done it.

The Indians are essentially a lock for the playoffs. They have been for some time now. But their remaining schedule is anything but soft. In fact, the Indians have the hardest remaining schedule in the AL Central besides the Twins, for whom every game is hard. The next 10 games for Cleveland: 3 vs TOR, 3 @ OAK, 4 vs TEX. Throw in 4 vs HOU, 6 vs KC and 7 vs DET in September/October, and that’s a bit of a gauntlet. Nine games is a lot to make up, but it’s not impossible. Some examples:

  • The 2009 Twins were 7.0 back on September 7. Won the division.
  • The 1969 Mets were 9.5 back on August 13. Won the division.
  • The 1995 Mariners were 12.5 back on August 15. Finished 25-11. Won the division.

It’s not unprecedented. Sure, it’s still unlikely, but who knows? All it takes is one bad week. Maybe next week is it? Go Blue Jays, Athletics and Rangers. We’ll see.

But for now, this weekend vs Minnesota is a must win. Do another sweep, boys.

-apc.