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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/28/2021

Using historical trends and the past performances for the 20 Kentucky Derby entrants 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, however the new 20-stall gate (debuted in 2020) may change this over time, as the gap between post 14 and 15 is gone and post 1 can be positioned slightly further off the rail than before.

With so many late drop-outs this year, the cutoff to make the field is a measly 10 points (Brooklyn Strong), the lowest since the introduction of the points system in 2013 when last place finisher Giant Finish also had 10 points (the also-eligible Fear the Kitten had 6 points but failed to draw in). Also worth noting, no horse took advantage of the European or Japanese road points.

As observed the last several years, we have an unusually 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 are looking for 100+ BRIS speed figures this year, and 90+ figures last year (2-year-old races). For horses with foreign races in their past performances (not applicable this year), 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). The departure of Roman from the business will affect this analysis in future years as the "chefs" used to calculate Dosage Index and Center of Distribution will no longer be updated; this is seen by the lack of dosage profile points as the final list of chefs drop further back in the pedigrees. The Jockey Club discontinued its Experimental Free Handicap (renamed the "Top 2-Year-Old Rankings" for its final edition) marking the end of the Dual Qualifier angle which made use of the handicap in combination with Dosage.

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 and here (look for Essential Quality) from BrisNet.com.

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.

horse racing kentucky derby Essential Quality scored on every point but one and tops the list this year. The Brad Cox trainee is undefeated in 5 starts, including the required stakes wins at 3 (ending with the Blue Grass for his final prep) and stakes start at 2 (capped off with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile). He ran a 101 in the Breeders' Cup and a 102 in the Blue Grass so he qualifies on BRIS speed, and his final prep was inside 4 weeks out and obviously "sharp". Every horse but one qualifies on Dosage Index, and every horse qualified on Center of Distribution, so these will not be mentioned again except where needed. His only knock is in the foundation department, as we want a minimum of 3 starts this year and he has only raced twice. Regular rider Luis Saez will be in the irons from post 14 aboard the 2-1 favorite.

The next two contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Known Agenda scored on all but one point, but also drew a negative point. The Florida Derby winner ran a 101 at Gulfstream to go with the 96 he scored when finishing 3rd in the Remsen at 2, qualifying him on BRIS speeds. He has the required stakes win at 3 and stakes start at 2, and also hits the mark on number of starts - 3 last year, 3 this year. (we want only 2 or 3 starts as a juvenile and minimum 3 as a 3-year-old). However the 5 week layoff coming out of the Florida Derby is a negative, along with the negative point for including a Tampa Bay Downs prep race (5th in the Sam F. Davis). Regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. gets the call again for trainer Todd Pletcher aboard the 6-1 shot who drew the rail.

horse racing kentucky derby Highly Motivated represents the powerful Klaravich Stables and scored on all but two points. He comes to Churchill off a close second in the Blue Grass after finishing 3rd in the Gotham, which is a sharp prep 4 weeks out. He has run 102 speed figures in his last 3 starts, including the Nyquist to end his juvenile season, so he qualifies on figures. On the negative side, he lacks a stakes win this year and has only run twice. Javier Castellano, aboard for every start so far, rides the 10-1 shot on Saturday for trainer Chad Brown from post 17.

The next seven contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Super Stock is the Arkansas Derby winner, giving him a sharp prep 3 weeks out for trainer Steve Asmussen. He raced in four stakes events as a juvenile, earning a 92 in the Street Sense when he was 2nd. However his best figure this year was a 97 which misses the cut. In addition the Arkansas Derby was only his 2nd start as a 3-year-old, after starting a whopping 6 times as a juvenile, well out of range. Ricardo Santana Jr. gets the call on Saturday aboard the 30-1 longshot from post 18.

horse racing kentucky derby Rock Your World is a perfect 3 for 3 for trainer John Sadler, including the Santa Anita Derby, a sharp prep 4 weeks out where he earned a 102 figure. However, his 3 starts were all in 2021, so he could not score points in any of the juvenile categories. Joel Rosario, who rode him in his debut, gets the call aboard the 5-1 shot from post 15. Note that with the 20-wide starting gate (which debuted last year), posts 15-20 are no longer in the auxiliary so Rock Your World does not have a gap to his left at the break.

horse racing kentucky derby Bourbonic was the huge upset winner of the Wood Memorial 4 weeks ago, earning him a sharp prep and the required stakes win at 3. He raced 3 times as a juvenile (none in stakes) and 3 times this year. His best figure as a juvenile was an 84 at Aqueduct, and his best this year was the 94 in the Wood, so he fails on BRIS speed. Regular jockey Kendrick Carmouche retains the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher aboard the 30-1 longshot from the far outside post 20.

horse racing kentucky derby Medina Spirit represents the powerful California barn of Bob Baffert off his 2nd place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, a sharp prep 4 weeks out. He does have a stakes win this year, the Robert B. Lewis back in January. He earned a 98 BRIS figure in the Santa Anita Derby, just short of par, but did earn a 94 in his debut at Los Alamitos in December, his lone start as a juvenile, qualifying on speed but short on foundation and also lacking a juvenile stakes. John Velazquez retains the mount aboard the 15-1 shot from post 8.

horse racing kentucky derby Mandaloun represents the late Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, and comes to Louisville off a disappointing 6th place finish in the Louisiana Derby, clearly not a sharp prep and 6 weeks out. He did win the Risen Star with a 100 BRIS figure giving him the required stakes win this year and meeting par. He also ran a 92 in his final juvenile start in a Churchill Downs allowance, also a par effort. He raced twice as a juvenile (no stakes) and three times this year, so he meets the starts requirements. Florent Geroux, aboard for all 5 starts, rides again Saturday for trainer Brad Cox from post 7 aboard the 15-1 shot.

horse racing kentucky derby Dynamic One finished second in the Wood Memorial as a 15-1 longshot, a sharp prep 4 weeks out but earning a below-par 94 BRIS figure in the process, in his 3rd start this year. He also raced twice as a juvenile, none in stakes, but exceeded par with a 95 effort in December at Gulfstream, keeping him in this group of contenders. Regular rider Jose Ortiz Jr. retains the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher aboard the 20-1 outsider from post 11.

horse racing kentucky derby King Fury won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, the final points-scoring event, a sharp prep 2 weeks out where he earned a career best 95 figure, short of par and also his only start as a 3-year-old. As a juvenile he raced five times, which is a knock, but 3 of those starts were in stakes company including a 93 BRIS when winning the Street Sense. Brian Hernandez Jr., who has ridden in 5 of his 6 starts, retains the mount aboard the 20-1 shot for trainer Ken McPeek out of post 16.

The next two contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Hot Rod Charlie won the Louisiana Derby with a 96 figure, a sharp prep but short of par and 6 weeks out. Interestingly his best figure was earned as a juvenile, a 100 when he finished 2nd in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He only raced twice this year after starting 5 times last year (both beyond the qualifying ranges). New jockey Flavien Prat takes the ride for trainer Doug O'Neill aboard the 8-1 shot from post 9.

horse racing kentucky derby Midnight Bourbon was second in the Louisiana Derby, a sharp prep but 6 weeks out, after posting a 98 speed figure when third inthe Risen Star after winning the Lecomte, so he does have a stakes win this year but short of BRIS par, in 3 starts. As a juvenile he raced 4 times (one more than the 2-3 range we are seeking), with a best figure of 87 in the Iroquois, also short of par. New jockey Mike Smith picks up the mount aboard the 20-1 shot for trainer Steve Asmussen out of post 10.

The next three contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Helium is one of two Mark Casse trainees in the field, undefeated in 3 starts including the Tampa Bay Derby for his final prep. Although this is a sharp prep it's a double knock, in that it represents a whopping 8 week layoff, the longest in the field, and is also using the dreaded Tampa prep path which is not favorable. In addition it was his career best BRIS figure of 93, short of par by 7 points, and being his only start this year, he is short on foundation. His best figure as a juvenile was an 86 at Woodbine, 4 short of par. New jockey Julien Leparoux takes over aboard the 50-1 outsider from post 12.

horse racing kentucky derby O Besos finished third in the Louisiana Derby, a sharp prep but 6 weeks out and with a slow 94 BRIS figure. Along with his 4th place finish in the Risen Star, he lacks a stakes win at 3 and did not compete in stakes at 2, with a best juvenile figure of 82, well short of par. He did qualify on number of starts, 2 last year and 3 this year. Regular rider Marcelino Pedroza makes his Kentucky Derby debut on Saturday for trainer Greg Foley, breaking from the 6 hole aboard the 20-1 longshot.

horse racing kentucky derby Keepmeinmind did not have a sharp prep, finishing a distant fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes in just his second start as a 3-year-old. The Robertino Diodoro trainee is winless this year, after also finishing sixth in the Rebel Stakes, with a best BRIS of 86 this year. As a juvenile he started 4 times (1 more than the limit), winning the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill after finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile where he ran a 98 figure, meeting par for his 2-year-old season. Regular rider David Cohen retains the ride for trainer Robertino Diodoro, drawing post 4 aboard the 50-1 outsider.

The next four contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Like the King won the Jeff Ruby Steaks for a sharp prep however the career best 94 BRIS fig was short of par and the race was 5 weeks ago. It was only his second start this year, after winning the John Battaglia Memorial also at Turfway. He raced 4 times as a juvenile, none in stakes, with a best figure of 91 which did meet par. Also, he is the only horse in the field to miss the Dosage cut with an Index of 4.14, although as explained above this factor is losing relevance over time. Drayden Van Dyke gets the call again for trainer Wesley Ward aboard the 50-1 outsider from post 2.

horse racing kentucky derby Sainthood finished second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks in his third lifetime start, all this year, earning him a sharp prep but 5 weeks out with a slow figure of 93. Failing to race at 2 is huge negative for the Derby even though the "Apollo curse" was recently broken. New jockey Corey Lanerie picks up the ride for trainer Todd Pletcher on the 50-1 longshot from post 5.

horse racing kentucky derby Hidden Stash was a distant fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes, clearly not a sharp prep but inside 4 weeks. One start before, he was a close second in the Tampa Bay Derby, earning him a career best figure of 93, short of par but also earning the Tampa prep knock. He did run 3 times this year which qualifies, but his 4 starts as a juvenile were beyond the limit of 3, but with two 91 figures run he met the par. Regular rider Rafael Bejarano will be in the irons aboard the 50-1 outsider on Saturday for trainer Vicki Oliver from post 13.

horse racing kentucky derby Brooklyn Strong was the last addition to the field, drawing in with just 10 Road to the Derby points. After winning the Remsen in his final juvenile start, he rested until the Wood Memorial where he finished fifth, not a sharp prep in his only start as a 3-year-old, with a slow 88 BRIS figure. His 107 figure in the Remsen qualifies for his juvenile season (but his fourth start of 2020), but also worked against him as the highest figure in the Derby field earns a bonus knock as historically such horses come up short. New jockey Umberto Rispoli picks up the ride aboard the 50-1 longshot for trainer Danny Velazquez from post 3.

horse racing kentucky derby Soup and Sandwich sits alone at the bottom of the ranking, carrying the hopes of owner-breeder Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation. He has only started 3 times in his career, all this year, capped off with a second place finish in the Florida Derby, a sharp prep but 5 weeks out and earning a just-short 98 BRIS speed figure. Between his two Gulfstream races (debut and Florida Derby) he won an allowance at Tampa Bay earning him that extra knock, and he still lacks a stakes win. Like Sainthood, failing to race as a juvenile is disadvantageous for the demands of the Kentucky Derby. New jockey Tyler Gaffalione gets the call for trainer Mark Casse aboard the 30-1 shot out of post 19.

Get some help on handicapping the Kentucky Derby here:

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