JC / Railbird

Derby Prospects

2015 Kentucky Derby

Preps: Schedule, results, and replays (includes Beyer speed figures)
Reference: 2014 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).

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