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If recent history is an indicator of what to expect one week from today, the winner of the 148th Kentucky Derby will be on or close to the lead. Thirteen horses in the field are designated E (Early) or E/P (Early Presser). Fourteen if you include Early Voting who is likely to skip the Derby and run in the Preakness. Of those, only five pass the Final Fractions Theory Test. Since 1990, 27 of 30 winners either went the final furlong is 13 seconds or less OR they completed the last three furlongs in 38 seconds or less at a mile and an eighth. Epicenter, Zozos, Early Voting (if in), Taiba, and Messier meet both the E or E/P and Final Fractions criteria.
Now, to complicate this picture even further, 27 of the last 30 winners have a best Beyer speed figure of 95 or above. Epicenter, Zozos, Taiba, and Messier meet all three criteria.
We could go on, but I can feel your eyes starting to cross. So let’s talk about something besides numbers.
Here are a few factors that will absolutely affect the outcome:
Clean Break: The heartbreak of getting slammed at the gate can dash the hopes of a great horse on the first Saturday in May. In a smaller field, overcoming a gate incident is much more likely than when nineteen of your buddies are in front of you.
Trip: In a twenty-horse field, things do not always go your way. In fact, they rarely do. Look for horses that have proven flexible running styles and have overcome adversity (troubled trips).
Distance limitations: Pedigree is a pretty good predictor of routing ability. However, I want a horse who has competed at a mile and an eighth or more and was holding or improving his position as he reached the wire.
Trainer: Some trainers have a winning record at Churchill Downs in the most exciting two minutes in sports, and some do not. I will never rule out a good horse because of the trainer’s Derby record, but it is certainly worth considering.
Jockey: As with the trainer angle, one must at least look at the Kentucky Derby race record of the jockey. Never let anyone tell you the jockey is not a factor in any race…especially this one.
Post Position: Since 2000, half of the winners came from post 13 or higher. Although the inside horses have a shorter trip, the outside horse often experience less bumping and traffic issues.
Track condition: Some horses seem to be born to run in the mud. Others appear to struggle getting and keeping their footing. Pedigree does play a role in this situation. However, past performances and works are a much more reliable indicator of how a horse is going to take to an off track.
Derby Trail: More often than not, at least reccently, the Kentucky Derby winner takes the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby, or Bluegrass Stakes route. We are less likely to get a winner from Aqueduct, Tampa, Fairgrounds, or Turfway. Of course there are exceptions, such as Animal Kingdom and Mine that Bird. But the tougher route to the first Saturday in May typically produces the winner.
Having said all that, I feel that tactical speed may be the key to a win this year. I’m not certain there is a horse who will take this group gate to wire.
Despite his trainer never winning a Kentucky Derby, his jockey being winless in the race since Orb in 2013, and the Fairgrounds prep race route, I still like Epicenter a lot. And, he definitely has tactical speed. Barring some crazy in-race episode, I feel he is solid to hit the board. And, despite his slow numbers in the Florida Derby, I love the grit, pererverance, and ability to overcome trouble by White Abarrio. I think his odds will be quite juicy.
Of course, we cannot dismiss the Yaffert (Yakteen/Baffert) runners, Taiba and Messier. They have faced short fields and Taiba, in particular, is very lightly raced; but, leaving them out of the equation is not prudent. Any horse Baffert has campaigned is dangerous.
Zandon seems to be the buzz horse off of his work yesterday. It was impressive. So leaving him off your ticket might be risky business as well.
Brad Cox sends a trio and Todd Pletcher has two…maybe three. They could easily make some noise.
Finally, the horse most likely to either be thoroughly exhausted or fit as a fiddle is the Japanese horse, Crown Pride. They are working, galloping, and doing figure eights with this horse in the most unconventional manner I have ever witnessed. Apparently it has been successful for them recently, as they won two Breeders’ Cup races and five races recently at the Dubai World Cup in March. If it rains, I do not think he will like the track. But as of right now, no rain in the forecast for May 7th. That, of course, can and probably will change. After all…this is Kentucky!
Happy wagering and Happy Derby to all. Thanks for reading.