2010 Kentucky Derby Analysis

April 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Handicapping, Horse Racing, Triple Crown 

 Five years ago, in my Kentucky Derby recap, I wrote:

One thing became certain as Giacomo crossed the finish line to win the 131st Kentucky Derby.  There will be a full field of 20 runners in the 132nd Kentucky Derby and for years to come.

Substitute Mine That Bird for Giacomo and it’s easy to imagine that if Churchill Downs would allow 30 starters there would be trainers lined up with shoehorns and WD-40 offering to help squeeze their horses into the starting gate.  The Derby has gone from having a maximum of 20 starters to a seemingly mandatory 20 starters.  There have always been, and there always will be, owners and trainers with Derby Fever that will insist on running horses that aren’t mature enough, or good enough, to be competitive at this level.  But now, nearly everyone with a horse that has enough graded stakes earnings to make the field, and is not actually crippled, will be entered without a second thought.

For a few years, I’ve been playing with a ‘system’ to help narrow these unwieldy Kentucky Derby fields down to a manageable few contenders.  (If you want to read the details, check out my previous Kentucky Derby Previews [2006, 2007, 2008] and Recaps [2006, 2007, 2008].)  It came about when I noticed how poorly front runners did in the Derby when there were lots of other front runners.  The number of early speed horses in the Derby has shrunken over the past few years, so the system has had a harder time finding the contenders.  But this year, we again have a slew of front runners and I’m hopeful that this year the system will help me find a Kentucky Derby winner at a juicy price.

Step 1: Eliminate the Early runners

These horses want to have the lead and in most of their prep races they’ve been able to get it fairly easily.  On Saturday, they’ll still want the lead but they’ll have to fight harder than ever to get it and the pressure from the other front runners will never let up.  Some of them will become discouraged when they’re behind horses for the first time.  Others will be taken back by their jockeys in a futile attempt to avoid the speed duel and will waste all of their energy fighting their jockey.  And far in front of all of them is a finish line that is farther away than any of them have ever run.  If history is any indicator, none of them will be anywhere near the front after a mile and a quarter.

Eliminate runners with an E (Early) running style:  Super Saver, Line of David, Conveyance, Discreetly Mine, Sidney’s Candy

Eliminate runners with an E/P running style and an Early Pace (EP) in their last race greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par:  Paddy O’Prado

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

The average winning Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) for the Kentucky Derby is 109.  It doesn’t look like there’s much chance this bunch will come anywhere near that, given that the highest lifetime BSF for any of these runners is the 100 by both Sidney’s Candy and the filly Devil May Care.  So, it’s safe to say that whoever wins the Derby this year will have to achieve a career-high Beyer and, if that’s the case, it would be nice if they’ve shown some ability to run a high BSF as a three-year-old.  (Of course, last year’s winner Mine That Bird had never run a Beyer Speed Figure higher that 81 before dropping a 105 in the Derby.  Make of that what you will.)

Eliminate:  Stately Victor, Dean’s Kitten, Make Music for Me, Jackson Bend, Mission Impazible, Dublin, Backtalk, Homeboykris

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

If you’re going to win the Kentucky Derby, you had better be running in the stretch.  (Mine That Bird came home with a Late Pace of 113 last year.)

Eliminate:  Noble’s Promise, Devil May Care, Awesome Act

Step 4: Miscellaneous Eliminations

American Lion qualifies with a 98 Beyer and a 102 Late Pace in his last race, but he was allowed to set an easy early pace in the Illinois Derby and that won’t happen in the Kentucky Derby.  I suspect he’ll want to be forwardly placed again and will be eaten up by the hot early pace in the Derby.

Who’s Left?

We’ve managed to eliminate 18 of the 20 entrants and are left with two qualifiers:  Ice Box and Lookin at Lucky

Step 5: Hard Decisions

Since we need more than two horses to bet a superfecta, let’s see if we can make a case for a few of the eliminated horses.

Dublin’s high Beyer of 97 this year just misses qualifying as does his last race Late Pace of  99.

Noble’s Promise qualifies on Beyer, but not on last race Late Pace.  However, he had a couple of excuses in the Arkansas Derby and did have Late Pace ratings over 100 in his two prior starts. 

Devil May Care earned a lifetime best 100 BSF in the Bonnie Miss, tied for highest in this field, and closed from fourth to win going away with a Late Pace of 97. 

Un-eliminated:  Dublin, Noble’s Promise, Devil May Care

Final Analysis

After all that, all I’ve managed to do is eliminate all of the long shots and only one real favorite (Sidney’s Candy).  As much as I would like to think I’ve narrowed this race down to a few contenders, it’s pretty clear that this is, yet again, another wide-open Kentucky Derby.  Let’s take a closer look at who we have left:

Lookin at Lucky– When Eskendereya had to withdraw with an injury, Lookin at Lucky deservedly inherited the role of favorite.  Things took a turn for the worse a little after noon on Wednesday when Lucky drew the one hole during the post position draw.

Pros:  Best race was on the dirt in Rebel where he sat mid-pack and closed strongly to win by a head.  A similar race shape on Saturday could earn him a garland of roses.
Cons:  The Rebel was the only time he has raced on dirt.  Breaking from post position one means he will have to be used hard early to maintain a forward position or risk being trapped on the rail and shuffled to the back of the pack.  Neither outcome bodes well for a trip to the Winner’s Circle.

Ice Box – Went from last in a field of 11 to first by a nose in the Florida Derby.  That’s pretty much exactly what he’ll have to do to win the Derby.

Pros:  Good Beyer (99) and Late Pace (108) in the Florida Derby.  Excess of early runners in the Derby sets up well for a closer.
Cons:  Florida Derby was his only stakes race.  Six week layoff coming in to Derby.  Will have to get through plenty of traffic from the back of the pack.

Dublin – Kentucky Derby race shape this year should fit him well.  Unfortunately, he’s had other races this year that set up well for him and he wasn’t able to find the Winner’s Circle in any of them.  That’s a concern.

Pros:  Closer in field with plenty of early speed.
Cons:  Has yet to win this year.  Will have to contend with traffic issues in the stretch.

Noble’s Promise– Just nipped at the wire by Lookin at Lucky in the Rebel Stakes.  Was favored in the Arkansas Derby, but rough trip caused numerous cuts on his legs and he came out of the race with a slight lung infection.  Earlier this week, his connections were still unsure they would run him.  That’s a concern.

Pros:  Plenty of back class.  Stalking running style should be to his advantage.
Cons:  May not be fully recovered from injuries and illness after the Arkansas Derby.

Devil May Care – May be running in the Derby just to avoid facing Blind Luck in the Kentucky Oaks or to give John Velazquez something to ride.  That’s a concern.

Pros:  Tied for the top Beyer Speed Figure in the field.  Running style from last race should fit well here.
Cons:  She’s a filly and only three have ever won the Kentucky Derby.  May be a bit immature and could be overwhelmed by the big field.

Did any of that clear things up for you?  Yeah, me either.  Of these five, I’m going to take a stand against Noble’s Promise due to the health concerns and Ice Box for only having one race of any note.

Thoroughbred Report Kentucky Derby Picks: