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