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Analyzing the Top Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/26/2004

Using historical trends and the past performances for the 15 top Kentucky Derby entries according to my Derby Contenders Poll (vote here). We have weighted many factors to develop the following ranked list. Each horse was given points for his conformation to a Derby winner's profile, and points were subtracted for negative aspects. Of course this does not guarantee that the horse with the most points will win, but it does give you a good idea who to eliminate from the winning position. It follows that if a horse doesn't fit the winner's profile, he may still finish in the money, much like how handicappers might bet anti-bias horses on the bottom of exotics. We also recommend checking workout patterns in the final week since these are a good indicator of who is ready. Preferably you're looking for horses that have at least two workouts over the Churchill Downs surface and at least one bullet work.

For more information on the trends and statistics used in this analysis, check out my article on Handicapping the Derby and the book Triple Crown Handicapper 2004 by Jim Mazur. There are slso a couple of older article you may find useful, one on angles from American Turf Monthly and a 10-step program from Kentucky Connect. On Thursday night before the Derby, Daily Racing Form will have their selections and analysis here. This is the most over-analyzed race on the planet, so there are lots of trends and angles you can use.

The Cliff's Edge
The Cliff's Edge - He is a dual qualifier, although he lacks stamina points in his dosage profile, is trained by a successful Derby trainer, and is ridden by a jockey with Derby experience. He has not paired Beyer tops, meaning he is less susceptible to bounce at Churchill, but has a respectable 111 best Beyer in a route race, two wins at Churchill Downs, and the correct running style. Unfortunately he stands a good chance of being the favorite which is generally a jinx, but still has a good shot.

Borrego - It was a bit surprising to see this guy come up second, but he does have an experienced trainer and jockey, has run the right number and type of preps, has a top Beyer of 105, and finished second in three major preps. His dosage is in the proper range and his has stamina points in his profile. He has the right running style and has been working well at Churchill Downs. He could be a sleeper pick this year.

Pollard's Vision - I don't know if a one-eyed horse has ever won the Derby, but this one has a chance. He has one of the top Beyers of the contenders at 107, an experienced trainer and jockey, and a win at 1 1/8 miles. His last win was on the front, but he has shown he can stalk or rally in the past which is the preferred running style for a Derby winner. He definitely has a shot.

Limehouse - He may be a bit over-raced coming in with 9 starts lifetime, but he did win two major preps and is undefeated in two starts at Churchill Downs. He has an experienced trainer and jockey, the right running style, and a 1 1/8 mile prep. Where he falls short is no stamina points in his dosage profile and a top Beyer figure of only 100.

Smarty Jones - At first glance he seems to have everything going for him, coming into the Derby undefeated with a 108 top Beyer and bullet works at Churchill, but he also has some negatives. The biggest are having a Derby rookie trainer and jockey and a front running style. He has a lot of sprinters in his pedigree but still meets the dosage limit and even has some stamina points in his dosage profile. If The Cliff's Edge isn't the favorite, this guy probably will be which can be the kiss of death.

Master David - While he does have 3 races this year, the 2 month gap between the Sham and the Wood may make him come up a bit short still plus has only gotten a 100 top Beyer. He does have an experience trainer and jockey and stamina points in his dosage profile plus a good try in his last prep at 1 1/8 miles.

Lion Heart - This guy has shown a lot of talent with a top Beyer of 110, but he only has 2 starts this year and didn't race until March 6 so is probably a bit under-raced. His running style is pure speed and he will probably set the pace from the start which isn't a good thing. He does have an experienced trainer and jockey and while staying at Keeneland has shipped over for a work at Churchill.

Friends Lake - The biggest problems with this horse are he only has a top Beyer of 99 and hasn't raced since winning the Florida Derby. He has an experienced jockey and trainer plus the right running style, but can he be prepared for the Derby off just works for almost 2 months?

Wimbledon - He only has a top Beyer of 101 and didn't break his maiden until his 5th start in February this year! He failed badly in his final prep and will get a new jockey for the Derby. He is over the dosage limit with a 5.00 index and no stamina points. He does have a bullet work at Churchill and a Derby winning trainer, but he still has a lot to overcome.

Imperialism - His biggest problems are being over-raced with 15 lifetime starts and having not only a rookie Derby trainer but a 21-year-old female trainer. He will also have a new jockey for the Derby, although it will be Derby winning jockey Kent Desormeaux. He just misses the 105 Beyer par with a 104 but runs a great closing race which is the right style. This horse has been my favorite since he won the San Vicente and I still plan to put some money on him despite everything.

Read the Footnotes - Can a New York bred win two years in a row? Not only that, he has not raced since the Florida Derby where he finished 4th as the favorite. He has a top Beyer of 113, highest of all the contenders, is a dual qualifier with stamina points in his dosage profile. He may have been over-raced at two with 5 starts but only has 2 starts this year and he hasn't been training at Churchill until this week. He has a Derby rookie trainer but an experienced jockey.

Tapit - This horse is a bit of an inigma which is no surprise considering he is trained by Michael Dickinson. He has only worked at Tapeta Farm and won't ship to Churchill until Wednesday. He does have the proper dosage and stamina points in his dosage profile but his top Beyer is a weak 98 in the Wood. He only has 2 starts this year and will have a first time Derby jockey. He could be a monster with hidden form, or he could be a wise-guy horse, it's just hard to tell.

Birdstone - He was one of the favorites for the Derby at the beginning of the year, but will definitely be a longshot on Saturday. Only 2 races this year, an allowance win and a miserable 5th in the Lane's End. He hasn't raced since, scratching from the Blue Grass because of an elevated white cell count. He is a dual qualifier with stamina points in his dosage profile, is trained by a Derby winning trainer but will have a new jockey for the Derby. He doesn't have a 1 1/8 mile prep and his best Beyer is only a 99, earned in a sprint last year. I think he will need a miracle to win.

Castledale - Big upset winner of the Santa Anita Derby will likely be a big longshot in Kentucky. He only has a 103 Beyer and has only started twice this year. He does have dosage in the proper range, but no stamina points. He has a Derby rookie trainer and jockey plus he was over-raced last year with 8 starts, mostly in England.

All of this analysis is strictly aimed at statistically identifying a potential Kentucky Derby winner. It has no bearing on whether the horse can finish second or third. Although the statistics used are historical facts, anti-profile horses can and do win the Derby as we saw with War Emblem in 2002. He was coming off a huge Beyer top (but didn't bounce) and won on the front end, by far the worst style to use in this race.

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