2016 Indiana Derby Day Preview

Summertime.  When the days are hazy, when the kids are out of school, and when amusement parks and water parks all over see their days bustle with patrons.  Summertime in horse racing means Del Mar (which opens this week) and Saratoga (which opens next week).  This week, Picks & Ponderings does something that also is synonymous with summer: a road trip.  The team is traveling to Indiana Grand Race Course, in Shelbyville, Indiana - about a half hour southeast of Indianapolis.  We'll be live and on scene for Indiana Derby Day. The feature race is the Grade 2 Indiana Derby, the richest race in the Hoosier State with a purse of a half million dollars.  The filly complement is the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks with two hundred thousand in purse funds.  Four additional stakes - each worth a hundred thousand dollars - round out the program. The graded stakes will previewed in longform here in this space. All six stakes have their selections in a grid at the bottom of the piece.

WISH-TV (channel 8) in Indianapolis will provide live coverage of the Indiana Derby to those in the Indianapolis area, in a program to air from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm ET.  Since P&P will be there live, be sure to check @picksponderings on Twitter for more observations.

Morning line odds for the Indiana Oaks were not available at original publish time.  Piece was updated on July 14 to add morning lines for the Oaks.   Please note that Indiana Grand usually races up to four minutes past the published post times (given by Equibase) in our analysis.  All races are scheduled for Saturday July 16. Authors of each preview are denoted by initials at the end: PM for Paul Mazur, and NN for Nicolle Neulist.

Indiana Grand Race Course -- Race 8 -- Grade 2 Indiana Oaks -- One and one-sixteenth miles on Dirt -- post time 9:11 pm ET

This year marks the 21st running of the Indiana Oaks.  It began as a one-mile race at Hoosier Park in 1995, and stretched out to its current 1 1/16 mile distance two years later.  It has been run every year since its inception save one, 2009.  The race became a Grade III in 2001, and has held its current Grade II designation since 2008.  1997 Canadian Champion Three Year Old Filly Cotton Carnival won this race during her Sovereign Award-winning season.  Several local graded stakes winners have won the Indiana Oaks over the years, as well.  The first winner of the Indiana Oaks, Niner's Home (1995), had won the Arlington Heights Oaks (GIII) by a nose over Illinois-bred A Goodlookin Broad in her previous start.  Humble Clerk (2000) concluded her racing career with a win in the 2001 Arlington Matron (GIII).  Bare Necessities (2002) won the Sixty Sails Handicap (GIII) at Hawthorne in 2003, and finished second behind Allspice in that same race the year afterwards.

With EMMZY and SWEET LEGACY in the field, the pace stands to be a quick one.  Even others in the field have shown early zip at times; MINES AND MAGIC and FAMILY TREE come to mind.  With a target to chase, and the return to dirt, DOTHRAKI QUEEN may reign.  A consistent two-year-old, her three-year-old form has not been much to look at.  But, there are enough suggestions that it is because she has not found the right race, and not because she has not progressed from two to three.  Two of those starts have been on turf, which she has not taken to all that well.  Whereas, DOTHRAKI QUEEN did fire in her only dirt start, rallying to be fourth in the Black-Eyed Susan (GII).  This race is a significantly softer Grade II than that one was.  With early speed to chase, strong late pace, and a sharp local jockey in Fernando de la Cruz, this is the day DOTHRAKI QUEEN could get back on the rails at a square price.

FAMILY TREE will likely be the chalk, and for good reason.  Her recent form is the best of the bunch.  She posted an easy victory in the Iowa Oaks (GIII) on June 30th, and before that was competitive in the top-shelf allowance and smaller stakes levels.  She has been consistent on dirt, hitting the board in all six of her main-track tries.  Though she has early speed, she sat off it nicely enough in the Iowa Oaks last out to suggest she could do it again here.  And, FAMILY TREE is well proven at a mile and a sixteenth over the main, with two wins and two seconds in four tries.  This space is taking the shot with DOTHRAKI QUEEN here, but would not be surprised if FAMILY TREE obliges at chalk to one.

Lightly-raced MINES AND MAGIC makes her stakes debut in the Indiana Oaks.  It took her three tries to get off the mark, but she woke up the first time she stretched to a mile.  After that convincing victory in a one-mile maiden special weight at Churchill, she stepped up to N1X company last out and posted a game, fighting victory.  She would be better suited to come from farther off the pace here -- more like her maiden win -- instead of getting tied up with the likes of EMMZY and SWEET LEGACY up front.  She is one of just two in this field who has not tried the distance, but two turns and a mile and a sixteenth should be no problem for MINES AND MAGIC: she is by Mineshaft out of a Smart Strike mare who won at two (and even three!) turns on the grass.

Selections:

#2 DOTHRAKI QUEEN (6/1)

#7 FAMILY TREE (7/5)

#3 MINES AND MAGIC (10/1)

Longshot:  #8 WALKABOUT (10/1) comes into this race off of her maiden victory for trainer Ian Wilkes -- who strikes at 20% with his last-out maiden winners.  Though she loses previous rider Brian Hernandez to rail-drawn DREAM DANCE, she does get a sharp local rider in Albin Jimenez.  Jimenez also has some recent success with Wilkes: four starts over the last sixty days, two wins, all four in the money.  As for WALKABOUT herself, should be able to sit off the pace, though not too far off; though her sprint efforts were deep-closing tries, her two attempts at a route had her sitting just a few lengths from the front.  But, that maiden win did come at the same distance as today's race, and the light has some on.  If WALKABOUT takes a step forward from that effort here, she contends at a price. --NN

Indiana Grand Race Course -- Race 9 -- Grade 2 Indiana Derby -- One and one-sixteenth miles on Dirt -- post time 9:41 pm ET

Created in 1995, the Indiana Derby has always been at a mile and a sixteenth at the dirt.  In 2002 the received grading for the first time, and became a G3.  An upgrade to G2 followed two years later.  At first contested in the fall, the race moved to Indiana Grand (formerly Indiana Downs) as the track along with sister oval Hoosier Park made a "one breed one oval" plan with Indiana Downs taking the flat racing and Hoosier taking the standardbred fare.  In 2015 the race moved to the summertime, positioned alongside other state derbies like Iowa's or Ohio's.  Notable winners include Illinois-bred Canyon Run (1996), eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Orientate (2001), Grade One winners Perfect Drift (2002), Brass Hat (2006), and Misremembered (2009).  Lookin at Lucky stands as the most notable winner - having annexed the 2010 version en route to being named champion sophomore.  His win also made it fashionable for sophomores to not have a prep against elders (and instead, try races like the Pennsylvania Derby) before tackling them in the Breeders' Cup.

Lookin at Lucky is much the best in the 2010 Indiana Derby. Video courtesy Youtube.

Track announcer and morning line maker Bill Downes made two horses take the potential role of favorite - CHERRY WINE and CUPID.  Each will take odds, each has a different style, and each has a very different view.  This space does take a favorite, but it advises using one while selling the other.  This space buys CHERRY WINE, the 5/2 morning line favorite, but it sells CUPID - the 3/1 second choice.  It's more along the lines of beating one and using others (or turning the race into a singleton on pick(N) tickets).  And CHERRY WINE gets the call.  While Dale Romans has two in here  - CHERRY WINE and TAKEITTOTHEEDGE, CHERRY WINE got a silver medal in the Preakness behind Exaggerator two back.  His Belmont race saw him run evenly from the back half of the field.  But a Paddy O'Prado offspring has little business going twelve panels, and this distance cutback should be much more favorable.  In a race with obvious targets (CUPID, PILOT HOUSE) and stretch-outs (THE PLAYER), CHERRY WINE should get the contested fractions he needs.  Luis Saez has the call.  We sell CUPID, not only off the clunker of a race in the Easy Goer, but over the fact he isn't likely to get to the lead he got in the Rebel Stakes two back.   Rider downgrade (in terms of flow) to Bejerano also makes us leery of CUPID.  THE PLAYER got talked up a lot during the Indiana Derby draw, and he's your steam horse through and through.  Trained by Buff Bradley - who won this race with Brass Hat back in the day - he goes first time two turns.  Yet he pressed off the speed in his two most recent outings, both at one-turn miles at Churchill.  While he's two turns for the first time, the connections are clicking.  Beware of the tote price given all the positive talk, but the steam isn't hot air.  STAR HILL has a propensity for drawing on the far outside - just like MO TOM did for finding bad trips in New Orleans Derby preps.  STAR HILL has the outermost post twelve, as he goes back to two turns after a pair of efforts at on turn.  He got third in both - the G3 Pat Day Mile and G2 Woody Stephens - both at elongated sprint distances.  Four back he was on the podium in the Tampa Bay Derby - a productive prep with a Wood winner and Belmont runner up ahead of him.  Three back was the first of his "get stuck in the post near the parking lot" races in the Blue Grass.  As with his form - the post is a downgrade but he can show some fight to match what's been done.

Selections:

#2 CHERRY WINE (5/2)

#5 THE PLAYER (6/1)

#12 STAR HILL (6/1)

Longshot: Sometimes this space writes itself.  The horse is taking a step up in class, check.  The horse is trained by Dallas Stewart and owned by Charles Fipke, who aren't afraid to spot ambitiously and be rewarded, check.  Given the Stewart/Fipke connections, it's got one win (check), and it did off the pace (check).  And you'll got odds in the pace of CHERRY WINE and CUPID.  #7 SEEKING BLAME (15/1) has all these qualities, won at the distance last time, and Brian Hernandez to ride.  With pace targets in the field and aggressive connections, this longshot (from the people who bring you three-year-old longshots) have another that could blow up toteboards.  --PM

Below are all of our picks -- from both Nicolle Neulist and Paul Mazur -- for the stakes races on Indiana Derby Day. If you have questions about why we landed on a particular horse, please leave us a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!

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For another perspective on the Indiana Derby, read Nicolle Neulist's analysis here.

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