I was intrigued and even excited by this horse heading into the Blue Grass Stakes. I didn't expect him to beat the very good Carpe Diem, but I thought he could be second best. In a race with some really great horses at the top like this Derby, I am always on the lookout for longer-priced horses that offer some value.
After that last race, though, my enthusiasm has dimmed.
He's still a nice horse with some things going for him, but I no longer believe in him like I wanted to before. So, can Ocho Ocho Ocho win the Kentucky Derby? Probably not, but oddsmakers don't completely hate him. He sits at 25/1 in early futures action at Bovada, which has him way behind the elite contenders but still closer to the middle of the pack than the back of it. I would have had less problems with that price before the Blue Grass Stakes than I do now.
Blue Grass Stakes: No real excuses here. He just wasn't good enough. He got off well and set the pace early on. He was chased by Carpe Diem all the way, though. He lost the lead to the eventual winner entering the stretch and clearly didn't have enough left to fight to get it back. He faltered and wound up third. I don't mind that he was no match for Carpe Diem - that is a very good horse. What I don't like, though, is that he ran out of gas like he did despite very reasonable fractions and that he let Danzig Moon - a horse that he should have been able to beat - catch him at the end. This race was shorter than the Derby, there was much more room to move, and the pace was far more reasonable than it is likely to be in Kentucky, and Ocho Ocho Ocho couldn't handle it. Far from ideal. One note worth making, though, is that he ran on the lead for the first time in this race after sitting off the pace in previous races. That shows a bit of versatility - a good sign, I guess.
Prior experience: It's like we have seen two different horses over the career of this guy. He won his first three races from early October to late November last year, capped by a big win in the Delta Down Jackpot over fellow Derby hopefuls Mr. Z and Far Right. It looked like a star was born. He had a layoff after that race, though, and since he has come back in early March it has been a whole different story. He was awful in the San Felipe, which Dortmund won. He was way back early, showed nothing, and was steadied before the stretch. It was a complete dud. After that he didn't work as well as I would have liked heading into the Blue Grass. It has not been a good calendar year for the horse so far. Are there legitimate excuses we can point to? Maybe a few, but not enough to make me happy. Is he capable of improving dramatically like he would need to? He certainly has some potential, but his last two outings have been so far from inspiring that I don't feel great. On the plus side, though, he had his best work in a long time - the best ever according to his trainer - on April 15. He was on the fence about the Derby before that work but was committed to the race after it.
Trainer: Jim Cassidy has been training on his own since 1989 and seriously since 1998. He has a decent collection of graded stakes victories but has not finished better than third in a Breeders' Cup race and has not been in the Derby before. With over 3,000 starters, he knows his stuff, though, and isn't a liability for this horse. He has been around the circus that is Derby weekend - in 2010 he finished second in the Kentucky Oaks with Evening Jewel. His most impressive accomplishment, at least from the outside perspective of a horse racing geek, is that he was an assistant to Frank Whiteley in 1974 when he campaigned Ruffian, perhaps the greatest racing filly of all time.
Jockey: The horse has had three riders in five races, and he is about to have his fourth. After seeing his first two Derby horses fall off the trail, Kent Desormeaux was looking for a ride, and this is it. He has won the Derby three times - with Real Quiet, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Big Brown. He also won the Preakness with Real Quiet and Big Brown and the Belmont with Summer Bird. He hasn't won a Triple Crown race since 2009 and was short on notable accomplishments since 2010 before winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year. He's having a respectable year this year, though, and certainly won't hurt this horse.
Breeding: It was his breeding that first intrigued me about this horse. He is a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. Street Sense was a slow starter at stud but has shown some real promise lately and obviously brings some aptitude for this race. His damsire is Horse Chestnut, a racing legend from South Africa. An intriguing subplot is that Horse Chestnut's trainer, Mike de Kock, is making his Derby debut, and a rare North American appearance, this year with Mubtaahij. It's an interesting combination of bloodlines, with plenty of quality further back on both sides. I like it.
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