04/24/2016 10:29AM

Watchmaker: Kentucky Derby may not set up for closers

Wood Memorial winner Outwork isn't a pure need-the-lead type and may be asked to rate in the Kentucky Derby.

As has been noted in this space, the last four major Grade 1, $1 million Kentucky Derby preps – the Arkansas Derby, the Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass, and the Santa Anita Derby – were all fast early/slow late races.

To put it another way, these four Derby preps fell apart late after fast early paces. And the running styles that mostly filled out the top three spots in these races were pretty much what you would expect in such races. Take a look:

Arkansas Derby – The first three finishers were deep closers.

Wood Memorial – The second- and third-place finishers were closers.

Blue Grass – The first three finishers were deep closers.

Santa Anita Derby – The first two finishers were closers.

But if you think this automatically means that the Kentucky Derby will fall apart late after a fast early pace just like the four preps that immediately preceded it, think again. Other folks have already talked about it, and it is sure to be discussed more as Derby Day approaches, but it is entirely possible the Derby will have a pace personality completely different from the most recent preps.

One of the ironies of this Derby prep season is almost all of the speed horses who conspired to put such a similar, and strong, pace stamp on the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, Wood, and Arkansas Derby, have fallen out of the Kentucky Derby picture, just like they fell back in the late running of their corresponding preps.

What that has left is a Kentucky Derby field largely populated with closers; closers, I might add, who built their credentials in races with the sort of pace they might not come close to seeing in Louisville.

Of the 20 currently in the Derby on points, the only ones who could be considered speed horses are Danzing Candy, Outwork, and Nyquist.

Right here, there are three things to note:

First, the first two also-eligibles currently for the Derby are Fellowship and Adventist, and they are closers. So a change in the projected Derby pace scenario isn’t imminent.

Second, while Nyquist and Outwork are horses who are naturally comfortable on or right with the pace, they are by no means need-the-lead types. Danzing Candy looks like he might be, but Nyquist proved in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that he can perform effectively from just about anywhere, and Outwork successfully conceded the early lead when he won the Wood Memorial.

Lastly, Dave Grening reported that when Outwork worked on Friday, he worked from behind two horses, taking kickback, and did well. That might be a tip off to strategy considered for him in the Derby, and does have the potential to lessen the pace pressure.

Of course, all it takes is two horses and their jockeys to make a speed duel. You can also get a race to fall apart with just one headstrong speed horse who can’t get the distance. I’m not saying that’s all that Danzing Candy is, but that is what he was in the Santa Anita Derby when he went much too fast early, and gave way badly late.

However, on paper, the pace in this Kentucky Derby seems very different than the paces many of the more accomplished members of this field saw when they forged their credentials. Keep that in mind as the Derby handicapping starts to get serious.

Why was Stanford left alone on easy lead?

Speaking of paces, the pace in Saturday’s Charles Town Classic, won by Stanford, was curious. That isn’t something one would expect to say about a $1.25 million race, but …

Stanford certainly figured to be involved in the pace. But you also had two horses breaking from the 1 and 2 holes with a fairly short run to the first turn who, even if totally overmatched, were stretch-out sprinters with traces of positional speed. You also had a former stretch-out sprinter in post 3 with tactical route speed. And then you had Donworth in post 4, who was certainly fast enough to make the front, and whose connections said would be allowed to run “freely.”

Stanford broke right on the button. The horses from the 1, 2, and 3 posts never attempted to go. Donworth did not break on the button, was immediately taken in hand, perhaps from being in tight, but then was taken in hand even more and steered to the four or five path on the first turn – Charles Town is a bull ring; ground loss there is very meaningful – and was, at that point behind such a deep closer as Hard Aces. Incredible.

The result of all this was Stanford fell into the easiest lead imaginable. You know you’re walking up front when the admirable Page McKenney, a closer at heart, is the one prompting your pace. They went around the track one-two – shocking, I know – with Donworth managing to get third.

How easy was Stanford’s lead? The only other three-turn race like the Charles Town Classic on the card was race 3, a first-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles, in which the pace couldn’t have been suicidal since the horse who was a narrowly beaten second pressed the early lead.

Anyway, here’s a fractional comparison:

Race 3, $24,500 allowance – 23.93 seconds, 48.38, 1:13.47.

Race 12, $1.25 million CT Classic – 24.75, 48.86, 1:13.75.

The Met Mile has been mentioned as a possible next start for Stanford. I don’t think he’ll get the kind of base on balls there he got on Saturday.


Dustin Abbott More than 1 year ago
Weird year for sure. I think we end up with a very large payout with few people winning it... have been watching them at keenland and churchill thie last week or so and here is what I see. (No particular order)....

1) Mohaymen looks tired. He looks worn out late in works. And, in comparison to other horses he appears small and lite.

2) Gun Runner is aggressive. He runs really HARD late in works. He reminds me of Honor Code when you see him run in person. Lots of heart and effort. He is digging in the ground with power.

3) Mo Tom....wow. I learned alot about him. My opinion has completely changed after watchinh him work. He can run ALL DAY. He looked stronger near the end, and wasnt breathing hard. He WANTED to go more. Had he not ran into trouble twice (checked), we might be talking about the favorite. Problem is its the derby, chanced of a perfect trip are slim. But he has what it takes to win it. Faster as he goes longer and loads of stamina. Watch out for him after the draw. He has the look of hitting the board. And he is smart, he walked out and stood there looking at the track and seemed focused.

4) My Man Sam..one thing I look for each year is a horse that runs well with company. And, a set of horses with the same Trainor. My Man Sam appeared to 'compete' when the other horse got near him. He is competitive and wants to go when approached. And, his stable mate so to say, is Shagaf. Shagaf is one big horse. And could easily clear a path through this field. My Man Sam is a strong late runner. I could see a scenario where he follows Shagaf through traffic. and goes hard late like he did in his last race. Much like Dortmund did for American Pharoah last year. 

5) Nyquist. Beautiful athlete. Looks strong in his confirmation and very athletic. They are changing his workouts. He is working out in breaks. He does 4 or 5 furlongs, and then does more. They seem like they are trying to get his stamina up. He seems to be ok with it. But, we've seen horses have issues with the first race after a change. He is still at keenland about an hour up the road from churchill, and I think he would have benefited more from being at churchill on that track, but who knows. His draw is everythjng. With so many closers in the field, i think he needs a draw between 3 and 6. Anything else and Im taking him off my board. 

6) Creator. Like what I saw, and he has a nice late surge. His stride and head bob get real long and fast late. I like his late kick.

I will try to come back once I see Exaggerator, Brodys Cause

Nick Pavletic More than 1 year ago
A 1/4 mile run into the 1st turn usually ensures a quick pace as jocks vie for position and because horses get extremely hot and excited when 150,000 people start screaming as they anticipate the start. Don't count on a moderate pace to help the "speed" horses. Additionally, post position is vital to speed/stalkers who don't want to be inside and get collapsed upon before the 1st turn.  Closers won most of the preps and yet the speed horses will have a better chance with an extra 1/8 of a mile?  I don't think so and won't be using any speed in my exactas on 5/7/16.
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
There was little pace last year as the first 3 at the 1/2 mile finished 3-2-1; and there was little pace the year before as Chrome ran slower fractions than he did in the Santa Anita Derby and strolled home after spurting to an easy lead on the far turn. In 2013, the only reason there was much pace was because Palace Malice ran off due to first time blinks and being scared by the noise. There is no way a closer will win the Derby this year unless Laoban somehow draws into the race. Even then it is not likely, but there will be more of a chance for it.
Stet Dotnet More than 1 year ago
Mike you make a good point, but if you're right then we'll be treated to a very exciting finish as 10 or more horses come down the stretch in a tight pack.  I would predict a steward's headache this year....
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Lani is the freshest horse in the field and is bred to the teeth.
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
And is SLOW!

Louie Brezina More than 1 year ago
suddenbreakingnews mowing the entire field down, running rampantly down the center of the track.....If he doesn't hit the board i will buy this entire thread a beer  
BrownRiggle More than 1 year ago
Writer is first stating that the KD may not suit the closers then asks why there wasn't a speed duel in the CTC. I bet it's one of these BSF lunatics. Gun Runner  and Exaggerator will be in the top two after the running of the KD. 
Joe Trezza More than 1 year ago
Exxaggerator ran as fast as the maidens in the first race on the Santa Anita under card
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
ill go out on a limb and say i do not like NYQUIST in the derby .did not before and like him even less right now. this has nothing to do with his odds. he will be favorite and you cant blame those that bet him based on what he has accomplished this far. im going to not use him at all and if he hits the board my exotics will be toast. and the reasons are many first i believe he was fully cranked for his last race. with the million dollar bonus on the line. and he did not impress he looked like a tired unfocused horse late. he then spiked a fever lost a few days of work and his gallops have been easier than what trainer ONEILL usually does. His works have been on the slow side too. if these connections had only the derby in mind i believe they would have stayed in California and run in the Santa Anita derby or maybe gone to Kentucky early and run in the blue grass .flying across the country to Florida took out the option of a return to California then another flight to Kentucky. so they went to keenland from Florida . not Churchill were all eyes would be on this horse. i think a horse with distance limitations needs a perfect preparation to win the derby i don't think this horse has gotten it.
Joey Dekarski More than 1 year ago
I like Mo Tom ,if he gets a clean trip he s gonna be flying late ,Amoss is good and Cory is really good a t this track ,I like his comment about Mo Tom having more power then anything he s ever been on ,and the horse can run on well no matter what the pace is fast or slow.I just think with his odds and not seeing him wide open yet he s a huge value bet ,besides him and my future bets with him I like Moyhaymen ,people tossing him from one bad run on a wet track are crazy,I m amazed how people are jumping on horses who run good in the slop,If it s a sunny day in churchill ,I got  Mo Tom with MohaymaN /Nye and 2 or three more depending on jockeys and such..Good luck to all betting this is a wide open affair and I think the Oaks and Derby Double could have a huge payout....
VicCherenzia More than 1 year ago
If you like to play oaks Derby double weep no more N Rachel Valentina are a must use...weep no more is getting better with each race and Rachel v is 2nd back off a layoff with songbird out I think Rachel's v wires field with weep no more 2nd...but I wouldn't be surprised if weep no more wins
john g More than 1 year ago
Mike Watchmaker, in Derby Watch I would like to see the comments made by yourself and Jay updated, maybe at least once more before Derby. I realize the colts are not running any more until the Derby, but surely there is something more recent that could be added to each colt, just a short sentence. The last comment made about Nyquist was about the Fla. Derby which was 4-2-16. I just would like to see some more updated thoughts or comments on each colt. Thanks, John
Anthony Martinez More than 1 year ago
Throw out nyquist at your own risk. All he does is win G1s all over the country. With a decent post draw and projected pace flow nyquist should get 1st or 2nd run on these closers. The ? Remains is he  bred for distance and will he be running at top speed  the last 1/16.    California based horses have won 3 of the last 4 Kentucky derbys.