JC / Railbird

Derby Prospects

2015 Kentucky Derby

Preps: Schedule, results, and replays (includes Beyer speed figures)
Reference: 2015 prep and historical criteria spreadsheet
Churchill: Official Kentucky Derby website

Foundation

Tom Jicha considers whether Khozan can break the last Kentucky Derby rule, that the winner started at least once as a 2-year-old:

The greatest example of all that the curse of Apollo is nothing to scoff at is Curlin. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream then galloped in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. But the best he could do in Louisville was third.

He went on to win the Preakness, the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, the Dubai World Cup and was twice Horse of the Year. But the Run for the Roses was too tough a challenge too soon.

Bill Finley shrugs at Khozan’s challenge:

… the modern Kentucky Derby bears little resemblance to what the race was even just 15 or 20 years ago. Khozan won’t be going up against grizzled veterans of the turf wars, horses that have started 15 times or so, including seven or eight starts as two-year-olds. He will be facing horses more like him than not. Most will have had only six or seven lifetime starts, their races carefully spaced out and their trainers careful never to have pushed them too hard. As a lightly raced horse with no experience as a 2-year-old, he’s simply not going to be at that big of a disadvantage.

Previously re: the curse: 2014, 2013.

The complete list of Kentucky Derby starters unraced as juveniles (PDF).

3/6/15: And just like that, Khozan is out. The colt exited a routine gallop on Friday morning with an apparent right hind ankle injury.

The Rule

The one Kentucky Derby rule still going strong is that the Derby winner raced as a 2-year-old. It’s been so every year since 1882. I took a quick look at that record last year, when Verrazano was the unraced-as-a-2YO Derby contender, noting that since 2003, only nine of 192 Derby starters hadn’t raced as a juvenile (that’s now 10 of 211). It’s a small group. Nicole Sauer dives deeper into the numbers, looking at all graded stakes starters from 1973-2013:

During this period, 73% of graded stakes starters raced at age 2, while 27% were unraced as 2-year-olds. If “having a 2-year-old foundation” is important for graded stakes performance at 3, then we should expect a higher proportion of 3-year-old graded stakes winners to have raced at 2. This is the case, but only by a 2.2% margin: 75% of 3-year-old graded stakes winners raced at 2 compared to 25% who didn’t.

So, there’s a slight edge to having juvenile experience. A very slight edge.

Hoppertunity is the sole likely Kentucky Derby starter this year who didn’t race last year. If you like him, though, you have to like that he’s made up for that lack of early experience with five starts so far this year.

California Dreaming

There’s been something about California Chrome from the start:

“I had a dream about this colt two or three weeks before he was born, and I woke up and told my wife that (the mother) was going to have a colt, he was going to be a lot of flash to him, he was going to have four white feet and big bald face, and that’s exactly how he was,” Coburn said. “(When he was born), I looked at that colt and said, ‘This horse is going to be special — I don’t care what it takes, we’re going to do everything we have to do to make sure this horse is put in the right hands and taken care of so that he can run.’”

The colt’s owners laid out a plan, and so far, so good:

Last March, when Sherman received word that he was getting Martin and Coburn’s 2-year-old to train, Martin sent him an email. The subject line simply read: “The Road to the Kentucky Derby.” It included all the races that California Chrome needed to enter to prep and qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Sherman said he’s glad Martin detailed the story to the media because he felt folks would think he made it up.

“Every race Perry put in that plan worked out just like he said.” Sherman said. “It’s kind of spooky, kind of like a miracle because I’ve been around this game a long time and know all the things that can happen.”

With zero strikes, he’s one of 11(!) in this year’s likely Kentucky Derby field who stand “a very good chance” of winning according to Jon White’s system.

Top 25: The latest Derby leaderboard from Churchill Downs (PDF).

The Wicked Favorite

… it’s hard not to see a little Red Sox in the dark brown colt.”

If Wood winner Wicked Strong goes to the Kentucky Derby as anticipated, his story will be huge, and not only in the city he’s named to honor. It might even bump that of California Chrome, Art Sherman, and Swaps (remembered fondly in conversation by Sherman and jockey Dave Erb at the Blood-Horse.)

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.

In the Money

Courtesy Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby trainer records 1898-2012 (PDF).

Among the stats included in the file linked above are most starts and most wins by trainer. Considering just currently active trainers, both lists are topped by D. Wayne Lukas, who’s had 45 starters and four wins in 31 years. Bob Baffert is second in wins, with three from 23 starters in 16 years. Those two are also the leaders with Derby starters finishing in the money — 35% of Baffert starters have hit the board, 22% of Lukas’ starters. Todd Pletcher is second to Lukas in total number of starters, with 31 in 12 years, but fourth, with 13%, when it comes to finishing in the money.

Pletcher will likely be first when it comes to number of starters in the 2013 — he has six possible contenders among the top 24 on the latest Derby points list (PDF). Baffert has three Derby points leaders, Lukas two.

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.”

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.

← Before