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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 12:00 AM


Volume V…Number 17
Saturday, April 26, 2014


In one of my recent “Prepping for the Derby” articles I discussed the contribution that bloodlines make towards isolating the short list of legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders. In that article I noted that recent Derby winners have both a sire and dam sire that during their racing careers had an average winning distance of over 7 furlongs.

In 11 of the last 12 Kentucky derbies that group has produced the winner. Just to review last year…here are the Derby runners whose male and female side sires exceeded 7 furlongs and where they finished:

Revolutionary…7.1 – 8.2 – 3rd
Golden Soul…7.4 – 7.1 – 2nd
Palace Malice…7.1 – 8.1 – 12th
Lines Of Battle…7.2 – 7.7 – 7th
Charming Kitten…7.5 – 7.4 – 9th
Orb…7.0 – 7.8 – WIN
Frac Daddy…7.2 – 7.6 – 16th
Java’s War…7.1 – 11.7 – 13th

While any legitimate “elimination process” is of course vital, finding “which one” of those male side/female side 7 furlong plus average takes significantly more analysis. Nonetheless, that one single standard reduced your workable short list to 8 horses out of 19 and 3 of the 8 combined to create a 981.60 Exacta and $6,925.60 Trifecta.
So, moving forward, what deeper analysis can we look to regarding the potential for 3-year olds that have never gone further than a mile and an eighth when asked to go a mile and a quarter for the first time? One way of doing so is to check their running style and position in their mile and an eighth preps because that 9 furlong distance is in itself a key signifier when played out in the Kentucky Derby.

On its own that last sentence doesn’t really tell us anything in particular, so let’s reference it to the Kentucky Derby. And the best way to do that is to begin by another standard, one that is directly linked to the 9 furlong distance in question and that is common to recent Derby winners.

Simply put, in order to apply the ability to extend the 9 furlongs of prep races to the 10 furlongs of the Kentucky Derby a good starting point is to see where Derby winners were at 9 furlongs in the Derby. This investigation creates a pattern. In fact, while the position of Derby winning horses at 9 furlongs in regard to how many lengths they were within the lead with a furlong remaining in the race, there is also an indicator regarding where those same horses were positioned with a quarter mile remaining. While the 9 furlong indicator is more considerable than the 8 furlong indicator, both are meaningful enough to catalog below. I listed the year, Derby Winner, how many lengths off or if on the lead (L) at the furlong marker followed by how many lengths off or if on the lead (L) at the quarter pole.

2013…Orb…HD…4 ½
2012…I’ll Have Another…2 ½…3
2011…Animal Kingdom…1 ½…3
2010…Super Saver…L…1/2
2009…Mine That Bird…L…9
2008…Big Brown…L…L
2007…Street Sense…L…3 ½
2005…Giacomo…2 ½…4 ½
2004…Smarty Jones…L…HD
2003…Funny Cide…L…1/2
2002…War Emblem…L…L
2001…Monarchos…1/2…2 ½
2000…Fusaichi Pegasus…L…2 ½
1999…Charismatic…1/2…1 ½
1998…Real Quiet…L…L
1997…Silver Charm…L…1/2

By now you’ve sort of gotten the idea. Only I’ll Have Another in 2011 and Giacomo in 2005 were as “far back” as 2 ½ lengths when they passed the furlong marker. 11 of the 17 Derby winners since 1997 had taken the lead with a furlong remaining. Even the position with a quarter mile remaining is somewhat revelatory, especially when measured against what most serious handicappers understand to be a much too misguided subjective perception regarding the contention that if horses were closing from any significant off-the pace position in their preps then the added distance would make them even better in the Derby. But just look at those quarter pole figures…the only winner that was further off the pace than 4 ½ lengths was the 2009 freak show Mine That Bird.

Of course this doesn’t tell you who the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner is going to be, but this “positioning” angle gives you one more standard to add to the plus 7 furlong average winning distance of the sire and dam sire of the 2014 contenders. Of course this is where things become subjective, but remember, last year you would have worked with a pool of 8 horses and gotten the Winner (Orb) and the Exacta and Trifecta so let’s revisit this year’s short list of “Plus 7 Furlong” contenders and comment on how their recent Derby prep running styles might play out at the furlong marker and quarter poles of this year’s Derby.

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WICKED STRONG…7.2…7.7 – The last out Wood Memorial upset winner drew clear inside the furlong market to win off by 3 ½ lengths. That must be measured, however, against his previous two races, an allowance race and the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, both at a mile and a sixteenth in which he was well back at the finish…6 ½ lengths in the allowance race an d 15 lengths in the Holy Bull. It is also worth noting that in his Wood Memorial he negotiated the final quarter mile in a respectable :37 2/5 so he could be on the improve at the right time or simply outlasted a pair of negligible distance colts in Samraat and Social Inclusion.

HOPPORTUNITY…7.0…7.2 – In the first of his final two preps the Bob Baffert trained son of Any Given Saturday was a winner in the mile and a sixteenth Rebel Stakes when he was never off the pace as he parlayed a stalking trip into top honors, negotiating the final 2 ½ furlongs in :31 3/5 seconds. In his final prep, the Santa Anita Derby the colt clearly used the race as workout since he already had enough points for Derby qualification and ran evenly behind the projected Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome. He was beaten 5 ¼ lengths in the race but what might be more useful given that jockey Mike Smith obviously saved plenty of colt for Louisville was that he meted out his fractions in the sort of versatile speed (:47 4/5 for the half…a turned up :23 2/5 for the next quarter mile and a finishing time of :37 1/5) that is most useful to Derby runners.

INTENSE HOLIDAY…7.1…7.2 – In his final two preps, the Risen Star (a mile and a sixteenth) and the Louisiana Derby (a mile and an eighth) the Todd Pletcher’s Harlan’s Holiday colt ran exactly as you would want a Derby contender to run. He was 3 ¼ lengths off the pace at second call before winning the Risen Star with a final 2 ½ furlongs in :30 1/5 seconds and was beaten 3 ½ lengths in the Louisiana Derby by Vicar’s In Trouble (also headed to Louisville) as he checked in second after stalking no further off the pace than the final margin throughout the race while travelling the final 3 furlongs in a so-so :39 flat.

WE MISS ARTIE…7.1…7.3 – The son of Artie Schiller certainly looked the part in winning the 9 furlong Spiral Stakes and his perfect stalking trip in which he was never further off the pace than 4 ¼ lengths (at the start) and moved up gradually definitely looked the part of a Derby running style colt. However, it is also worth noting that after a leisurely :47 4/5 half mile and :25 flat next quarter he finished the final 3 panels in :39 2/5 over a glib Turfway Park course. Yes, Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 after last prepping in the Spiral Stakes, but that one had at least shown some talent on traditional dirt whereas We Miss Artie finished a well beaten 8th in the Fountain Of Youth and was 7th in the BC Juvenile in is two route tries away from synthetic or turf.

RIDE ON CURLIN…7.5…7.1 – The son of Curlin had already shown his ability to break with and remain in contention with the pace when he finished a length beaten 3rd in the mile and a sixteenth Rebel Stakes with a final 2 ½ furlongs in :31 2/5 seconds. It was his next start, however, that might be even more worthy of consideration, despite the fact that he was beaten 4 ¾ lengths by Hopportunity in the Arkansas Derby. In that final prep the Bill Gowan trained son of Curlin ran more like his sire in relaxing into a tracking position and finished second, beaten 4 ¾ lengths by the upstart upsetter Danza. From a style of running standpoint his even fractions in :48 2/5…:24 3/5…and a final 3 furlongs in :37 2/5 were exactly what could translate to the Derby standards noted above.

RING WEEKEND…7.4…7.5 – There is no question that the style of running the son of Tapit exhibited in first upsetting the Tampa Bay Derby in easily dispatched wire-to-wire fractions and even his disappointing second in an odd-choice final prep in the Calder race Course Derby on April 5 matches up with the tactical speed one looks for in a bred-for-the-distance Derby contender. But one has to be concerned, despite the solid 6 furlong drill at Fair Hill on Friday 4/25 with the less than stellar speed figures the Graham Motion trainee has produced against admittedly lesser opposition in his last two races.

MEDAL COUNT…7.2…8.4 – The “now” colt following his rapid emergence at Keeneland with a win in the Transylvania Stakes on April 4 and his sharp second to Dance With Fate in the Blue Grass Stakes 8 days later on April 12. The son of Dynaformer ran virtually the same race in the 1 1/16th mile Transylvania and the 1 1/8 mile Blue Grass. He was in contact with the field to the backstretch, moved into contention 6 furlongs into the race and finished his final 2 ½ furlongs in the first race in :30 4/5 and in the Blue Grass negotiated the final 3 furlongs in a sharp :36 4/5 to draw within 1 ¾ lengths at the finish. The only question he must answer is the same that We Miss Artie would need to answer. Can he get it done on traditional dirt? He has never raced at CD and his two main track tries resulted in a 9 lengths beaten effort in the Fountain Of Youth at a 17 lengths beaten effort in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita.

VINCEREMOS…7.1…7.0 – Assuming that we can throw out the horrendous performance in the Blue Grass Stakes because it was his one and only race on the synthetic we can look at a colt with good tactical speed that is in the Pletcher barn and still might have an upside. In all four races prior to the Blue Grass the son of Pioneer Of The Nile stalked the pace from 6 furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth, culminating in a 3 lengths beaten second in the Tampa bay Derby behind Ring Weekend. In that race he negotiated the final 2 ½ furlongs in :31 3/5. He has the style but has not turned in a single work as of 4/26 following the April 12 Keeneland debacle so despite having the good tactical speed running style one has to question his sustainable speed against what might be better opposition.

Using the two standards above we find that just like last year we have a short list of 8 horses heading into the final week of preparation leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
Of course setting aside the winning average standards of the male and dam sire and only focusing on a running style that would place a contender within that 2 ½ lengths or less margin finishing the 9th of 10 furlongs in the Derby would open the contender list up and include logical 3-year olds such as California Chrome (6.4…6.5), Vicar’s In Trouble (6.7…6.9), Dance With Fate (6.5…7.2), Samraat (6.8…6.6), Danza (6.7…7.3), Wildcat Red (6.4…7.2), Chitu (6.3…8.2), Tapiture (7.4…6.5), General A Rod (6.7…8.4), Candy Boy (6.9…6.2), Uncle Sigh (6.6…7.3) and Harry’s Holiday (7.1…6.5). But this installment of PREPPING FOR THE DERBY is about those that meet both standards…we’ll discuss the other contenders in the editions that follow over the course of the next week.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t add one more Blue Grass State note. As Kentucky counts down to arguably their most important week of the year they get the bonus of finding out that the Harrison twins aren’t only real good college basketball players but smart ones as well, which they proved by announcing that they will both return to the Wildcat court for their sophomore year.

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