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April 30, 2003

OSCAR’S 2003 KY DERBY GREEN SHEET

A long time ago in (what seems like) a galaxy far, far away, Ronald Reagan won the Presidential election with George Bush as his running mate, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the science fiction blockbuster “The Empire Strikes Back”, was the highest grossing movie. The year was 1980.

Now 23 years later, George Bush’s son is President, and it’s the U.S. that is in Afghanistan.

And what’s become of the Empire?

Well, it’s alive and well in the form of Empire Maker, a bay colt by Derby winner Unbridled out of the amazing dam, Toussaud. And folks….the Empire is about to strike!

There is no dearth (or is that Darth!) of horses for the 2003 Kentucky Derby. However, history says that only three have a chance to win; and one of them is the “Empire”. Oscar got to the big three by the process of elimination.

The method that I will describe below is basically the same one that I used last year. It narrowed the field of 18 horses down to the three who I believed had a chance to win: Came Home, Private Emblem, and War Emblem. Came Home finished 6th, and Private Emblem was 14th but War Emblem went wire-to-wire cruising to a 4-length victory and a $43 payoff.

If you had bet $20 on each of those 3, you would have invested $60 and collected $430!

THE ELIMINATION FACTORS

1. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHOSE BROODMARE SIRE TRACES TO RAISE A NATIVE

In the history of the Derby there have been 48 starters whose broodmare sire traced to the outstanding stallion Raise A Native. Not one of them has won the Derby. This list includes the “can’t possibly lose the Derby ” Pont Given in 2001, and last year’s Derby favorite Harlan’s Holiday.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Brancusi Ten Most Wanted Outta Here

2. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO DOES NOT HAVE AT LEAST 5 CAREER STARTS

The last horse to win the Derby with fewer than 5 career starts was Exterminator in 1918! (Talk about “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away!”) This factor eliminated Indian Charlie, the 1998 Derby favorite. It also eliminated the highly regarded Congaree in 2001, and Medaglia d’Oro last year.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Indian Express Senor Swinger

3. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO DOES NOT HAVE AT LEAST 3 STARTS AS A 3 YEAR-OLD.

The only horse to have won the Derby since 1955 with fewer than 3 starts as a 3 year-old was Sunny’s Halo in 1983. That’s 46 out of 47 Derby winners (about 98%) who started at least 3 times in their 3 year-old year. Poor Point Given, even if he did not have a Raise a Native broodmare sire line, this angle would have eliminated him. Last year it eliminated the outstanding European 2 year-old champion Johannesburg as well as the highly regarded Saarland. It also eliminated Proud Citizen who finished 2nd, but remember this elimination method eliminates horses who won’t win; they can and do hit the board, so be careful.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Indian Express Peace Rules

4. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO HAS NOT RACED WITHIN 5 WEEKS OF THE DERBY

The last horse to win the Derby with more than 5 week’s rest was Needles in 1955.

This angle eliminates the following horse from this year’s Derby:

Outta Here

5. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO DID NOT RUN IN A GRADED STAKES RACE PRIOR TO APRIL 1 OF HIS 3 YEAR-OLD YEAR.

Every Derby winner in the last 11 years had run in a graded stakes race prior to April 1 of his 3 year-old year. Had Buddha run last year, this factor would have eliminated him.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Indian Express Eye of the Tiger Sir Cherokee

6. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO DID NOT FINISH 4TH OR BETTER IN HIS LAST PREP RACE.

In the last 11 years, every Derby winner finished 4th or better in his last prep race. In 9 of the last 11 years, the Derby winner finished 1st or 2nd in his last prep. (Sea Hero who finished 4th in 1993 and Thunder Gulch who finished 4th in 1995 are the exceptions, and both had troubled trips in their last prep.)

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Ten Cents A Shine Senor Swinger

7. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO DID NOT RACE AS A 2 YEAR-OLD No unraced juvenile has won the Derby since 1882!

This angle eliminates the following horse from this year’s Derby:

Atswhatimtalknbout

8. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO HAS NOT HAD A RACE AT 1 1/8 MILES OR MORE.

In the last 11 years every Derby winner has run at least one race at 1 1/8 miles prior to the Derby.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Eye Of The Tiger Scrimshaw

9. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHOSE SIRE TRACES TO DAMASCUS

Damascus was the 8-5 favorite in the 1967 Derby and failed to win. None of his sons or grandsons have been able to win the Derby either, and they include Derby favorites Mister Frisky and Private Terms, juvenile champion Fly So Free, and the great Skip Away.

This angle eliminates the following horse from this year’s Derby:

Buddy Gil

10. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO HAS NOT FINISHED 1ST IN A STAKES RACE.

Since 1962, Canonero II is the only Derby winner who did not finish 1st in a stakes race. (Alysheba actually finished first in the Blue Grass, but was disqualified.) Canonero II, however, did win a 1 ¼ mile race in his native Venezuela in 1971.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Atswhatimtalknbout Brancusi Eye Of The Tiger Senor Swinger Ten Cents A Shine

11. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO HAS NOT HAD A WORK OVER THE TRACK AT CHURCHILL DURING THE WEEK PRIOR TO THE DERBY.

The last horse to win the Derby without a work over the track in the week leading up to the Derby was Bold Forbes in 1976.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Funny Cide

12. ELIMINATE ANY HORSE WHO HAS A DOSAGE INDEX THAT EXCEEDS 4.00 AND HAS NOT RUN A LEAST ONE RACE WITH A BEYER OF 100 OR MORE.

Since 1940 only 3 winners (Strike The Gold – 1991, Real Quiet – 1998, and Charismatic – 1999) have had a D.I. in excess of 4.00. Real Quiet (top Beyer 108) and Charismatic (Top Beyer 108) pass on the “100 plus Beyer” part of this factor. That leaves Strike The Gold. I was not able to get statistics on his Beyers. Therefore I’ll err on the side of being conservative and assume that his Beyer did not exceed 100. That would make only 1 horse since 1940 who does not fit this factor.

This angle eliminates the following horses from this year’s Derby:

Supah Blitz Lone Star Sky

TO SUMMARIZE: HERE ARE THE HORSES WE HAVE ELIMINATED:

Atswhatimtalknbout Brancusi Buddy Gil Eye of the Tiger Funny Cide Indian Express Lone Star Sky Outta Here Peace Rules Scrimshaw Senor Swinger Sir Cherokee Supah Blitz Ten Cents A Shine Ten Most Wanted

WHO DOES THAT LEAVE?

EMPIRE MAKER DOMESTIC DISPUTE OFFLEE WILD If history repeats itself, one of these horses will win the Derby. Remember that we have eliminated horses who will not WIN, that does not mean that they cannot hit the board like Proud Citizen did last year, and Invisible Ink did the year before. EMPIRE MAKER

Empire Maker is a deserving favorite and will go off as the shortest priced chalk since Arazi. Trained by Bobby Frankel and ridden by Jerry Bailey, this son of Derby winner Unbridled had an absolutely perfect prep in the Wood as Bailey used only mild encouragement down the stretch. He toyed with Funny Cide who was very game, but was running full out. It was 7 ½ lengths back to Kissin Saint the third place finisher. Empire Maker’s Beyer number of 111 is the highest among the Derby runners (for a route race) and could have been much higher had Bailey asked him. This race also answered the question of whether Empire Maker could handle a muddy track.

The addition of blinkers has made a new horse out of him. His Beyers jumped from 98 to 108 in the Florida Derby, his first race in the hood, and his performance in the Wood (as noted above) was even better. Blinkers have allowed him to exhibit the tactical speed that is so important in the Derby. In the world of advertising, he could easily become as famous for his endorsement of blinkers as Bob Dole has become for his endorsement of Viagra. Talk about performance enhancers!

Speaking of breeding, he is bred top and bottom for the distance. His sire Unbridled won the Derby, and his dam, Toussaud (Broodmare of the Year), was a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf and is the best living producer this side of Oracene (the mother of Venus and Serena Williams). Toussaud has produced four graded stakes winners; Chester House, Honest Lady, Chiselling, and Decarchy in addition to Empire Maker.

Is Empire Maker a lock to win? I can answer question in six words: Point Given, Skip Away, Holy Bull. Each looked like they couldn’t lose and yet none of them hit the board. Of course I can also give you another answer in two words: Fusaichi Pegasus. The 2000 Derby winner became the first favorite to win since Spectacular Bid in 1979.

I don’t believe that there is a horse in this race good enough to beat Empire Maker, but it is possible that he can beat himself. Like his dam, Toussaud, he is a quirky horse who has a mind of his own and frequently gets quite lathered going to the gate. There is no telling how 150,000 people will affect this high-strung thoroughbred who could easily leave his race in the paddock or at the starting gate.

Even if all goes well and he breaks cleanly, there is the question of how he will handle the track. Out of the seven short-priced favorites mentioned above, only Fusaichi Pegasus (who was also quirky), was able to handle the Churchill surface. If you believe in omens, Fusaichi Pegasus’ last prep race was the Wood where his Beyer number was 111.

Empire Maker seems to be handling the track beautifully as evidenced by his 1:12 3/5 work on Sunday. Frankel said that he wasn’t even blowing when he returned, while his workmate, Requete, who will run on the turf in the Grade I Woodford Reserve on Saturday was blowing so hard that he is worried that the work took too much out of him. Empire Maker couldn’t possibly have had a better work. So with his last race and his last work, he comes into the Derby exactly the way Frankel planned.

Assuming that he handles the track, there is another question that no one can answer before Saturday. What will happen to him in a big field? He broke his maiden against 12 others, but that was a one- turn mile at Belmont and he had to go wide to do it. Going wide on one turn in a mile race is a lot easier than going wide on the two turns in the 1 ¼ mile journey that he must negotiate at Churchill.

And then we come to the question of the foot. His bruise could become as famous as the safety pin that Spectacular Bid stepped on before his Belmont. Frankel says it isn’t a problem, but what would you expect him to say? You want a horse 100% fit to run in this race; 99% won’t do, especially at odds-on. As you may recall, there was another son of Unbridled who but for a bad foot would probably have won his Derby, but Unbridled’s Song’s quarter crack was certainly more serious than Empire Maker’s bruised foot.

When you add up all the positives and all the negatives, this horse has the best chance to win this race, but that bruised foot obviously should prevent you from mortgaging your house to bet him.

OFFLEE WILD

Offlee Wild is another horse who passes all the elimination tests and has the breeding to easily get the distance. The problem with this son of BC Classic winner Wild Again is that he does not appear to be fast enough. His top Beyer of 99 is nowhere near the 108+ that would stamp him as a dangerous challenger to the favorite.

He finished a non-threatening 3rd in a very slowly run Blue Grass, beaten 8 lengths by Peace Rules, but he had gotten sick in Florida and was coming off a layoff; so he needed the race. Pat Day had all he could do to pull him up on the gallop out which is a good sign, but Pat will not return as he has opted for Ten Most Wanted. Robby Alvarado will take over, and while he is a capable rider, he is not Pat Day who I feel would really have given this horse a solid chance.

Pedigree-wise he is one of only a few horses who not only is capable of getting the distance, but would actually prefer it. His sire Wild Again won the BC Classic, and his broodmare sire is Seattle Slew. Seattle Slew who won the Triple Crown, is also the broodmare sire of Cigar. Offllee Wild’s second dam is Andover Way, winner of the Grade I Top Flight Handicap and dam of Dynaformer. So distance will not be a problem.

Nor should the surface be a problem, as he broke his maiden at Churchill and then finished 2nd in an allowance race. However, in his last two works he appeared to drift out while still running with good energy. (In fact there is a rumor going around that TV Smith has completed paperwork to change his name to Offlee Wide!)

If he drifts out down the Churchill stretch on Saturday he probably won’t hit the board, so this is a concern if you are considering him, but his enticing odds and the fact that he is only one of three to pass the elimination test may make you think twice before ignoring him.

Although he appears to be somewhat of a plodder, he may just “plod” by some more brilliant, but very tired horses during the last 16th of a mile.

DOMESTIC DISPUTE

After running an uninspiring 5th in Buddy Gil’s rather slow Santa Anita Derby, Bob Baffert decided against running this son of Unbridled’s Song in the Derby. On April 26, however, Domestic Dispute was sold to David Bienstock and Chuck Winner and with Patrick Gallagher taking over the training; suddenly Domestic Dispute is back in the Derby lineup.

Domestic Dispute passes all the elimination tests, however, there are several negatives to consider.

This will be his 4th start in 7 weeks going back to his March 16 start in the San Felipe. The 1999 Derby marked Charismatic’s 4th race since Mach 6, but that was about 8 weeks, and he was trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Gallagher is no Lukas, and Domestic Dispute is no Charismatic, whose Beyer of 108 in the Lexington was higher than any of his Derby challengers. Domestic Dispute’s top Beyer is 103, and whereas Charismatic came into the Derby off a win, Domestic Dispute finished 3rd in the Lexington after failing to match strides with the Lukas trained Scrimshaw.

Baffert was not pointing this horse toward the Derby after his disappointing Santa Anita Derby. Some people are comparing him to last year’s winner, War Emblem who was also not headed to the Derby until he was purchased. However, that sale occurred early enough for Bob Baffert to adequately prepare him. The sale of Domestic Dispute occurred one week before the Derby; a big difference.

Domestic Dispute is by BC Juvenile winner Unbridled’s Song who has also sired BC Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine, and Wood Memorial winner Buddha (who was one of the favorites for the 2002 Derby before he got hurt). Unbridled’s Song himself might have won the Derby had he not been running on an injured hoof.

He is out of the graded staked placed Majestical Moment by Northern Dancer’s son Magesterial, whose daughters have produced Smoke Glacken, Marciano, Tuzia, and Buck’s Best.

He can probably get the distance, but lacks the Beyer power and quick acceleration of some of the others. His one race at Churchill in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last fall was terrible, indicating that he may not prefer the surface.

SUMMARY

So there you have it, the three horses who can win the Derby. One will be odds-on, and the other two will be double digits. The thing to remember about the Kentucky Derby is that the best horse does not always win, so while Empire Maker seems invincible, remember only one favorite has won this race since 1979. If Empire Maker does not win, this race is wide open.

You can have the perfect breeding, you can have the best preparation, you can have the best jockey and the best trainer and an ideal post position. If you don’t have racing luck in this race, you won’t wear the roses. In the words of Dan Fogleberg’s Run For The Roses, “it’s the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance”.

Good luck, and may the HORSE by with you…..

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