RTSS False-Favorite Report, Saturday, March 30, 2024

With the Florida Derby and the Arkansas Derby on tap, we’ll dig only lightly into the races at Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park. And we’ll take an in-depth look at those Kentucky Derby prep races.

GULFSTREAM PARK

RACE 13. Appleton Stakes. 1 Mile. Turf (Analysis for turf only)

False Favorite: #4 Big Everest (7-2).

Reason: This win machine has posted slow times while regularly defeating nongraded stakes types. His top BRIS speed figure of 97, posted a year ago, isn’t the best in the field.

BETS

#3 Ice Chocolate (9-2). He holds just one win in his past nine races, but he’s been racing mostly in graded stakes. The class relief and shortening back to a mile help his cause.

#5 Never Surprised (5-1). Irad Ortiz gets off the other Pletcher entrant to ride this comeback kid. He missed by a nose in allowance company last time when returning from a layoff of a year and a half. He owns three wins and two placings in his past five starts outside of graded stakes company.

Top Relevant BRIS Speed Figs

  • #3 Ice Chocolate (9-2), 98
  • #9 Smokin’ T (6-1), 97
  • #5 Never Surprised (5-1), 96
  • #7 Lucky Score (8-1), 96

RACE 14. GRADE 1 FLORIDA DERBY. 1Mile and 1/8th. Dirt.

LEGIT Favorite: #10 Fierceness (8-5).

Reason: When seeking legitimate Kentucky Derby prospects, throughout the spring I look for horses that did something special. Fierceness flopped in his lone start this year, but he rang the bell twice last year:

  • His debut win by 11 lengths in a superb time of 1:09.2
  • His BC Juvenile win, drawing away by 6+ lengths over the talented Baffert runner Muth and posting another superb final time

His raw talent exceeds that of any current 3-year-old. But there are negatives even beyond the lack of a robust prep schedule.

Those stellar performances were each followed by mediocre runs at short odds. In both losses Fierceness showed no punch in the stretch after encountering minor trouble early. In those losses he loomed boldly when rounding the stretch turn and then flattened out. Could Fierceness be more of a miler that caught a favorable pace and surface in the 8.5-furlong Juvenile?

In the Florida Derby he faces 3 stakes winners and 5 horses that won last time out. Even though the field isn’t packed with superstars, Fierceness faces a tough lineup.

Hades, the horse who outdueled him in the Holy Bull, is seen as the biggest threat. But the dead-slow early fractions turned that race into an all-out 3-furlong sprint, with Hades getting a small headstart and a ground-saving trip. Hades also had recency on his side, while Fierceness was coming off a long layoff.

Although Fierceness comes in off a layoff again, Pletcher knows he needs to have the horse in peak form for his only real Kentucky Derby prep. Pletcher’s training plan most likely compensates for the lack of races since the Holy Bull.

BET

#10 Fierceness (7-5). Bettors gave up on Fierceness after his Champagne Stakes disaster, letting him go off at 16-1 in the BC Juvenile. Other than that, 6-5 has been the best offer on the table. If you expect a return to his top form, odds of 8-5 are decent. I suspect he might drift up to 2-1 or higher. We’ll stick with Fierceness as our only bet.

To swing at a larger payout, we’ll eliminate Hades and morning-line second-choice Conquest Warrior from our exactas. Instead, we’ll use Frankie’s Empire (12-1), Grand Mo the First (15-1) and Seminole Chief (30-1) in the second spot with Fierceness on top.

Top Relevant BRIS Speed Figs

  • #10 Fierceness (8-5), 112
  • No other contender above 93 in a 2-turn race

OAKLAWN PARK

RACE 14. GRADE 1 ARKANSAS DERBY. 1 Mile and 1/8th. Dirt.

LEGIT Favorite: #7 Muth (8-5).

Reason: Although Muth hasn’t raced since winning the 7-furlong San Vicente Stakes in January, Bob Baffert will likely have him in top form. The owners of this $2-million colt kept him in Baffert’s care even though that makes Muth ineligible for the Kentucky Derby. Baffert, who has been phenomenally successful in stakes races at Oaklawn Park, needs to reward their loyalty by capturing the winner’s share of this $1.5-million purse. This is Baffert’s Kentucky Derby.

That’s the politics of the matter. Performance-wise, Muth owns three dominating wins in five races and faces rivals who are light on accomplishments and mostly void of early speed. His main rivals, Timberlake (9-5) and Mystik Dan (5-2), will be attempting to close the gap late on a fresh front-running Muth.

Putting numbers to the pace scenario,  BRIS shows Muth with a 102 early pace rating when winning the American Pharoah Stakes and progressing to a 107 as the runnerup to Fierceness in the BC Juvenile. Timberlake, while 4 lengths back in the BC Juvenile, earned a 102 rating and faded late. For Timberlake to maintain his closing kick, he likely needs to run no faster than 100 early, which places him a city block behind Muth. The same can be said for Mystik Dan, who posted a pace rating of 86 when winning the Southwest Stakes.

BETS

Muth is our solo bet. It’s possible the betting public will make Timberlake the favorite, which would increase our wager on Muth.

Top Relevant BRIS Speed Figs

  • #7 Muth (8-5), 105
  • #2 Timberlake (9-5), 103
  • #9 Mystik Dan (5-2), 101