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.

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.

2016 Kentucky Derby: Cooper Family Live Draft

Yesssssssss.

The most exciting two minutes in sports is back: The Kentucky Derby!!

The Tradition

The Cooper Family has been doing this for years. Each year we study up on the 20 horses running for the roses and make our selections on who we think will win. It’s purely for pride. (Although, I’ve been considering getting some sort of trophy created to pass around to whoever the current champion is…maybe next year.)

I remember making picks with my Dad when I was a kid – but The Draft has really become something larger since around 2002, and every year it seems to gain some momentum. Perhaps it’s due to marriages and our expanding family size. Perhaps it’s because I started doing these annual Live Draft posts in 2014. Perhaps it’s because, for the most part, we’re all living back in the same city again. Hard to say, but there’s good energy here so why not really make a big deal out of it?

But before we get to this year, let’s talk briefly about last year, since, you know, I won.

You know, that whole thing about hindsight being 20/20 is particularly apropos when one of the horses you’re considering drafting becomes the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Last year’s Derby winner, American Pharoah, had the best odds on draft day at 3-1. Sure, there were comparable horses running last year at Churchill Downs – Dortmund (4-1) and Firing Line (7-1) were right there at the finish too – but after AP absolutely obliterated the competition in the sloppy Preakness a few weeks later, it was clear the gap at the top was wider than originally believed. I even wrote, “there’s no true favorite like there has been the past few years,” in this section of last year’s draft post. I was wrong. American Pharoah was clearly a notch above the rest.

And he graciously fell to me at pick #3. Thanks, fam.

Yes, I’m coming off my first ever Cooper Family Kentucky Derby win. It feels good, sure, but it was a gift more than something I earned. My wife scored pick #1 and took Dortmund. My mom took a flier on Carpe Diem with pick #2 which didn’t hit. And the horse of destiny just kinda landed in my lap.

Repeating will be a tall order though, since we decided to draft in reverse order from our previous year’s finish. I have the 7th pick. But more on that in a bit. First, let’s talk about the horses.

Links to the last two Derby drafts…

The Horses

There is a clear favorite this year.

Nyquist has never lost a race – a perfect 7-0 in races leading up Derby. When betting lines were first posted earlier this week, he was 3-1. He’s named after a hockey player, Detroit Red Wings’ right winger Gustav Nyquit. Amazingly, I know more about the horse than I do the man.  The next closest line is, Exaggerator, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, opening at 8-1.

But weirder things have happened than a clear cut favorite finishing in the middle of the pack. Look no further than 1994 when Holy Bull – the Horse of the Year that year – entered the Derby as the clear favorite, but sloppy track conditions and a poor break cost him. He ended 12th out of 14 horses. See? Anything is possible.

Like listen to this argument: Nyquist ran the San Vicente Stakes in California on February 15, then the Florida Derby on April 2, and now is headed to Kentucky a month later. Traveling can certainly wear down a horse. Plus, only one of the entrants has ever run a 1 1/4 mile race before, so who knows which of these horses has the stamina to go that extra 1/8 of a mile. And all it takes is a hesitation out the gate, or getting pinched around a turn.

See? Wide open. (Yeah right.)

If that happens, the number of challengers appears deep with a whopping 13 horses in the 10- to 20-1 range: CreatorGun Runner and Mohaymen opened at 10-1; Brody’s Cause and Mor Spirit at 12-1; Destin opened at 15-1, as did the two speedy pace horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy.

Oh! And you can’t ever count out Victor Espinoza these days. Jockey of the past two Derby winners. He’s riding Whitmore (20-1) this year – expect that line to drop as we approach post time.

So if you’ve got, say, the 7th pick in the draft, and you’re certainly not going to end up with Nyquist, there are guaranteed to be horses out there that have a shot. The full list by position as of this post:

  1. Trojan Nation 50-1
  2. Suddenbreakingnews 20-1
  3. Creator 10-1
  4. Mo Tom 20-1
  5. Gun Runner 10-1
  6. My Man Sam 20-1
  7. Oscar Nominated 50-1
  8. Lani 30-1
  9. Destin 15-1
  10. Whitmore 20-1
  11. Exaggerator 8-1
  12. Tom’s Ready 30-1
  13. Nyquist 3-1
  14. Mohaymen 10-1
  15. Outwork 15-1
  16. Shagaf 20-1
  17. Mor Spirit 12-1
  18. Majesto 30-1
  19. Brody’s Cause 12-1
  20. Danzing Candy 15-1
  21. Laoban (Alternate) 50-1
  22. Cherry Wine (Alternate) 30-1

Click here for the complete list of horses, post positions and betting odds.

Here’s what jumps out initially…

Both of those speedsters are interesting options. Outwork is coming out of post position 15 and Danzing Candy out of position 20. The way the gate is constructed, those are terrific spots for speedy horses. There are 14 slots in the main gate, and an appendage is attached housing positions 15-20.

Here’s a photo…

mg8872

See what I’m saying? You can see what can happen out of the gate – the 14, 15 and 20 horses have the most room to work with and establish position.

If you’re a pace horse, this is helpful to quickly get out ahead of the pack. And the two fastest horses in this race are on both ends of the attachment. Outwork and Danzing Candy have every opportunity to get a good jump and pace the pack. If that happens, this has the makings of a very very fast race.

Now, some people don’t believe post numbers matter in the slightest. The best horses get the best jumps get the best race posturing get the better finishes. And I agree with that for the most part, but at the same time, certain positions can certainly help. And when a race has been happening for 141 years, certain trends begin to develop.

The inside numbers (posts 1-5) have the shortest distance to run because they have the inside track, sure. But they’re also the most likely to get pinched against the rail. Generally, if a horse is on the inside, they want to be in spots 1, 2 or 5. Spots 3 & 4 are the most likely to get pinched and effectively eliminated in the first quarter mile.

Good news for Gun Runner. Bad news for Creator.

The outside numbers (posts 13-20) have a longer distance so a slight disadvantage. However, if they can get a good break, they typically have more room to work with and are rarely eliminated over the first quarter mile. Nyquist got a bit of a disadvantage being in #13, but not much. If you’re in the outside third, 13 and 16 (Shagaf) have produced the most winners.

The only gate to never produce a winner? 17.

Sorry, Mor Spirit.

The ideal positions are somewhere in the middle, in the 5-12 range. Posts 8 (Lani) and 10 (Whitmore) have the best winning percentages among the middle numbers.

Whoops. Really got into post positioning for a moment there. In the end, we don’t really know anything at all. It’s all one big crapshoot. Pick the best horses and hope for the best – that’s always the better shot. If Mor Spirit is still available late in the draft, am I still picking him over Trojan Nation or Oscar Nominated? Absolutely.

Most of what I just wrote was an attempt to make my family members gain some level of interest in horses I don’t want in hopes they pick them before it gets to me…OR WAS IT?! What if this entire post is a ploy to sucker my family into picking the chumps again this year?! Hmmm. Just doing my own jockeying for position here.

The Family Draft Order

In past years, we’ve picked numbers out of a hat and made it completely random. That’s just no fun for those who end up with the last pick and have no shot at picking California Chrome, American Pharoah or Nyquist. My dad definitely has the most wins in our family, but most (all?) have come due to lucking into a high pick and selecting the favorite: Orb in 2013. Big Brown in 2008. War Emblem in 2002. Pretty sure he won all of those and had a top 2 pick every time. I’m sure it was very rewarding to defeat his offspring on the regular.

So this year, we’ve adjusted the rules. From now on, we’ll be selecting in the order we finished the previous year! That way the loser from the year before has first dibs at the favorite next year. From there, it snakes back to the first pick. Any leftover picks then jump to the final picker and go in reverse order. This year there are 20 horses, so the picking order looks like this:

  • Mom – 1 & 14
  • Holly – 2, 13 & 20
  • Quinten – 3, 12 & 19
  • Anna – 4, 11 & 18
  • Karlie – 5, 10 & 17
  • Dad – 6, 9 & 16
  • Adam – 7, 8 & 15

I have picks 7, 8 and 15. Woof. The price of success, I suppose.

So who am I targeting with pick 7? Who knows. I’ll end up with whoever is left off the top of my board, and – as any good NFL general manager will say – I’ll take the best player available. I’m hoping someone in the Creator-Gun Runner-Mohaymen tier falls to me, but that feels like a stretch. Exaggerator and Nyqvist will be long gone. My sister, Anna, is a sucker for Victor Espinoza so Whitmore probably won’t be there either.

So that leaves…who? Destin? Brody’s Cause? Blegh. No thank you. The reality is I’ll end up with two also-rans who may or may not have lead hooves. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

I’m most likely to pick two horses whose names are the most fun to root for, so HERE WE GO, SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS! What a name.

The Draft

**The Draft is happening Saturday morning. Check back then for updates as the picks come in.**

Pick 1: Nyquist (Mom)

Mom picks the favorite right out the gate. No messing around here.

Pick 2: Exaggerator (Holly)

And Hol follows up with the obvious followup. Who saw this coming? (Everyone.)

Pick 3: Creator (Quinten)

For some reason Creator isn’t getting any love for coming into the derby with such solid odds. Quinten has a good horse here, but it’s not the route I would’ve gone.

Pick 4: Whitmore (Anna)

In a completely unsurprising move, Anna takes her boy, Victor Espinoza.

Pick 5: Gun Runner (Karlie)

Amazing that Mohaymen and Gun Runner are still on the board at this point. They were #’s 2 and 3 on my draft board. Karlie gets a terrific horse at number 5.

Pick 6: Mohaymen (Dad)

And Dad somehow gets an unbelievable pick at #6 overall.

Pick 7: SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (APC)

This just in: all the good horses are gone. If I could trade back and acquire more picks, I would, but I’m not sure that’s allowed. So I’ll go with the best name in the race here, just like I said I would.

Pick 8: Outwork (APC)

If you read everything up to this point, you know I liked the pace horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy, so I’ll take the one closer on the inside. Hoping DC falls to me at #15. Doubtful.

Pick 9: Mor Spirit (Dad)

No horse has ever won from the 17 gate, but Dad appears hopeful. “Maybe this is the year!” That’s the Spirit. Although, he did win Jimmy Fallon’s Puppy Predictor this year.

Pick 10: Destin (Karlie)

Solid gate positioning. Best available. Good pick here.

Pick 11: Brody’s Cause (Anna)

Terrible name. Best odds out there. Does anyone know what his Cause is?

Pick 12: My Man Sam (Quinten)

Has “dark horse” written all over it. Solid positioning and underrated. Dad makes the following joke: “Used to be Sam I Am before he was sold into slavery.” Wonderful. Everyone loves a good slavery joke…

Pick 13: Mo Tom (Holly)

The first of the two Toms is finally off the board. Won’t be missed. Should finish last.

Pick 14: Danzing Candy (Mom)

Love this pick. Danzing was one of the favorites a month or so ago, but slid in April and then got shoved to the #20 gate. But he’s got the speed to pull it off.

Pick 15: Shagaf (APC)

So I’ll take Shagaf, because, I have no idea.

Pick 16: Lani (Dad)

Dad takes the other grey horse in the mix. Lani is a guy’s name, supposedly. And he’s from Japan, so who knows what we’ve got here. “Could be the steal of the draft” in a prime post position.

Pick 17: Oscar Nominated (Karlie)

Terrible horse. But whatever, all the remaining horses stink, so might as well grab the one with the best starting position. Karlie finishes with Gun Runner, Destin and Oscar Nominated. That’s a good group.

Pick 18: Majesto (Anna)

Majesto is the horse I know the least about because he’s really not worth my time.

Pick 19: Trojan Nation (Quinten)

Q takes the inside rail. Too bad the Nation is going to get bumped early by…SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS.

Pick 20: Tom’s Ready (Holly)

And Holly picks up the pieces and adds the other Tom. She ends up with Exaggerator and the Toms. Sounds like an up and coming garage band. Dibs band name.

So here’s where the draft left us…

  • Mom: Nyquist, Danzing Candy
  • Holly: Exaggerator and the Toms
  • Quinten: Creator, My Man Sam, Trojan Nation
  • Anna: Whitmore, Brody’s Cause, Majesto
  • Karlie: Gun Runner, Destin, Oscar Nominated
  • Dad: Mohaymen, Mor Spirit, Lani
  • APC: Suddenbreakingnews, Outwork, Shagaf

Well…the good news is I’ll get an early pick in 2017.

Immediate takeaways – Mom’s draft was obviously strong with Nyquist, but adding Danzing Candy is a strong pick at #14 overall. Dad and Karlie had fantastic drafts for the picks they had. Anna’s way too sentimental to ever actually win this thing.

I think Danzing Candy and Outwork get out to the front from the outside, but fade late from giving too much to claim the pace. I really like Suddenbreakingnews and My Man Sam emerging from the rail horses as contenders, but getting worn out trying to keep up with Gun Runner and Nyquist, who should fall in behind the pace, boxing out Exaggerator. Mohaymen ought to just pace behind Nyquist and hope to have more left in the tank down the stretch. I anticipate a fast race where only the strongest survive.

If I’m picking a superfecta, I’m going with Nyquist, Gun Runner, Mohaymen, Outwork.

The Results

And Nyquist takes it.

The race played out almost exactly like everyone expected – Dancing Candy paced the group but faded late, Nyquist and Gun Runner hanging just off the pace kicked it into gear around the far turn. Exaggerator held back and got caught up in the middle until a hole opened up late and he scampered to a strong second place finish. Gun Runner barely hung on for third in a photo alongside Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews.

It’s fitting that Mom would win on Mother’s Day weekend. She picked the obvious favorite and he pulled through with ease.

So that means our family standings for this year’s Kentucky Derby look like this…

  1. Mom (Nyquist)
  2. Holly (Exaggerator)
  3. Karlie (Gun Runner)
  4. Dad (Mohaymen)
  5. APC (Suddenbreakingnews)
  6. Anna (Brody’s Cause, 7th)
  7. Quinten (My Man Sam, 11th)

Dad finished with 3 horses in the top 10 – Mohaymen, Lani (9th) and Mor Spirit (10th). Along with Gun Runner, Karlie also did well with Destin (6th). Anna’s horses struggled – Whitmore was the last to finish, and Majesto was second to last. Holly did well with Exaggerator, but the Toms were respectable too finishing 8th (Mo) and 12th (‘s Ready).

Quinten will get the first overall pick next year. His horses were not great on paper, nor in the Derby. He finished 11th (My Man Sam), 13th (Creator) and 16th (Trojan Nation).

I did as well as I could. Suddenbreakingnews (5th) was the best finishing horse remaining when it got to me. That at least counts for something. Outwork was a long shot if he could keep up with the heavy hitters, and was sitting pretty going into the last quarter mile but faded significantly down the stretch, as many predicted he would. He finished 14th.

Shagaf…did not finish.

Photo creds: CNN accessed here; Insider Louisville accessed here.

Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

 

In 2012, Alabama Shakes released their first LP titled Boys & Girls to rave reviews. This album is better. It’s significantly different, but significantly better. Their first album sounds like 70’s rock – guitar driven with even a slight country twang in places. The group hails from Athens, Alabama, and their first album reflects it in sound. It sounds like you’re sitting in a soulful southern joint eating some rice and beans or something.

But their second LP, Sound & Color hardly sounds like the same band. They’ve matured musically, moving into a much more complex array of sounds. Xylophones? Distorted vocals? Groovy bass lines? It’s so different and layered and complex compared to their debut work. It’s a welcomed move.

This album is more Al Green than it is Creedence Clearwater Revival, which is certainly a step up in the opinion of this blogger. That said, even with the drastically new sound, the same impressive pipes propel the album: those of Brittany Howard, whose high-pitched vocals make the muscles in my neck twinge just thinking about them. Her first squeal on the album’s single, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” is so painfully pitched one wonders how she even manages it. Her voice is unique and most likely unlike anything else you’ve heard before.

And I love it.

“Don’t Wanna Fight” (along with the other single, “Gimme All Your Love“) is the type of record you put on in the car when the road trip gets boring. It’s the perfect tune to just belt out at the top of your lungs. If your vocal chords aren’t throbbing through the first 5 tracks on this album, you’re doing it wrong. No restraint here. I’d suggest that the 3-year gap between their first and second albums was to allow for her chords to recover, but the group toured relentlessly over that stretch, so so much for that theory.

What probably took so long was simply how complex this album is. Alongside Howard, Alabama Shakes features Heath Fogg on guitar, Zac Cockerell on bass and Steve Johnson on drums, and unlike Boys & Girls, all four members are featured prominently on this album. On their first album, when Howard quit singing, the album lost it’s thrust. On this album, that’s not the case. The bass and guitar in particular drive this album just as much as the vocals in places.

The most interesting thing on this album – and the thing that ties the whole thing together – is the distortions on both the instrumentation and Howard’s vocals. Rather than just have her sing over the grooves, they chose to enmesh her vocals in with the overall sound of each track. The effect is fascinating. I keep coming back to Al Green – the moment he starts singing, you know it’s him. His voice is unmistakeable. Howard’s voice might be the closest thing I’ve heard to Green’s.

The latter half of the record (with the glaring exception of “The Greatest” – which is borderline punk rock) is ballad after ballad. It’s the closest to Al Green’s overall sound that the album comes. They’re not bad – in fact I like each song individually – but they do get a bit monotonous. While the first 5 tracks are asking to be screamed, the next 7 struggle to keep my ear. I really dig “Guess Who” and “Miss You” – which both beautifully oscillate between delicate and powerful, but it’s an album I struggle to get through from start to finish. The sound becomes expected the longer you listen to it, which really makes me wonder where they’ll go with their sound in the future.

It would be an absolute shock if Shakes beat out Taylor Swift or Kendrick Lamar, but it’s the only other one I see having any chance. It’s a distant third in this year’s field. I do think it will win Alternative Album of the Year. It’s primary competition there is Tame Impala, but I’ve always wondered how any of the other nominees think they have a chance against an album nominated for Album of the Year. If it’s not the best Alternative Album, how would it ever be the top overall?

Top tracks: Don’t Wanna Fight, Guess Who, Gimme All Your Love

Back to GRAMMYs.

 

1989 – Taylor Swift

It feels funny to write about an album that’s so universally known at this point. I should’ve written this back in early 2015 when the album initially dropped, because at this point we all know what kind of an album we have here.

Taylor Swift moved from Nashville to New York City two years ago and it’s reflected in pretty much everything here. The emotional acoustic guitar has been replaced with crisp cadences and catchy choruses. But Taylor’s need to overshare the depth of her soul is still present though, but instead of crying over lovers, it’s an album about freedom in the business of the big city. Even the more stripped down tracks (“This Love,” “How You Get the Girl,” “Clean“) are produced at a different level than her past ballads. She’d dabbled with pop in the past, but never truly abandoned her country connection. Here she goes full pop.

But it’s not remotely surprising. Nothing about this abandonment in 1989 is startling. It feels natural. Which is not something most artists ought to be able to do so seamlessly. When an artist changes his/her sound, there’s typically a backlash of some sort that laments them straying from their origins and chasing new sounds. Consumers don’t do well with change.

What is startling is how T-Swift refuses to be put in a box. She’s moved from winning country awards to winning pop soloist awards and somehow has managed to transcend both categories. She doesn’t fit in anyone’s mold. She’s a shapeshifter who never surprises you with her new look. Just when I think I’ve got her figured out, she morphs again, yet it all feels so natural. It’s just who she is.

She’s unapologetically herself, and that’s her greatest strength.

From the outset, it’s an incredibly fun album. “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” have been two of the loudest anthems across the nation this past year. It’s hard to leave the house without hearing her voice at some point. And, my goodness, if I’m not tapping my foot every time. Something about her tunes gets under my skin whether you want it to or not. And let’s be honest: You want it to.

This album is hit after hit, track after track, and none of them are complex. “Style” is a straightforward boy-meets-girl anthem. “Bad Blood” is a straightforward you-hurt-me-but-screw-you anthem. There’s no metaphor here and there’s no confusion as to what she’s singing about. She writes her heart, mind and soul into her lyrics, yet it doesn’t feel like an overshare because she’s probably the most lovable human since Tom Hanks. She doesn’t fit in, and that’s the way she wants it.

It’s hard to even classify her alongside other artists. Who else with her level of fame manages to sit so completely alone and look so comfortable with it? Maybe Adele? Maybe Lady Gaga? There’s no competition here, not because she’s defeated everyone else, but because she is so unlike the competition.

You know these songs. I don’t need to tell you any more. But I’ll say this: I think she loses out to Kendrick Lamar. I won’t be surprised if T-Swift takes home a bundle, but I don’t think she ends up with the Big One.

Top Tracks: Shake It Off, Clean, Blank Space, Bad Blood

-apc.

To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

Before I say anything else about this album, I need to say this: I have the highest respect for Kendrick Lamar. As an artist, as a role model, and as a human being, I’m extremely impressed with who he is and what he hopes to stand for as someone with fame and influence.

And that’s what To Pimp a Butterfly comes from: Kendrick Lamar’s deep desire to utilize his influence for good. It’s an album about leadership and celebrity. It’s Kendrick wrestling with the temptations associated with his new platform – the “evils of Lucy” (aka Lucifer) as he calls them. It’s his sophomore album – which typically has insane pressure to build off a successful debut project – isn’t anything what you’d expect from a rising star in the world. Instead of diving deep into his newfound wealth and power, he has chosen to take a step back and comment on how his status can be problematic, and how he strives to “pimp” that status for the benefit of others. Speaking value into his home community.

Kendrick Lamar is from Compton. He was raised in a world with a certain perspective and a certain way of life. No one ever told him he could amount to anything – that there was a world out there he could explore and learn from. He was born into a system of madness – which is the focus of his first album, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” – and one of his primary goals in his new album is to preach potential to his community back home.

The opening track, “Wesley’s Theory,” speaks to poverty and imprisonment. Opening up the collective mind of the systematic oppression experienced by those who grow up in the narrative of Compton and similar communities. There are places to visit, there’s a world out there to learn from – there are other ways of life. You’re not stuck in the narrative of cyclical generational poverty you’re been raised into.

It’s a fascinating album from a structural standpoint. The album continues in that vein through “King Kunta” and “Institutionalized” and “These Walls.” But the album seems to be framed in two parts around two songs: “u” – which focuses on the depression and suicidal feelings stemming from Kendrick experiencing a lack of control in painful things in his life – and “Alright” – which is the inverse narrative declaring that regardless of how bad things get, “we gonna be alright.”

Laced throughout the album is a poem. The first time you hear it, it’s only the first couple lines, but each recitation reveals more and more of the complete poem.

I remember you was conflicted
Misusing your influence
Sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in the hotel room
I didn’t wanna self destruct
The evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went running for answers
Until I came home…

The first time through the album, it’s confusing and disruptive. It’s tempting to skip the spoken portions to get back to the music, but the listener does him/herself a disservice if he does it. If Kendrick Lamar was about writing singles and pop hits, he’d never want the monologue there. It segments the flow and forces you to consider the words through repetition. The words provide the thrust of the album’s content.

But then you get to the end of the album – to “Mortal Man” – and you realize this isn’t a poem at all, but it’s a letter to Tupac. Apparently, while Kendrick was in Germany, some dude gave him a recording of an interview with Tupac from years ago when he was still alive. Kendrick takes that audio and creates an interview dialogue out of it between he and Tupac. It’s unbelievable. If you didn’t know/believe Tupac was dead, you’d be convinced he somehow sat down with Kendrick. It’s seamless and still so relevant to the world today.

In fact, get this: the orginal title for the album was going to be Tu Pimp a Caterpiller – Tu.P.A.C. – but went with butterfly instead because it represented Kendrick’s desire to pimp the beautiful things in life. There is so much happening here structurally it’s hard to nail it down unless you take the time to zoom out and consider the full context. The whole structure of the album is brilliant. Once the first listen is over, suddenly the end opens up the entire album in a new light – like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, to be honest. Lamar doesn’t shy away from the painful realities in the world, so there are moments on the album which, when taken out of context, can communicate something totally different than Kendrick’s big idea of the album. But when you listen to its entirety and begin to break down the themes and what he’s doing structurally, the album manages to open up to something incredible.

Admittedly, this isn’t an album that you can sit down and bump around to. It’s also not an album with singles you can throw into a playlist and listen to individually. Again, his goal isn’t to create a bunch of pop hits (which is basically exactly Taylor Swift’s goal in creating 1989) – it’s a cohesive creative unit with a message throughout.

The only single that was released for the album was “i” where features a looped Isley Brothers sample that really grooves. The phrase “I love myself” is repeated in chorus. It’s an anthem for those who society puts down – specifically young black community. Instead of believing the narrative of their world, to discover that everyone has value and ought to love themselves.

Except then on the album, it sounds like a live version! What?! Why would you do this to us Kendrick?! You can hear a crowd clamoring and someone introducing Kendrick as a guy who has “traveled all round the world but came back” – so apparently he’s performing for the people of Compton.

And then toward the end of the song he stops singing and starts talking to the people instead. He’s addressing the community about what it means to be black in the world – trying to create a new narrative for his home. He asks how many people have died in 2015 alone before doing a sort of etymological study on the N-word. He presents the Ethiopian word “negus” meaning “royalty” – a reclamation on a word taken and perverted by Americans over the decades.

By releasing the single version and then changing the album version, Kendrick further pushes his agenda. In fact, he actually sets up the speech in the “live” version by giving the single version beforehand. People come to the album expecting to bump to “i,” but end up startled by Kendrick’s message to home.

The album is honest and vulnerable. Kendrick’s message of positive influence is clear. He wants to denounce the evils associated with fame and celebrity and focus on communicating positivity to the system he came from.

It’s clear that Kendrick Lamar views himself as the butterfly that was able to come out of the system he was born into – not in a boastful or arrogant sense, as is the norm in hip hop. Rather than chasing more money and status and pointing the finger at his success, he points the finger at his struggles and pain. The album is about transformation. He hopes to change the narrative of those who grew up in the culture he did. The caterpillar he talks about in the final minute of the album are all those who are born into that system, and Kendrick hopes his voice can be one that begins a process of transformation.

If you want to know more, I recommend watching this 4-part interview Lamar did with MTV. Here’s the first of the four interviews…

Again, I respect the guy immensely. To Pimp a Butterfly is an incredible album. One with a purpose of making this world a better place. Most people probably don’t get that, and they won’t look past the controversial album cover. I believe strongly that this album deserves to win Album of the Year at the GRAMMYs. I’m rooting for it. It’s obviously highly regarded (Kendrick led all artists with 11 nominations), but can it beat out T-Swift’s 1989 – one of the most successful pop albums in recent history? We’ll see. No offense, Taylor.

Top tracks: u, King Kunta, Alright, i, Mortal Man, Wesley’s Theory

-apc.

Back to the GRAMMYs page.