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Analyzing the Top Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/26/2004

Using historical trends and the past performances for 20 of the top Kentucky Derby entries. 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 2005 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.

Afleet Alex
Afleet Alex topped our list by having no knocks and scoring points on all three of the positive angles. He had a sharp race in his final prep, an 8-length score in the Arkansas Derby, which not only gave him a Beyer of 108, satisfying the par requirement of 105, he also ran a DRF speed figure (calculated by adding the speed rating with the track variant) of 110, satisfying the par requirement of 107 in the last start before the Derby. He also just turned in a bullet work of 59 flat for 5 furlongs at Churchill Downs and galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:12 2/5. Good works at Churchill Downs are a VERY positive indicator.

Greeley's Galaxy also scored on all three positive angles. In his 9 1/2 length win in the Illinois Derby, a "sharp" race indeed, he earned a 106 Beyer and a 118 DRF figure. However, his front-end running style and lack of conditioning at 2 (no starts) were two knocks taking him out of the top spot in this analysis. It will take a couple of defections from the field for him to get in the race because he is a supplemental entry.

Sort It Out tied for second-best with Greeley's Galaxy in this analysis. His only knock was that he raced at Sunland Park in the WinStar Derby and finished third there, the opinion being that a trainer ducking the popular prep paths to avoid tougher competition is an obvious negative. However, he did come back from that race to finish a sharp second in the Lexington and earned a DRF figure of 109 doing so. This one was a bit of a surprise, but anything can happen in the Derby.

Bellamy Road
Bellamy Road is expected to be the favorite in Louisville, off his outstanding 17 1/2 length win in the Wood Memorial netting him a 120 Beyer and 115 DRF figure. You won't find a prep race sharper than this, however he does have two knocks against him. Wire-to-wire horses are generally bad bets in the Derby as it is the least favorable running style, and he has the double knock of having just 2 prep races as a 3-year-old. No horse in 20 years has won the Derby off of less than 3 preps. Even without this, you have to fear a bounce off that extraordinary effort last out.

Storm Surge ranked this high on the list, tied with Bellamy Road, simply by not having any knocks against him. He scored positive points from his sharp race in his final prep, a third place finish in the Lexington. Even so, his performance this year hasn't been that stellar so I wouldn't place a lot of faith in him.

The next 9 horses scored an equal number of points by our analysis:

Andromeda's Hero is part of Nick Zito's Derby team, and he comes in off a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. Despite finishing well back, this does qualify as a sharp final prep. A key negative angle with him is that he raced at Tampa Bay Downs, with his only stakes win coming in the Sam F. Davis while "hiding" from the major players elsewhere.

Bandini should go off at short odds at the Derby off his 6-length score in the Blue Grass Stakes. However, the 103 Beyer and 96 DRF fig he earned that afternoon were not enough to to meet the par in those categories. On the negative side, he only raced once as a 2-year-old. For Derby winners, it is prefered to see at least 2 starts in the juvenile season.

Buzzards Bay is a need-the-lead type, as his wins in the Golden Gate Derby and the Santa Anita Derby demonstrate. This latter win, a 1/2 length score at odds of 30-1, earned him a sharp prep race but his DRF fig of 97 and Beyer of 98 are not up to par against this field.

Coin Silver was the surprise winner of the Lexington at odds of 13-1, earning him the sharp final race requirement and a 113 DRF figure, which satisfies par. On the negative side, he generally races on the front end and only raced once as a juvenile. He also has not yet raced to a triple-digit Beyer.

Consolidator comes from the powerful barn of D. Wayne Lukas, and his 105 Beyer in the San Felipe earned him points for just meeting the par. On the negative side, he likes to battle on the pace which is a negative angle at the Derby. He also tends to show a "1 good then 2 bad" pattern in his races and the Derby would be the second bad one after his San Felipe win.

Flower Alley was second in the Arkansas Derby which earns him points for a sharp prep race, however, he only raced once as a juvenile which scored a knock, and his speed figures are not fast enough for this group.

Giacomo's fourth place finish in the Santa Anita Derby was a disappointment, however, by finishing just 2 lengths back of Buzzards Bay he earns points for a sharp effort in his final prep. His speed figures are not up to par, and his lack of a stakes win as a 3-year-old earned him negative points. He could be in the money but he doesn't seem to win often.

Greater Good ships in from Arkansas, having taken the same prep path as 2004 winner Smarty Jones. He ranks in this mid-pack group simply by scoring no points either positive or negative. One glaring observation we made is that he has never run a triple-digit Beyer and with a dull last race (5th by 12 lengths in the Arkansas Derby, a 98 DRF/88 Beyer effort) he does not meet either par nor is he going to Louisville off a sharp effort.

The next 5 horses scored an equal number of points by our analysis:

High Fly is coming into the Derby off a very long layoff, five weeks, from his 1 1/2 length score in the Florida Derby. This is considered a huge negative as no horse in recent memory has won the Derby off of a layoff longer than 28 days. On the positive side, the win does qualify as a sharp final prep.

High Limit is a need-the-lead type (as seen in his Louisiana Derby win), a negative angle, and is going to Louisville off of just 2 races as a 3-year-old, an even stronger negative. On the positive side, his runner-up placing in the Blue Grass earned him a sharp prep race, and his 105 Beyer at the Fair Grounds meets par.

Sun King
Sun King ranked in this pack by having just one knock, his easy win in the Tampa Bay Derby. This race often brings out "wise guy" horses but historically horses with a Tampa Bay prep don't win the Roses. This angle was validated by his poor showing in the Blue Grass, a dull fourth by over 9 lengths with a slow 88 Beyer and 87 DRF fig.

Going Wild is coming off of two very poor showings, beaten 41 lengths in the Wood and then by 16 in the Lexington, a clearly dull effort with a 97 DRF fig in the final prep. His need-the-lead style is a negative, and off those last two starts, he does not belong in the Derby starting gate let alone its winner's circle. He also doesn't have enough graded stakes earnings to get in the race without a dropout or two.

General John B earned a sharp final prep, a runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Derby as a 64-1 longshot, just beaten by 1/2 a length by Buzzards Bay. His win in the Turf Paradise Derby mirror's Sun King's Tampa Bay Derby, a negative prep path which also brings out the "wise guys". As well, his front running style is a negative.

The next 3 horses tied for the least amount of points by our analysis:

Noble Causeway comes to Louisville off of a sharp runner-up finish in the Florida Derby. However, the 5-week layoff is a double knock (see High Fly, above) and his lack of a stakes win at 3 means he does not belong in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs.

Wilko attempts to finally break the Breeders' Cup Juvenile jinx, but based on our analysis, that jinx will continue through 2005. His third place effort in the Santa Anita Derby qualifies as a sharp effort, but he still has not won a stakes race this year, and worse yet, he has only raced twice as a 3-year-old.

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