April 20, 2017: Prepping for the Derby

It seems like the major Derby preps saved the best for last in last Saturday’s running of the Arkansas Derby. There’s no doubt Classic Empire showed his class and heart winning so impressively coming off a hoof abscess. Anyone watching the race would agree it was visually impressive, BUT do the numbers back that up? Well, let’s break out the old race chart to find out:


The Fractional Times:


Louisiana Derby:        23.46    47.00    1:11.15   1:36.8

Florida Derby:            23.28    47.08    1:10.75   1:34.94

Wood Memorial:        23.50    47.34    1:11.83   1:37.67

Santa Anita Derby:    22.66    46.55    1:10.92   1:37.55

Blue Grass:                23.79    48.34    1:12.36   1:37.35

Arkansas Derby          22.75   46.92     1:11.16   1:36.43


The Split Times:


Louisiana Derby:     23:54      24:15    25:65    12:97

Florida Derby:         23:80      23:67    24:19    12:53

Wood Memorial:      23:84     24:49    25:84     13:24

Santa Anita Derby:  23:89     24:37    26:63     13:61

Blue Grass:             24:55     24:02    24.99     13:04

Arkansas Derby:      24:17     24:24    25.27     12:50


The Final Times:


Louisiana Derby:     1:49.77

Florida Derby:         1:47.47

Wood Memorial:     1:50.91

Santa Anita Derby: 1:51.16

Blue Grass:             1:50.39

Arkansas Derby:     1:48.93


Yes, the final time of the race was the fastest noted of all the major Derby preps, but the number that stands out is the final eighth of a mile being run in 12:50 seconds. Why? Because that’s when Classic Empire won this race, and if you watched closely, you would have noticed his jockey Julian Leparoux gave him a hand ride to the wire. So, shall we just give the Kentucky Derby trophy to the connections right now? Whoa, not so fast. Remember he will be running against the best three-year-olds in a race without those need-to-lead speed types setting a fast pace early in the race.


We said that about last year’s race though and there was an honest pace, but don’t take our word for it. Go print out the race charts for several years’ runnings of the Derby. We should be very familiar with race charts and the information they contain. Look at the times and read the descriptions, then go watch the replays. By doing this exercise, we can develop a profile of the types of runners and running styles that finish well in the race. We won’t be able to figure out how the Derby will unfold just yet because we’ll need the post positions for that. However, comparing the field in this year’s event to a Derby profile can help us weed out the contenders from the non-contenders in the field, and with twenty horses running, you need to weed out as many as you can!


Another thing will can do in handicapping the race right now is to look over the pedigrees of the entries. At The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping, we look for the “Fappiano Factor” for all the reasons we highlighted a few weeks ago when Arrogate won the Dubai World Cup. Meaning, we like to find Fappiano in the pedigrees of the entries in this year’s Derby. This may sound like a lot of work for just one race; however, it provides us with a great handicapping mindset for the future. Besides all the work we do now means less to do later. You certainly don’t want to be there the morning of the race scrabbling around for the race charts you threw somewhere, or just getting frustrated not knowing where to begin with your handicapping, all of which leads you to choosing the chalk. Granted Empire Classic has the resume of a Kentucky Derby winner, but his favoritism directs us to find the other horses for the Derby exacta, triple, superfecta bets. Remember a betting strategy, or Tail Handicapping as we like to call it, comes last in our decision-making. We need to zero-in on those contenders first and there’s no time like the present.


April 13, 2017: More Time(s)

Last week, we compared two major Derby preps, the Louisiana Derby and the Florida Derby in the few ways available to us, one being through comparing the fractional and split times of each race given that they were run at the same distance, a mile and one-eighth. This past weekend, we had three more major Derby preps, the Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass, and the Santa Anita Derby and each of those was run at the same mile and one-eighth distance too. Sure, we can compare the races by just re-watching them over and over again. However, the information on all the entries is right there in the race charts. Now, if your handicapping of these preps just wasn’t there, then shake it off. We need to use the races like the horses are using the races, to get ready for the Derby. Unlike the horses, we don’t need to use our feet to get ready, we have our heads and eyes. So, let’s use those heads and compare all of the major Derby preps run so far:


The Fractional Times:


Louisiana Derby:         23.46    47.00    1:11.15   1:36.8

Florida Derby:            23.28    47.08    1:10.75   1:34.94

Wood Memorial:         23.50    47.34    1:11.83   1:37.67

Santa Anita Derby:      22.66    46.55    1:10.92   1:37.55

Blue Grass:                23.79    48.34    1:12.36   1:37.35


The Split Times:


Louisiana Derby:     23:54      24:15    25:65    12:97

Florida Derby:         23:80      23:67    24:19    12:53

Wood Memorial:      23:84     24:49    25:84     13:24

Santa Anita Derby:   23:89     24:37    26:63     13:61

Blue Grass:             24:55     24:02    24.99     13:04


The Final Times:


Louisiana Derby:     1:49.77

Florida Derby:         1:47.47

Wood Memorial:     1:50.91

Santa Anita Derby:  1:51.16

Blue Grass:            1:50.39


What should jump out at you looking over these times is how slowly last Saturday’s preps were run compared to the previous week’s races. Although, it’s always good to see 24-second quarters being run, those final eighths of a mile were, well, run at a seemingly walking pace. Such speed, or lack thereof, makes it very difficult for closer types. You can see in the race charts how the winners were stalking the early pace setters. Is that the excuse we can give heavy favorites like McCracken, Tapwrit, and Reach the World? Well, McCraken was coming into the race off a layoff and has already punched his ticket for the Derby, so, it is not surprising he wasn’t giving it 100% out there.


For those horses looking to get into the race, we need to watch who was running well during that last eighth because the Derby will be run another eighth of a mile.So, if you are re-watching the races, also check out how they ran after the wire. Did they have something left? We also have the problem of handicapping those lightly raced horses like Tapwrit. How much did they get out of the prep? Was there an excuse? Irish War Cry, the winner of the Wood Memorial is a good example of a horse coming off a poor effort after an impressive win earlier in the year, then coming back to win again. It is obvious the connections are using the Derby preps to find out about the running style of the horse. Where does he like to run on the track, inside or outside other horses? Does he like to close or can he rate behind others? Does he have a closing kick?


So, when we handicap the last major Derby prep to be run, the Arkansas Derby this Saturday, try to find some of these angles. For instance, Classic Empire is returning from an injury and he already qualified for the Kentucky Derby, so, he won’t be giving it his all; however, maybe his 75% efforts will be enough. How do we find out? Handicap the competition that’s how. For example, if there’s no speed to set a good early pace, the closers won’t be able to catch those stalking whatever pace there may be.


After that race, we should at least have a clear picture of the Derby field and once that happens, we can do a different type of comparison, this one gives us an idea of how the field stacks up against a profile of a Derby winner. So, don’t throw your copies of the race charts away, as we are going to need them for this comparison as well.

April 6, 2017: Drawing Comparisons

Well, two more major Derby preps are in the books and what have we learned from the results to aid our handicapping? The winners of the Florida Derby, Always Dreaming and the Louisiana Derby, Girvin have pretty much shown their running styles. Remember, we need to figure out the running styles of the Derby entries to visualize how the race will unfold. Is that all we got out of watching these races? Nope, as we need to go to the race charts and get as much information as we can from them to help our Derby handicapping. (See, there was a method to our madness in going over the race charts for the early Derby preps, because you are already familiar with them.)

Now, the question is how do we use the race charts to compare the efforts we saw in the Louisiana Derby and the Florida Derby? The races were run at different tracks, so, what can we find in the race charts to help us compare the races? Looking over each chart, we focus on the distance of the races and the track conditions. Doing so, we find both races, like all the major Derby preps were run at a mile and one-eighth. Both races were also run on fast tracks. Since both factors are similar, let’s compare them by looking at the Fractional Times of each race:


Louisiana Derby: 23.46   47.00    1:11.15   1:36.8

Florida Derby:      23.28  47.08    1:10.75   1:34.94


Comparing the quarter and final eighth of a mile run times, which are called the Split Times, we find:


Louisiana Derby: 23.54    24.15    25.65    12.97

Florida Derby:      23.80   23.67    24.19     12:53


Lastly, we compare the Final Times of the races:

Louisiana Derby: Final Time: 1:49.77

Florida Derby:     Final Time: 1:47.47


Now, don’t let all these funny numbers scare you, as you don’t have to be a speed figure guru to compare them. Just looking at the final times, it’s clear that the Louisiana Derby was run slower than the Florida Derby. Looking at the Fractional and Split times, we can see the Florida Derby was run faster during the second and third quarters, as well as, the final one-eighth of a mile. One last comparison we might want to make is by going back to the race charts to find each course record for the distance. By doing this last comparison, we can see how each race compares to a benchmark. The track record for the distance at the Fair Grounds is 1:47.64, so, the Louisiana Derby was really slow compared to the record. It is interesting to find that the course record for a mile and one-eighth at Gulfstream Park was 1:46.83, set by Arrogate in the Pegasus Cup.


So, what does it all mean? One thing to remember is that Girvin had a stablemate run in the race, who was entered to set a fast pace. These type of entries are known as a “rabbit” because it is hoped that other entries will follow this horse, which sets up for a closer-type like Girvin. In the Kentucky Derby, the connections won’t have the luxury to enter such a horse. At Gulfstream Park, even though the favorite Gunnevera ran out of racetrack and finished third, the Florida Derby may just be the better indicator of success for the top three finishers come the first Saturday in May. Each of them has the running style favorable to win at a mile and a quarter. The other thing to note coming out of the Florida Derby is that the winner Always Dreaming is trained by Todd Pletcher, who seems to have enough Derby prospects to fill a quarter of the starting gate at Churchill Downs. It will be interesting to see how his other contenders do in their major Derby preps, three of which, the Santa Anita Derby; the Wood Memorial; and the Blue Grass are being run this weekend. However, there’s no need to rush to pick these horses as our Derby contenders as their competition in these major preps will be the toughest they will have faced to date.