To type the name Shagaf you don't need to venture beyond the first six letters on the middle row of your keyboard. For a guy who punches a keyboard as much as I do that's a pleasing fact. Irrelevant, but pleasing. How does it affect him heading into the Kentucky Derby? Probably less than not at all. That doesn't mean that our time was wasted talking about it, though. After all, by talking about my keyboard I didn't have to dwell on my disappointment. It happens every year - I believe in a few horses, decide that they are worth watching, and then have my faith destroyed when they run a dud of a race in a key spot. Shagaf is near the top of that list this year.
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It's a wide-open year and I'm looking for horses to like - and to include in my Derby exotics. Heading into the Wood Memorial I thought Shagaf had a chance to be one of those horses. Now I'm just looking forward to betting against him. What went wrong? Or am I wrong? And how can I dislike a horse that is so fun to type?
Last race: The Wood Memorial was an awful, awful race, and Shagaf, who was the favorite, was a lowlight amongst the general dim. The early fractions were reasonably swift - not crazy but decent. The track was wet, too. I'll generously say it was those issues and not the generally underwhelming nature of the field that caused the race to blow up. The winner, Outwork, ran the final three furlongs in 40.61 seconds. That would be slow for any group of horses. For a group of supposedly the top three year olds in the country it is incomprehensibly awful. Secretariat could have closed faster than that on three legs. And the bigger issue is that, despite not mixing it up with the leaders early on, Shagaf had nothing to give down the stretch and couldn't even gain ground against the sloths he was racing. He entered the stretch fourth and finished fifth. And here's the worst part - coming around the final turn he started to make a move and the only question in my mind was how many lengths he was going to win by. The race was there for the taking for him, and he wasn't able to take it. There are some excuses, I guess - he didn't take to the surface, he was bumped and forced to check early on, he found some traffic at the top of the stretch. A better horse would have shown more despite those issues. So, basically it wasn't a very good race for Shagaf. That's what I'm saying. Fun name to type, though.
Prior experience: What makes me so upset about that last outing was that the horse had shown so much more early on. He broke his maiden back in November at Aqueduct. It was a very impressive effort, too - he drew away by more than six lengths. Then he headed down to Florida where he beat allowance company in January. The margin of victory was less, but the result was no less dominating. Then it was time to head back to Aqueduct for his stakes debut. He faced a decent field in the Gotham. He settled off the pace, had a heck of a stretch run, and won by daylight. Three races, no losses. Such a promising start. Now, to be fair, one lousy race doesn't totally negate all that came before it. It just makes it so much harder to get excited.
Trainer: If the Kentucky Derby was run on grass in New York then Chad Brown would win all of them. He has won six Breeders' Cup races since 2012 - all but one on turf. Last year he was second in the country in winnings with more than $20 million. Three-quarters of that came on the grass. He's on track to have two starters in the Derby this year, but he is short on prior experience - his only earlier starter was Normandy Invasion in 2013. His lack of experience in the Derby is a concern. He is excellent in graded stakes, though, and will have his horses ready.
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. is aboard. He and his brother Jose are ridiculously talented. Irad leads the country in earnings right now, and Jose is second. Neither has won a Triple Crown race yet, but it's just a matter of time. If Irad can keep things together he's going to have a heck of a career. He's an asset here.
Breeding: Part of why I liked this horse so much early on was his breeding. He's a son of Bernardini, who was a great horse who is fast becoming a great stud. He provides solid stamina influences. His damsire is Unbridled's Song, who won both the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial in 1996 and would have been much tougher in the Kentucky Derby than he was if a quarter crack hadn't derailed his final preparations. He was a very strong sire as well and also provides solid stamina influences.
Odds: You can see how much things have changed here. The week before the Wood was the final official Kentucky Derby futures pool. He opened at 30/1 on the morning line. I wasn't the only one that drooled at that, and he dropped to 17/1. After the Wood debacle, though, BetOnline has him at +4500.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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