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Handicapping - Pedigree - History - Dosage

Spotting Derby Contenders


With the 2019 Kentucky Derby Prep season upon us there is never a better time to start differentiating between those colts who are standouts for the specific prep and those that are potential players for the Kentucky Derby itself. The two do not go hand in hand, especially when it comes to the early prep races. 

The single most important thing to cashing a Superfecta in the Kentucky Derby is in understanding that no matter how spectacular a colt looks when he crosses the finish line in an 8f prep race, he must be packing the right combination of inheritance for his 10f May race to even be in consideration. This is the single most important ingredient to having a successful bet placed in the big show. As each year passes and one looks at the top 5 horses to hit that wire in the Derby, doesn’t it always seem so blatantly obvious in hindsight whereas it was the hardest puzzle to untangle just the week before?

This is because we are geared as handicappers to place judgement on past performances which do not take into consideration the distance factor. No matter how impressive any colt is leading up to the big day, if he does not have it within himself to travel 10f in the same manner that he showed while traveling 9f, another colt who finally has the opportunity to travel at his optimum will surely pass him before the final turn. It takes a strong handicapper to cross out a horse from a big race who has shown talent along the way, but even more so, it takes a strong handicapper to consider one who did not shine as brightly along the way, one who was waiting to perform at his highest potential at the 10f distance. You will not find this spotlight on a past performance sheet. You will find it be consulting his pedigree and in the combination of his speed/stamina balance.  

If you look closely at your own handicapping ritual, most all will start with isolating their top contender(s) and focus strictly on their top picks. Most times this is based on how magnificent they ran leading up to the big day and also on the spectacular high beyers that stand out on that Past Performance sheet. We look at the top guys first and since they all performed well enough to secure a gate, each one has something that could potentially put them into contention. This leads us to a continuous struggle and we circle back and forth around the field in a daze. Only 4 will hit the board, which mean 16 of them will struggle at this distance in this race for any number of reasons. 

The number one reason will be that they could not sustain their speed traveling the 10f distance. No matter how impressive their last race was and no matter what Beyer they posted and no matter how well they appear to be traveling in their workouts at Churchill, if they do not have the proper peed/stamina balance they will not hit that board. Instead of isolating your top contenders at the beginning, one must isolate the pretenders at this distance and cross them off without hesitation. Getting the field down to a more manageable set of maybe 9 or 10 contenders begins with the bottom, not the top. It is actually opposite of what we are geared to do otherwise. 

Isolating a pretender is two-fold. This has to do with what the weather has in store on that day. A colt may be an easy toss on a clean sunny day but he may in fact be a player if the track is sloppy. The two factors MUST be considered when you work that PP sheet. In other words, a few simple markings will be a major guide – Rain Yes – Rain No – Clean Yes – Clean No – or neither which is a total cross out altogether. When working on your Derby in the early stages of the preps be it for Derby Futures bets or simply because you are a die-hard enthusiast for the game, one can easily begin to distinguish who may be a player come the big day with emphasis on the weather bias of the first Saturday in May.

The big Pretenders:

The most disadvantaged and unlikely threat in the Kentucky Derby are colts with a Chef index between 2.20 and 2.90. These are the very ones who excel in the 12f Belmont stakes. The main reason is because these colts are not equipped with the right amount of inherited high speed at 10f but this allows them to sustain a more consistent run going 12f when the speed guys run out of steam. The first order of business is to isolate these 2.20 to 2.99 guys. This is where the crossing off should always begin. This is where the narrowing down begins. The ONLY reasons to hold onto any colt with a chef index that falls into this category would be if one is holding a very high amount of total points (40+) or if this colt has shown an extreme degree of dominance along the way. If either of those two criteria do not hit the mark and no matter how highly you view them, they are not going to perform at the 10f distance as they did in their previous performances. 

You must determine under what circumstances would lead you to hold onto any colt with a chef index between 2.20 and 2.99 for the Kentucky Derby and when it would be appropriate to cross them off with a second thought. This category should always be the very first step in the handicapping process for the Kentucky Derby. 

Let’s take some examples of a few highly regarded starters from years past who were no doubt part of your line up.

Palace Malice:

Chefs DP = 4-5-11-0-0 (20) DI = 2.64   CD = 0.65

Mare Profile = 2-5-0-11-8   Speed = 7   Stamina = 19   Index = 0.33   Triads = 7-16-19 

Prior to the Kentucky Derby, this guy threw in only one bad performance in the Louisiana Derby. He consistently hit the board in all others. Highly regarded on the trail and although he was nosed out in his final prep in the Bluegrass, he solidified his talent among many handicappers as a player for the Derby. His inheritance specifically told the story of his fate for the Derby (and the Belmont as well) prior to the race but those who do not consult the numbers and only consult PP sheets seal their fate as well.

These numbers are so telling and so obviously laid out that any person who does not particularly grasp everything concerning dosage could still easily discern how this guy would perform in his upcoming races.

The number one item to focus on first is the 2.64 chef index. This should always be the first number isolated. What would be the reason to hold onto this particular horse with such an “average” and “middle of the road” chef index? For a clean track scenario the answer would be a YES to hold onto him as part of a Top Ten. His consistent performances of hitting the board going shorter and beating out other speed horses along the way is a positive with that index. The fact that a good number of very high indexed horses (an enormous amount of speed without the stamina to sustain) are in contention and the point spread of 8 huge points separating his stamina gained from his mares would allow him to continue on a clean track when the speed guys falter at the top of the stretch. On a sloppy track he would be a definite NO. The speed numbers are not there. The index is completely wrong, the triads are showing NO SPEED which is a major requirement for the slop. His Chefs points total are too low. Toss and don’t look back. He is going nowhere on a sloppy track at 10f. However, you must put him in your back pocket for the Belmont Stakes. The perfect Chef index for that race is 2.00 to 3.10 which he has. Extremely high point spread between the mare speed and stamina, 8 point difference is massive and the triads begin low in the sprinting slot and continue to incline to the longer distance slot. Everything that was “the tell” for this horse is laid out in plain sight prior to the races for all to see. Palace Malice came in 12th in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track. He won the Belmont Stakes.


DP = 9-0-17-0-0 (26) DI = 2.06   CD = 0.69

Mare Profile = 6-7-6-8-6   Speed = 13   Stamina = 14   Index = 0.96   Triads = 19-21-20

This guy went undefeated prior the Derby and posted serious beyer figures along the way. He was one of the most exciting runners to witness from that crop. His final prep in the Wood Memorial stamped Verrazano as a serious threat in the Derby and he went off at odds of 8 to 1. I do not believe that anyone had him off of their Superfecta tickets and if that track was clean and fast on Derby Day we all would have had a major contender on our side but the weather told us to cross him out. Most likely, we did not.

These numbers were magnificent for a clean track in the Kentucky Derby. The chef index is under the magic 2.11. His CD is low, his mare index is giving him the extra speed and the high triads across the board are spectacular. A definite Yes on your PP’s for a clean track would be in order but a huge NO for rain. The chef low index coupled with that lower .69 CD is not conducive for a sloppy track and 9 times out of 10, a colt with these types of chef configurations will have absolutely no advantage when it comes to the slop. The point being that one should never marry a contender with such strong conviction because the bias could change on a dime and leave your top contender with no advantage at all. Had this edition of the Derby been a clear sunny day, Verrazano would not have come in 14th place.


DP = 12-2-13-1-0 (28) DI = 2.73   CD = 0.89

Mare Profile = 8-2-2-8-6   Speed = 10   Stamina = 14   Index = 0.91   Triads = 12-12-16

Another undefeated colt in 5 starts leading up to the Derby, this guy went off at 8 to 1 odds as well. His past performance sheet was fantastic and beyers were right on target. He was also most likely a part of most bettor’s Superfecta tickets that day because of his perfect constancy and his stellar performance in his final prep. Based on his dosage numbers, this guy should have been an easy toss within 5 seconds of looking them over. At first glance these numbers are horrendous for the 10f distance no matter the bias of the track or the weather. Of course, that 2.73 index is the first pitfall. The second is the configuration of the chef profile itself. 12-2-13-1-0. Notice the obvious split between the 1st slot (Brilliant sprinting number) and the 3rd slot (Classic distance) – that split is the tell-tale sign where the horse will gravitate to the center of those two numbers and water down any stamina gained from those chefs. The third and most telling is the triads. They are well below par for the Derby. Gemologist came in 16th place in the Derby on a clean fast track. He was undefeated, highly regarded and a monster prior to his quest at 10f and the inheritance shown in his numbers told the entire story prior to the starting gate.

Stay Thirsty

DP = 4-6-16-0-0 (26) DI = 2.25   CD = 0.54 

Mare Profile = 3-8-2-5-8   Speed = 11   Stamina = 13   Index = 0.70   Triads = 13-15-15

Even though this guy struggled in his final prep, he was still among the top 10 contenders in 2011 and was even considered by many as the one to beat. One of the easiest tosses from that group of contenders that year, Stay Thirsty had a set of mare numbers there were at the very bottom of the heap underneath that dreaded 2.25 index. Many bettors overlooked his poor performance at Gulfstream and still held onto his stellar performance at Aqueduct in the Gotham. The main point here is that no matter how well a horse performs along the way, no matter how great his prior beyers are in any given race, the inheritance for the 10f in the Derby must be the number one priority always.

Battle of Midway

DP = 10-14-17-2-1 (44) DI = 2.83   CD = 0.68

Mare Profile = 8-2-2-11-5   Speed = 10   Stamina = 16   Index = 0.87   Triads = 12-15-18

With 4 races leading up to the Derby, this guy showed absolute consistency in being able to either win or hit the board against the speed he was entered against no matter the distance. His 2.83 chef index shined a spotlight on him as one who was able to run passed that average middle of the road number. Going off at 40 to 1 in the Derby, a longshot without a ton of bells and whistles other than his absolutely amazing Chefs profile which consisted of a combined 44 points. On a clean fast track, there is a strong possibility that he would have been successful, but on a sloppy track he was an absolute must use. Notice how his chef profile stays strong and high across the Brilliant, Intermediate and Classic slots which tells you that these numbers in his inheritance will NOT get watered down. He may not be as flashy as some of the major players but he is even across the board and he is loaded with serious chefs who would allow him to romp in the slop going 10f. Even though his triads leave plenty to be desired, when a colt is packing that many chef contributors, his mares generally do not even come into play. A combined chef profile total over 40 points is an absolute must use if the track ends up sloppy no matter what odds he has. Battle of Midway beat out Classic Empire on a sloppy track to finish third.


DP = 2-8-11-0-1 (22) DI = 2.38   CD = 0.45

Mare Profile = 10-1-1-6-10   Speed = 11   Stamina = 16   Index = 0.81   Triads = 12-8-17

In the 6 races prior to the Derby, Whitmore displayed his talent by winning or hitting the board in 5 of them. In his final prep, the Arkansas Derby, his speed was spectacular and the fact that he bobbled the start and was able to move from 10th to 3rd to be in contention made him stand out as one talented horse going into the big race. As a 30 to 1 longshot with his resume coupled with his displayed speed seems reasonable, however the numbers indicated that Whitmore had absolutely no shot in the Kentucky Derby rain or shine. The 2.38 index, again, the first pitfall. The horrifying split triads the second pitfall. Lastly, the mare profile 10-1-1-6-10 splits somewhat but does lean to stamina which means that Whitmore did have the opportunity to sway to stamina but 9 times out of 10 they never ever sway that way. The speed basically always takes over and to try to beat the inheritance depicted in the numbers usually always fails. The triads say it all. Whitmore came in dead last. This edition of the Derby saw every single 2.10 to 2.99 entry fall to the bottom of the order of finish.

There are too many examples like those above. When following the performances of the contenders in the Derby preps, the first thing to note is the 2.20 to 2.90 winners and the In the Money horses. These are the guys that easily stand out as the ones who will ultimately struggle in the Derby unless there is something on the outer rim that you can grab onto. No matter how highly regarded or how low their odds go along the trail and for the Derby itself, these guys generally have no shot unless you give them a legitimate excuse with their breeding against the powerhouse speed guys. They will deceive you along the trail. They will hit that board consistently up to 9f. They will stand out along the way just enough to punch their tickets. You will be tricked into placing Futures bets on them. You will stick with them through thick and thin. But they most likely will let you down come Derby day and when you abandon them afterwards, they will come back to bite you right on your butt in the Belmont. And that is the truth. 

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