The history of the May race at Churchill Downs has been dominated by speed vs stamina colts. This year, we will need to bypass the advantages posed by that history and concentrate on each category individually. With the lead-up to the big day so many months away, the anticipation of this race is too great to sit back and wait.
Since the very beginning of the Derby Prep races, several young horses have stood out way above the others and with the grace of God, they will continue ahead with good health as they come into their own. Their potential is obviously above par within the group, and so it may be easy to see that they will continue to stay that course. No matter what happens along the way, these few standouts will still have the breeding, the dominating past performances and most importantly, the potential to run their best when presented with the additional track.
Distance capability will not change from May to September. The advantage in the Derby has always fallen on the Speed and Stamina entrants. This year, all categories will have an advantage. The several standouts in each category will need to be handicapped against each other, one on one, and they will be the main players for the superfecta. That superfecta will most likely run the gamut through each category this year.
As far as breeding goes, at this moment, there are 5 solid contenders. As far as past performances, there are 7 solid contenders. These guys fall within each of the categories. Since we will not be seeing a 12f race during the Triple Crown this year, the thought now becomes which horse has the greatest possibility of taking the easier trophy of all three races this year.
It would make sense that any of the distance categories could ultimately take that advantage in all 3 races, however speed will most definitely carry a bit more weight this year. Overwhelming mare stamina will not be an issue, especially in that mid-range category this year.
This Series of Articles will look at each category to find the top player within that category and the last of the series will pit the best of the best within each category against each other.
The Speed Category:
This spot always has an advantage if and only if the contender is packing mare stamina. For the Belmont this year, that dominating stamina is no longer necessary, however, it is still imperative for the Kentucky Derby. The Belmont now has become this year’s easiest race for the speediest contenders and the Preakness now will be a drop in distance later in the season which falls to his favor. The Derby has now switched to “the test of Champions” being the longest in the series and may hold no favorability or advantage within any of the categories.
The Average Category:
This category generally struggles in the Derby and finds his ultimate advantage in the Belmont. Things may flip though due to the fact that many more speed guys will enter that first leg, the Belmont, at 9f. If enough speedsters enter that gate, they may in fact alter their advantage out on the lead. Too much speed hands the advantage over and the mid-range guys do hold much more speed inheritance over their stamina peers. What becomes necessary for these “average” guys is their previous displayed speed and their ability to outrun those speed guys.
The Stamina Category:
This category also finds a huge advantage in “normal” Derby years. They relinquish that advantage in the 12f Belmont to the average guys. This year, there will be no relinquishing. Straight through, there is no question with their 10f capability, in addition, they have displayed their speed against the advantaged 3.00+ guys already along the way.
All three categories have an even playing field this year. Each of the three categories has presented a specific colt who has demonstrated both his speed and his stamina along the way and each colt has the breeding to run the 10f distance. Lead speed horses will dictate the entire race. They will set the pace, they will be in the best position, out of traffic and chaos, and they will always have the advantage based on those specific points. How the race unfolds is completely in their hands. They either tackle the distance easily, or they hand the race over to those coming from behind because they ran out of steam.
It is our job to determine who the main players are within each category and who holds the ability to capitalize off of their inheritance. Speed has the highest advantage when the colt is holding the necessary stamina to sustain it. Stamina holds the second advantage when there is a definite lead speed guy who will never get that distance. Mid-range always holds the least advantage, however, his advantage skyrockets when he has displayed his ability to bypass his inheritance and beat speed in his early races. He must have stand-out qualities that do not align with that Mid-range balance. We saw one last year.
In order to determine the top five players in the Kentucky Derby, you must look at the underlying facts of a colts past performance sheet and couple it with his ability to run the 10f. Keep in mind that SPEED is the dictator, whether that speed is easily seen in those higher end colts with high indexes or it is mixed in with colts who do not possess the stamina to endure it. Then there are the “Gun Runner” types who are dominant in stamina and display their uncanny speed running closer to the lead. There are also colts who magnificently display that speed late in their race and who were not gifted with dominance in that area to begin with. These are the ones who standout like sore thumbs and must be taken seriously. A colt who shows that ability against his breeding are the most dangerous threats of them all.
The importance of handicapping the Kentucky Derby in the three categories as opposed to simply looking at them by their gate numbers on the past performance sheet is imperative. You cannot gauge how a horse will run that race without understanding how he is built. You cannot determine if a lead guy is packing serious stamina to go wire to wire or if he is packing none of it and will fall flat at the ¾ pole. You cannot determine who your favorite’s immediate peer is. You cannot in fact handicap that race at all without splitting those guys up and placing them into their Speed – Mid Range – Stamina categories.
Each horse is entering that gate on a different playing field. How they ran at 8f is not going to give you a damn thing for the 10f distance. The only information it will give you is where the horse prefers to run in the early stages of the race. You must project each colt’s course based on his preferred position and his ultimate speed/stamina outlook within the specific category he resides in.
Let’s do a couple of exercises based on the importance of these categories and how they relate to finding the absolute top players of the Kentucky Derby. In this exercise you are asked to determine whether this is a horse you would single on top in the Derby or is he one that you would easily toss based on the facts and stats of his past performances:
This particular guy is installed as the M/L favorite at 3-1. He has run in 7 previous races. Broke his maiden first out at 6.5f at two years old. He has hit the exacta in each of his 7 races; coming in first in five of his races and second in two of his races. He runs both on the lead and in a stalking position. In one race he found himself mid-pack after getting hit early on and steadied by his jockey and still, he prevailed for the win with a flashy 104 beyer figure. His beyer figures have consistently hit that 90 to 100 mark in his last 3 races up to 9f. He also tied a track speed record in his 3rd race traveling 7f. He was sent off as the second favorite in his last Derby prep and beat the favorite by 6 lengths leaving him in the dust in the pouring rain. His last 2 workouts were phenomenal at Churchill Downs, running two consecutive bullets. The entire internet is talking about this horse. Do you single this horse or do you toss him?
I truly wish I could know your thoughts on this horse. But unfortunately you will continue to read on to the point of the exercise. The information on this horse that was provided in that paragraph above is exactly what the majority of handicappers will look at when gambling on the Derby. There wouldn’t be a ticket cast without this horse as the star to be found. His M/L odds would drop down to even money as the field loads the gate. So what happens? Was he indeed the horse to single or was he the horse to toss?
If you are like 98% of the handicappers out there you would single this horse based on his past performance sheet, the beyer numbers, the hype, the resume, and the workouts. The answer to whether or not one should toss or single lies first in the CATEGORY that the colt falls in, and secondary, what his numbers reveal. In one scenario, the horse is a definite single on top, without question, and with every confidence you can hold. In the other scenario, he is the quickest and easiest toss of the group. Being a part of the 2% of handicappers who categorize a field into their speed/stamina slots and who consults numbers will reveal a player or a non-player every single time.
Insight and numbers
Let’s first look at the colt as if he was bred to fall into the speed category. His imaginary chef index is 5.00. His mare’s index is 1.30. Remember, mare’s indexes are read differently than their male counterparts. A mare index that exceeds .90 begins that speedy mark. His mare’s full numbers are Speed = 16 Stamina = 15, Index = 1.30, Triads = 18-10-17. All speed. Those quick short workouts at Churchill Downs are a product of his speedy pedigree both top and bottom. Flying out the gate to the lead spots is natural for a colt bred like this. Stamping out 100+ beyers at 9f and under is commendable but also warranted with these configurations. It would take a monster to beat this horse along the trail, as each and every race, he entered with an advantage over the entire field. His last race was the 9f in the pouring rain where he won by 6 lengths. Remember, speed horses gain additional lengths in the rain. His mare speed number is 16, his stamina number is lower than his speed, 15. He has ZERO stamina to pull from going the additional 1/8th. Even if the Derby were run on a sloppy track, whereby he would continue to gain additional lengths, it would never be enough. His triads dip way too far down in the Classic slot which pulls from that 17 in the stamina slot over to the right. It waters down the stamina. This guy showed us his breeding along the way, it does not magically change for the distance. He is a speed demon, with optimums between 8.5f and 9.2f. That’s it. No matter how great his sheet looks, this horse would never prevail in the 10f Derby. A quick and easy toss.
Now, let’s put him in a different category. He is now sitting in the Stamina Category with a 1.40 index. His mares numbers are Speed = 3 Stamina = 16 Index = 0.30 Triads = 9-17-22. You don’t even have to think twice here. You take every penny you have and place a win bet on him, you single him on top of the exacta, the Tri and the Super. Look at the lack of inbred speed across the board. A stamina guy with numbers like this out on the lead are unbeatable. He could run the track twice over and still prevail. He will not hit a wall. He won in the rain. Horses bred like this do not win on sloppy tracks out on the lead. They don’t run bullets. If the resume of that horse fell into the stamina (OR THE MID-RANGE category for that matter), you would absolutely positively single him without a second thought.
Using common sense and relying on simple facts, look at the four colts and determine how you would place them in the order of finish. This exercise will show that simple facts surrounding the horses performances coupled with his breeding will make you dig deep to find what is truly significant and how the breeding interacts with those facts. It will reveal how simple facts coupled with breeding will allow you to simply use common sense over printed figures and stats for the 10f Derby.
Colt #1 is from the speed category. He runs close to the lead in each of his past performances. His chef index is 5.00. He sets very fast fractions and has come in first and second in all of his races, from 6f all the way up to 9f. This colt is holding triads of 19-19-20 from his mares. His beyers have exceeded 102 in his last 3 races. He demolished his opponents in his last race running 9f wire to wire. He is installed as the morning line favorite at 3-1, gate #4. His final prep was run on a sloppy track.
Colt #2 runs close to the lead and is also undefeated. His beyer numbers are not as hefty as some of the others. He is a 5.40 indexed colt. His triads are 16-15-17. He posted his best beyer figure to date in his last prep traveling 9f where he hit a 101 but did not prevail for the win. He has run both on the lead and in a stalking spot in all 6 of his past races. Installed in gate #3.
Colt #3 has a 2.20 index. He runs mid-pack usually. Broke his maiden in his debut traveling 6f. Consistently won or hit the board in his subsequent 4 races which never exceeded one mile. His 6th and final prep was at 9f. He broke badly and found himself at the back of the pack where he maintained that position until the final turn and came charging down that stretch to prevail for the win. He beat out the favorite that day which was Colt #2, and received an incredible 106 beyer speed for the effort. His chef’s profile is loaded with 44 points. He received M/L odds of 12-1 and is installed in gate #18. His mare speed is 12 and his mare stamina is 19.
Colt #4 has an index of 1.25. He flies out of the gate and usually sits mid-pack or stalks. Once he came from the back of the pack after a bad start and managed to post a second place. His beyers range from the mid 80’s early on up to his highest from his last prep race 100. He was given 7-1 odds for the Derby. His triads are 12-22-22. He has posted firsts and seconds in every race he has run. He has never run under one mile. Installed in gate #17.