05/06/2010 12:49PM

Kentucky postscripts


   I thought you might find this interesting.  Below is a table of Moss Pace Figures for the last 24 runnings of the Kentucky Derby (1987-2010).  The first column of pacefigs corresponds to the fractional times of the race (quarter, half, three-quarters, mile and final) and thus indicates at a glance the fastest-paced runnings.  The second column of pacefigs is what each of the winners ran at those calls.

Year Race pacefigs Winner Winner pacefigs
2010 88-94-97-96-F94 Super Saver 71-81-90-94-F94
2009 77-80-86-92-F94 Mine That Bird 16-58-73-86-F94
2008 70-81-90-94-F96 Big Brown 66-77-86-94-F96
2007 77-88-91-94-F96 Street Sense 34-61-81-91-F96
2006 81-88-90-92-F97 Barbaro 71-82-88-92-F97
2005 87-93-97-96-F93 Giacomo 54-70-84-92-F93
2004 81-89-92-97-F95 Smarty Jones 77-85-91-95-F95
2003 77-85-91-85-F96 Funny Cide 71-82-90-95-F96
2002 71-80-86-93-F98 War Emblem 71-80-86-93-F98
2001 83-95-97-97-F99 Monarchos 45-74-88-95-F99
2000 81-86-93-94-F96 Fusaichi Pegasus 44-74-87-93-F96
1999 70-78-87-94-F96 Charismatic 60-73-84-93-F96
1998 81-92-94-99-F95 Real Quiet 61-81-89-99-F95
1997 70-81-88-95-F98 Silver Charm 58-77-87-95-F98
1996 85-87-94-98-F97 Grindstone 35-70-87-90-F97
1995 81-88-92-95-F96 Thunder Gulch 71-83-90-94-F96
1994 82-86-92-96-F97 Go For Gin 82-86-92-96-F97
1993 79-84-90-93-F94 Sea Hero 48-73-86-86-F94
1992 71-77-86-93-F95 Lil E. Tee 53-69-82-88-F95
1991 74-87-92-93-F95 Strike the Gold 45-74-86-92-F95
1990 83-90-94-93-F99 Unbridled 48-70-88-93-F99
1989 80-89-95-96-F93 Sunday Silence 70-79-90-95-F93
1988 76-83-91-98-F97 Winning Colors 76-83-91-98-F97
1987 80-86-93-96-F94 Alysheba 49-69-89-94-F94

    From the table, the Derby pace this year ranked right up there figure-wise with the meltdown paces of 2005 and 2001, as many had predicted.

    Derby junkies may enjoy comparing pace lines of past winners.

    Comparing the mile pacefig to the final figure, the five fastest stretch runs belong to 1) Mine That Bird (by a fraction of a point), 2) Grindstone, 3) Sea Hero, 4) Lil E. Tee, and 5) Unbridled.

    The slowest stretch runs were 1) Real Quiet, 2) Smarty Jones and Sunday Silence (tie), 4) Winning Colors, 5) Alysheba and Super Saver (tie).  Perhaps it is coincidence, but Real Quiet and Smarty Jones both appeared home free for a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes before their late collapses. Sunday Silence was all over the track in the final furlong.  Winning Colors set the pace and just held over Forty Niner.  Don’t forget that Alysheba clipped heels with Bet Twice in the stretch and nearly went down.  And interestingly, Super Saver is the only other Derby winner during the above 24-year span whose final fig was slower than the mile pacefig.

     The Derby winners who had the fastest opening half-mile were 1) Go For Gin, 2) Smarty Jones, 3) Winning Colors and Thunder Gulch (surprise), and 5) Funny Cide.

     The five slowest after a half were 1) Mine that Bird, 2) Street Sense (can you say Calvin Borel), 3) Lil E. Tee and Alysheba (tie), and 5) Grindstone.  Just missing the cut were Unbridled and Giacomo.  I would have expected to see Sea Hero up there, too, but he was tied with Charismatic for eighth.

     The fastest turn moves, from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole, were 1) Mine That Bird, 2) Street Sense (another Borel exacta), 3) Real Quiet, 4) Charismatic and Giacomo (tie).   Silver Charm and Big Brown were fractions of a point behind.   


     Now for some non-pacefig related thoughts from this year’s Derby.

     Early in the week, Jerry Hissam, Calvin Borel’s longtime agent, gave me a hint of what to expect Saturday.  “You know those chart comments that say ‘shuffled back start’?  Super Saver will be shuffled back at the start, only on purpose,” Hissam said. “Don’t be surprised if you see Calvin take him 10 lengths off the lead.”

     Three weeks earlier in the Arkansas Derby, everyone had expected Super Saver to control the pace from his rail post position, especially since the only other frontrunner in the field was Line of David, and he was coming off slower-paced turf races.  But Jon Court was intent on the lead with Line of David and zipped the opening quarter in 22 3/5 seconds, giving Borel little choice but to grab Super Saver a furlong from the gate and try to rate him. Trainer Todd Pletcher had talked since winter about his desire to give Super Saver experience in racing behind other horses, and on that day, importantly, Super Saver didn’t fight Borel’s restraint and appeared to settle nicely.

      Super Saver couldn’t get by longshot Line of David in the long Oaklawn stretch, which many regarded as a strong negative, especially after he couldn’t hold a lead in the stretch of the Tampa Bay Derby.

      However, Borel said he “learned a lot” about Super Saver at Oaklawn, namely that Super Saver didn’t necessarily need the early lead.

       Super Saver’s trip in the Arkansas Derby - he sat alone in second, to the outside and several lengths behind Line of David - was a walk in the park for a habitual frontrunner compared to his Derby trip of a half-dozen lengths back on the rail.  But with Conveyance and others almost certain to set a taxing pace, Pletcher and Borel had no choice but to plot a come-from-behind strategy in the Derby and hope for the best. Super Saver rewarded those handicappers who correctly regarded his Arkansas Derby as a clue he could be taken off the pace, and who saw his Derby week training as an indication of his improving condition and his fondness for the Churchill Downs strip.

       That Super Saver peaked in the Derby is a tribute to Pletcher’s management, although Pletcher conceded afterward, “I’m not sure what we did to make that happen.”

      At several points during the winter, Pletcher commented that Super Saver was “behind schedule” and playing “catch-up.”  He didn’t elaborate on what put Super Saver behind schedule, only to say cryptically at the post-Derby press conference that, “He just needed some time to really get going as well as he can go.  There was nothing….he didn’t miss any days of training.”

      Published workouts show just how behind schedule Super Saver was in comparison to Pletcher’s other 3-year-olds.  Mission Impazible had steady workouts dating back to late November.  Discreetly Mine began his schedule of regular breezes in early December, Eskendereya in mid-December, and filly Devil May Care and Rule began with Jan. 3 workouts.  Super Saver’s first recorded workout was Jan. 24.

      The Tampa Bay Derby was not Pletcher’s original plan for Super Saver’s 3-year-old debut, but he ultimately chose that race over the Rebel Stakes and Gotham Stakes because of the easier ship from his home base of Palm Meadows.  Pletcher hinted that the 3-to-2 favorite might not win the race, saying his goal was a good effort but not a peak performance.  Ramon Dominguez, who got the mount when Calvin Borel was committed to Rachel Alexandra in Louisiana, put Super Saver on the lead and he battled through the stretch to finish a close third to Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams while failing to change his running leads through the lane.

      The Arkansas Derby was the next step in the progression, and Pletcher commented at Churchill Downs that Super Saver was getting “better and better” since that race.

      Of course, all trainers speak in positive terms of the condition of their horses on Derby week, including Pletcher, who learned his lessons from D. Wayne Lukas.  But in this case, more of us should have connected the dots.



     Final Louisville postscript: Wednesday morning of Derby week, I came across WinStar Farm’s Bill Casner and his wife, Susan, chatting intently in the Churchill Downs barn area with trainer Eoin Harty, who ran their American Lion in the Derby.

     Just a month ago, WinStar had five horses pointing for the Derby.  Drosselmeyer’s trouble in the Louisiana Derby put him too far down the graded earnings list, but WinStar had still been poised to become the first owners ever to start four horses in a Derby until Rule was pulled out a couple days earlier due to lackluster training.  Even so, three starters was certainly nothing to sneeze at, so I eagerly approached the Casners to offer my congratulations.

     Interrupting their conversation (my first faux pas), I thrust my hand toward Bill.  “I just want to shake hands with the hottest man in America,” I said.

     Casner shook my hand but looked at me with a crestfallen expression, saying nothing.

     “Is everything okay?” I asked.

     “No,” he replied.

      Only minutes earlier, Casner and his young trainer Shannon Ritter had seen the X-rays of the condylar fracture in Endorsement’s ankle.  Now WinStar was down to two Derby starters, and many had regarded Endorsement as their best Derby hopeful.

      Casner was literally on the verge of tears, not just for WinStar, but also for Ritter, who had been so enthusiastic about the prospects of saddling her first Derby starter.

      Only five days before that, a crushed Pletcher had to announce that his leading Derby candidate, Eskendereya, would miss the race.

      Seeing Casner and Pletcher hoisting the Kentucky Derby trophy was yet another reminder of the schizophrenia of thoroughbred racing, a game in which the heights of jubilation and depths of despair are so closely intertwined, they can seem to run together in one continuous blur of emotion.