05/02/2011 4:34PM

Derby by Numbers


It was only a few years ago that Kentucky Derby entrants who had not run a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure were widely dismissed as outsiders. Giacomo went off as the 14th choice at 52-1 in 2005 in part because his best Beyer coming into the race was a 98. This year, a 98 is the fastest last-out figure in the field.

Of course there's more to picking a Derby winner than being literal-minded about figures, but there's no getting around the fact that the Beyers for this year's major Derby preps are extremely light in comparison to those of the past decade. As the chart below illustrates, the four most significant preps received figures of 93 to 98 this year, an average of 95.5 as compared to a 2001-2011 average of 102 and a range of 99 to 108. (I've excluded the fifth Grade 1 prep, the Blue Grass, which would widen the gap even more, as both the quality of winners and their figures have declined sharply since the race was switched to Polytrack in 2007.)


In all, 27 of those 44 races were won with triple-digit Beyers, and in each year from 2001 through 2010, at least two of the four races got 100+ figures. This year, none.

This doesn't mean that it's fair to say quite yet this is a bad crop, or that four data points in any given year are a true reflection of the quality of the group. The 2007 average of just over 100 provided no clue as the high quality of that year's Curlin/Street Sense/Hard Spun-led sophomores. That horses are making fewer starts before the Derby is also a factor -- you would expect a horse to run faster in his 8th or 12th career start than in his 4th or 5th. And you could argue that there have already been a healthy number of very fast performances from this crop (Bind, Maclean's Music, The Factor, Travelin Man, Uncle Mo) in the last six months -- just not at nine furlongs.

Despite those disclaimers, it's definitely a different kind of Derby when the presumptive morning-line favorite, Dialed In, comes off a Florida Derby victory that earned a lowly 93 Beyer. The only other sub-99 Florida Derby in the last 15 years was the one won by Friends Lake with a 92 in 2004: He finished 15th at odds of 18-1.

So what's a handicapper to do? There are at least three strategic paths to choose from (though I expect and invite readers to suggest others) as Derby Week begins:

1. Ignore the low figs on the theory that it's all relative -- what does it matter if they're all running in the mid-90's instead of the mid-100's?

2. Take the low figures as a harbinger of especially chaotic results, play against horses such as Dialed In who will be short prices depite low figs, and shoot for a bazillion-dollar superfecta.

3. Forgive Uncle Mo's Wood Memorial as the result of a bad day or a tummy ache, decide that his best races at 2 are better than anyone's performances at 3, and be grateful for 4-1 instead of the 6-5 he'd be if he'd won the Wood by daylight.


csk More than 1 year ago
Calvin Borel has demonstrated that Churchill Downs is not a fair track - raceday luck and rider tactics become paramount - and arguably have been the biggest factor in the Derby over most of the last few runnings - and of course, many horses have had bad trips on Derby day due to the rodeo effect - that's a very long list to be sure Borel wins 3 of the last 4 years, the last 2 years with horses who did little else in their careers - Super Saver had no other Grade One wins before retiring - Mine That Bird never won another race The Europeans & Sheikh Mohammed have caught on - don't expect them back as for this year's running - would appear to be as wide open as ever exciting - but will the above factors water down the relevance of the race at some point - arguably they should do
Wayne80 More than 1 year ago
Fleet Indian is the only progeny of Indian Charlie to win a Graded Stakes at 10f, but she was a huge filly, atypical for his get. IC himself was a big horse, but he usually throws smaller types. In Mo's defense, IC has produced a few other two turn Graded winners, such as Indian Blessing, Pampered Princess, My Pal Charlie, Conveyance and Two Trail Sioux. So his really good ones do seems to be able to go two turns, but his lesser babies all seem to be sprinters. And he is out of an Arch mare, so two turn should be within his scope. If he loses I suspect his lack of seasoning, conditioning from the illness and the horrible post position will be more of a factor than his sire's distance limitations. As for those looking at Mineshaft, or AP Indy line animals, they have very poor records in the Derby. Raise a Native has been the key, and there are only two this year, the Euro Shipper, who is turf top and bottom, and the longest shot in the race.
tom More than 1 year ago
Strategy #1 is the definitely the best way. I've posted a comment on dabomhorseracingprogram.com about the '05 Derby that can PROVE it. Based on only RELATIVE SPEED and POSITION, the program predicted Giaccomo and the rest of the top four finishers. AMAZING! Please check it out.
Brett Clark More than 1 year ago
...Soldat’s work at Palm Meadows is deceptively good. He worked 5f in 1:01 2/5. What impressed me is that a solid 5 yo multiple stakes winner owned by Godolphin Stable, Regal Ransom, worked the same distance at Palm Meadows the same day and had the exact same time as Soldat. It would be foolish to leave Soldat off your tickets on Derby Day, rain or shine. Good luck to all.
SamG More than 1 year ago
The numbers matter,tho they're harder to make sense of than most years.Don't be a sucker for pedigree unless the horse has also shown some ability.Master of Hounds is bred to run all day-on turf.Unless he's a huge price,which I doubt,I think he's a complete throw out.Santiva should like the distance but I hate the way he's been prepped and he'll need to move way up to contend,I may use him on the bottoms of tri's and supers.Stay Thirsty has never run fast enough and was horrible last out,I can't use him.Most of my play will go thru ArchArchArch,Nehro,Dialed In,Uncle Mo and Midnight Interlude.Mo doesn't have the pedigree but he's good enough on his best to outrun it.Throw in Soldat on a wet track.I'll be surprised if one of those doesn't win but after Mine That Bird nothing will shock me.I'll probably use Pants on Fire and Mucho Macho Man as my C's.Twice The Appeal loves a wet track but he seems like a Sucker horse.
Matt More than 1 year ago
Soldat is going to roll this field like no tomorrow! He is the forgotten horse in this race. Wasn't he the fave in the FLA Derby? KM tried something new that day and it didn't work. Saturday he goes to the top and buh buy! He IS the speed.
Don S More than 1 year ago
In a wide open race,why not just go with the Master of the Derby (Calvin B.)who will ride the rail once again out of the 3 hole!Twice the Appeal dosen't look like a great horse but his #'s are going up,can run on dirt,working good,may like it wet also!Will be playing over #8,13,14,15,4 in the ex,tri,super!Will also bet a ex. of #3 with all!HE will be bet down to about 12/1-15/1 but he won last year on Super Saver who was also bet down but still paid very nice in the ex.,tri,super!Didn't hit the super but hit him on$50 win bet,$2 ex,tri bets!
Phinsphan23 More than 1 year ago
Master of Hounds has gone the distance and was just headed in the UAE Derby! He wasn't fading at the end and will move forward off that race. I just wish he had shipped to the States earlier. I'm going with Master of Hounds! Good Luck!
ML/NJ More than 1 year ago
Steve: Don't know if you want to do anything with this but a guy at one of the sites I visit posts NYT images from exactly 70 years ago. And that paper reported Whirlaway's Derby voctory. Everyone will find their own little nugget in something like this. For me it was that the 1941 mutual machines at Churchill could only handle ten betting interests, so the field that day included numbers 10 and 11. (11 ran.) Here's the html: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
jlombard4 More than 1 year ago
I liked your Uncle Mo play until I saw the draw. He is going to be two or three wide and three back ala Big Brown. the only problem is that he has a lot more speed to face in this one. If you want the cat bird seat at the half mile marker your gonna have to push your horse to get it. I will be rooting for Mo but probably not betting on him.