04/14/2016 12:30PM

Crist: Three-year-old crop has case of the slows


A year ago, the field for the Kentucky Derby shaped up as one of the best and deepest in many years. The five favorites were 13 for 13 as 3-year-olds, and all five Grade 1 preps were won by daylight in strong performances. Eight entrants had run Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or more.

This year, the story is entirely different.

The Florida Derby, won last year by Materiality with a 110 Beyer, went to Nyquist with a winning figure of just 94. The Wood Memorial, won last year by Frosted with a 103, was won by Outwork with a Beyer of 93. Brody’s Cause took the Blue Grass Stakes with a 91, four points lower than Carpe Diem’s winning figure a year earlier. While Exaggerator’s 103 in the Santa Anita Derby cracked the triple-digit mark, it’s still the lowest in that race in the last four years.

The five Grade 1 preps last year, including American Pharoah’s 105 in the Arkansas Derby, had an average winning Beyer of 103.8. The four run so far this year have averaged 95.2. It would take an unprecedented winning figure of 140 in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby to pull the group up to last year’s level.

Widening the scope of comparison from two years to a decade is not much more flattering to the Class of 2016. Nyquist’s winning figure ranks ninth among the last 10 Florida Derbies, which is exactly where Brody’s Cause’s Blue Grass and Outwork’s Wood stack up. Nor does looking beyond the five Grade 1s show greater depth in lesser events. The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, San Felipe, Louisiana Derby, and Gotham all earned significantly better figures a year ago than this year.

While it is clear that this year’s Derby preps have been unusually slow, it is, of course, too early to dismiss the crop or to preclude the emergence of some quick ones. It’s only April. An optimist would say that the preps have been so weak that maybe the crop is just a month behind schedule and someone is bound to jump up with a fast winning race in Louisville.

An optimistic horseplayer (and aren’t we all?) might say that the slow figures add up to a golden wagering opportunity in this year’s Derby to play against the favorites. In day-to-day racing, when the favorites consistently run better than par for the conditions of a race, one of them is the likely winner. When an entire field is literally subpar, that is often the time to bet on chaos.

Nyquist is the crux of the issue. If we didn’t bother to time races, he would look like an unbeatable superstar on paper: He is 8 for 8, the reigning 2-year-old male champion, with four Grade 1 victories over three different tracks. In last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he manhandled Brody’s Cause and Exaggerator, who ran third and fourth that day and have returned this year to post respective Grade 1 victories in the Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby.

On the other hand, his winning Beyer of 89 in that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was the third-lowest in the last 25 years (ahead of only New Year’s Day and Shanghai Bobby). Now he will try to become the third straight favorite to win the roses. The last two, however, were California Chrome, coming off a 107 in the Santa Anita Derby, and American Pharoah, with a last-out 105 in the Arkansas Derby. It turned out to be folly to try to beat either one of them. It could be very different this year with Nyquist coming into the race off that mere 94 at Gulfstream, where he had a perfect trip on the lead while only briefly pressured by a 124-1 shot. His principal opponent, Mohaymen, barely showed up.

A month ago, people were concerned that Mohaymen had run three straight Beyers of 95, suggesting that he hadn’t improved off his form as a 2-year-old and might not be fast enough to win the Derby. Now, given that a figure of 95 would have won the Florida Derby, Blue Grass, or Wood, he’s the kind of horse who may rate a second look in this unusually slow season.

Dusty Nathan More than 1 year ago
Materiality's 110 was as phony as the news is on Fox.  He never picked up his feet after that bogus number was posted. 
THE More than 1 year ago
Hey Scott..Mine That Bird never did anything worthy of note? How about Canada's 2YO Champion--eh?
Scott More than 1 year ago
With all due respect to our friends to the North...Canada isn't exactly producing greatness on a regular basis.  Without the earnings from his circumspect competition up North, Mine That Bird wouldn't have even made the field.  Under today's rules, we would have never heard of him (unless of course we were watching Canadian racing when he was 2).  
Jeff Richardson More than 1 year ago
https://youtu.be/rLihJctPoAw  A fun racing show, check it out !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

The late 80s or early 90s  so be it. My point is the steady decline of the Beyers as a flag of  what is in store for future racing in America unless we keep our best stock from being sold out-of-country.

As for the Arkansas Derby, I saw Cupid and Gettysburg, two top horses, get into a speed dual and burn themselves out at after the 1-1/16 mile. Knowing this could happen due to their need- to- lead racing habits, I boxed the top late running horses, sudden breaking news, creator and Whitmore, to run past the tiring leaders.

Mark Heidenreiter More than 1 year ago
We have had three straight winning Kentucky Derby favorites
Jeff Richardson More than 1 year ago
Bryan Waters More than 1 year ago
Ah, yes, the ole Steve Crist shuffle. Using his publication to get you to look over here while he bets over there. I'll give it to him. He's the biggest huckster in the history of American racing.
Jeff Richardson More than 1 year ago
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
By the way, look for a big race out of Cupid this afternoon in the Arkansas Derby. He is training like a horse on edge for a big performance.
Mike Hirschboeck More than 1 year ago
he's big---a big failure!
billybudd16 More than 1 year ago
Must have shot his arrow in the Rebel.
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
Sorry, Brian.
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
You're so right Brain. Beyers are simply made-up numbers. Most of the time I feel like I could make-up better numbers myself. irregardless, the times from some of these races are just plain slow. Especially Outwork in the Wouldn't Memorial.
Brian Maule More than 1 year ago
Beyers?????? What do they have to do with picking a winner? Every person who has ever witnessed a horse race has seen many races where another horse, because of a back break, being trapped, blocked,etc, etc "was much the best," yet by default the winner gets the highest beyer. I do not why the racing form writers continue to promote this nonsense. Having been going to the track twice a week for 40 years, my brain screams stop every time I hear or read this foolishness.
MsTBredRacing More than 1 year ago
Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. Look at trip notes and track conditions too. I've seen the grass listed as firm when it was as soft and slow as they could run on it. Mind boggling.