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Use Beyers to find Derby contenders
There's enough handicapping information provided by the news media a week or two before the Kentucky Derby to send your head spinning quicker than Linda Blair's in the 1973 film the Exorcist. It's the only race of the year that newspaper columnists, handicappers and general racing fans insist on attempting to decipher every handicapping angle ever invented - and then some.
For the most part, nearly all of this handicapping information rotating around is irrelevant to producing "true" contenders. If you find yourself getting caught up in all the statistical hoopla, superstitions and fraudulent information circulating around the Churchill backstretch, you're sure to get buried under a mountain of losing tickets.
Let's face it, if you study the last 127 years of results from every Kentucky Derby ever run you're sure to find enough systems and angles to choke a horse, never mind find the one that's going to cross the finish line first during the first Saturday in May. Sticking to fundamental handicapping factors, which for most serious students of the game ultimately begins with the analyzing of Beyer
Speed figures, is the one main component to keeping your handicapping both focused and organized come Derby Day. Tossing for a moment the importance of pedigree analysis, conditioning, jockey/trainer combos, and workouts, let's take a look at how the Beyer Speed figures bring some light into this year's 128th running of the Derby. This year's event is being touted by most fans as one of the most competitive and confusing bunch of three-year-olds assembled in quite some time. If there's a smidgen of truth to this statement then there's an even greater reason to focus on the Beyer figures for each participant.
Evaluating Beyer Speed figures is the first and most important step to shedding some light into each three-year-olds "true" ability.
In most races on any given racing day and on any given circuit, the best place to start your handicapping is by eliminating the entrants that are just too slow to seriously compete. The Kentucky Derby is no exception to this rule. Every year there's a handful of owners and trainers who insist on going to the big dance with an animal that just doesn't belong. Most of these connections, which are shooting for the stars with their inferior four-legged friends, would likely have a better chance of hitting powerball than being led in the Churchill winner's circle.
The Contenders vs. Pretenders
If you were to calculate the winning Beyer speed figures for the last 10 Derby winners you would come up with a par of roughly 105. Having said that, we can quickly and confidently narrow the big and bulky field down to a workable size by eliminating those horses who haven't reached this par yet, and are unlikely to do so on Saturday. Let's start by tossing the obvious.
Ocean Sound (Ire)
A lifetime Beyer of 98 back in early March in the San Rafael, (one of the usual West Coast paths to the Derby) was somewhat encouraging. His last two efforts (The Rebel and Bluegrass), however, have shown a steady decline in the Beyer scale (92, 90). This three-year-old by Mujadi is obviously going in the wrong direction.
With a Beyer top of 90 in the Louisiana Derby this average three-year-old will be doing a lot of chasing come Derby day. He'll attempt to make his usual run at the leaders and stalkers in the late stages, but it won't be nearly enough to hit the board.
Another late plodder that hit his lifetime best Beyer of 91 in his most recent effort in a relatively slow Santa Anita Derby. Jeff Mollins entrant would have to improve 10 to 15 lengths to compete here. Another toss.
Touted as a horse on the improve with a series of steady improving Beyers (41, 64, 88, 92, 93) since his debut back in Saratoga last summer. This $80,000 Todd Pletcher colt purchase appears capable of hitting the triple digit mark come Derby Day if he continues on his improving path. Even if he does I still don't think it will be enough to be a serious factor and still looks well overmatched. Toss.
This Ted West youngster did manage to hit the 100 Beyer mark in the Grade II San Rafael and regressed slightly a month later (92) in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby losing both times to Came Home. Another pretender who just hasn't proven he's fast enough.
Essence of Dubai
Frankie Dettori will be heading back to Newmarket come late Friday afternoon after his ride on Imperial Gesture in the Oaks to ride Godolphin entrant Naheef for owner Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum. If that's any indication of Frankie's vote of confidence in this Pulpit colt than we have to pass. His Timeform ratings equal approximately a 101 best on the Beyer scale in comparison, and we just can't see him competing with this bunch. Maybe next year for the Godolphin clan?
Mr. Bailey has abandoned ship for his ace William Mott and this French Deputy colt has yet to hit triple digits on the Beyer scale. Furthermore, he's yet to win a stakes race. Although he's been somewhat competitive in the three major Grade 1 preps this spring an enormous improvement to the winner's circle or even a placement within the top five doesn't seem likely. See ya later.
Is this another Charismatic in the making? I think not. Lukas taking the Lexington prep path that proved successful for his last Kentucky Derby victory, but this Gone West colt doesn't seem to have the same Beyer figures as the talented Charismatic (posted a 108 in Lexington) did coming into this race. A lifetime Beyer of 96 back in a Belmont sprint last June won't suffice with this group. A confident toss.
Last minute Baffert addition has yet to hit the triple digit Beyer mark and comes into the race after a disappointing performance in the Santa Anita Derby. He's sure to get a call for the first 2 furlongs but is likely to pack it in shortly thereafter. Michael Pegram 3-year-old belongs on the Churchill undercard.
Request For Parole
Last but not least we have our final throw out based on inferior Beyers. This colt, however, is undoubtedly the most consistent of the group and earned a lifetime Beyer of 102 in his most recent Spiral prep. Any further improvement seems like it would put him in the hunt with this year's caliber of suspect 3-year-olds. Based on the fact that Day opted for Wood winner Buddha before that race a career forward move on the Beyer scale seems suspicious. Toss and cross your fingers.
If you're confident that the Beyer speed figures hold the key to this year's top slot finishers you can easily toss almost half of the likely 20 starters. With a full field expected to hit the post, you're still guaranteed some juicy payoffs in the win, place, show and exotic pools even if two of the three prohibitive favorites hit the board. Although Came Home is suspect at the 1-1/4 distance because of pedigree limitations, we still have to give him the best chance based solely on his impressive Beyers (105, 106, 108, 111). Only Sportsman's Park Derby front-end winner War Emblem has run faster (112), and the horses posting the highest Beyer in the Derby have lost more than half of the last 10 runnings.
Best of Luck!
Dean Keppler is the DRF Press Manager for Daily Racing Form.