JC / Railbird

Derby Contenders

Derby Profiles

Four to read this Kentucky Oaks day: The New York Times catches up with Stonestreet Farm’s Barbara Banke, co-owner of Carpe Diem. The Wall Street Journal talks to Kerry Thomas, whose study of racehorse psychology adds a rich dimension to Kentucky Derby handicapping. (His profiles of this year’s field are available on Brisnet.) Bloomberg meets Tapit, the $300,000 sire. So sweet: Dortmund’s backstory will make you say “Aw!”

Mike Welsch’s observations on the 2015 Kentucky Derby field are now up on DRF (subscription only). I’m on the Dortmund bandwagon, and so was pleased to read the noted works-watcher’s comments on the Big Brown colt: “[H]e really seems to be flourishing since his arrival in Kentucky.” Fantastic.

His final Derby work, completed at Santa Anita, was powerful:

For such a big 3-year-old, he accelerates with ease:

Dortmund is a huge horse, 17 hands tall. (The same as … Zenyatta.) There’s thinking among handicappers that he is too big to adjust as the Derby chaotically unfolds. Baffert disagrees vehemently. “He’s quick, he’s an athlete,” the trainer says. “And he’s got an incredible stride.” Some experts have compared Dortmund to Point Given, who was also huge, but Baffert says, “[Point Given] took a while to get going. That’s not Dortmund.”

Needing time to gear up is so not Dortmund’s style that he’s expected to be up front in the Kentucky Derby, per TimeformUS’s pace projector:

TimeformUS pace projector for the 2015 Kentucky Derby showing Dortmund, #8, on the lead

Better than Post Zero

Less than 24 hours out from the Kentucky Derby draw, and there’s already a change to Saturday’s line-up: Stanford has scratched, also-eligible Frammento is in. Here’s the brief statement from the Churchill Downs press office:

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards were informed Thursday that #11 Stanford would be scratched from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby 141. The defection means #21 Frammento has drawn into the field.

Stanford drew post 11. All the horses after him in the gate will move one over, and Frammento, wearing a #21 saddlecloth (lavender — pretty), will break from post 20 (mercifully bringing an end to the jokes about Far Right breaking from the far right). “That is a lot better than Post Zero!” said trainer Nick Zito.

The historical criteria spreadsheet is now current for the 2015 Derby field.

There’s also a small update to the 2015 Derby prep schedule and results: UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij has been given an estimated Beyer speed figure of 97 for the race. Andrew Beyer describes how that number was determined:

Randy Moss, the NBC commentator and a member of the team that calculates Beyer Speed Figures, argued persuasively that Prince Bishop’s winning figure should be 112.

His reasoning: California Chrome had earned a 113 in the best race of his career, 108 in his second-best effort. In Dubai, he had a difficult trip, parked wide on both turns, and surely didn’t run his best number; 108 would make sense for him. If Prince Bishop got a winning figure of 112 — four points higher than California Chrome — the numbers for the third- and fourth-place finishers would make sense, too. In the U.S. Candy Boy often earned figures around 100; if the winner of the World Cup had a figure of 112, Candy Boy’s would be 99.

Give or take a point or two, the figure of 112 is right for Prince Bishop. And because Mubtaahij was 15 points slower, his winning figure was 97.

Make of that, and Mubtaahij, what you will — there hasn’t been a Kentucky Derby starter coming out of Dubai since 2009 when the 1-2 UAE Derby finishers Regal Ransom and Desert Party ran eighth and 14th. Contenders via Dubai are always a wild card — how will the travel and a mere five weeks between the two races affect the horse? It’s a lot to ask — California Chrome, luxuriating in Newmarket since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup, was just ruled out of an anticipated start in the Lockinge Stakes on May 16.

“He took a long time to get over the trip,” said trainer Rae Guest, who’s hosting California Chrome while he’s in the UK. “It was a long way from California to Dubai, then racing and coming here, it’s a lot for a horse to take in in one go … it would have been a rush to get him ready.”

Mubtaahij appears to be handling the experience. The Dubawi colt went for an three furlong breeze in :37.40 this morning with rider Christophe Soumillon up. “It was a very easy work just to stretch his legs,” said trainer Mike de Kock. “It just gets them breathing a little bit deeper, gets the blood oxygenated, lets them stretch and get the circulation going into the muscles.”

This Kentucky Derby will be Soumillon’s first, and the jockey — excited about his shot on Saturdayhas been studying (DRF+):

“I looked at the last 30 Derbies a couple times to see how you win it, but what I learned is there is no sure way,” Soumillon said Wednesday after taking Mubtaahij on a measured tour of the Churchill main track. “You need to be a good judge of pace, but you also need to respect your horse and ride for him. You need to be confident and clever — I saw some favorites that took the lead in the backstretch and stopped late. It’s more easy to lose this race than win it, for sure.”

That last sentence is so true, for handicappers as much as riders.

Links: It’s perfect for Kentucky Derby parties! Get the Hello Race Fans cheat sheet. How many strikes does your Derby pick have? Jon White is back with his system for 2015. If you like Materiality, forget Apollo. “With most stats of this sort, the curse is not on the horses.” Apparently this happened:

Firing First

After finishing second to Dortmund in the Los Alamitos Futurity last December and then the Robert B. Lewis in February, Firing Line came back to win the Sunland Derby on Sunday by 14 1/4 lengths, a performance that earned him a Beyer speed figure of 97 and a TimeformUS figure of 111. With the final round of Kentucky Derby preps beginning on March 28, each worth 100 points to the winner, here are the 2015 prep schedule results so far.

Trainer Bob Baffert wouldn’t say which of his top Derby contenders, juvenile champion and Rebel winner American Pharoah or undefeated Dortmund, is better when asked — “That’s like asking me which kid I love more,” he told Ed Golden — but Bill Finley has no need for such tact:

American Pharoah is a brilliant horse. Dortmund is a grinder. He’s tough and game and somehow he always has his nose in front at the wire, but nothing he does takes your breath away. I’d be shocked if he proves to be the better of the two Baffert-trained stars.

I don’t know — a grinder who can make a horse capable of a 14 1/4 length win work hard for second, not once, but twice, is kind of brilliant in his way.

Chrome Draws #5

The 5-2 morning line favorite will break from stall #5. Now that Kentucky Derby post positions have been drawn, the 2014 Derby historical criteria spreadsheet is ready for your handicapping reference. View the field for 2014, plus full fields going back to 2003; the winners and top three finishers going back to 1998; or the last 16 winners’ prep schedules (including workouts).

The 2014 Kentucky Derby prep schedule and results, with replays, charts, and prep winners’ Beyer speed figures, can be found here. You can see which Derby starters are exiting the four most productive preps on Hello Race Fans.

5/1/14 Update: Trainer Bob Baffert scratches Hoppertunity due to a foot issue, and Pablo Del Monte draws in. He’s a maybe for Saturday, tweets Jonathan Linter: “Trainer Wesley Ward says no guarantees Pablo Del Monte runs in the #kyderby Saturday because it would mean breaking from the outside post.”

More links: Jon White’s Derby Strikes column is upget free Kentucky Derby past performances from Brisnetwatch Mike Welsch’s Derby clocker reports.

Who’s Your Derby Pick?

A handy shortlist/chart of who likes* who for the 2013 Kentucky Derby:

Also handy, and great for parties: The Hello Race Fans Derby Cheat Sheet.

*Click on the links in the left column for more info on things like White’s Derby strikes system, which ranges from zero (no strikes) to four (a statistically bad bet), and what Welsch saw at Churchill Downs this week.

**Thomas Herding is a rich, idiosyncratic form of analysis covering the Derby contenders’ “emotional conformation.” The horses ticked above in column three reflect my interpretation of the Thomas profiles, which appeared on Kentucky Confidential in 2011-2012, and are available on Brisnet this year.

Ride of a Lifetime, In the Morning

Spare a few moments in praise of the exercise riders who gallop Kentucky Derby contenders, often from the start of their racing careers:

As is the case with grooms and hot walkers, these individuals are not listed on the official race chart, or in the program, or in most of the media coverage leading up to or following the big event. There will be no trophy or postrace TV interview on a national network for the one whose horse wins the Derby. Ask how they feel as they gallop their charges beneath the Twin Spires, however, and every one of them will tell you — in the days leading up to the big event, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

It’s Derby Time

And the prep and historical criteria spreadsheet is up for 2013.

The spreadsheet contains three pages for your reference: The Derby fields page, which includes historical criteria information for all starters dating back to 2003; the in-the-money page, which includes information just for Derby winners and placed horses back to 1998; and the winners’ preps page, which lays out the race and work schedule for each Derby winner back to 1998.

New this year, inspired by Left at the Gate, is a column that that includes the number of starts each contender made as a 3-year-old pre-Derby, next to the column that includes the number of total career starts.

Every Derby winner since Street Sense in 2007 has won off a two-race prep schedule; 2012 was the height of short pre-Derby campaigns in this era, with nine contenders making their third start of the year in the Derby (and one making his second start of the year). This year, five starters will enter with two preps — Java’s War, Overanalyze, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and Mylute — and one, Lines of Battle, with one prep. Curiously, of the two-prep bunch, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and Overanalyze also haven’t surpassed their top 2-year-old Beyer speed figures as 3-year-olds. (Nor have Vyjack and Frac Daddy, with three preps each.) Since 2007, there have been one to five starters each year who raced as 2-year-olds but didn’t exceed their juvenile best Beyer in their prep campaign, and all but one finished out of the money. Street Sense is the lone winner since 1998 striking out on that measure — but he did earn a figure of 108 winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Revolutionary, etc. can’t make the same claim.

More: Derby prep results and replays / Hello Race Fans’ Derby cheat sheet / Jon White’s Derby strikes and selections / Derby by the speed figures / Mike Welsch’s final Derby Clocker report from Churchill / Andrew Beyer’s analysis

Oh, Hey …

Kentucky Confidential returns for Kentucky Derby week on Sunday.

Speaking of the Derby, this year’s historical criteria spreadsheet is running a little late, but can be found here next week. [5/2/12 UPDATED! Now with post positions, equipment changes, jockey changes …]

The Spaceman is a little more on the ball: Gene Kershner is out with his annual contender spreadsheet, which includes info like historical post position stats. (That’s the kind of stuff that can really help you geek out.) Bonus: He tracked down the saddlecloth colors for this year’s Derby AE list.

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Watchmaker wrote about the decline in triple-digit Beyer speed figures in Derby prep races. Bodemeister did get a 108 for the Arkansas Derby (see all the prep race results), but this year’s Derby prospects haven’t reversed the trend I posted about last year.