Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Derby Preps

The Standings

Next weekend’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is the last race on the points schedule, but the 2014 Kentucky Derby prep season is essentially over. Dance With Fate, reportedly unlikely for the Derby, won the Blue Grass on Saturday with a Beyer speed figure of 97. The little-regarded Danza upset the Arkansas Derby, earning a Beyer of 102. At 41-1, the colt is now the highest-price winner from trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn in the past five years, according to DRF Formulator, taking over that distinction from last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner at 38-1, Princess of Sylmar. [I called Danza the highest-price Pletcher winner ever earlier, but that’s wrong: Forty Ninth Street, a 50-1 MSW winner at Belmont in 1997 (PDF), is. Thanks for the tip/correction to @o_crunk.]

Charts, replays, and Beyer speed figures for all the winners are in the big prep spreadsheet. Here are top 25 contenders by points:

For comparison, I included the top 25 by non-restricted graded stakes earnings, or, the pre-points scale for Kentucky Derby entry, in the chart above. There aren’t too many differences: Strong Mandate and Casiguapo (#30 and #37 in points) would be securely in on earnings, General a Rod and Medal Count would be on the bubble/AE list instead of Uncle Sigh and Vinceremos.

4/14/14 Addendum: Churchill Downs’ audited leaderboard (PDF).

The CC-BB Connection

Dick Jerardi on this year’s likely Kentucky Derby favorite:

Go back six years. Other than the experience factor (it’s hard to believe that California Chrome has run 10 times …), I see Big Brown all over again, a really good horse against a far less talented and inconsistent group.

The same thought has crossed my mind. For a refresher, here’s how the 2008 Kentucky Derby field stacked up, Beyer speed figure-wise, in their final two preps and then in the Derby (listed below in order of finish):

Big Brown’s double 106-106 stood out then, and stands out now, much as California Chrome’s 107-108 Beyers do this year:

For comparison, I included the TimeformUS figures for the last two races of the top eight Kentucky Derby points leaders. On that scale, California Chrome is not the topper to date, but his figures are both consistent and easily put him within range of the “typical” TimeformUS winning Derby figure of 115. If you were only handicapping the Derby with ratings, California Chrome looks like a worthy favorite whichever numbers you use. But Brian Nadeau has a few reasons for why you might want to consider some other factors.

Noble Jerome

Noble Moon gets 10 points towards the Kentucky Derby gate, moving him to #7 in the official standings, and a Beyer speed figure of 85 for winning the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday. The Malibu Moon colt may start next in the Withers on February 1. View the updated leaderboard, chart, and replay via the big 2014 Kentucky Derby prep schedule and results spreadsheet.

Tested

The top three finishers in the Preakness Stakes were making their 10th or 11th career starts — it’s been a while since anything like that’s happened in a Triple Crown race, as Superterrific confirmed by compiling 2007-2013 results. What will be interesting to see, going forward, is how this year’s classic contenders perform over the next few months (will they stick around for fall campaigns?), and if this is the beginning of a trend toward more starts for classic prospects.

Points and Preps

Twenty days and counting: Prep season is over, even if there are still two races on the calendar that offer small Kentucky Derby points (also good for the Kentucky Oaks, which is why Pure Fun will start in the Lexington). Here’s the full Kentucky Derby point race schedule, with charts, replays, and winning Beyer Speed figures, and the official list of Kentucky Derby prospects in order of points as of April 14 from Churchill Downs (PDF). Noted — not one of the top 23 on that list started in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Java’s War is #4 in points after winning the Blue Grass Stakes with a last to first move that seemed all the more impressive because he broke slowly from the gate (and not for the first time). “I wasn’t worried,” said trainer Ken McPeek after. “He’s not a horse that’s quick out of there.” If you like him for the Derby, you should be worried — it’s an unforgiving race. Jon White has his strikes (explained) — one of mine is that a horse can’t have a penchant for creating its own trouble. “[T]his colt can’t expect to spot 19 stronger Derby opponents a head start and still win,” observes Mike Watchmaker. “He’s not that good.”

Irrelevance

Nick Kling pushes back on the Blue-Grass-is-irrelevant crowd:

Strike the Gold (1991) was the last Blue Grass winner to go on and repeat in the Kentucky Derby. None of the next fifteen dirt or six Polytrack winners went on to Derby success.

Two Derby winners came out of those final fifteen Blue Grass Stakes run on dirt. Sea Hero (1993) and Thunder Gulch (1995) finished out of the money at Keeneland, perhaps victimized by the speed bias, before going on to Derby glory.

Polytrack runnings of the Blue Grass have been similar. Street Sense was narrowly-beaten in that 2007 Blue Grass, then went on to dominate the Kentucky Derby. Since then the Derby winner has come from other venues and Blue Grass graduates have not been a factor.

Matt Gardner, looking at Blue Grass results in the Polytrack era, found that “the top 3 finishers in the Blue Grass are 13-1-0-2 in the Derby since 2007.”

Compare that to the Santa Anita Derby over the same years: The top three Santa Anita Derby finishers are 13-1-1-0 since 2007. Or the Florida Derby: 9-1-1-0. If there’s an irrelevant Kentucky Derby prep lately, it’s the Wood: The top three finishers out of Aqueduct are 10-0-0-0 since 2007.

Late Closers

Steve Haskin on pace and the Wood Memorial winner:

I’m not saying Verrazano is going to win the Kentucky Derby, and I’m not about to dissect his performance in the Wood other than to say he did show a new dimension regarding the ability to settle off the pace, and he did come home in splits of :23 4/5, :24, and :12 3/5, which not only are strong, but are fractions you see from late closers.

You can say the same about Vyjack, as Superterrific pointed out to me:

2013 Wood Memorial fractions for the top three finishers

While Normandy Invasion was flashing a little more speed than either at the end, the winner and the show horse ran the same final fraction.

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