2010 Kentucky Derby Recap

May 9, 2010 by
Filed under: Handicapping, Horse Racing, Triple Crown 

Friggin’ Calvin Borel.

This makes three Kentucky Derby wins in the past four years for Calvin Borel and ties him with Kent Desormeaux for the most Kentucky Derby victories among active jockeys, with three.  Handicapping the Kentucky Derby is easier than I realized – just bet the horses being ridden by Borel and Desormeaux (who finished third this year)!

For a few weeks now, I’ve been wishing that Borel was on a closer in the Kentucky Derby instead of a committed front-runner.  I shouldn’t have been so fussy.  Although his first two Kentucky Derby wins were on deep closers, he wasn’t on that kind of horse this time.  Super Saver has good early speed and always races on, or near, the lead.  But Borel rides regularly at Churchill Downs and I should have known he could find another way to win.

My other, larger, mistake was classifying Super Saver as a committed front-runner.  Here’s what I missed:  In his last race, the Arkansas Derby, Super Saver, under Calvin Borel’s astute guidance, was able to sit three lengths off the race leader until making a move for the lead in the stretch.  In the five races prior to that, Super Saver had strongly contested the lead every time.  This ability to sit back behind the leader served him well in the Kentucky Derby as Borel broke Super Saver smartly from the gate and moved him quickly to the rail (possibly impeding Noble’s Promise and Lookin at Lucky in the process).  Super Saver was content to sit in sixth for the first six furlongs, began moving up around the final turn and disposed of Noble’s Promise, right after that one had moved past the tiring leaders, to gain a clear lead in the final furlong.

The other big winner on Derby Day was trainer Todd Pletcher.  Much has been written about Pletcher being 0 for 24 in the Kentucky Derby, but that makes it sound like he’s lost 24 different Kentucky Derbies.  In reality, those 24 horses were spread across only nine Kentucky Derbies and none of them were favorites to win.  This year was different.  This year Pletcher’s stable was loaded with legitimate Derby contenders and his trainees dominated the Kentucky Derby prep season, winning the Sam F. Davis, the Risen Star, the El Camino Real, the Fountain of Youth, the Louisiana Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Lexington Stakes.  But none of those prep race winners would go on to win the big one for him.  It was the runner-up in the Arkansas Derby, Super Saver, who delivered the one prize that was missing from Pletcher’s resume.

Enough with the winners, let’s see how my ‘system‘ did in, perhaps, its final year of use:

Step 1: Eliminated the Early runners

Eliminated:  Super Saver (finished 1st), Line of David (18th), Conveyance (15th), Discreetly Mine (13th), Sidney’s Candy (17th), Paddy O’Prado (finished 3rd)

The theory, that having multiple front-runners in the Derby dooms them all, was right.  The leaders through the first half mile of the Kentucky Derby finished 15th (Conveyance) and 17th (Sidney’s Candy).  The five horses that had led after six furlongs in their final prep race finished in 3rd (Paddy O’Prado – more on him later), 11th, 15th, 17th, 18th. 

In practice, I failed to accurately determine who the front-runners really were.

Step 2: Eliminated horses that have not run a BSF of at least 98 this year.

Eliminated:  Stately Victor (finished 8th), Dean’s Kitten (14th), Make Music for Me (4th), Jackson Bend (12th), Mission Impazible (9th), Dublin (7th), Backtalk (20th), Homeboykris (16th)

Super Saver ran a 104 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) to win the 2010 Kentucky Derby.  His previous high BSF was the 98 he earned finishing second in the Arkansas Derby.

Step 3: Eliminated horses without a 100+ BRIS Late Pace in their last race.

Eliminated:  Noble’s Promise (finished 5th), Devil May Care (10th), Awesome Act (19th)

Noble’s Promise moved up to take the lead after seven furlongs and held on well until the final furlong before tiring.
Devil May Care made a strong move entering the stretch to get as close as third, within 2 lengths of the lead, before fading badly in the final sixteenth.
Awesome Act was never involved in the race.

Of the top four finishers in the Kentucky Derby, all but Super Saver had a history of running best late:

Super Saver, in his prior starts as a front-runner, had never run a BRIS Late Pace higher than 96.
Ice Box earned a 108 Late Pace winning the Florida Derby.
Disguised as a front runner his past two races, Paddy O’Prado had been a deep closing turf horse as a two-year-old, earning a 102 Late Pace at Saratoga in September.
Although he did not finish well in the Blue Grass Stakes, Make Music for Me had averaged a 101 Late Pace in his three prior races.

Step 4: Miscellaneous Eliminations

Eliminated:  American Lion due to his front-running style.

American Lion steadied early, was never closer than seventh, and finished 11th.

Two Qualifiers:

Ice Box steadied three different times during the race, but still closed strongly to finish second, 2 1/2 diminishing lengths behind the winner.  

As Lookin At Lucky’s trainer Bob Baffert said after the post position draw, “Plan A is we break well.  Plan B is we’re screwed.”  It turned out to be Plan B.  Lookin at Lucky was roughed up at the start, and again in the first furlong, which left him running in 18th position after a quarter mile.  Garrett Gomez swung Lookin At Lucky five wide on the final turn and was able to make a good move into the stretch, but couldn’t sustain it in the final furlong and finished 6th.

Step 5: Hard Decisions

I found reasons to uneliminate three horses and they finished 5th (Noble’s Promise), 7th (Dublin) and 10th (Devil May Care).

Conclusion:  In Kentucky Derbies with lots of front-runners, you can safely eliminate all of them IF you’re sure that’s the only way they know how to run.

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