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Handicapping - Pedigree - History - Dosage

Beyond The Numbers

Handicapping the Kentucky Derby goes beyond the configurations that we talk about all year. It begins with the numbers, but that is certainly not where it ends.

There are numerous steps that must be taken in order to fully handicap this behemoth of a race. It is unlike any other race throughout the year. Twenty Contenders. First time for each at 10f. Minimal past performances to gauge for most on the field. Many never ran on more than one bias. Could be first time flying or traveling a long distance so we don’t know how they will react to it.

Even the smallest details take on a life of their own. Did the horse decline his breakfast that morning or is eating up a storm? Was he friendly towards his goat friend as he usually is every day or was he preoccupied with his nerves? Was his bathroom ritual the same or did it change? Did he kick the stall? Did he bite his groom? Did he sleep well? Was he rolling his energetic head around and playing with his ball or was he angry, with his head tucked into the corner of the barn? Did a couple of them get special hay or a teaspoon of cough syrup or bite open up a box of Salon-pas patches? So many distinctive components that the handicapper can never ascertain or possibly know, (wishing we could know) but there are many other things that we have at our disposal and each one is important if you are going to gamble your money in hopes of cashing in.

The very first part of handicapping the Kentucky Derby should always be studying the pedigree of each and every specific colt. The ability to outlast the 10f distance is the most important thing and this is what we do at the Dirty Horse Club. But that is just the beginning. Once the field is separated and the 10f players are defined and those that are not bred to go the distance are tossed – the next steps of the handicapping process begin. The ability to run 10f does not mean the horse is well equipped against the others who also have that distance under their belt. These points must be studied and every factor then needs to be examined. Just like every other maiden or shorter Prep race, some are going to excel with their speed and some will not, even with that distance advantage. In order to process through the players, there are many other steps that continue to weed out the advantaged remaining 10f players.

Imagine if all 20 players on the field had the ability and the breeding to run 10f. The only thing left would be to consult the PP’s for the highest beyers and figures and we would be done. This is never the case and even if it were, the PP sheets leave vital information out. In reality, half the field is useless at the distance so the first step is always breeding. Once that step is complete and the 8f and 9f runners are tossed, the other half that can run that distance needs to be broken down again. The only way to break them down is to study and analyze the other important components than just those items found on a PP sheet.

My Kentucky Derby Handicapping Ritual - In Order:

#1. Breeding

The single most important aspect to handicapping the Kentucky Derby (and most all graded stakes races) is to determine if the colt has the breeding to go the distance. The configurations of the dosage numbers as it corresponds to their speed/stamina balance will always supersede everything and it will chop the field down to a more manageable puzzle to undertake. If the horse is not bred to go the distance, there is no reason to even go any further with him – UNLESS – he happens to be one who might be responsible for the pace. In his case, you must put the time in to determine everything about him even though you won’t be using him on your ticket. He is the one who will dictate how all the pieces will fall at that finish line. His influence on the race is basically the main factor as to who eventually occupies those top 4 spots. Understanding that horse, his breeding, his optimum and his abilities to lead the stampede is very important if you know he is not equipped for the distance. Those who lead who are equipped is a completely different story.

After the pretenders are weeded out based on their configurations and their breeding to go the distance, it is now time to handicap these remaining advantaged players.

#2. Replays

Of course, a main component is their past early and shorter performances. Studying each race without taking your eyes off of the particular colt that you are handicapping will give you much more information than what is found written on the Brisnet or DRF program. I trust my eyes over those little 4 word sentences in their comments. Ninety percent of what actually transpires during that past performance will not be found on that sheet. It is up to you to witness, study and draw your own conclusions from it. We are not analyzing a 9f race to gamble on another 9f race - we have to project that 9f performance into a 10f POTENTIAL performance. It's a completely different ballgame, especially for those who did not win that prep. From loading into the gate to his gallop out, watching that horse perform through each and every process of the race will give you precious insight in projecting what he will do with his 10f breeding at Churchill. If you are lucky enough to find a replay with the post parade, re-watching how the eventual winner (or eventual other players) paraded prior to a winning performance or a losing performance may be a tell-tale sign to you during the post parade at Churchill. Little quirks, prancing on his toes, head down, tongue out, biting the neck of his escort, etc. may tell you exactly how that colt is feeling before a winning performance through his previous actions and can be compared to what he is projecting in the Derby parade.

How they performed previously in the paddock before riders up. How they walked or pranced in the parade. How they loaded into the gate, how they acted in the gate, how they broke out of that gate. Was he agitated before entering a gate or did he become agitated while waiting for the others to load? The entire race from first step out to his finish crossing the wire no matter his final placement. How far out from the rail did he run? How far did he gallop out? Was he surging at the end and run out of track? Was he swaying and swerving down the 9f stretch? Was he being whipped to keep up or was he ridden out? How did he act and how did he look in the Winners Circle? Was he still energetic or did he look wiped out after that 9f win? Every specific mannerism should be noted including how his body and his weight appeared right down to the shine in his coat. All of these items can then be compared in the days leading up to the Derby.

#3. Workouts

The next component is any workouts after his final prep, especially if they occur at Churchill. Even better if the workout is on a muddy track. Take precaution though when you gauge that workout. If the horse is sitting in the “Speed” category and he throws an incredibly fast workout, take it with a grain of salt. The horse is not doing anything different or spectacularly above his true breeding. Fast workouts only stand out for two types of Derby Contenders. The first being any horse found in the stamina category. They are not bred to go fast at such a short distance (or in the mud) so if he shows up with a crazy fast workout – take notice. If he is running that fast at 5f and you know he has the endurance to go the full 10f, you should be extremely confident in using him on your ticket. Could also mean that he is ready to explode because his connections have him at just the right spot in spite of his M/L odds.

The second type is the Rear Runner regardless of category. If a rear runner shows up in a fast quick impressive 4, 5 or 6f workout – take notice again, especially if the work is at Churchill (or on a sloppy surface.) This means that both the “stamina” guy and/or the rear runner guy is telling us that he really likes that track or that bias. We need to know this. Most of these guys never even performed on a muddy surface so that insight is gold. The advantage to us is that we have entered the month of April Showers and there is nothing more important than gaining the insight of how a disadvantaged stamina guy (or rear runner) will react to that sloppy bias.

Fast workouts do not mean the same thing across each category. You must look at the workout in conjunction with his style and his breeding in order to access the significance of it. The speedy guys SHOULD enjoy it. They were bred to run fast early. Kicking out a :48 workout is nothing out of the ordinary for a speed driven colt who posted 100+ beyers along the way - BUT, take special notice if that speed guy doesn’t do well OR if a stamina guy is on par with him – that is even more important. That could mean he is having problems, he is losing form, or he really hates that track if he never performed on it before. If that speed guy does well in that workout, he is simply running in his normal speedy fashion and it will tell you nothing specific as it pertains to his projected distance. First timers on the Churchill track should also be scrutinized against the speed category workouts. If a stamina guy performs evenly with (or outperforms) a speed guy in a workout that was both handily and at the same distance, the stamina guy walks away with a greater advantage for the race.

#4. Past Performances

Beyer and Timeform figures, Fractions and Final Times as it pertains to the advantaged 10f runners. Comparison of their final winning time to the specific track record of the particular race. Comparison of final time to any In the Money Previous Derby runners who also ran in that same prep during their road to the Derby.

#5. Projected Pace

As it refers to the abilities of the lead speedsters and their effects on the advantaged 10f runners. Those who run mid-pack or behind AND who do not have the breeding to complete the 10f hold no bearing on the pace or the outcome or the entire race for that matter. First flight dictates the pace projection and those who do not hold that 10f distance or those who do hold that 10f distance will affect (positively or negatively) the stamina driven contenders. Everything revolves around the bias and the projected pace which will dictate which category holds the greatest advantage. Speed vs. Stamina.

#6. The Weather

The bias of the track as it appears one hour before the bell.

In addition, the following is a list of 30 points compiled from some of the best handicappers that I have come across over the years. One of the main ones was Bill Benter, the “gambler” who made close to a billion dollars at the track in Japan with his handicapping computer program that used several of these points. Some may pertain to the first Saturday in May and will give you additional insight into the cast of the remaining advantaged contenders while you are handicapping. Personally, I do not subscribe to each and every point; however, everyone has their own way of handicapping and I am simply passing along some additional insight for you to consider if you so choose.

  1. Final or Next to Final Work a Bullet.

  2. Won Two Races or In the Money or within 3 lengths at 9f as a 3 year old.

  3. Won Two Races or In the Money or within 3 lengths in Final Prep.

  4. Raced as a two year old.

  5. Won as a two year old.

  6. Exceeded Beyer Speed Figure as a three year old.

  7. Best Beyer Speed Figure earned at 8.5f and over.

  8. 100+ BSF as three year old.

  9. Finished in the Money in 2 races as a three year old.

  10. Ran 2 Two Turn Preps.

  11. At least 5 career starts.

  12. Started in a field of 10+.

  13. Won in a field of 10+.

  14. 320+ Tomlinson Figure

  15. Competed in Late Key Derby Preps.

  16. Equipment Change

  17. Medication Change

  18. Career Starts – Career Wins

  19. Jockey Stats for the Churchill Track – Jockey changes.

  20. Trainer Stats for the Churchill Track – Trainer changes.

  21. Track Records Posted. What track, what distance and what bias.

  22. Clean bias and Wet Bias ability

  23. Specific Track Preference

  24. Weight Carried Previous vs Today

  25. Strength of Competition in Previous Races

  26. Advantageous or disadvantageous post position in past races in comparison to outcome

  27. Time since last race as compared to any similar layoffs and outcomes after return to track.

  28. Multi Surface or Multi Bias Success or Demise.

  29. Final Fractions – Final 3/8 of their final 1-1/8 prep in less than :38.

  30. Accurate estimation of the advantage to the bet itself (profitability) as defined by the pari-mutuel betting pool.


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