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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/30/2017

Using historical trends and the past performances for the top 24 Kentucky Derby contenders by points, we have weighted several factors to develop the following ranked list. Each horse was given points for his conformation to a Derby winners profile. 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 doesnt 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, and also consider post positions once drawn, as some positions are known to be unfavorable such as the rail and the 17.

Like last year, it looks like the cutoff to make the field will be around 30 points, and the tiebreaker (non-restricted stakes earnings) won't be needed.

As observed the last 5 years, we have a tight group under our analysis, suggesting that the points system is more effective at weeding out pretenders compared to the former graded earnings scheme. We will use the Derby points ranking list as our tiebreaker when horses scored equally in the analysis, rather than merely calling it a tie between x number of horses. We will note when this tiebreaker was used. As we did starting last year, we use the BRIS Speed Figures instead of the Beyers; the figures are comparable, but tend to be about 5 points higher. We had been looking for 95 BSFs so the benchmark for us is 100 on the BRIS scale at 3 and 92 in the 2-year-old races. For horses with foreign races in their past performances, the Racing Post ratings were converted to BRIS figures using Steve Roman's equivalency chart (Dr. Roman has "retired" from racing and his website is no longer available).

For more information on the trends and statistics used in this analysis, check out my article on Handicapping the Derby, the book Betting the Kentucky Derby by Dean Keppler, and Triple Crown Handicapper by Jim Mazur. This is an older article on angles from American Turf Monthly. This is the most over-analyzed race on the planet, so there are lots of trends and angles you can use. You can get free past performances for the Derby contenders here from

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.

Gormley - leads the way in this year's analysis and he stands alone at the top. Usually the top ranked horse scores on every available factor but this year was not the case. The Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner satisfied the requirements for BRIS speed figures, wins, starts, prep race, auction price (we look for horses that are homebreds or sold for less than $500K at public auction), Dosage, and layoff. Despite finishing 7th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) his FrontRunner (G1) win weighted him high enough to be a dual qualifier. His 3 starts last year (we look for 4) prevented him from sweeping all the factors.

Gunnevera - was just 1 point behind Gormley in the analysis and holds second place alone. The Fountain of Youth (G2) winner comes to the Derby off his 3rd place finish in the Florida Derby (G1) which qualifies as a sharp prep. He qualified on dosage, speed figures, starts, and wins, and his Delta Jackpot (G3) win earned him dual qualifier status. However, the Florida Derby is more than 4 weeks out, and he did have 1 start at Saratoga (winning the Saratoga Special-G2) which we consider a negative angle. Juveniles prepped for Saratoga aren't usually seen in the Derby winner's circle the following spring.

The next 4 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby Irap - starts the logjam for 3rd position. It took him 8 starts to break his maiden but he did it in a big way, upsetting the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at 31-1, a sharp prep run 4 weeks out which punched his ticket to Louisville. That being said, clearly he lacked a stakes win as a juvenile, and his best juvenile fig of 91 is just short of the 92 par we set. In addition he is not a dual qualifier given his lack of juvenile success.

Irish War Cry - is right under Irap in the Derby points list but tied with him here. The New Jersey-bred comes to Louisville off his runaway win in the Wood Memorial (G1), a sharp prep 4 weeks out. He scored impressive 102 figures in both the Wood and the Holy Bull (G2). He only raced twice as a juvenile (but did score a 100 BRIS figure winning the Marylander at Laurel), 5 times in his career, and is not a dual qualifier.

Thunder Snow - is going to be an automatic toss for many bettors as he attempts to be the first Dubai horse to win the Derby. He definitely qualifies with a sharp prep (winning the UAE Derby-G2) with an estimated BRIS figure of 101, and his juvenile foundation is solid with 6 starts including his Criterium International (G1) win where he earned an estimated figure of 105. Along with the "Dubai jinx" (not a factor used), he is coming off a 6 week layoff, is not a dual qualifier, and only raced twice this year.

Lookin at Lee - has not won since breaking his maiden in the Ellis Park Juvenile in August. He comes to the Derby off a 3rd place finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1), a sharp prep 3 weeks out. He has enough starts at 2 and 3, did run a 93 figure when he was 4th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), but has no stakes win nor 100 speed figures as a 3-year-old so far.

Practical Joke - is the third of four dual qualifiers expected to run for the Roses and sits alone in 4th ranking. He finished a close second in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out, however he still lacks any wins (let alone stakes) as a 3-year-old, his last win being the Champagne (G1). He has not run a 100+ figure this year but did qualify with his 98 earned finishing 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). He also lacks foundation having just 2 starts this year (the other being a 2nd in the Fountain of Youth-G2).

The next 2 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby Classic Empire - may be second in the Derby Points list behind Girvin, but he is tied for 5th here. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) champion won the Arkansas Derby (G1) for his final prep, and he earned a whopping 108 at Santa Anita. However, his best fig this year (in just 2 starts) was the 96 earned at Oaklawn, and despite his juvenile success, his 5.00 dosage index (above the 4 par) precludes him from being a dual qualifier. It is worth noting that dosage isn't as reliable a predictor as it once was (Triple Crown winner American Pharoah also failed to qualify).

McCraken - is the final dual qualifier in this year's Derby. He won his first 4 career starts including the Sam F. Davis (G3) before finishing third in the Blue Grass (G2), qualifying as a sharp prep 4 weeks out. He also earned a 94 figure in the Street Sense and a 93 in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) as a juvenile. Where he fails is in number of starts at 2, 3, and lifetime, no 100+ figures this year, and having a prep race at Tampa is considered negative.

The next 3 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby J Boys Echo - tied for 6th in the analysis. He comes to the Derby off a 4th place finish in the Blue Grass (G1), not a sharp prep but is within the 4 week limit. His Gotham (G3) win, earning as 104 BRIS figure, qualifies him as a contender, as do his three starts as a 3-year-old. However he did not win a stakes race at 2 nor ran a 92 figure, he only raced 3 times last year, and his dosage just missed the cut at 4.09.

Fast and Accurate - will need to be supplemented into the Derby but earned his spot with his 24-1 upset of the Spiral (G3). He will also be a longshot at Churchill Downs, having just 2 starts this year, coming off a 6 week layoff, and failing on speed figures, earning a career best 86 in the Spiral and only earning an 81 for his best effort as a juvenile.

Royal Mo - started his 3yo season winning the Robert B. Lewis (G3) and made his final prep finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) after finshing 9th in the Rebel (G2). He did not have a stakes start among his 3 as a juvenile, needing all 3 tries to final break his maiden, and earned a 91 top last year and a 98 this year.

The next 5 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby Girvin - may be the leader in points with 150 but he is tied down in 7th in this analysis. The Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) winner only had 4 lifetime starts, 3 this year, and he has not run the 100 par, topping out at 99 in the Louisiana Derby, a sharp prep but 5 weeks out. He lacks a stakes start at two, having just his maiden win in December for his sole juvenile start, where he at least qualified with a 93 figure.

State of Honor - is winless since breaking his maiden at Woodbine in October. he has raced 10 times, 4 of those starts this year, finishing second in the Florida Derby (G1), a sharp prep but 5 weeks out. He lacks a stakes victory this year, fails on figures (best figure 97 this year and 86 last year), and has one prep race (3rd in the Sam F. Davis) at Tampa Bay Downs.

Tapwrit - is just below State of Honor on the Derby points list. He finished a distant 5th in the Blue Grass (G2) for his final start after winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He sold at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga in 2015 for $1.2 million, which is a negative angle for the Derby. He did qualify on figures, earning a 101 in the Tampa Bay Derby and a 98 winning the Pulpit as a juvenile, but his races at both Saratoga (his debut) and Tampa are also key negatives.

Hence - will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Mine That Bird, using the Sunland Derby (G3) as his final prep, a race where he earned a 103 figure. However that race is almost 6 weeks out despite qualifying a a sharp prep. He did not compete in stakes as a juvenile, with his best effort an 83 figure at Churchill, and he didn't break his maiden until his first start as a 3-year-old.

Iliad - will need defections in order to draw into the Derby field. He only raced twice as a juvenile, winning his second start at Los Alamitos earning a 96 figure, then followed that up winning the San Vicente (G2) in his 3yo debut. He finished 5th in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), not a sharp prep but 4 weeks out, and not fast enough rating a 97.

The next 4 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby Battle of Midway - leads the pack tied for 8th. His biggest negative is his lack of starts as a juvenile, having made his debut in January at Santa Anita. He finished a close second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) for his final, sharp prep, in just his 4th lifetime start, but did not win a stakes at all, having finishing third in the San Vicente (G2).

Patch - is the most lightly raced horse in the Derby with just 3 starts, all this year, capped off by a 2nd place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Like Battle of Midway he lacks the foundation to be a serious threat for the Roses. He did at least qualify on figures, earning 101 when he broke his maiden at second asking in February at Fair Grouunds.

Untrapped - isn't coming to Churchill with a sharp prep, finishing a distant 6th in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He lacks stakes wins liifetime, and only raced twice as a juvenile (neither race in stakes company), topping out with an 87 earned when breaking maiden at second asking at Churchill Downs.

Sonneteer - in contrast with Patch, has raced 10 times, 5 as a juvenile and 5 this year. However, he is still a maiden, coming to the Derby off a 4th place finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and he did not compete in stakes at all as a juvenile, with 5 straight losses in MSW company. His best figure was a 94 this year and 90 last year, both failing to meet par. In addition he fails on dosage with a 5.00 index, and barely qualifies on center of distributon with 1.00.

The next 2 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby Local Hero - will need defections in order to draw in. He finished 3rd in the Louisiana Derby (G2), a sharp prep but 5 weeks out, in only his 5th lifetime start, with a career best (but below par) 96 BRIS speed figure. He only raced twice last year, finishing second in MSW company, topping out with an 89 figure. He also earns a knock for the $500,000 he sold for at Fasig-Tipton Florida.

Master Plan - will also need defections in order to draw in. After winning the Ocala Breeders' Sales Championship in January, he shipped to Meydan, Dubai to finish third behind Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby (G2), a sharp prep but 6 weeks out in just his 5th lifetime start. He earned an estimated 99 BRIS figure, just short of par, but he did meet the juvenile par when he earned a 96 finishing second in the Pulpit Stakes in January.

Always Dreaming - is 7th in the Derby points list so is a definite to make the field, but is alone ranked last of 24 in this year's analysis. He won the Florida Derby (G1) by 5 lengths for his final prep, earning a 102 figure but 5 weeks out. He did earn a 96 figure as a juvenile in his second start, which qualifies. However, along with the long layoff and lack of 2-year-old foundation (2 starts, no wins, no stakes), he lacks stakes experience at 2 (in only 2 starts), only has 5 starts lifetime, has raced at both Saratoga and Tampa (considered negative for the Derby), and his dosage index is 5.00.

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