Our Kentucky Derby Day has been changed from May 2nd to September 5th this year. Usually, going into April would be a time filled with all things related to the big race. This year, all we can do is sit on our hands and wait out this unprecedented time in our Country. In addition, our beloved sport has taken a hit led by Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro. It is an indelible stain which can only add more fuel to the fire against the entire industry. We have taken a double hit this year, but, for diehard horse racing fans, we will remain steadfast and forge ahead.
In an attempt to fill the void and to keep the horse front and center, I’d like to start a series on our past Derby heroes. This series will hold two purposes. The first would be to give tribute and remembrance to some of the champions. To win the Kentucky Derby is an extraordinary feat and the victor becomes part of the elite historical list that will remain forever. The second reason is to distinguish what characteristics the horse held prior to the Derby that allowed him to prevail against his competitors. This exercise will point out some of the tell-tale signs that will aid your future handicapping of the Kentucky Derby. Each edition of the Derby will have its own script based on the exact players on the field. It is our job to pit these specific players against each other within the given field. The editions of this series of articles will dive into a Past Derby Winner and emphasize the tell-tale signs that we as handicappers need to look for when handicapping the Kentucky Derby.
There are two main components to handicapping the Kentucky Derby. Past Performances and Breeding.
Every handicapper consults a past performance sheet prior to placing a bet on the Kentucky Derby. They look at the figures, the times, the workouts, etc. These items are NOT going to point out a player. There is a major difference between the Past Performance SHEET and the Past Performance itself. These are two separate items and probably the most important thing to master. You must dive below the surface of the printed words and figures on that sheet in order determine what is real and what is inconsequential. You must look for that puzzle piece that is not listed on the sheet and gain your insight from common sense and what was displayed to you in the past race itself.
There is not one line item listed on that sheet that aligns with the Kentucky Derby. You are looking at 6f to 9.5f statistics (if that). What would justify any single statistic on that sheet to be the main ingredient to betting that particular horse over another? The underlying answer is what is buried beneath it. It is your job to find that insight on every single entrant on that field. You will find the past stats on that sheet but the answer will not be written out for you. It lies underneath. All the answers are not printed out on that sheet, they are hidden within the past race itself. Common Sense and Insight.
This is the easy component. The horse either has 10f running in his veins or he doesn’t. The first idea above extrapolates certain players based on what they have shown us in the past. The second part allows us to determine if those colts will perform at the same (or even greater) at the 10f distance. A colt cannot compromise his running style and he must be able to perform to that same level at a further distance. In addition to that, you must determine if the horse will surpass his performance in previous shorter distances when presented with extra track against his opponents. As a handicapper, combining the underlying tell-tale signs of any given colts past performance with his ability to run equal to or higher at 10f is the answer to pointing out the top players of the Kentucky Derby.
2019 Kentucky Derby Winner - COUNTRY HOUSE
I want to start this series of articles with Country House. In light of the indictments against Jason Servis, Country House rightfully won this race. Apparently, the horse racing gods work in mysterious ways. I had vowed to never use this edition of the Derby because of the disqualification but in light of the circumstances surrounding the charges, the 4 horses who hit that finish line (Maximum Security not legitimately part of that now) are the 4 horses who rightfully dominated the Derby. Going forward I will use this race in historical evaluations. Country House, Code of Honor, Tacitus and Improbable were the top 4 horses of the 2019 sloppy Kentucky Derby and Maximum Security was not. The final order of finish (in my mind) is solid and perfect. Country House won the Kentucky Derby. There will be no more what ifs, no more controversy in the disqualification. Jason Servis’ horse is not the culprit, the trainer is. But enough of that.
When handicapping for the Derby, the most important past performance race is the one prior to the Derby itself. This race is the furthest distance the colt has run. How a colt performs in a 6f maiden or an 8f prep holds almost no merit at all. Whether he won or came in 6th in that 6f - 8f race will hold no value when handicapping the 10f Derby. If he won the shorter race, it may inevitably mean that he won because that was his optimum distance. If he came in 6th place, it may mean that he is nowhere near his optimum and he will truly struggle against the speed demons. It may mean he demands more track. A past performance sheet will not give you that information.
Lets look at the past performance sheet for Country House for the Kentucky Derby.
This sheet holds the most deceiving past performance statistics ever compiled for a Derby Winner. When you look at these figures and take them at face value, it is easy to see why you would consider him a non-player for the Derby. The first is the Prime Power. He fell at 16th place among the field. The second is the fact that it took him 3 tries to break his maiden. Thirdly, he won only one race prior to the big day. And lastly, he came in third in his final prep. If you looked only at these points on this sheet and only relied on the figures, the fair conclusion is an immediate toss. The horse who truly stands out within this chart is Omaha Beach, right? The final prep, the Arkansas Derby, run at 1 1/8th, and Omaha Beach massacred him.
Look at the comments for Country House for that last prep race. It states "Bid 5 wide 1/4, No Late Bid." At face value, one would consult that entire Arkansas Derby line and see a colt who came in third far behind the winner with a comment that states he had no late bid. He is left as an afterthought with no noise or standout qualities for the Derby. So much so, that he went off at 65 to 1 when the gates opened at Churchill. The importance of searching for the insight for any given colt ON YOUR OWN supersedes the figures and words displayed on a past performance sheet.
There are 19 - 20 colts entered in the Derby which means that 19 - 20 immediate derby preps need to be watched with complete focus on the contender himself. When you watch the prep, you must focus on the horse you are handicapping. Ideally, you would watch him in the post parade to note his specific mannerisms prior to a winning performance. You would note how he loads and how he acts in the gate. You must observe every single second, from loading to his final step on that track. This means for the Arkansas Derby you would have to watch that race 4 separate times - once for Omaha Beach (who ultimately was scratched in the Derby) - once for Improbable - once for Country House - and once for Long Range Toddy. YOU have to watch it - at least four times. You cannot rely on a sheet to tell you what the horse did and how that will relate to the 10f Derby.
In the Arkansas Derby, Country House was installed in gate #8. Below is a replay of the race. Watch the race and do not take your eyes off of Country House. Do not look at Omaha Beach. Follow Country House on the top portion of the screen. Concentrate directly on Country House.
What did you see? He remained at the back of the pack, saving ground and energy. At the 3/4 pole, Country House starts to take off, picking off horses one by one. He was 5-6 wide and coming on strong. Omaha Beach and Improbable out there alone on the lead was exactly where those 2 horses should have been based on the breeding at the DISTANCE on a SLOPPY track. (The performances of those two guys, at that particular distance on that particular surface has NO bearing what-so-ever on Country House's ability to tackle 10f in a future race.) Country House had no business running from the back of the pack in that manner but he did. That points to a standout in that race. A standout without accolades and without thought. A handicapper must take the facts and go a step further. Consider that race, exactly as it was run, now at 10f. All the actors and positions exactly the same. Add the additional distance in your mind and imagine how it could possibly play out. But how do you do that? This takes us to the next step...
From this race we had 3 who entered the gate at Churchill Downs. Country House, Improbable and Long Range Toddy. These three guys would be pitted together when you handicap the race. First the breeding and then the facts based on their final prep race performance and the ability to run 10f.
Long Range Toddy
DP = 4-11-9-0-0 (24) DI = 4.33 CD = 0.79
Mare Profile = 6-5-5-2-9 Speed = 11 Stamina = 11 Index = 0.88 Triads = 16-12-16
Toddy came in 6th place in the Arkansas Derby. He held 4th and 5th position until the 3/4 pole and then started going backwards. He has a 4.33 speedy chef index. The track was sloppy. His triads are way below par for the Derby. Based on his final prep performance coupled with his numbers and the fact that both the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbies were both run on a sloppy track, makes Toddy an easy colt to handicap for the big race. When pitted against Improbable and Country House, both his performance and his numbers fall off the cliff and becomes an easy toss between the three. His speed equals 11 and his stamina equals 11 from his mares. Exact. There is no additional stamina OVER and ABOVE his speed inheritance. With his 4.33 index he would have been a prime candidate to display that speed alongside Omaha and Improbable. He was nowhere near them at 9.5f. Since the speed/stamina balance is even from the mares, his speed hit the wall. No more additional stamina to pull from. He showed us that. Most likely it was not the track surface, it was because he had come to the limit of his optimum. Since he could not keep with the other advantaged speed guys, he told us in that race he had reached his limit in his prior performance. He could have, based on his breeding, been at ease on that sloppy track at that distance. If he, at the very least, held his ground, there may have been something to hold onto based on the fact that this guy consistently won or hit the board prior to the Derby. He showed a will and determination to win which cannot be ignored. But the Arkansas showed he may or may not have cared for the bias and he certainly did not care for the distance. What would make anyone think that this horse could ever prevail against Improbable or Country House given the facts that he went backwards on a sloppy track (now the same surface as the Derby) going even further? Throw in the breeding, the numbers, and you have an easy toss. The triads are split and the speed/stamina balance from the mares is even. With the high amount of inbred chef speed, going from Arkansas to Churchill, from 1 1/8 to 1 1/4, easily points out what is underlying on that past performance sheet. Adding the additional 1/8th to the facts of this exact race, where does Toddy end up in your mind? The breeding demands that he continues to go backwards.
DP = 12-9-13-0-0 (34) DI = 4.23 CD = 0.97
Mare Profile = 6-6-4-7-7 Speed = 12 Stamina = 14 Index = 0.88 Triads = 16-17-18
Improbable came in second in the Arkansas Derby. His 4.23 index was an advantage in that race and an advantage in Kentucky. He did extremely well against Omaha Beach because that was Omaha's optimum distance on his preferred surface. Improbable was right there happily displaying his speed. He had no problem with his stamina at this distance and his speed stayed intact. Note the speed/stamina balance numbers from the mares. The stamina is greater, not by much, but still greater none the less. The track surface now the same, you must determine if Improbable is capable of matching or exceeding that performance going the additional 1/8th. The only way to determine if a horse can carry a great performance from one distance to the next is to see if he has the breeding to do it. Even though his mare numbers do not hit par across each of the three numbers (19 and higher across the triads is par), they do show that his mare stamina is greater than his mare speed. They incline across the 3 numbers and there is an uptick between his speed/stamina balance from the mares. His mare index is just under .90 which leans him to higher stamina from the mares. These numbers are just shy of WINNING Kentucky Derby numbers (the triads being below par) but they do give him more endurance than what he displayed his final prep. He displayed his speed and determination in Arkansas and we can project from that performance, based on his mares contribution, that he can take that performance a bit further. If his triads descended, or if they were configured like Toddy, he would need to be a toss based on that speedy Prep performance. His speed on a sloppy track, coupled with additional endurance makes him a player for a board hit in the Derby. His numbers lack for a win consideration (not quite as loaded across the board - average 19 points each slot). Add the additional 1/8th to the Arkansas distance based on his breeding. He continues to go forward, but not as much as would be desired to prevail. Improbable was always a player for a top 4 spot.
DP = 5-7-11-1-0 (24) DI = 2.69 CD = 0.67
Mare Profile = 4-6-2-10-9 Speed = 10 Stamina = 19 Index = 0.53 Triads = 12-18-21
With Toddy out of consideration when handicapping the Derby, we are left with Improbable and Country House. Taking the "underlying" facts from the final prep and coupling them with the breeding and the sloppy bias of the Churchill track, several pieces begin to make for factual insight. Country House does not have the proper inheritance historically for the Kentucky Derby. He does not have the proper resume for the Derby. In addition, Country House does not have the proper inheritance for a sloppy track. In spite of these facts, his Arkansas performance showed us something. It showed his ability to be able to run from the back of the pack, 6 wide, at 9.5f, from 10th place at one point to 3rd place in the end. Running under his optimum distance at a serious disadvantage (against 2 with the highest advantage) was a tell-tale sign of how he would perform at 10f which is closer to his optimum. This means, between Improbable and Country House, the advantage gets flipped from one race to the other. Since Improbable lacked just a bit in the endurance aspect and Country House was stacked in endurance turns the tables for 10f. This horse, against his breeding and disadvantage, tore that Arkansas track up in the late stages of the race. He SHOULDN'T have been able to do that base on his breeding. But he did. Look at the triads. Very low in the speed slot (12), and inclines all the way up to 21 in stamina. Projecting that endurance capability in his numbers with that performance, even though the sheets show a horse who came in 3rd, "with no late bid", the underlying reality tells a different story. Look at the speed/stamina balance inherited from his mares: Speed 10, Stamina 19. A whopping 9 point spread leaning to stamina. (Imagine if Improbable was packing that mare balance set-up!) Consider the outcome if Rosario unleashed him 10 seconds earlier than he did. Or consider adding an additional 1/8th of track for the prep itself. Did Country House have the breeding to outrun his endurance from one prep to the Derby. Absolutely positively YES based on his mares configuration. Could we assume that Country House would be okay on a sloppy track? Absolutely YES based on the replay of the Arkansas Derby. The next area to look at is the fact that this guy posted only one win, his maiden, prior to the Derby. Who wins going short? Speed horses. What is Country's optimum distance? 11+ furlongs. Every race that this horse ran in prior to the Derby, based on the overabundance of inherited mare stamina, placed him at a disadvantage against the flashy speedsters who dominated their races under 9f. Those races have nothing to do with the the ability to perform at 10f (and on a sloppy track as well). This horse was a player in the Derby as far as handicapping was concerned, as was Improbable, based off of the final prep and the numbers. Add the additional distance of 1/8th to the Arkansas prep. Did he have the breeding to continue? Yes. Was there a possibility that Improbable's numbers left him with a slight question mark in maximum endurance (underpar triads) and at a win in Kentucky? Yes. At 65-1, in hindsight, Country House was a gift.
Hindsight is 20-20, but sometimes the answers always present themselves based on UNDERLYING insight and our incredible numbers.
This is the analysis of Country House, 3 weeks prior to the running of the Derby:
This is one talented horse and he is L-O-A-D-E-D in stamina. He has Belmont Stakes written all over him and up until today (April 13th) I had all but put this guy on the back burner waiting for that race. I was actually hoping he would not secure a gate in this race so that he would be well rested for his big day at Belmont. But something happened today in the Arkansas Derby that stood out far past Omaha Beach actually winning that race on his apparent preferred surface. This guy, with his unbelievable amount of stamina, ran from the back of the pack and beat out 8 other horses on that sloppy track. This guy should have been coming up to that wire behind that entire field. That is a 2.69 stand-out. He has a certain determination that is not found too often. He has struggled to make a name for himself along the way but we all knew this was going to be the case with a horse bred like this. He should struggle against speed with his stamina mare pedigree at those shorter distance. He sat out there quietly and the further these distances go, the more this horse will shine. He has the stamina to run as far away from the rail as he needs to pass tiring horses and he will be coming up to the top of that stretch with all of his speed intact and ready to unleash. Excellent potential for board hit even though he is suited more for the June race.
Sloppy Track: No Change.