Comma to the Top of my Derby Selections

What makes me think in his 14th career start that this gelding will win the Kentucky Derby?

I look back to the prep before the prep (video above), or in this case the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, won in convincing fashion by Premier Pegasus. Comma was on the front end of blazing fractions in :21, :44, and 1:08 – veered out badly in the stretch and came in 4th, as the other two pacesetters were each 30+ lengths behind. This race was the undoing of PrePeg, yet Comma came out of the race stronger and fitter for the Santa Anita Derby, a race another favorite would miss, Jaycito, after being grounded courtesy of the Santa Anita Speedway.

In that SA Derby, Comma again found himself on the lead through and was able to rate at a much slower pace, yet was caught in the stretch to finish second by a neck. Prior to the effort, trainer Peter Miller had made it known this was Comma to the Top’s version of the KY Derby, he was even summarily removed from all future pools.

However, after the race Comma was in such good shape that Miller almost immediately put him back on the Derby trail:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/the-morning-after-comma-to-the-top-vs-tobys-corner/

That 9F in 1:48 only made Comma stronger, yet across the country in the Wood Memorial, Toby’s Corner ran the same time on dirt, same Beyer, and came out weaker – further evidenced by him withdrawing from the race this week after lameness post breeze at Fair Hill in Maryland.

Loyal readers know that I have been on the Comma to the Top trail since early spring:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/uncle-mo-comma-to-the-top-and-the-great-wall-of-china-what/

I simply feel his 10 races and numerous long works at age 2 have led to him maximizing his chances via superior conditioning. At age 2 a thoroughbred’s bones and soft tissues are at a very crucial stage of development. The more appropriate exercise you can give them, and allow them to recover from, the more suited they become to racing at age 3 and beyond. Interestingly enough, Mine that Bird followed a similar regimen: many starts on synthetic at age 2 at Woodbine, followed by an early move to the dirt at Sunland early in his 3yo year. Even given the rail skimming trip by Borel, MTB went on to in the money finishes in the Preakness and Belmont to absolutely everyone’s surprise.

Some part of me thinks this is the future for US racing: training on the polytrack, breezing and racing on the dirt in an effort to capture the classics. Think about it, most horses gallop 10 days for every 1 breeze – making the gallops over synthetics can alleviate much of the wear and tear on bones in the long run.

If Comma had remained on non-dirt tracks, I would group him in with the other also-rans from the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Sprial Stakes at Turfway, and Master of Hounds from the UAE Derby which was ran on Tapeta. Excelling on two disparate surfaces is rare these days, as is the ability to withstand the pounding that Santa Anita’s new dirt has handed out to other Derby wannabes – Comma aced both tests.

Someone please help me understand – no one would ever take a horse who had been on turf his whole life, and put him in the Derby on dirt with not even a work over the surface, yet several big names each year these days do the same coming off synthetics?

Anyway…So we’ll likely see Comma to the Top or near the lead going into the first turn on the First Saturday in May. Boy I sure wish The Factor was still around for him to stalk, perhaps Shackelford will fill the bill?

I wish Comma would get a 3-4F blowout over the CD strip, but I don’t think that is in the cards due to shipping in fairly late.

Let’s be honest, pedigree or not, none of these 3yo WANT 10 furlongs next week. The Derby is commonly won by a horse finishing that last quarter split in :26 and change. Comma will get an honest chance to do so – as he won’t have to fight any traffic due to his front running style.

As you can undoubtedly tell, I am not a handicapper. I also believe I am the only one predicting a Comma to the Top win – as the dozen or more experts I have seen fail to have him even in their Top Tens – which means I’ll likely get in the neighborhood of 35-1 come post time.

Give me Mucho Macho Man and ArchArchArch to fill out exotics. MMM has been trained aggressively (7F in the slop) over the dirt by trainer Kathy Ritvo and Archx3 has breezed twice in 4 days at Churchill Downs, which is unheard of in this day and age.

Most importantly, I wish a safe trip for all.

P.S. Looks like portions of this piece, along with some other commentary, will run in the Friday issue of the New York Times, print edition. Exciting! – Look for more in that paper from ThoroEdge over the TC season hopefully.

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About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 5, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Hey bro your not the only one i love this horse and have been a fan since his 2 year old career. I definitely agree with you on most of your points, he is a very experienced horse and i feel he has a good chance to win. And even if he doesn’t win i’ll still be loyal to him. Great blog thanks for the enjoyable read and info.

  2. Comma was certainly feeling no pain in that stall vid earlier this week!

  3. any thoughts on Bob Baffert winning the Oaks? I believe you are also a fan of his training. Do you have any idea of his work with Plum Pretty leading up to the Oaks?

    • Oh yes, Plum Pretty was working 6 and 7 furlongs even after her 25 length victory in March – any other trainer would have sat on her and done nothing more than 4F, thinking she was as fit as possible. See Mo, Uncle. Plus he also breezes 3-4 days pre-race consistently. I remain a huge fan of his.

  4. uhoh, should have called this one Comma to the Bottom.

    Could not have gone worse, dead last finish and a chipped ankle. I need to forever hang up my handicappers hat, but that is what is in the news throughout the springtime here in Kentucky, so I got swept up in it. Congrats to Animal Kingdom breaking the synthetic jinx: although his 6F Churchill work probably mitigated that risk somewhat.

    • You said:
      >>I simply feel his 10 races and numerous long works at age 2 have led to him maximizing his chances via superior conditioning<<

      What the 10 races and numerous long works led to was a nice little horse sucked bone dry resulting in a chipped ankle. What you failed to grasp was the horse was not capable of getting a mile and a quarter and that the trainer never allowed for recovery to occur. That poor horse went through a two year old in training sale and right into racing. He's taken a serious pounding for well over a year. If he ever comes back I will be surprised.

      • Is that right Dr. Zinn? How about Premier Pegasus? Jaycito? Archarcharch? How did they turn out with spartan racing and conditioning?

        Your theory comes up empty just 3 weeks prior as he nearly wires the field in the SA Derby with a high 90’s Beyer, his best ever, showing zero signs of fatigue. But admittedly you may be on to something because he did very little afterwards. Months ago his trainer stopped the long works in favor of the shorter fashionable breezes and he also only jogged his 3 days at CD, which had me worried. I woke up the last 3 mornings before the Derby fearing a scratch.

        I’ll still take getting $20k horse hurt after 14 starts (and $700k in earnings) over getting a $200K horse hurt over 4 starts any day of the week. Wouldn’t you?

        How long have you been waiting to post this? I remember you from the message boards elsewhere – weren’t you one calling Uncle Mo the next Seattle Slew back in February?

  5. superb training will help get the maximum out of your horse —however if the gas tank is not adequate and the pump and piping is not adequate the result may be top performance for shorter routes —workouts, times and frequencies dont tell you this part –you need lactic acid and oxygen flow data—-when that becomes public, horse racing will be as boring and predictable as formula one racing

    • Hello Dave, that is precisely the data I collect on horses in training – no Derby hopefuls this year on my list, hence my poor handicapping.

      Would be nice to have that data on Uncle Mo prior to his BC Juvenile win huh? No second guessing, no post Wood blood work, etc. You would know his metabolic signature when he is 100% and you can structure training and racing to fit the bill. Saves millions of dollars in his case. Oh well, too late now.

      Since you seem to be so enlightened – my ‘threshold’ for graded stakes level performance is: a horse with a max HR of 230bpm needs to gallop one mile in 2:00 and show a working heart rate of 190bpm, along with a blood lactate level below 4mmol/liter. Probably in the Derby several horses fit that definition, but several more do not and are wasting their time. Another marker is a 6F breeze in 1:12 with a HR recovery below 120bpm 2min after hitting the wire and 80bpm 3min later.

      Hell, many graded stakes horses never even breeze that far in their lifetimes. Baffert does it, but not Plecher or Zito.

      Knowing what I know about the industry, this will never become a public handicapping tool, although I would enjoy that quite a bit.

  6. I have been following Comma To The Top since reading your blog. Personally I thought he gave a good performance, up there to the very last, could that be when the bone chip took place? I do not know about those things. Or did he just run out of gas? No one is talking about this. Also thought Rosie rode a great race & Pants was right there where he needed to be but apparently fell back due to bleeding.

    What is being talked about is Motion’s “old time training methods” & being turf oriented. While he does not push the # of races, what about his off track training methods? O’Brien builds his stamina off the track, does Motion do this as well? Motion says the horse lets him know what he needs to do next. Of course I have heard that before.

    Obviously Tobeys Corner was not fit for the Deby, yet does a trainer tell the truth to the public when asked about his horses’s condition after a race? You commented on how he was down in his stall, all pooped out after his last race and Motion said something about a horse knows when it needs a rest or something like that, as though that was not significant or a problem.

    I did read Motion lets his horses out of the barn for a lot of pasture time which he believes helps them mentally. AK was not bothered by the crowd and Master of Hounds reportedly was shook up by the crowd, yet did 5th. Pat Day said as they were coming out the post parade, “believe it or not, the jockey already knows” if the horse will do well, referring to their mental state I believe.

    I REALLY like that he prefers to rest his horses when injured rather than keep going with drugs. Honest enough to admit the use of lasix to be on a level field with the others & the use of bute when needed. I don’t think a horse needs to be in pain when injured either, but is not acceptable anytime as race time approaches to be sure the horse is fit. He said a great horse, “brilliant” can run on turf & dirt, which I had been pondering prior to the race because I had reviewed the race history of Citation, he won on both.

    But I admit I was sucked into the worry about the switch in surfaces for this horse and Master of Hounds (who ran a very respectable 5th). While MOH was my long shot favorite, I didn’t understand why they would ship him so late and he only had time for a stoll and a canter around the track and the ONLY horse not to school at the starting gate! Yet he came in 5th. I was upset that in the 3 hrs of coverage he was not talked about at all, nor O’brien, and I never got to see a good picture of him in post parade, never got to SEE the horse prior to the race period. Also read he shipped right back to Ireland rather than to continue here for the Preakness. He is eligible to run isn’t he?

    I know I posed a lot of questions here, my observations and questions swirling around in my head after the race & I will appreciate any sense you can make out of it.

    One more thought, I am so sorry to hear about Archarcharch’s career ending injury which appeared to come as a result of that #1 post position and a misstep, rider saying he was bumped significantly twice yet the horse ran on gamely with that injury.

    • Comma had been through much hotter paces 13 times in his career. The only plausible reason he dropped back here must have been due to injury. I think he would have gotten in front of Shackleford during those slow fractions. But, his trainer never galloped him over the CD surface, which was odd.

      Motion trains off track at Fair Hill in MD, where he has ample turnout paddocks as well as dirt, tapeta, and grass gallops. Any other trainer would have gone with a simple 4F work, but he did put Animal Kingdom and Toby through 6F, one obviously thrived and the other showed an injury. What many miss is that Animal Kingdom was trained over dirt at age 2 with Randy Bradshaw in FL, as well as some dirt works when being stabled at Palm Meadows, in addition to the CD work the week of the Derby – so he had been given multiple chances to adjust to the surface, which is wise. I don’t believe for one bit this horse winning is going to make the Turfway Spiral Stakes a key Derby prep going forward.

      I have much respect for Aiden O’Brien as well, but am similarly puzzled by the routine he chose to follow for Hounds. I guess it took several years back in the 1900’s for trainers to see the huge differences from turf to dirt form, and it will take a few more for them to figure out the same for synthetic to dirt. Baffert has changed had changed his ways out West prior to SA going back to dirt.

  7. One other thing. I noted that Mucho Macho man was getting galloped 2 mi. every day, farther than any other horse. Is that significant?

  8. Hard to say without knowing the pace. Would be significant as hell if each mile was in 2:10 or faster, but means little at 2:45 for a Derby horse, compared to going 1.5 miles. I do recall he was galloped 2 miles on Friday – whereas I would maybe have backed off a bit at that late point.

  9. bpressey wrote:

    >>How long have you been waiting to post this? I remember you from the message boards elsewhere – weren’t you one calling Uncle Mo the next Seattle Slew back in February?<<

    You give yourself far too much credibility.. Actually I stumbled on to your blog when in Google mode. Regarding Uncle Mo, I thought he was the best two year old in 2010 and deserving Derby favorite up to the Wood Memorial. He has since been diagnosed with a serious bacterial infection that obviously compromised his effort in the Wood.

    • Finding something wrong with Mo after the Wood confirms the entire point of this blog: simply watching a horse of his caliber breeze a half mile in the mornings means nothing.

      Not even the most astute horseperson picked up on any existing issue with Mo prior to the Wood. If the Mo camp had utilized other existing technology (spoken about on this blog at length) during Mo’s morning workouts, it’s entirely possible the fact that he was less than 100% would have presented itself.

      Vets commonly point to an increase in resting heart rate as an early sign of illness or infection, why not point to an increase in gallop heart rate as an indication of less than 100% fitness?

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