Our horse racing fantasy league held its annual draft this past Monday (Nov. 21). It’s called the Fantasy Stable League (FSL). Daily Racing Form handicapper Michael Hammersly started this league all the way back in 1986. I joined it in 1990 while I was working for the DRF. I have been the league’s commissioner since 2000.
After I won the FSL title in 2021, Hammersly won it this year.
How long did Monday’s draft take? It began at 6 a.m. PT and concluded a little less than nine hours later.
This fantasy league consists of eight members. Each member drafts eight horses. Our league begins each year on Thanksgiving and continues through the final Breeders’ Cup race the following year.
In terms of FSL scoring, only races in the United States, in Canada, on the Dubai World Cup card and the Saudi Cup count. The Saudi Cup is considered a Grade I race for our point-earning purposes.
This is how our scoring system works:
--A Grade I race is worth 12, 6 and 4 points for first, second and third.
--A Grade II race is worth 8, 4 and 2 for first, second and third.
--A Grade III race is worth 6, 3 and 1 for first, second and third.
--An ungraded stakes race is worth 4 for first.
--All other races are worth 2 for first.
--All Canadian races are downgraded one level, except the Woodbine Mile, Northern Dancer Turf, Canadian International and E.P. Taylor.
--The most valuable bonus races are the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (36, 18, 12). The other bonus races (24, 12, 8) are the Apple Blossom, Kentucky Oaks, Met Mile, Sword Dancer Stakes, Diana Stakes and all of the other
Each FSL league member can make two claims per month. When someone makes a claim, they must drop one horse from their stable.
In addition to the two claims per month, we have “super claims,” which is simply an additional claim to the two each month. One “super claim” can be made through the traditional day of the Belmont Stakes in June. The other “super claim” can be made after that.
Our draft order is determined by reversing the order of the previous year’s final standings. Since joining the FSL in 1990, I had never finished last…until this year. And I actually worked hard to finish last this year. That’s because once it became obvious that I had no chance to collect any money this year by finishing first, second or third, I went into tank mode. Why? Because if Flightline had continued racing in 2023, I wanted to finish last in 2022 so that I would have the No. 1 pick, which I would use to draft him.
However, as you probably know, the day after Flightline won the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a record-breaking 8 1/4 lengths, it was announced that he had been retired from racing and would stand stud duty at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky.
I am really sorry that Flightline’s ownership group did not keep racing him in 2023. Like thousands of fans, I had hoped to see him race more. Additionally, if Flightline had not been retired, I would have been able to take him with the first pick in the draft Monday, which certainly would have increased my chances to win the 2023 FSL title.
As for trainers and the 2023 draft, Chad Brown and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert tied for having the most horses taken. Baffert and Brown each train eight of the 64 horses drafted Monday. Brad Cox and Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher each train seven of Monday’s draftees.
These have been the leading trainers in terms of horses drafted going back to 2016:
Year Trainer (Horses Drafted)
2023: Chad Brown (8), Bob Baffert (8), Brad Cox (7), Todd Pletcher (7)
2022 Chad Brown (8), Bob Baffert (7), Brad Cox (7), Todd Pletcher (7)
2021 Brad Cox (10), Chad Brown (8)
2020 Chad Brown (11), Bob Baffert (7)
2019 Chad Brown (12), Bob Baffert (11)
2018 Bob Baffert (11), Chad Brown (9)
2017 Chad Brown (11), Bob Baffert (8)
2016 Chad Brown (9), Todd Pletcher (7)
The top sire for the 2023 draft is Into Mischief. His sons or daughters taken were Extra Anejo (No. 1), Hoosier Philly (No. 12), Dazzling Blue (No. 23), Wonder Wheel (No. 24) and Played Hard (No. 49).
Below, in order, were the 64 Thoroughbreds drafted Monday (my selections are capitalized):
1. EXTRA ANEJO
I considered three horses: Extra Anejo, Taiba and Arabian Knight. I opted for Extra Anjejo, who won by 9 1/2 lengths when unveiled at Keeneland on Oct. 13 in a maiden race at about seven furlongs. The 2-year-old Kentucky-bred colt was credited with a 92 Beyer Speed Figure. Beyers do not take into account how easily a horse wins. Just how easily did Extra Anejo win his race? In his past performance line it says “clear 2pth, galloped.” Yes, indeed, he galloped.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains Extra Anejo, a $1.35 million auction purchase.
Of course, I’d much preferred to have been able to take Flightline, a proven superstar, with the No. 1 overall pick. But I do think Extra Anejo has tremendous potential.
A drawback with having the No. 1 pick is, after I took Extra Anejo, it was a long time before I got to make my next selection.
4. Cave Rock
5. Arabian Knight
8. Julia Shining
11. Cody’s Wish
12. Hoosier Philly
13. Kathleen O.
16. WEST WILL POWER
I knew a lot of the horses I coveted in this draft would be gone by now. But I was pleased that West Will Power still was on the board. When I won the 2021 FSL title, a big key was that I claimed Knicks Go soon after the draft. Knicks Go would go on to a 2021 Horse of the Year campaign, highlighted by a victory in the BC Classic (a triple-bonus race in the FSL).
Brad Cox trained Knicks Go. Cox took over as West Will Power’s trainer prior to the horse’s 2022 debut, a narrow loss at Ellis Park. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Bernardini colt then put together back-to-back wins in front-running fashion at 1 1/8 miles, looking kind of like Knicks Go did after he switched trainers to Cox.
It appears to me that West Will Power has an excellent chance to win the Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs on Friday (Nov. 25).
To win the Clark, West Will Power will have to beat 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, who is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. West Will Power is the 5-2 second choice.
After Rich Strike’s 80-1 upset victory in the Run for the Roses, I won a two-way shake for him. That ended an unbelievably long losing streak that I had gone through in FSL shakes.
I won a four-way shake for Nadal on Jan. 21, 2020. After that, I lost 11 straight shakes until winning the shake for Rich Strike.
Yes, I could have taken Rich Strike in the draft here at No. 16. But I preferred West Will Power, mainly because he is my choice to win the Clark.
When I won the 2021 FSL title, Gamine was a big help by earning me many FSL points. Gamine raced for Michael Petersen and was trained by Baffert. Faiza is owned by Petersen and trained by Baffert. I’m hoping Faiza can emulate Gamine by earning me a lot of FSL points, starting with the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 10.
In her only start to date, Faiza dueled for the early lead through fast early fractions of :21.92 and :44.76 with the highly regarded Teena Ella (a daughter of War Front and four-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder). After a half-mile, Faiza shook clear and won by 3 1/2 lengths while “in hand late,” as noted in the past performance line. Teena Ella faltered and finished sixth, 11 lengths behind Faiza.
A $725,000 auction purchase, Faiza registered a modest Beyer Speed Figure of 74. But that’s fine with me. I was impressed with the way the 2-year-old Kentucky-bred Girvin filly won with speed to spare despite the spirited early pace battle.
18. Beyond Brilliant
20. Key of Life
21. Regal Glory
22. Rich Strike
23. Dazzling Blue
24. Wonder Wheel
25. Mind Control
27. Dicey Mo Chara
28. War Like Goddess
31. Tuskegee Airmen
32. COUNTRY GRAMMER
We drafted Monday. That same morning, Country Grammer worked three furlongs in :37.20. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Tonalist earned 40 FSL points in 2022. I’d be tickled if he can do something like that in 2023. He was good enough to win one of the most lucrative events on the planet, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, with Life Is Good among the vanquished.
In Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic, a bonus race in the FSL, Country Grammer finished second. Granted, he lost by 19 1/4 lengths to Flightline, who wowed the racing world with his sensational performance. But keep in mind, while Country Grammer did not win the Pacific Classic, he did finish seven lengths clear of third. With Flightline off to stud, maybe Country Grammer can win the 2023 Pacific Classic.
I was thrilled to get Justique at No. 33. I thought she’d be gone by now for sure.
I actually was reacquiring Justique in this league. I claimed her after her stellar debut victory at Del Mar on July 31. Tenth and nearly 10 lengths off the early pace in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden sprint, she “inhaled foes,” as noted in her past performance line, to win by 2 1/2 lengths. I was surprised that I was able to claim Justique after that race without having to shake for her.
In Justique’s next start, she was sent off as the 6-5 favorite in Santa Anita’s Grade II Chandelier Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 8. The Kentucky-bred daughter of undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify again lacked early speed, but this time she failed to threaten. She finished third, 5 1/2 lengths behind the victorious And Tell Me Nolies, who was coming off a victory in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 10.
Justique reportedly had to miss the Grade I Del Mar Debutante because she got sick. It then turned out to be a “big ask” for her to run 1 1/16 miles on a tiring Santa Anita main track without more of a foundation than having a single sprint race under her belt. But she rebounded big-time to win Del Mar’s seven-furlong Desi Arnaz Stakes last Saturday (Nov. 19). Last early when 10 lengths off the early pace, she generated a powerful rally to win by 2 1/4 lengths in a performance similar to her summertime debut.
It does not look like Justique will make her next start in the aforementioned Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos. That’s okay with me. That’s because it’s expected that I will have Faiza for that race. It’s more likely that the next race for Justique will be Santa Anita’s Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs on Jan. 1. It would be a wonderful way for me to begin 2023 with a Santa Ynez win by Justique.
By the way, there is another reason I was glad to get Justique in the draft. I am a fan of her sire, thanks mainly to Justify providing me with my biggest future-book score. I had $100 on him in Las Vegas at odds of 100-1 to win the Kentucky Derby, which produced a $10,000 payoff.
34. Fun to Dream
35. Hong Kong Harry
36. Mr. Ripple
38. Soldier Rising
40. Victory Formation
41. Secret Oath
42. Charge It
43. National Treasure
44. In Italian
45. Baby Yoda
46. Forbidden Kingdom
47. Arabian Lion
48. ECHO AGAIN
I had my eye on Arabian Lion here, but he was taken one spot before it was my turn. Darn!
There is always some second-guessing when participating in any draft. I was really having second thoughts at this point whether I should have taken Charge It instead of Country Grammer at No. 32.
I sure hope that I don’t regret not taking Charge It when I could have at No. 32 or No. 33. I certainly would have taken Charge It here at No. 48, but he was gone, having been drafted at No. 42.
With Charge It off the board, I decided to take Echo Again with this pick. I was a bit surprised that he was still available.
Echo Again, who like Extra Anejo is trained by Asmussen, looked terrific when unveiled at Saratoga on Aug. 20. The Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden contest by 6 3/4 lengths as a 3-5 favorite and recorded a 94 Beyer, a figure higher than Extra Anejo’s 92 in his debut victory.
When Echo Again was next seen under silks, he again was a 3-5 favorite, this time in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on Sept. 17. He disappointed his many backers that day by finishing seventh and losing by 14 lengths.
It looked like Echo Again probably was on his way to regaining his winning ways during a race at Churchill Downs on Oct. 30, but an incident that occurred during the race caused it to be called off.
“The eighth race at Churchill Downs Oct. 30 was called off in mid-race after jockey Alex Achard was injured in a one-horse spill entering the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile race on a sloppy track,” BloodHorse’s Byron King wrote. “Achard was aboard Storyteller Racing and Schroeck Racing’s Paddock Boss, who fell when in tight quarters among a bunched field in the early stages of the allowance/optional claiming race for 2-year-olds, unseating his jockey.”
I doubt Echo Again still would have been available to draft at No. 48 if he had an Oct. 30 win on his resume.
49. PLAYED HARD
This was an easy pick for me. By this stage of the draft, there wasn’t anyone that I was dying to get. Played Hard is the 4-5 morning-line favorite in Churchill’s Grade III Falls City Stakes on Thursday (Nov. 24), the day scoring begins in our fantasy league. My hope is that the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief filly proves a punctual favorite and earns me six FSL points.
51. Classic Catch
53. Goodnight Olive
54. Blazing Sevens
55. Giant Mischief
56. Dolce Zel
57. Set Piece
58. Elite Power
60. Prince Abama
63. Celestial City
64. CABO SPIRIT
This was new for me in that this was the very first time since I first joined this fantasy league in 1990 that I’ve had the final pick in the draft.
It had appeared that I was going to get Celestial City here for the Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar on Dec. 3, but he was taken right before it was my turn. This was a big disappointment. I then looked and looked and looked for someone else to take here at No. 64 before settling on Cabo Spirit, who also is a candidate for the Hollywood Derby.
I wanted to get Celestial City because I liked the way he won the Grade II Hill Prince Stakes in New York on Oct. 22 for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
At least Cabo Spirit is a SoCal-based runner who doesn’t need to ship across the country, like Celestial City. George Papaprodromou, who has had a very good year, trains Cabo Spirit, a 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Pioneerof the Nile gelding. I had Pioneerof the Nile in this fantasy league when he finished second to 50-1 Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
In Cabo Spirit’s most recent start, he rallied to win Santa Anita’s Grade II Twilight Derby on Oct. 29. A victory on Del Mar’s turf course in the Grade III La Jolla Handicap during the summer also added to his appeal for me to go ahead and take him with the 64th and final pick in the 2023 FSL draft.
KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGERING
Making a future wager or wagers on the Kentucky Derby can be a lot of fun, particularly if you bet on the winner at a nice price.
You will have the opportunity this week to bet on the 2023 Run for the Roses via Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW). In addition to win wagering, exacta betting is offered.
Pool 2 wagering will open on Thursday (Nov. 24) at noon and close on Sunday (Nov. 27) at 6 p.m. ET.
The KDFW now has expanded to offer 38 individual horses, plus an “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” option and an “all fillies” option, for a total of 40 betting interests. In past years, the KDFW had 23 or 24 individual horses.
Once again horses currently trained by Bob Baffert are not among the individual horses in KDFW Pool 2 because he has been banned from the 2023 Kentucky Derby. But this does add a number of quality Baffert-trained runners to the “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” option. Two Baffert trainees, Taiba and Messier, did run in this year’s Kentucky Derby after being transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen.
The “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” option is the Pool 2 morning-line favorite at 3-5. In Pool 1, which ran from Nov. 1-3, the “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” option closed at 4-5. I thought that 4-5 price was extremely generous and made a sizable wager on that. It was my lone bet in Pool 1.
I had planned to bet Extra Anejo in Pool 1. He was 19-1 for quite a while. I waited to see if he still would be around that price just before wagering closed. But his odds dropped to 12-1. And so I passed. I would never bet on an individual horse at anything around 12-1 in early November for a race to be run on the first Saturday in May.
As much as I like Extra Anejo, I won’t be betting him in Pool 2, either, unless he’s somewhere around 20-1, which I don’t think will happen. He’s the 15-1 second choice among individual horses on the morning line. The only horse listed at a shorter price is Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Forte, who is 10-1.
Considering it is hard enough in November just to get a horse into the starting gate on May 6, it’s generally not a good idea to be betting anyone at a relatively short price.
But there are three longshots I plan to put a few bucks on. They are Verifying, Capture the Flag and Navy Man.
Brad Cox, who won the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Mandaloun and 2021 Belmont Stakes with Essential Quality, trains Verifying. A son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Verifying has won one of three career starts.
Even though Verifying finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, I still think he has the potential to make noise on the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail. He’s a half-brother to Eclipse Award winner Midnight Bisou, an earner of $7,471,520.
Verifying is 80-1 on the morning line for Pool 2.
Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb, trains Capture the Flag. The Quality Road colt won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race by three lengths at first asking on July 30 at Saratoga. Something evidently went amiss. He has not raced or had a published workout since. But it’s my understanding that McGaughey believes Capture the Flag has the quality to possibly be Kentucky Derby timber and the colt might pop up with a workout in the not-too-distant future.
Capture the Flag is 99-1 on the morning line for Pool 2.
Navy Man likewise is 99-1 on the morning line for Pool 2. He is a maiden. The Bolt d’Oro colt kicked off his racing career by finishing third in a six-furlong maiden race Oct. 5 at Santa Anita that was won by the highly regarded Baffert-trained Arabian Lion. Navy Man then finished a close second to another 2-year-old trained by Baffert, Massimo, in a six-furlong maiden affair at Del Mar on Nov. 13. Navy Man was in front on the gallop-out after the finish. Massimo previously had been the runner-up in the Capote Stakes at Los Alamitos.
Michael McCarthy, who won the 2021 Preakness Stakes with Rombauer, trains Navy Man, who looks like a youngster with much upside to me.
You might want to check out what happens in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs this Saturday (Nov. 26) before making any bets in KDFW Pool 2.
Below are the morning-line odds for 2023 KDFW Pool 2:
No. Horse (Morning Line Odds)
1. Awesome Strong (80-1)
2. Blazing Sevens (30-1)
3. Bromley (99-1)
4. Capture the Flag (99-1)
5. Cascais (99-1)
6. Champions Dream (99-1)
7. Corona Bolt (80-1)
8. Curly Jack (80-1)
9. Cyclone Mischief (99-1)
10. Denington (99-1)
11. Disarm (80-1)
12. Echo Again (50-1)
13. Expect More (99-1)
14. Extra Anejo (15-1)
15. Forbidden Secret (99-1)
16. Forte (10-1)
17. Frank’s Honor (99-1)
18. Full Moon Madness (99-1)
19. General Jim (80-1)
20. Giant Mischief (25-1)
21. Gulfport (75-1)
22. Hal (99-1)
23. Hit Show (80-1)
24. Instant Coffee (80-1)
25. Joking Way (99-1)
26. Litigate (99-1)
27. Loggins (40-1)
28. Mr. Ripple (99-1)
29. Navy Man (99-1)
30. Practical Move (99-1)
31. Recruiter (99-1)
32. Rocket Can (99-1)
33. Signator (60-1)
34. Tapit’s Conquest (99-1)
35. Ten Days Later (60-1)
36. Tuskegee Airmen (99-1)
37. Verifying (80-1)
38. Victory Formation (80-1)
39. All Fillies from the 2020 Foal Crop (80-1)
40. All Other Colts and Geldings from the 2020 Foal Crop (3-5)
The only Sire Future Wager for the 2023 Kentucky Derby also is being offered this week. I mentioned earlier that there are three longshots in KDFW Pool 2 that I intend to put a few bucks on. What I might do is also put a few bucks on Justify, the sire of Verifying, and Bolt d’Oro, the sire of Navy Man. That way I would also have money riding on any other offspring of Justify and Bolt d’Oro.
Justify is 40-1 on the morning line, while Bolt d’Oro is 60-1.
I am not inclined to put any money on the sire of Capture the Flag as long as Quality Road is anywhere near his morning-line price of only 20-1. I need a bigger price than that.
Below are the morning-line odds for the 2023 Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager:
No. Sire (Morning Line Odds)
1. American Pharoah (80-1)
2. Arrogate (8-1)
3. Bernardini (50-1)
4. Bolt d’Oro (60-1)
5. Cairo Prince (80-1)
6. Candy Ride (80-1)
7. City of Light (80-1)
8. Classic Empire (80-1)
9. Cloud Computing (80-1)
10. Constitution (80-1)
11. Curlin (60-1)
12. Empire Maker (80-1)
13. Flatter (80-1)
14. Ghostzapper (60-1)
15. Girvin (60-1)
16. Good Magic (60-1)
17. Gun Runner (10-1)
18. Hard Spun (80-1)
19. Into Mischief (8-1)
20. Justify (40-1)
21. Malibu Moon (60-1)
22. Medaglia d’Oro (80-1)
23. Mendelssohn (80-1)
24. More Than Ready (80-1)
25. Not This Time (80-1)
26. Nyquist (80-1)
27. Pioneerof the Nile (99-1)
28. Practical Joke (80-1)
29. Quality Road (20-1)
30. Runhappy (50-1)
31. Sharp Azteca (80-1)
32. Speightstown (60-1)
33. Street Sense (80-1)
34. Tapit (40-1)
35. Uncle Mo (4-1)
36. Union Rags (99-1)
37. Violence (6-1)
38. War Front (80-1)
39. West Coast (80-1)
40. All Other Sires (6-1)