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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/29/2018

Using historical trends and the past performances for the top 21 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 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, and also consider post positions once drawn, as some positions are known to be unfavorable such as the rail and the 17.

With so many late drop-outs this 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 several 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. 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 Brisnet.com.

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.

horse racing kentucky derby Enticed - 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 Godolphin homebred finished second in the Wood Memorial (G2) after winning the Gotham (G3), satisfyig the requirements for BRIS speed figures, wins, starts, prep race, auction price (we prefer homebreds or sold at auction for less than but NOT equal to $500,000), Dosage (he is one of seven Dual Qualifiers in the field), and layoff length. His only knock is that he tends to run close to the pace; we prefer horses that can rally to win from 5 lengths out or further, something he was not able to do when as many as 6 lengths back in the Wood.

Free Drop Billy - was just 1 point behind Enticed in the analysis and holds second place alone. He barely qualified under the sharp prep angle, finishing 4th in the Blue Grass (G2) which would normally be a knock, but since he finished within 4 lengths after a trouhbled trip (and placed 3rd via DQ as a result) he was allowed that point. Unlike Enticed, this Dual Qualifier is able to win from off the pace, but his two knocks are huge, a lack of a stakes win this year and lack of a 100+ speed figure this year, his best efforts being a second in the Holy Bull (G2) with a 99 speed figure.

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

horse racing kentucky derby Flameaway - is the first of 2 to rank in third place, a point each behind Free Drop Billy. The highest ranking of the non-Dual Qualifiers, he did satisfy the Dosage requirements (it is worth noting that although not every horse qualified with a sub-4.00 Dosage Index, every horse qualified with a sub-1.25 Center of Distribution). He earned a top speed figure of 101 winning the Sam F. Davis (G3) before finishing second in both the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Blue Grass (G2). Along with not being a Dual Qualifier, his other two knocks are his front-running style and his lack of a 92 figure as a juvenile, his top fig being an 87 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

My Boy Jack - tied with Flameaway in third place. He also isn't a Dual Qualifier but has a low enough index, and is the first horse in the analysis to be going to Louisville off a win, a head victory (rallying from 10 lengths off the pace!) in the Lexington (G3) to earn him the points to make the field. Before that race he also won the Southwest (G3) before finishing a close third in the Louisiana Derby (G2). His two other knocks are both in the speed figures department, with a 3-year-old best odf 99 at the Fair Grounds and a 2-year-old best of 91 at Santa Anita in the Zuma Beach (on turf), both short of the pars of 100 and 92 respectively.

The next 7 were tied in the analysis so are ranked in Road to the Derby points order

horse racing kentucky derby Bolt d’Oro - starts the logjam for 5th position. He earned his Dual Qualifier designation after an impressive juvenile campaign where he was 3 for 4 and earned a top figure of 105 in the FrontRunner (G1) before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. However his 2-year-old success didn't roll over to his 3-year-old campaign, with runner-up finishes in the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) and just the 2 starts (we prefer 3 or more starts this year). He tends to press the pace, and he is the first horse in this analysis to earn the auction price knock, as he was bought for $630,000 by owner-trainer Mick Ruis.

Mendelssohn - won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) with a 91 speed figure, earning him Dual Qualifier status, and he comes to Louisville off an 18-length romp in the UAE Derby (G2), where he earned a 122 Racing Post Rating which converts to 104 on the BRIS scale. As impressive a run as that was, it still represents a 5 week layoff (we prefer 4 or less) in only his 2nd start as a 3-year-old. He tends to run on or close to the lead, and he was bought at auction by current owners Coolmore for a whopping $3 million. It is worth noting only 1 Derby winner (Fusaichi Pegasus) was bought at auction for 7 figures.

Solomini - like the above 2, comes to Louisville off just 2 races this year, a 2nd in the Rebel (G2) followed by a 3rd in the Arkansas Derby (G1), earning him a sharp prep 3 weeks out. The Dual Qualifier was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) before winning the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) earning a 101 speed figure. His knocks include racing close to the pace, as well as not enough starts nor a stakes win nor a 100+ figure this year, his best being the 96 earned in the Rebel.

Lone Sailor - raced 5 times as a juvenile including a 5th place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill, and he did earn a qualifying 93 figure when he broke his maiden at Saratoga. This year he has not won, which is a major negative, but did finish a close second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) earning a 100 figure, which also qualify. Among the negatives, he has no stakes wins lifetime, is coming off a 6 week layoff, and is not a Dual Qualifier.

horse racing kentucky derby Firenze Fire - is one of three in the field who have a Dosage Index greater than the 4.00 cutoff, so by definition he cannot be a Dual Qualifier despite going 3 for 5 as a juvenile including the Champagne (G1) where he earned a 96 speed figure, before checking in 7th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). He did earn the stakes win this year in the Jerome was second in the Withers (G3) then 4th in both the Gotham (G3) and Wood Memorial (G2), the latter by 11 lengths so clearly not a sharp prep. He also has failed to hit par this year, with his best being the 94 earned in the Jerome.

Instilled Regard - is the last of 7 Dual Qualifiers in the field. He qualifies on speed figures, earning a 100 when 3rd in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) last year and a 102 in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), however in that final prep he finished 4th beaten 10 lengths which does not qualify as "sharp", a major negative. He needs to be close to the pace to win, at auction he sold for $1.05 million, and he does not have a stakes win as a juvenile. He did win the Lecomte (G3) this year.

Blended Citizen - completes the group in 5th place but has the least points in this group. At time of writing he sits at #21 in Derby Points so will need one defection to draw in. He earned a top figure of just 90 (2 points short of par) as a juvenile when he broke his maiden over the Del Mar turf in November, but followed that up with a 4th place finish in the Eddie Logan so he lacks a juvenile stakes win. He won the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) earning a 100 figure, right at par, but comes here off a distant 5th in the Blue Grass (G2), not a sharp prep.

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

horse racing kentucky derby Good Magic - before Street Sense in 2007, he would have been flagged with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) curse. However this Dual Qualifier still has enough knocks to make him a poor bet at low odds in the Derby. He sold at auction for $1 million, races close to the pace, is coming to Louisville off a 2-race campaign, has only raced 5 times in his career, and to top it off, although he met the BRIS par as a juvenile (earning a 105 at Del Mar), this year his two races earned 98 figures.

Vino Rosso - won the Wood Memorial (G2) by 3 lengths, rallying from 9 lengths off the pace and earning a 102 BRIS speed figure, so he will likely go off at short odds in the Derby despite several key knocks. He has only raced 5 times, one less than the recommended 6, although he did race the minimum twice as a juvenile and three times this year. His best figure as a juvenile was 90 in his debut, short of the recommended 92. As well he did not compete in (let alone win) in stakes company last year.

Combatant - was 4th in the Arkansas Derby (G1) beaten 4 1/4 lengths with no excuses, so that prep does not qualify as sharp. He is winless in stakes company lifetime (but did compete in the Springboard Mile as a juvenile), and he is short on speed figures, with a juvenile best of 91 at Remington and a 96 when third in in the Rebel (G2) this year. On figures alone he is too slow to keep pace with a Derby quality field.

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

horse racing kentucky derby Magnum Moon - tops the Derby Points list so will likely be overbet. He is undefeated in 4 starts including the Rebel (G2) where he earned a 100 figure, and the Arkansas Derby (G1), but the glaring omission in his career is a lack of juvenile racing, his debut happening at Gulfstream in January. Worst yet, he likes to race close to the pace. He and expected favorite Justify both are looking to break the Apollo Curse of unraced juveniles. With that in mind this may be the year another Derby streak comes to an end -- winning favorites.

Noble Indy - only has 4 lifetime starts but did at least debut as a juvenile, winning in December at Gulfstream with a 97 figure, which qualifies. He comes to Louisville off a close win in the Louisiana Derby (G1) where he earned a 100 figure, right at par. However he is short on lifetime starts and starts at 2, did not compete in stakes company as a juvenile, is coming off a 6 week layoff, and likes to race close to the pace.

Bravazo - won the Risen Star (G2) earning a career best 98 figure, but followed that up with a disappointing 8th place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2) beaten 21 lengths. So he is coming to the Derby off a poor prep 6 weeks out and without a 100+ speed figure. As a juvenile his best figure was an 86 when second in the Breeders Futurity (G1). He tends to press the pace in 2nd or 3rd, and has never won a stakes as a juvenile.

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

horse racing kentucky derby Audible - ranks 3rd in Derby Points but is an also-ran in this analysis. He won the Florida Derby (G1) for his final prep by 3 lengths earning a 107 figure, an improvement over the 105 he earned winning the Holy Bull (G2). He only has the 2 races this season, 1 short of recommended, but did race thrice as a juvenile, but not in stakes company. He is coming off a 5 week layoff and sold at auction for $500,000, which is a knock (we are looking for auction prices less than but NOT equal to $500,000).

Promises Fulfilled finished last, 35 lengths behind Audible in the Florida Derby (G1), after winning the Fountain of Youth (G2) earning a 104 figure. He also earns knocks for racing just twice as a 3-year-old and failing to win in stakes company as a juvenile (3rd in the Kentucky Jockey Club). He is the second of two horses that failed to meet the Dosage Index cutoff of 4.00, with a very high figure of 9.00. Finally, he is a "need the lead" type which is not preferable in the Derby.

Hofburg - is tied with Justify (below) as the most lightly raced, with just 3 starts, all this year, capped off with a 2nd place effort in the Florida Derby (G1) with a 104 speed figure, earning him the points to enter the Derby. He did race as a juvenile once, finishing 4th in his debut at Saratoga, earning a slow 79 figure. With insufficient experience (half the recommended 6 starts lifetime), no stakes wins, and a long layoff he should go off at long odds.

horse racing kentucky derby Justify - sits alone at the bottom of the analysis, the first time in recent memory that the expected favorite ranked dead last. We deduct a point for one major knock - highest lifetime speed figure in the field - and the 114 he earned winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) is the runaway leader in that category, ahead of Bolt d'Oro's best of 110. He is undefeated in just 3 lifetime starts, and like Magnum Moon, he did not race as a juvenile, kicking of his career in February at Santa Anita, and also needs to lead or be close to the pace. Perhaps the two unraced juveniles will burn each other out in a speed duel to keep the Apollo Curse alive for another year.

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