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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/29/2024

Using historical trends and the past performances for the 22 Kentucky Derby entrants by points, we have counted 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.

Note that with the 20-stall gate which debuted in 2020, there is no longer a gap between 14 and 15, and post 1 is positioned slightly further off the rail than before. Since the post position draw was moved to Saturday (a week before the race) we are able to incorporate these statistics as well. Posts 5, 8, 10, 15, and 20 get a bonus point as those have a 10% win percentage since the starting gate debuted in 1930 (Big Brown and Rich Strike are the two horses to win from the 20) while 6, 11, 14, and 17 lose a point as those are 2.4% or worse (no horse has won from 17). Although the rail, generally considered poor, has not won since 1986, it does have an 8.5% win rate so no points are scored nor deducted. Also note that the analysis is based on post positions as assigned at the draw; should there be scratches, horses to the outside of the scratched horse move inward (so, Fierceness could start from the more favorable 16 or 15 rather than the unfavorable 17).

Also new for this year we are considering auction prices, as horses that sold for $500,000 or more don't usually win. We prefer "cheaper" horses, homebreds, and horses that never sold at auction. In the analysis we will only point out horses that fail this requirement.

As there weren't as many drop-offs as in past years, the cutoff to make the main body of the field was 40 points (earned by Grand Mo the First), while the two also-eligibles Epic Ride and Mugatu had 35 and 14 points respectively. Last year the system was tweaked this year to award points down to fifth place which may have inflated the totals, as in past years the cut-off was closer to 20 points with 2022's winner Rich Strike drawing in as an also-eligible with only 21 points.

As observed the last several years, we again 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; this will be noted 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, the Racing Post ratings if available are converted to BRIS figures using Steve Roman's equivalency chart (Dr. Roman has "retired" from racing and his website is no longer available). Dr. Roman's departure from the business will affect this analysis in future years as the "chefs" list 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. Almost every horse in the field qualified on Dosage (Index 4.00 or less, Center of Distribution 1.00 or less). Given the reduction in accuracy we may soon remove this from the analysis but we will retain it until we consistently see the entire field qualify on both numbers. The Jockey Club discontinued its Experimental Free Handicap (renamed the "Top 2-Year-Old Rankings" for its final edition in 2018) 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 from BRISnet.com here (look for Fierceness).

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.

horse racing Mystik Dan tops this year's analysis, but as was the case last year, no horse "swept" all factors so even the top choice has knocks. He comes to the Derby off a third place finish in the Arkansas Derby, earning him a sharp prep, but unlike in the past, the Arkansas Derby is now run 5 weeks in advance, when the preferred layoff is 4 weeks or less. He has enough starts at 2 and 3, and has a stakes win this year, the Southwest where he earned a 101 BRIS figure, meeting par. He also ran a 94 figure when he broke his maiden as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs, meeting those requirements, but did not run in any stakes last year. BRIS rates his runstyle as a presser ("P 3") but we credit him as a rally type given he won from 5 lengths back in the Southwest, showing versatility after being a frontrunner as a 2-year-old. Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. will be in the irons in post 3 for trainer Ken McPeek.

The next 3 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing Sierra Leone won the Blue Grass, giving him a sharp prep 28 days before, a stakes win, and a 100+ figure. He earned a 98 figure in the Remsen to end his juvenile campaign. Although he ran twice last year, he has only 2 starts this year (winning the Risen Star and Blue Grass), when the preferred range is 3-6 starts. He has never raced at Churchill Downs. Finally, he comes from well off the pace (BRIS style "S 0") which is preferred here, but he also loses a point for auction price as he sold for $2.3 million at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August 2022. Regular rider Tyler Gaffalione will be in the irons from post 2 for trainer Chad Brown.

Resilience won the Wood Memorial, earning him a 104 figure, a stakes win, and a sharp prep 4 weeks out, in his third start this year. As a juvenile he ran 3 times, meeting those requirements, however he did not compete in any stakes last year nor did he run a 90+ figure until New Year's. He also made 2 starts at Churchill Downs. BRIS has his runstyle as "E/P 7" as he usually races close to the pace rather than rally. New jockey Junior Alvarado will ride from post 19 for trainer Bill Mott.

Society Man finished second behind Resilience in the Wood, giving him a sharp prep 28 days before and a 102 figure, however he still lacks a stakes win (was 8th in the Withers) nor did he run in any stakes as a juvenile (wit a best figure of 80). He raced twice last year and 3 times this year, meeting those requirements, but has never raced at Churchill downs. He rallies from off the pace ("S 2"), breaking his maiden from 10 lengths out, and gets a bonus point for drawing the far outside. New rider Frankie Dettori picks up the mount for trainer Danny Gargan from post 20.

The next 3 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing Catching Freedom won the Louisiana Derby with a 100 figure, giving him a sharp prep, just meeting the BRIS par, and a stakes win in his 3rd start in 2024, but the race was run 6 weeks out. He comes from well off the pace (rallied from almost 9 lengths out), which is preferred here. He ran a 90 figure in his second of 2 starts as a juvenile (both at Churchill), meeting those requirements as well, but neither race as a stakes. He is one of two horses in the field to not meet the Dosage requirement, having an Index of 5.67 (his Center of Distribution 0.90 meets par). He also loses a point for auction price as he sold for $575,000 at Keeneland September in 2022. Flavien Prat retains the ride from post 4 for trainer Brad Cox.

horse racing Stronghold comes here off wins in the Sunland Derby and Santa Anita Derby, giving him stakes wins and a sharp prep 4 weeks out, however his 98 figure at Santa Anita (in his 2nd start this year) is just short of par. As a juvenile he ran 4 times (one race above par), including a 99 figure when second in the Los Alamitos Futurity, giving him the required juvenile stakes run (a win is not required). He races on or close to the lead which is a negative. Regular rider Antonio Fresu will be in the irons again from post 18 for trainer Phil D'Amato.

horse racing Honor Marie was second in the Louisiana Derby, a sharp prep but 6 weeks out and short of par with a BRIS 99 figure, in only his second start as a 3-year-old. As a juvenile he raced 3 times including winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (from 9 3/4 lengths off the pace, a confirmed closer with an "S 0" runstyle) at Churchill Downs with a 96 figure. Ben Curtis, who rode him for the first time in the Louisiana Derby, retains the ride from post 7 for trainer Whit Beckman; first Derby start for both jockey and trainer.

The next 5 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing Forever Young is undefeated, winning the UAE Derby in Dubai, a sharp prep but 5 weeks out (in just his 2nd start at 3), and earning a Racing Post Rating of 113 which is about 100 BRIS so we will credit him with that factor as well. As a juvenile he ran a 110 RPR in the Zennippon Nisai Yushun stakes, equating to a 98 BRIS (in his 3rd start), so he meets those pars as well. He tends to run close to the pace rather than rally from well out. Making his U.S. debut here, obviously he has never raced at Churchill Downs. Finally, he loses a point for drawing the 11, one of the unfavorable posts historically. Regular rider Ryusei Sakai gets the call for trainer Yoshito Yahagi.

horse racing Just a Touch has only raced 3 times, all this year, including a second place finish in the Blue Grass giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out and a 100 BRIS figure. He still lacks a stakes win (was also second in the Gotham), and he runs on or close to the front which is a negative. Obviously he also loses all the points for juveniles (zero starts, no stakes runs, no 90 figure, no Churchill starts). Regular rider Florent Geroux will be in the irons in the favorable 8 post (earning a bonus point here), for trainer Brad Cox.

horse racing Domestic Product has not raced since winning the Tampa Bay Derby back on March 9, a sharp prep and 3-year-old stakes win but off the longest layoff in the field of 8 weeks and in just his 2nd start of 2024. As well he earned a slow 84 figure in that effort, after running a 91 in the Holy Bull, both short of par. As a juvenile (3 starts, meeting par) his best figure was an 87 when breaking his maiden at Aqueduct. He has never raced at Churchill and is usually pressing the pace. New jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up the mount from the favorable post 15 (earning a bonus point here) for trainer Chad Brown.

horse racing Encino won the Lexington to draw into the field, a stakes win and sharp prep 3 weeks out in his third start of 2024 but short of par with just a 95 BRIS figure. His 1 start as a 2-year-old (made par as we want 1-3 starts) was a slow 78 BRIS effort and not a stakes. He also races close to the lead (BRIS "E/P 5") and has never raced at Churchill despite being based in Kentucky. Jockey Axel Concepcion, who rode Encino in his first 3 races, makes his Derby debut in post 9 for trainer Brad Cox.

horse racing Epic Ride is the first also-eligible. He finished third in the Blue Grass, a sharp prep 4 weeks out but with a BRIS figure of 95, short of par, in his 4th start this yea. His best figure this year was a 96 when breaking his maiden in January, after running an 81 in his lone juvenile start (not in stakes company). Like Encino, he is Kentucky-based but has never raced under the famous spires. Regular rider Adam Beschizza is scheduled to ride for trainer John Ennis should he draw in.

The next 6 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing Fierceness is the 5-2 morning line favorite but has several knocks. He won the Florida Derby by 13 lengths earning him a 106 BRIS figure, a sharp prep and stakes win but 5 weeks out and in just his second start of 2024 (we prefer 3-6 starts). As a 2-year-old he ran a career best 112 winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. However, is a confirmed front-runner (BRIS "E 8") which is not usually successful in the Derby. He had never raced at Churchill Downs, and he is the other horse in the field (after Catching Freedom) to fail on Dosage with an Index of 5.00 (he has a Center of Distribution of 0.83). Regular rider John Velazquez will be in the irons from the still-winless post 17 (point deducted) for trainer Todd Pletcher.

horse racing Endlessly won the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway, a sharp prep and stakes win but earning a slow 91 figure and 6 weeks out, in just his second start this year (short of par) after racing 4 times as a juvenile (one race too many). His best figure at 3 is the 93 earned winning the El Camino Real Derby, but he did run a 90 (par) winning the Zuma Beach as a juvenile. He comes from about 4 lengths off the pace (BRIS "S 3" rating), but he loses a point for drawing the 14 hole, one of the unfavorable posts historically, and has never raced at Churchill Downs. Regular rider Umberto Rispoli gets the call for trainer Mike McCarthy.

horse racing Dornoch is the first horse in the analysis not coming off a sharp prep, finishing 4th in the Blue Grass and earning a slow 94 figure in just his second start of 2024, matching the figure earned when winning the Fountain of Youth. He raced 4 times as a juvenile, running a 98 winning the Remsen. Like Fierceness he is a confirmed front runner ("E 6"); when unable to make the lead in the Blue Grass he showed no rally. He also has never raced in Louisville. Regular rider Luis Saez gets the call again for trainer Danny Gargan and breaks from the rail.

horse racing Track Phantom also did not have a sharp prep, finishing 4th in the Louisiana Derby with a career best (but short of par) 97 figure 6 weeks out in his 3th start of 2024. He did win the Lecomte to kick off his 3-year-old season, after winning the Gun Runner in December making par with a 94 figure, but in his 4th start (the limit is 3 for the 2-year-old season). He did start his career with 3 maiden races at Churchill Downs, but is also a confirmed front-runner ("E 8"), fighting for or being on the lead in all 7 of his starts. He loses a point for auction price as he sold for $500,000 at Keeneland September in 2022. Regular rider Joel Rosario will be in the irons from post 12 for trainer Steve Asmussen.

horse racing West Saratoga lacks a stakes win this year, finishing second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks for his final prep, but earning a slow 97 figure 6 weeks out, his third start of 2024. His career best figure is the 89 earned winning the Iroquois at Churchill Downs as a juvenile, also short of par, and in his 7th start of 2023, well beyond the 1-3 race target. Finally, he is usually close to the pace ("E/P 8") but did come from 6 lengths out in the Iroquois; we do not consider him a closer. Regular rider Jesus Castanon will be in the irons from post 13 for trainer Larry Demeritte.

horse racing Grand Mo the First also lacks a stakes win (career), finishing a distant 3rd in the Florida Derby (3rd start of 2024) which still qualifies as a sharp prep but 6 weeks out and with a slow (and also career best) figure of 88, too slow for either 2-year-old and 3-year-old pars. He did compete in the Zuma Beach in his third start as a juvenile, so he meets par on "foundation" (number of starts) both years. He runs close to the pace ("E/P 6"). Regular rider Emisael Jaramillo gets the call for trainer Victor Barboza Jr. from post 16.

The bottom 4 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

horse racing Just Steel finished second in the Arkansas Derby, a sharp prep in his third start of 2024 but with a career best 97 figure (short of par) and 5 weeks out. He still lacks a stakes win this year, his only stakes win being in the Ed Brown Stakes at Churchill Downs in his whopping 7th start as a juvenile (well beyond the maximum 3), earning a 96 which satisfies the 90 par for the 2-year-old season. He is a confirmed presser ("P 4") from 2-3 lengths off the pace, so he cannot be considered a closer. He also loses a point on auction price, selling for $500,000 at Keeneland September 2022. Jockey Keith Asmussen makes his Derby debut from post 6 for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

horse racing Catalytic finished a distant second in the Florida Derby, a sharp prep but 5 weeks out, a slow 90 BRIS figure, and in only his second start this year (so he still lacks a stakes win). His lone start as a juvenile, breaking his maiden, was a slow 85 effort, also short of that par, and he has never raced outside Florida. He races close to the pace with an "E/P 5" runstyle, but did appear to rally (but came up short) in his second start, an allowance at Tampa. New jockey Jose Ortiz picks up the ride from the favorable post 5 (earning a bonus point) for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.

horse racing T O Password comes here off just 2 starts, both this year, including the Fukuryu Stakes in Japan. As that race was not rated by Racing Post we are unable to credit it a 100 BRIS figure. In his last start he appeared to stalk the pace so we also cannot consider him a closer. Making his U.S. debut here, obviously he has never raced at Churchill Downs, and as the horse with the least experience in the field (Catalytic and Just a Touch have 3 starts each), this looks to be a tough assignment. New jockey Kazushi Kimura picks up the mount from the favorable post 10 (earning a bonus point) for trainer Daisuke Takayanagi.

Mugatu is the second also-eligible, winless since breaking his maiden in November and coming here off a 5th place finish in the Blue Grass, clearly not a sharp prep and with a career best (and par-missing) figure of 93. He has too many starts, 7 last year (none in stakes company nor at Churchill, with a best figure of 73) and 5 this year. His BRIS runstyle is "P 2", a presser, with his lone win coming from 5 lengths out so we grudgingly give him credit as a "closer" although we doubt his ability to rally over 1 1/4 miles against this company. Regular rider Joe Talamo is scheduled to ride for trainer Jeff Engler should he draw in.

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