By Gene Kershner
A couple of Derby preps to whet the whistle this weekend at Aqueduct (Grade 3 Withers Stakes) and Tampa Bay Downs (Grade 3 Sam F. Davis) as we are a few weeks away from an increase in the points available in the Road to Kentucky Derby Championship Series.
Some random thoughts as we head onto the Derby trail….
- I've enjoyed the first two episodes of Horseplayers so far and with the character development stage in full swing, I'm enjoying Peter Rotondo, Jr. and Matt Bernier the most so far. Last week's journey on the Triple Crown stage showed the audience that even the best handicappers around can have an off day.
- Congrats to NHC 15 winner Jose Arias who took home the top prize of $750,000 last weekend, leading the tournament from gate-to-wire. An odds change of 8-1 to 6-1 in the final minute on runner-up Tony Brice's selection left him $1.20 short of the grand prize. Brice picked up $250,000 for second place
- There was some noise on the interwebs that Arias or someone in his crew may have hedged on Brice's horse causing the odds to drop in the final minute and cost Brice the title. For the first time in contest history the selections of each player at the final table were revealed one minute before post allowing this sort of strategy to potentially be employed. If they did hedge, it was within the rules and actually was a brilliant move. Horseplayers hedge everyday, why not in the biggest tournament around. Guessing that the revealing of selections won't ever happen again.
- A couple Woodbine shippers are running in the Sam F. Davis. Reade Baker sends out Asserting Bear (9-2) who will have Joe Rocco, Jr. in the irons and Mark Casse will have Matador (6-1) in the gate with Julien Leparoux aboard. Pletcher sends out two colts, Harpoon (4-1) and Vinceremos (6-1), both coming off maiden wins at Gulfstream.
- The Withers at the Big A only drew six colts with the two favorites that are trained by New Yorkers Richard Violette, Jr. (Samraat - 7/5) and Gary Contessa (Uncle Sigh - 9/5). If you're looking for value Scotland (8-1), trained by Anthony Dutrow (39 percent in second route races) looks ready to roll after posting two consecutive bullet works.