2008 Kentucky Derby Recap
Big Brown wins the 134th Kentucky Derby
Filly Eight Belles Euthanized
An impressive, resounding victory by Big Brown was, in large part, overshadowed by the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles, who had run a wonderful race to finish second. A quarter mile past the finish line, Eight Belles broke both front ankles. Unlike with the injury to Barbaro in the Preakness two years ago, it was immediately evident that there would be no heroic attempt to save her. (Horses can stand on three legs during recovery from injury, but there is no way to support a horse on just two good legs.) There is no evidence that the filly was hurt during the race or that jockey Gabriel Saez was to blame in any way. A tired horse, a bad step and a tragic end to both a talented racehorse and a classic race.
Despite having only a three race resume and starting from the far outside in post 20, Big Brown went off as the 5-2 favorite and justified that support with a five length victory. Big Brown used only enough early speed to secure a safe position in sixth and rated well for the first mile before moving on the leaders approaching the stretch. Big Brown remained strong down the length of the stretch and was never threatened. It was a dominating performance over what may be regarded as a mediocre group of three-year-olds.
Second favorite Colonel John dropped back early, made a bold move around the final turn to get in position but flattened out in the stretch.
Third favorite Pyro dropped back to 18th, saved ground early, passed horses in the upper stretch but was unable to sustain a bid.
Fourth choice Eight Belles ran nearly the same race as the winner, racing in 5th place just ahead of Big Brown, but that one got first jump on her and took command of the race while Eight Belles had to settle for second place. She was clearly best of the rest.
Other runners of note
Recapturetheglory pressed the early pace in third for the first six furlongs and held well to finish in fifth.
If you watch a replay of the race, take note of Denis of Cork breaking from post 16. Much like last year with Street Sense, jockey Calvin Borel was able to get his horse to the rail within a furlong of the start. To do so from post 16 is very impressive. Calvin Borel is drawn to the rail at Churchill Downs like a moth to a flame.
As I discussed in the Kentucky Derby Preview, horses with a BRIS running style of E, for Early, and runners whose Early Pace (EP) rating from their last prep exceeded the Early Pace par for the Kentucky Derby, did very poorly in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Kentucky Derbies. The 2008 results were similar, with one very big exception.
In 2005, there were four E-Type runners; they finished 7th, 16th, 18th, 20th.
In 2006, there were four E-Type runners; they finished 4th-DH, 16th, 19th, 20th
In 2007, there were five E-Type runners: they finished 2nd, 10th, 14th, 16th, 17th
In 2008, there were only two E-Type runners: Bob Black Jack finished 16th and Recapturetheglory finished 5th.
In 2005, there were seven Non-E-Type runners with last race EP greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par; they finished 2nd, 10th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th.
In 2006, there were four Non-E-Type runners with last race EP greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par; they finished 8th, 12th, 15th, 17th.
In 2007, there was only one Non-E-Type runner with a last race EP greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par: Any Given Saturday finished 8th.
In 2008, there were three Non-E-Type runners with a last race EP greater then the Kentucky Derby EP Par: Tale of Ekati (finished 4th), Smooth Air (finished 11th) and Big Brown, who won the race.
The first four runners after six furlongs this year finished 16th (Bob Black Jack), 9th (Cowboy Cal), 5th (Recapturetheglory) and 15th (Cool Coal Man), so running up front in the Derby is still not the place to be. However, the 5th and 6th horses after six furlongs ended up running second (Eight Belles) and first (Big Brown), so running near the lead wasn’t too bad.
It is interesting to note that there were fewer early speed horses (E and high EP) this year compared to the three previous runnings of the Derby:
2005: 11 (4 E, 7 EP)
2006: 8 (4 E, 4 EP)
2007: 6 (5 E, 1 EP)
2008: 5 (2 E, 3EP)
Clearly, and obviously, the fewer committed front runners there are, the easier it is for a front runner to hold on and factor in the finish of the Derby. In 2007, with 6 front runners, Hard Spun was able to hold on for second. In 2008, with 5 front runners, Big Brown was able to win. I’ll speculate that with fewer than 5 front runners we could see a gate to wire winner.
split times (2f, 4f, 6f, mile, final):
2005 – :22.28 :45.38 1:09.59 1:35.88 2:02.75 – Giacomo
2006 – :22.63 :46.07 1:10.88 1:37.02 2:01.36 – Barbaro
2007 – :22.96 :46.26 1:11.13 1:37.04 2:02.17 – Street Sense
2008 – :23.30 :47.04 1:11.14 1:36.56 2:01.82 – Big Brown
2005 – :22.28 :23.10 :24.21 :26.29 :26.87
2006 – :22.63 :23.44 :24.81 :26.14 :24.34
2007 – :22.96 :23.30 :24.87 :25.91 :25.13
2008 – :23.30 :23.74 :24.10 :25.42 :25.24