“They’ve turned the Kentucky Derby into a guessing game,” [Thoro-Graph proprietor Jerry Brown] fumed. “The introduction of synthetic tracks has created mass confusion among handicappers. In the Derby, you’re left to guess whether a horse can handle dirt after running on synthetics.
“This is an absurd situation to create for people who bet the game seriously. It’s tough enough to beat it with good information and rational thinking, but now you have situations where it turns a race into pure guesswork.”
Actually, the synthetic-to-dirt surface switch seems to be one of the more predictable elements in handicapping the Kentucky Derby in recent years.
1:30 PM Addendum: Dean smartly notes on Pull the Pocket that when it comes to assessing surface changes, handicapping principles still apply, but “the questions you have to analyze just might be a little different.”
Speaking of figures …
“Frankel’s performance can only be described as awesome,” said the official BHA handicapper for milers, apparently as awed as everyone else watching Frankel cheerfully gut the field running behind him from the start in the 2000 Guineas (replay). “He destroyed the others, not himself,” said trainer Henry Cecil. At the end what impressed almost as much as the ease with which the undefeated colt won was how hard his rivals had to run to even keep him in view. Timeform gave Frankel a provisional rating of 142, the third best ever; the Racing Post rated him 133, the highest ever on that scale.
Alan posted a sharp analysis of the Florida Derby over on Left at Gate, noting that the Beyer speed figure of 93 given to Dialed In for the just-there win “is a good 6-8 points lower than one might like to see from him at this point.” It is, but the figure is also one that’s become quite typical of Derby prospects.
If you look at the Beyer speed figure earned by each Derby starter in their final Kentucky Derby prep (column PR-BSF in the spreadsheet below) from 1998-2010, you’ll notice a pretty steady decrease in the number of 100+ BSFs appearing in prep past performances. In 1998, only two starters had not earned a triple digit figure in their final prep or in one of their two prior starts as a 3-year-old (columns 2ND and 3RD below). In 2010, only two came into the Derby with a BSF of 100, and only three — Devil May Care, Sidney’s Candy, and Jackson Bend — had even earned a BSF of 100 in their careers.
Listed in order of finish. X = no BSF available.
As a group, the average Beyer speed figure earned by Derby starters in their final Derby prep has declined from 101 in 1998 to the low 90s in recent years:
Average Kentucky Derby field last-out BSFs, 1998-2010.
This year, only six Derby prospects have rated a BSF better than 100 as 3-year-olds, and only The Factor (103, Rebel) and Soldat (103, allowance) have done so at a distance greater than a mile. With the Wood, Illinois Derby, and Santa Anita Derby all this weekend, it’s likely at least one winner will break through with a solid triple digit figure. Eskendereya did so in 2010, getting a 109 in the Wood, a figure that would have stood out in Derby entries if he hadn’t sustained a career-ending injury before he could get to Churchill. It wouldn’t have done much for the field average, though, which was a mere 93.
It’ll be interesting to see what Maclean’s Music does in his second career start, after setting freakish fractions of :21.24, :43.48, and 1:07.44 in his debut at Santa Anita on Saturday. And what a Beyer speed figure — handicapper Andy Serling tweeted earlier today that the colt was given “the highest debut Beyer ever … 114.” ThoroTimes reporter Jeff Lowe added a bit of pedigree context to the number, noting that Maclean’s dam, “Forest Music, ran a similar race first-time out.” Put the Distorted Humor colt on your watch list — he may never run so well again, but the odds are good this one’s a serious racehorse.
(Replay via Hello Race Fans.)
A preliminary Beyer speed figure of 103 for The Factor in the Rebel Stakes, the sole graded Kentucky Derby prep this weekend. As DRF Derby tweeted, that figures ties “with Soldat for best Beyer by a 2011 3-year-old going mile or longer.” Soldat just happens to be the other War Front colt on the Derby trail, casting doubt on claims by pedigree handicappers that The Factor can’t get the Derby distance. Count me among the skeptical, but on the matter of pace, not breeding. The Derby isn’t kind to front-runners.
Trainer Bob Baffert said that the April 16 Arkansas Derby is a likely next start, but that all options are open to The Factor. “I could go anywhere. He’s nominated everywhere. You never know where I’m going to go.”
Mike Watchmaker favorably compares the Rebel to the Azeri Stakes, impressively won by Havre de Grace: “… you can argue that The Factor had the more demanding trip, and yet still ran almost as fast as Havre de Grace.”