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.
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.”
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:
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.
That fewer Kentucky Derby prospects are earning 100+ Beyer speed figures in preps hasn’t gone unnoticed (see: Trending Down, 2011; Mike Watchmaker 2012), but it’s still a little odd to realize that not only did the last four Kentucky Derby winners not post a single triple-digit figure in their two-prep campaigns, but hadn’t done so in their entire pre-Derby career. Since 2009, only one starter with a 100+ Beyer as a 3-year-old (out of 13) has even finished in the money (Bodemeister, 2012).
With two significant preps remaining, the four highest winning Beyer figures of the Derby points races so far belong to Goldencents (Santa Anita Derby, 105), Itsmyluckyday (Holy Bull Stakes, 104), Verrazano (Tampa Bay Derby, 101, down from his previous high of 105), and Super Ninety Nine (Southwest Stakes, 101). The winning Derby Beyer has gone down by a point or two every year since Mine That Bird’s 105 in 2009, with I’ll Have Another getting 101 last year. Will the winner this year make like Giacomo and get 100?
“We’ll have to answer all those Apollo questions,” Pletcher said, after describing Verrazano’s debut Jan. 1 and his projected route to Churchill Downs. Indeed, the undefeated Wood Memorial favorite broke his maiden on New Year’s Day. If he gets to the Kentucky Derby, he’ll be attempting to become the first horse who hadn’t started as a 2-year-old since Apollo to win the Derby. That was in 1882.
Every other Derby rule has been broken, but raced-at-2 still holds. Earlier this year, handicapper Jon White wrote about its 137-1 record and noted that:
Going all the way back to 1956, horses who did not race at 2 are a combined 0 for 49 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, just five horses who did not race at 2 managed to even place or show in the Run for the Roses …
The 0 for 49 in 56 years stat points up a weakness in the rule — when we talk about contenders who didn’t start as 2-year-olds, we’re talking about a small group, even in recent years. Going back to 2003, only nine starters out of 192 didn’t race as juveniles. And of the five unraced-at-2 starters since 1956 who finished second or third in the Derby, two did so in the last five years.