“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.
When Wise Dan makes his first start of the year at Keeneland on April 12, don’t bet against him. Returning Horses of the Year are 16 for 21 since 1972:
Favored returning HOTYs are 16 for 20. With a return of $43.50 on $40 bet, that makes favored returning HOTYs just about the surest bet in racing.
(The chart above is an updated version of one that appeared in a lengthier post about betting returning champions in March 2010.)
1:15 PM Addendum: So, how might you play Wise Dan? Hello Race Fans has some tips on factoring favorites, and singling and spreading.
The latest analysis of the data also continued to show a statistically significant difference between the rate of catastrophic injuries on artificial surfaces when compared with dirt surfaces and turf surfaces. Over the past three years, horses running on synthetic surfaces have suffered catastrophic injuries at a rate of 1.3 per 1,000 starts, whereas horses running on turf had a 1.6 rate and dirt horses had a 2.0 rate, slightly higher than the overall rate of 1.9, according to researchers.
We can’t keep ignoring the facts: Synthetic surfaces are safer. Any serious discussion about or initiative for reducing fatalities must include synthetics.
The Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008 and 2009. In those five years, 31 Breeders’ Cup races were decided on Santa Anita’s main track. Horses coming off a race in New York have won just one of those 31 races for a miniscule 3.2% strike rate. That one winner was Lady’s Secret, who captured the 1986 Distaff after having won the Beldame in her most recent start. Lady’s Secret was voted 1986 Horse of the Year and entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Yikes. I knew the record was poor, but that’s a stark stat.
New York prepped horses do a bit better finishing in the money in main track Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, with 17 running either second or third in the five years the BC has been held at the SoCal track. The main track race in which New York prepped horses have done the best at Santa Anita is the Juvenile Fillies — five New York fillies have finished in the money. New Yorkers also did their best on the Santa Anita main track in 2008 and 2009 — the synthetic surface years — when five and four, respectively, finished in the money, particularly in the Filly and Mare Sprint (2nd and 3rd, 2008), Distaff (2nd and 3rd, 2008), and Dirt Mile (2nd and 3rd, 2009).
As foal crops have declined, so has the number of race days for a total of 6,250 race days lost since 2006. Yet the number of stakes awarded graded status has remained level: 475 awarded in 2006 and 474 awarded in 2011. This failure to adapt to the new racing landscape has resulted in an increase of 14% in the number of races awarded graded status.
The 2016 projection should strike fear in everyone involved in breeding and selling American Thoroughbreds. Without correction, short fields and ducking connections won’t be just the bane of bettors in the very near future.