04/17/2016 11:03AM

Watchmaker: Another fast early, slow late Kentucky Derby prep

Coady Photography
The final three-eighths of the Arkansas Derby, won by Creator, was run in a pokey 39.53 seconds.

What do the Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, and Santa Anita Derby have in common this year aside from being Grade 1, $1 million events, and the last four major point preps for the Kentucky Derby?

They were all fast early, slow late races.

The Santa Anita Derby, Wood, and Blue Grass were run and discussed in this space last week. The Arkansas Derby was the big race of the day Saturday, and it was eerie – or perhaps fitting, if you think about it – how much it was like the trio of stakes for 3-year-olds run seven days earlier.

The early fractions in the Arkansas Derby of 22.81 seconds, 46.33, and 1:10.61 were substantially faster than the corresponding first splits of the nine (count ‘em!) other routes on Oaklawn’s Saturday card. It was a pace that these 3-year-olds simply could not maintain, and the final three-eighths of the Arkansas Derby was run in a pokey 39.53 seconds.

Despite so many other route races on Oaklawn’s card, the only other nine-furlong race of the day that can be used for comparison was the Oaklawn Handicap, run just two races before the Arkansas Derby. Now, it is inherently unfair to compare the group that ran in the Arkansas Derby to good, seasoned older horses like Effinex and Melatonin. And the fact that the Oaklawn Cap had a more controlled early pace also makes comparisons tricky. But for the record, the final three-eighths of the Oaklawn Cap was 36.95, a gaping 2.58 seconds faster than the Arkansas Derby.

At the very least, Creator and Suddenbreakingnews were good enough to capitalize on the situation and finish one-two, and for that, they deserve credit. Creator is certainly improving. It took him six starts to get his maiden victory, but he has now won two of his last three starts, and his Beyer Figures have gone from 80 to 90 to the 96 he was assigned for his Arkansas Derby score. And Suddenbreakingnews, who won Oaklawn’s Southwest, also earned a career-best Beyer Saturday, getting a 94.

Whitmore, who finished third, also tried to capitalize on the Arkansas Derby pace collapse. But for the third straight time, Whitmore made a big run only to fade in the late stages, very much in the manner of a horse exceeding his current distance ceiling.

The big disappointment in the Arkansas Derby was, of course, Cupid. Cupid was so impressive winning the Rebel at Oaklawn last month. He rushed up after a slow start, set a fast pace, re-broke when it looked like he was collared in upper stretch, won going away, and galloped out powerfully. Unfortunately, Cupid’s Arkansas Derby effort was on the other end of the spectrum.

Once again, Cupid did not break on the button, and the consequence of that was he got knocked around between horses before pushing through to press the hot pace. But as early as midway through the far turn, it was obvious Cupid was out of gas. Maybe the Rebel took too much out of Cupid, but he backed up to finish 10th, while Gettysburg, who set the hot pace under Cupid’s pressure, held on to finish a very creditable fifth.

It will be interesting to see how much is made over the next three weeks over the fast early/slow late characteristic that many of this year’s final major Kentucky Derby preps carry. No doubt, countless handicapping hours will be spent looking for the horse who can break out of this box. But is that a fool’s errand when virtually everyone in this 3-year-old class is fast early/slow late?

Grades for Kentucky Derby prep races

Now that all the Derby preps are in the books, I’m going to slap grades on this year’s final preps. Note that my grades were assigned in the context of this year only (or, on a curve, if you like), and really have no connection to who I might land on in the Derby. I’m just weighing these final preps against each other.

Here goes, with brief comments on each prep:

Arkansas Derby, winning Beyer: 96, Grade: B

Comment: See above.

Wood Memorial, winning Beyer: 93, Grade: C minus

Comment: The good news is Outwork prevailed after pressing a fast early pace. The bad news is Outwork lasted over an 81-1 maiden in Trojan Nation who rallied up the inside on perhaps the deepest part of the track while crawling home with a final three-eighths in 40.61 in the slowest Wood ever.

Blue Grass, winning Beyer: 91, Grade: C

Comment: Stop me if you heard this before. The Blue Grass fell apart late, and deep closers Brody’s Cause, My Man Sam, and Cherry Wine ran one-two-three. Visually, the race was fine. But against the clock, it was weak.

Santa Anita Derby, winning Beyer: 103, Grade: B plus

Comment: The grade for this might turn into an A plus. Exaggerator just blew his field off the track. But pace implications aside, how much was Exaggerator’s performance enhanced by a sloppy track he clearly loved? And how much were Exaggerator’s victims this day compromised by the footing?

Florida Derby, winning Beyer: 94, Grade: A minus

Comment: The most interesting Kentucky Derby prep matchup in years turned into no match at all as Nyquist romped to remain undefeated, and Mohaymen was a no show, finishing fourth. The Florida Derby gets the top grade because it identified the clear favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But it didn’t get an “A” because it wasn’t that fast a race.

Spiral, winning Beyer: 82, Grade: D

Comment: It was run on a synthetic surface, not the Kentucky Derby surface of dirt, and it was a very slow race. Moreover, the first five finishers, led by Oscar Nominated, were less than a length apart at the finish, and they can’t all be champions. My grade here was kind.

Louisiana Derby, winning Beyer: 91, Grade: C plus

Comment: My grade here might be a little harsh because Gun Runner, with his positional speed (a huge asset), looked good winning as much the best, and did so on a fair racing surface. But the time was just so slow. And yet, that 91 Beyer is Gun Runner’s best so far.

UAE Derby, winning Beyer: n/a, Grade: D

Comment: By most accounts, the field Lani beat was weak, and the Beyer folks came up with an estimated fig of 83, which is soft, but a number they apparently are confident in. The first UAE Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby will be at my expense.

Tampa Bay Derby, winning Beyer: 100, Grade: B minus

Comment: This normally wouldn’t rank as a final Kentucky Derby prep, but it is for Destin, the winner, so it’s included here. This has proven to be a productive race (of sorts, anyway) as Outwork and Brody’s Cause came out of it to win the Wood and Blue Grass. But I couldn’t grade this higher than I did as a final prep for Destin because he will go into the Kentucky Derby off an eight-week layoff, and having never even run as far as 1 1/8 miles.



Tim Reardon More than 1 year ago
i still like gun runner even with his beyer rating he has heart

Jonathan Turnquest More than 1 year ago
My man sam and sudden breaking news will have good "value."  I view Exaggerators S Anita as major improvement through difficult peanut butter surface. May only get better on decent ground. Tossing out all horses in Wood.   Now a few comments on previous posts:. 1). "Horses no longer bred for stamina, they used to need only 2 weeks..." Hey, remember American Pharoah?  2). Slow preps and closers "only need to run fast enough to win"....hey, fast horses run fast. Remember Secretariat in the Belmont????  Won't be at Derby this year and will miss u all. Good luck and have fun. Jon
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
How many horses in the gate can go 1 1/4? 12-14 horses can be eliminated from Win/Place as soon as the PP's come out.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
actually this crop has quite a few ..that are not only bred to stay but are showing that they can. and some although not bred to be classic distance horses are also running like distance will be no issue. BRODYS CAUSE, DESTIN, SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS , CREATOR, MOR SPIRIT, MO TOM, TOMS READY, GUN RUNNER, SHAGAF, MY MAN SAM. are all capable of running the distance .just a question of who will be fastest. 
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago

BEYER'S for closers are complete toss's! Zenyatta consistently received lower Beyers by her standards in races restricted to Fillies. The two times she ran against boys in the B.C.C. Her beyers increased by 10-15 points. Closers run as fast as they need to.

Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
There have only been 4 FAST 3yo races this year: The San Vicente, The Florida Derby, The Santa Anita Derby, and the Tampa Bay Derby. Three of those races have Nyquist and Exaggerator as tie-ins. Destin, Outwork & Brody's Cause come out of the Tampa Bay Derby. The latter two need MUCH improvement to win the Ky Derby, and it is tough to envision Destin going in off an 8-week layoff and winning at 1.25 miles after never running a race longer than 1 1/16. So, we are left with the two probable favorites: Nyquist and Exaggerator. 
peterampm More than 1 year ago
Watchmaker gets an F for his figuring the last 3/8's of the ark d. He says the last 3/8's were run in a pokey 39.53! By WHO? simply subtracting the 3/4 time of the leader from the final time of the winner is not an accurate reflection of how the top 3 finished the race. Creator ran the the last 3/8's in 37&1, some 12 lengths better that the lazy Watchmaker calculated. This certainly gives us some insight as to why M.W. is such a lousy handicapper. His reliance on Beyer speed figures, (the single greatest source of overlays in the history of horse racing, Thanks Andy) and his inability to solve the whole puzzle by comprehensibly analyzing the race leaves him totally in the dark when it comes to picking winners. On the plus side both he and Beyer have reasonably good senses of humor.
Robert More than 1 year ago
These aren't Olympic trials. What quarters are run race to race is a meaningless comparison. You only have to win the race you're in and that's it. Creator did what he had to and paid his backers ....
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Hardly newsworthy, this realization has been in the making since the turn of the millenia, coinciding with the spread of Lasix.

Outside of American Pharoahs brilliance at 3, very few 3 y.o. triple digit Beyers in classic distance races and few above 110, none approaching 115 or consistent 120`s in the last 8+ years.
Decline is not really that gradual but readily apparent as a falling knife.

I am sure there must be charts paralleling Lasix and Beyer fig decline, younger fans should take note, the good old golden days actually were better in racing.

Now we have new sires based on one,(MacLean`s Music), three good races, (Kantharos) or three decent Beyers, (Atreides) rather than based on racing durability, distance and weight carrying ability. I would offer that this is not the case elsewhere, in Ireland UK, France, Japan, SE Asia and Aus where Lasix is not used on race days.

Beyer is the messenger and barometer of racing`s decline and  20+ years later, no change is coming, with HPBA voting in favor of Lasix, as a masking agent.

Mike, which upcoming crop of 3 yo`s will have not one single Beyer of 100 or over..... perhaps by 2020.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Uncle mo was a dominate two year old.  His kids are dominating now with much lower beyers.  It didnt take long
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
The three best sires in the world are not in America. Galileo, Frankel, and Sea the Stars
Ken Herlich More than 1 year ago
Florida Derby was A+ Nyquist is A+
Frank More than 1 year ago
Okay let me ask you this DRF - How many derby winner's has Andy Beyers picked over the last 30yrs?

Beyers is like Looney (Let It Ride)  -- He got a brother? Call him up cause I figure its in the blood!!