Even for the amateur handicappers among us, one has to know the three unique variables that make KY Derby handicapping nearly impossible:
*20 horses. Where else besides some steeplechase racing in the UK will you find fields this large? How can a horse handle traffic? We can look at fields of 12 to 14 with some, but a field this size presents its own pace issues.
*10 furlongs. Very typically, no horse entering a Derby has ever raced at this distance.
*Track bias. As in, not enough to measure. I like to measure bias from the meet’s and meet’s weekly total in a race. Since the Derby is always running in the first week that Churchill starts up, there’s nothing much to rely on.
On we go to the analysis, horse-by-horse.
My wagering strategy will follow this at the end of the post.
DADDY LONG LEGS has the longest route win of this field, 1-3/16 (ahead of a bunch of others who have won at 9 furlongs). This was in his last start, the UAE Derby in Dubai. Borrowing the DRF numbers, it looks like he sharply improved from his lone US race that came before this, running 12th in the BC Juvenile last year. He also forged a new lifetime best, as I make comparisons to both his Beyer and the UK equivalent Racing Post numbers. Further the UAE Derby was a slight improvement on his 2YO best effort in GB. This horse is one of three I feel is in great form.
OPTIMIZER forged a lifetime best 2 races back in the Rebel Stakes (G2). His 96 Brisnet also soundly improved over his 91 at 2YO, giving him explosive form. He also has the recovery line; ran an 88 starting his 3YO campaign right after layoff, then down to 85, then the 96. He predictably bounced to an 82 in his last race, the Arkansas Derby. I generally take a stand against horses who have recovered in pace after layoff. Outside of the closing finish in the Rebel, he’s not been near the lead in any of his starts for much of his career outside his first 3
TAKE CHARGE INDY is the winner of the FL Derby. ROI angle: Jockey Borel and trainer Patrick Byrne worked together on one race prior, scoring a win, good for a +15.40. This is related to the horse’s FL Derby win. Paired up Brisnet numbers are not a very good sign, as it can suggest a bounce, but I have no extra evidence that he will. For what it’s worth, he’s got one of the better pedigrees going; a colt by AP Indy and Take Charge Lady (Dehere).
UNION RAGS everyone seems to like. Doesn’t impress me all that much tho. He won the Champagne Stakes at two, then posted 3 triple digit Brisnet numbers, starting with a 103 in the BC Juvenile here. He’s matched but hasn’t surpassed this effort yet.Great pedigree: Dixie Union-Tempo (Gone West).
DULLAHAN won the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last year, and the Blue Grass, where he forged a new lifetime best of 102. In his prior race he surpassed his 2YO best with a 98, running 2nd in the Palm Beach. I do like him, but not outstanding of this large field.
BODEMEISTER is attempting to buck the long trend of horses who have never ran at two among Derby winners. He won the Arkansas Derby in his last race. Improved Brisnet numbers in each race, topping out at 105. Always at or near the lead in each call in each start. This sprinter is mighty dangerous. I’ve rated his pedigree as the best of the 20-horse field. Empire Maker-Untouched Talent (Storm Cat).
ROUSING SERMON has nothing outstanding for contention here. Last won in October, ran decently in 5 straight Graded events but only twice in the money. He’s often made very wide runs and has not always rallied. Also sports great pedigree: Lucky Pulpit-Rousing Again (Awesome Again)
CREATIVE CAUSE won the Norfolk Stakes at two. Ships from Santa Anita for this one. Late running style has served him very well in each of his 8 starts, never out of the money. After a 107 in his first maiden race, he’d run only as well as a 102 in 3 straight, and is off a 97, running 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby.
TRINNIBERG is one of the automatic throwouts. He paired up in his last 2 starts with triple digit numbers, sharply ahead of an 80 to finish his 2YO year. He’s also never run past 7 furlongs. ROI for the 2 races that his jockey/trainer combo of Martinez and Parboo worked on, both wins, is +8.95.
DADDY NOSE BEST enters with great form here. Winning the Sunland Derby, scored a 101 Brisnet, just ahead of his 100 in the BC Juvenile Turf here last year. He does run the risk of bouncing, as he improved from a 92 before the Sunland Derby. This is just the sort of angle that I have found winners at. Switches jockey from Leparoux to Gomez also.
ALPHA had previously earned the explosive pace form for running a 100 in the Count Fleet, his 3YO debut. Since that race was 4 months ago, he won’t be under that influence here. He did match that number next in the Withers, then forged with a 101 in the Wood Memorial. Has he plateaued? Possibly. Tends to run wide. Switches jockey from Dominguez to Maragh.
PROSPECTIVE is the horse I am predicting will finish last. Winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, his best Brisnet came in that race and a 6th place finish in the Blue Grass last time out. Upon layoff, starting his 3YO campaign, he started with a 91, then a 90, then the pair of 95s in the last two. Horses recovering in form after layoff, along with a pair of higher numbers absolutely suggests a downturn for the next. He does happen to have very good genes tho: Malibu Moon-Spirited Away (Awesome Again)
WENT THE DAY WELL is another whose raced overseas, and for whom I’ve had to study using the DRF numbers instead of Brisnet. 2 maiden races in UK, then 3 progressively faster races in the southern US. He appeared to have forged a new lifetime best in his 3YO debut, then a slight downtick when shortening distance a bit, finally breaking maiden. Then was entered in the Spiral (G3) winning that ,and forging a new life best. Recovery angle in play here along with that peak. Possible weaker effort here.
HANSEN won the BC Juvenile on this track, running a 105, best Brisnet number at Churchill of these horses. Blazing speed, fastest pace numbers to his style. Ran his quickest early fractions in the Blue Grass last time out, tho his purely fastest race was his win in the Gotham before this. Having nearly wired the field after losing to Dullahan by 1.25 lengths, I have to believe he will be ready to handle 10 furlongs, tho it may depend on how the pace unfolds.
GEMOLOGIST,undefeated in 5 starts, won the Wood Memorial in his most recent. Progressive higher Brisnet numbers in last 3 starts. Forged a new lifetime best in the Wood, and also still under influence of the explosive category, running a 98 in his 3YO debut. That allowance race improved on his maiden win, a 95.
EL PADRINO doesn’t have oustanding quality for this race. Forged lifetime best Brisnet, a 111 in his 3YO debut, then posted a 101 and 100 in his last 2 races. This late running horse can compete but probably outclassed here.
DONE TALKING has very good pedigree (Broken Vow-Dixie Talking, out of Dixieland Band). One of the three horses I like on form alone. Won the Illinois Derby last time out with a 92, surpassing his 2YO best of 90, and sharply above his last race, the Gotham, which was an 81. Very good value here to play with, as I think he will run past his 92 today.
SABERCAT, a late running horse, has good pedigree (Bluegrass Cat-Miner’s Blessing, out of Forty Niner). Ran 3rd in the Arkansas Derby in his last race, scoring a 94, and forged a new top, while also just surpassing his 2YO best. Just a modest improvement over his 8th place finish in the Rebel, which was a 90. With the pair of runs in the 90s, beyond runs in the 80’s, I’m not sure he will run any quicker today. Also seems to have some traffic issues.
I’LL HAVE ANOTHER won the 9 furlong Santa Anita Derby. Nothing huge in terms of form except that he had already showed explosive form in the Robert B Lewis Stakes in February, then paired up with the win at Santa Anita. His runs were 98 and 102, improving on his debut race, a 97, but also his ‘off’ race in the Hopeful, a 58. Has to get the right trip to prevail. I’m predicting he won’t run in the 90’s here.
LIAISON won the CashCall Futurity last year. Has the exploding form line, a 96 score in a 4th place finish in the San Felipe at Santa Anita, then bounced with an 87 in the SA Derby. Not sure whether he can bounce back. And of course he’s got the #20 post, which is impossible for Derby standards.
MY ADONIS will race in the #20 spot should there be a scratch. Won a 200k race last year, but has not been very competitive in 4 straight Graded races. Paired up strong numbers nevertheless running at 3 after layoff, with a 98 in the Holy Bull, then a 102 in the Gotham, bounced from this with a 91 in the Wood Memorial. Unsure how he may respond with the stretchout from 9 to 10 furlongs.
Here are my top 5 for the Derby:
Daddy Long Legs
Daddy Nose Best
What I will do is focus on my top 5 selections and use them for exactas between each other, along with win bets for any horses that may run worse than 5-1.
Also here are the Future Wager bets I’ve already placed. If any of these horses run worse than the odds I’m locked into wagering for, I’ll place an extra win bet on them.
From pool 1:
Creative Cause 17-1
From pool 2:
I’ll Have Another 22-1
From pool 3:
Secret Circle 30-1 (not running)
Take Charge Indy 15-1
Daddy Nose Best 20-1
With scratches and other possible changes, my selections can change right along with them. I will edit and update these handicapping posts as situations warrant.
Last year I picked the winner out of Pool 3.
2 years ago, I picked, but did not wager, the exacta.
How will this turn out? I can’t wait!