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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 5:14 PM

Jim Hurley
Thursday, April 18

Over the course of the next two plus weeks leading up to the 145th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4, I guarantee you that there will be occasions when you will hear pundits, bloggers and regular thoroughbred bettors in your orbit profess a similar line of thought.

It will go something like this.

“Did you see how well (fill in a name) has been closing in his prep races?
He should love the extra distance of the Derby.”

Well, yes and no.

(Deep Closers Are A Liability As Kentucky Derby Winners)

There are dozens of attributes which a potential Kentucky Derby winner must possess. Breeding, conditioning, racing luck, solid connections and a will to win among them. But since none of these three-year olds has been the taxing 10 furlong distance, it is always a challenge to establish a “projected” profile of running style which might give a horse player as short a list of legitimate contenders as possible.

Based on what I’ve learned in 4 plus decades of handicapping this race with the help of my vast Racing Network of experts is that it comes down to versatility, tactical speed and athleticism. And these particular talents have been on display on a consistent basis within the roster of recent Kentucky Derby winners. And one thing they have shown is that, counter to a long held (by too many players) closers do not win the Kentucky Derby, those aforementioned versatile, tactically speedy, athletic runners do.

Want the evidence…here it is.

Since 1997 there have only been 3 Kentucky Derby winners that have been further off the leader than 3 ½ lengths at the quarter pole. Those 3 winners were Orb (4 ½ in 2013), Mine That Bird (7 in 2009) and Giacomo (5 in 2005.) And 7 have already been on the lead at that call while another 6 were a length or less off the leader at that quarter pole. Here is the list of the winners of the Kentucky Derbies since 1997 with what position they were in and how close to the lead at the quarter pole (or one mile into the race with a quarter mile still to be run.)

2018 – Justify – On the lead
2017 – Always Dreaming – On the lead
2016 = Nyquist – 2nd by a head
2015 – American Pharoah – 3rd by ¼ length
2014 – California Chrome – On the lead
2013 – Orb – 5th by 4 ½ lengths
2012 – I’ll Have Another – 4th by 2 ¼ lengths
2011 – Animal Kingdom – 5th by 2 ¼ lengths
2010 – Super Saver – 2nd by a half length
2009 – Mine That Bird – 12th by 7 lengths
2008 – Big Brown – On the lead
2007 – Street Sense – 3rd by 3 ½ lengths
2006 – Barbaro – On the lead
2005 – Giacomo – 11th by 5 lengths
2004 – Smarty Jones – 2nd by a head
2003 – Funny Cide – 2nd by a half length
2002 – War Emblem – On the lead
2001 – Monarchos – 6th by 2 ½ lengths
2000 – Fusaichi Pegasus – 6th by 2 ½ lengths
1999 – Charismatic – 3rd by 1 ½ lengths
1998 – Real Quiet – On the lead
1997 – Silver Charm – 3rd by ½ length

LAST YEAR’S KENTUCKY DERBY WAS A PRODUCT
OF EASY TO SEE FORM AND SHORT PIECES…

JIM HURLEY AND HIS NETWORK RACING EXPERTS SAY 2019
WILL BE JUST THE OPPOSITE…
*NO CLEAR CUT FAVORITE!
*NO IMPENDING TRIPLE CROWN WINNER LIKE JUSTIFY
*A HALF DOZEN OR MORE 3-YEAR OLDS WHO LOOK THE PART!
*ON SATURDAY, MAY 4, IT WILL BE A “RETURN TO BOXCAR PAYOFFS!”
(Check Out All The Winning Options Here)

And the versatility, tactical speed and athleticism of these Derby winners was already on display in their final preps.

Below is where these winners were in their final preps one mile into the race, all of which were run at 9 furlongs with the exception of 1999 when Charismatic’s final prep was in the 1 1/6th mile Lexington Stakes.

2018 – Justify – On the lead (Santa Anita Derby)
2017 – Always Dreaming – On the lead (Florida Derby)
2016 - Nyquist – On lead (Florida Derby)
2015 – American Pharoah – On Lead (Arkansas Derby)
2014 – California Chrome – On the lead (Santa Anita Derby
2013 – Orb – 3rd by 1 length (Florida Derby)
2012 – I’ll Have Another – 3rd by ½ length (Santa Anita Derby)
2011 – Animal Kingdom – On Lead (Spiral Stakes – Turfway Park)
2010 – Super Saver – 2nd by a head (Arkansas Derby)
2009 – Mine That Bird – 4th by 2 lengths (Sunland Derby – Sunland Park)
2008 – Big Brown – On the lead (Florida Derby)
2007 – Street Sense – 4th by 1 length (Blue Grass Stakes)
2006 – Barbaro – 2nd by a head (Florida Derby)
2005 – Giacomo – 4th by 2 lengths (Santa Anita Derby)
2004 – Smarty Jones – On lead (Arkansas Derby)
2003 – Funny Cide – 2nd by a head (Wood Memorial)
2002 – War Emblem – On the lead (Florida Derby
2001 – Monarchos – 2nd by 5 lengths (Wood Memorial)
2000 – Fusaichi Pegasus – 3rd by 2 lengths (Wood Memorial)
1999 – Charismatic – 2nd by a head (Lexington Stakes)
1998 – Real Quiet – 2nd by 3 lengths (Santa Anita Derby)
1997 – Silver Charm – On lead (Santa Anita Derby)

(So Which Horses Meet This Particular Evidentiary Profile)

The next step of course is to “profile” these three year old contenders based on their Derby Preps, in particular their final race. And when you do that you find that you are able to shorten the list somewhat. But of course be advised, this “profile,” while a very important angle is only one of my Key Derby Handicapping elements.

Here is a "short" list of the eligible runners who were close or on the lead a mile into their final prep and are helped by their running style.

Omaha Beach – Front end winner in both the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby.
Vekoma – Close up in the Fountain of Youth and just a head back before winning the Blue Grass Stakes.
Roadster – One length back in 3rd before winning the Santa Anita Derby.
By My Standards - One length back in 3rd before winning the Louisiana Derby.
Maximum Security – Wire to wire in the Florida Derby.
Game Winner – ½ length back in 2nd before finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby.
Improbable – 1 lengths back in 2nd before finishing second in the Arkansas Derby.
Tax – A head back in 2nd before finishing second in the Wood Memorial.
Cutting Humor – Got to the lead before going on to in the Sunland Derby.
Spinoff – Got to the lead before finishing second beaten a neck in the Louisiana Derby.  

There you have it, all you closer lovers. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Of course the above profile still fits a number of solid, qualified, legitimate contenders. But at least you have a starting point.

Make sure to return to these pages daily for more Kentucky Derby handicapping angles by myself and other National Race Masters Handicappers.

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