Your Guide to Picking a Kentucky Derby Winner
Picking a Kentucky Derby winner is a daunting task. I've picked one exactly twice in my life. So this year, instead of just giving you a name, I'm going to try to guide you through an easy process to pick your own winner. Ready? And we're off!
Is there an exceptional horse in the race? Because the Derby usually has a large field, racing luck and pace tend to make the race. A truly exceptional horse, however, tends to make its own luck. If you think there's a potential Triple Crown winner in the field, pick him and skip to the end. If not, move on to question 2.
This year, I think the answer is a clear "no". So on we go.
Are there fewer than 14 horses in the field? If so, then you can rely on what happened in the Derby preps to guide your pick. Races with fewer horses tend to have a more reasonable pace and predictable results. If the field isn't full, look to one of the winners of the big prep races (Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, Florida Derby).
This year, 20 horses are going to be in the starting gate, so it's on to question 3.
How fast will the pace be? As Paula Abdul would say, this is "key important". Check out the running styles of the field. If there's a ton of horses in the race that all like to be 4th or 5th throughout the race, then they all might plod around in the early part of the race, meaning that one of them will outkick the others for the win OR that a frontrunner might get loose on the lead and win. This is not a common scenario. More likely is the field with a few speedballs. They'll ensure a swift pace and cause those horses who want to be comfortable sitting off the lead to go faster than they want. This pace scenario usually results in a come-from-behind horse winning.
So, to review, fewer speed horses mean the race sets up for stalkers OR for a lone speed horse. Lots of speed horses mean that the winner will most likely come from way off the pace.
This year, there is plenty of speed as horses like Sinister Minister, Keyed Entry and Lawyer Ron will tear out of the gate and set a torrid pace. Because of this, I'm going to narrow my possible choices to horses that come from behind or who have shown the ability to lay off the pace. From a field of 20, I'm now down to the following: Barbaro, A.P. Warrior, Bluegrass Cat, Steppenwolfer, Point Determined, Cause To Believe, Storm Treasure, Jazil & Seaside Retreat.
Will it rain? On some tracks, it doesn't seem to matter if it's muddy. At Churchill Downs (the home of the Derby) it does matter. It's the track comes up wet, look for horses with some history of success in the mud. Extra bonus points if his mother was a mudder.
This year, there's a 30% chance for rain on Saturday. I'm not overly concerned about finding a mudder, but, in any case, pretty much all of the horses who made it past question 3 should just be fine in the mud.
Can he go the distance? One common misconception is that horses who come from behind are stayers. This isn't necessarily the case. You still need to find a stretch runner with a pedigree that doesn't scream "sprinter".
Of the horses left: Barbaro, A.P. Warrior, Bluegrass Cat, Steppenwolfer and Point Determined should have enough blue blood to make it home.
Horses prep all around the country and many never race against each other before the Derby. Therefore, it's useful to rank the regions. If, for example, the Florida horses are much the best this year, that gives you a reason to take a Florida stretch runner over one who stayed in California.
This year, it's all about the California-based horses. As a group, they appear the strongest, so bonus points for A.P. Warrior and Point Determined.
Are any of the remaining horses trained by Bob Baffert or D. Wayne Lukas. Savvy handicappers are known to take out "Lukas insurance". That is, they'll place a small wager on Lukas-trained horses even if they don't really believe that they have a chance. History shows that you ignore Lukas & Baffert at your own peril.
This year, Lukas doesn't have a horse in the mix, but Bob Baffert trains Bob And John, Point Determined and the speedball Sinister Minister.
Who do the Derby gods want to win? Really. The Derby gods are a sentimental bunch. If there's some octogenarian owner who has waited his whole life to win the Derby, he usually will. Good stories win.
This year, I think there are three exceptional stories. The recently widowed Beverly Lewis is represented in the Derby by Point Determined. Beverly and her husband Bob won the Derby with Charismatic & Silver Charm. Many folks would like to see the popular Beverly win this one on her own, in memory of her husband. Another good story belongs to Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, who was one of the survivors of a terrible Iowa plane crash back in the 1980s. Matz led three children from the wreck and then went back to save an 11-month old girl. The Derby gods gotta like that. Finally, the likely Derby favorite, the front-running Brother Derek, is trained by Dan Hendricks, who was paralyzed in a 2004 accident.
So, based on my flow chart of questions, the clear pick is Point Determined. He's a well-bred, stretch-running horse from California trained by Bob Baffert with a sentimental backstory. But here's where I screw myself up. I really don't think Point Determined is going to win. I prefer his California counterpart, A.P. Warrior. So, I'm bucking my own system to make my pick. Hopefully it'll pay off this year. For the trifecta, I like A.P. Warrior, Point Determined & Barbaro. Who do you like?
Posted by at May 5, 2006 06:29 AM
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|# May 5th, 2006 10:46 AM kris|
|The Louisville Courier-Journal has a neat tool that lets you pick attributes and find the Derby horses that meet your criteria. |
|# May 5th, 2006 11:21 AM james|
|so, you have a like a 1/15 record, yet you're giving out advice? isn't this a bit like ted kennedy giving tips on drinking in moderation? |
|# May 5th, 2006 11:23 AM kris|
|i'm pointing out the generally accepted criteria, so people can come up with different answers than I do.
plus, i think i showed how i screw up. i go through all the questions and THEN pick a different horse
|# May 5th, 2006 11:25 AM james|
|do you happen to have a form i could look at?
did you know that bob and john is owned by texans owner bob mcnair? (insert passing on reggie bush joke here)
|# May 5th, 2006 11:32 AM kris|
|of course i know that ;-)
PDF of the past performances
|# May 5th, 2006 11:45 AM james|
|cool. i'll look it over when i have some time and i'll get back to you with the winner. don't worry, you'll still ahve time to call in your bets and make millions. ;-) |
|# May 5th, 2006 1:24 PM BVBigBro|
|I like Jazil and Steppenwolfer.
|# May 5th, 2006 1:29 PM kris|
|going for the deep closers, huh? that's probably a smart angle. too bad you're not in Louisville now because if that exacta came in you'd be sitting pretty |
|# May 5th, 2006 1:33 PM BVBigBro|
|Not only deep closers, both got better in their last race and got better going to a longer distance from the shorter 1-1/16. I don't necessarily like the inner rail position for running from off the pace, but as they will both be running from behind, they shouldn't be fighting each other for position early on.
|# May 5th, 2006 1:48 PM BVBigBro|
|Private Vow and Storm Treasure are owned by a gentleman we are currently doing business with. |
|# May 5th, 2006 1:53 PM kris|
|what? and you couldn't try to weasel your way into some box tickets for your sister? |
|# May 5th, 2006 2:02 PM BVBigBro|
|They had some good races earlier this week, but trust me, you don't want to be at the track with the yahoos that come into Louisville for this one.
|# May 5th, 2006 2:04 PM kris|
|that's why I would want box seats. I wanna be away from the riff raff |
|# May 5th, 2006 2:06 PM BVBigBro|
|Unfortunately, the people I was referring to are the people who generally consider themselves above the "little people". If you don't carry around a hat box, you don't belong in the boxes. |
|# May 5th, 2006 2:11 PM KVBigSis|
|My boss enjoyed your write-up, Kris, and wants you to know his pick is Barbaro.
Here are some more horse-picking strategies:
1. Bet on offspring of horses who've been good to you in the past (the "Unbridled" rule). That makes AP Warrior my horse.
2. The "Charismatic" rule. Wait until the post parade and if some horse knocks your socks off, bet him.
|# May 5th, 2006 3:01 PM kris|
|I like Barbaro too. So many people like the horses I like that I feel like we all can't be right. It'll probably be Brother Derek after all or something. |
|# May 6th, 2006 12:34 PM BVBigBro|
|In the end, I pick Jazil. He has carried more weight than Steppenwolfer, and better late speed. Steppenwolfer could still be there, and is worth a bet at the current odds, but the money is on Jazil. |
|# May 6th, 2006 5:32 PM BVBigBro|
|Strong race by Barbaro. A definite favorite I think for the Triple Crown. Jazil got a good ride, really a brilliant ride, on the inside and just couldn't catch him. |
|# May 6th, 2006 9:33 PM kris|
|My question five narrowed it down to 5 horses:
Of the horses left: Barbaro, A.P. Warrior, Bluegrass Cat, Steppenwolfer and Point Determined should have enough blue blood to make it home.
The race ended up with Barbaro winning, Bluegrass Cat finishing second and Steppenwolfer up for third. The trifecta paid. a cool $11,418.40. It's kind of irritating to me that I gave out the trifecta box here but was really all over the two horses that weren't in the money.
|# May 6th, 2006 9:51 PM james|
|it's irritating that 99.9% of all of the people going to kentuckyderby.com right now want to know the results, yet there is no link for results. sure, they have the winner, and the payouts for the top three, but what of the rest? i want to know who the 4th horse was, so i know if i hit my superfecta. wtf? why's it so hard to put the freaking results online?
i guess they'd rather freeze my browser while they automatically start playing a video that i dont want to see, at a size that's so small that if even i did want to see it, it would be useless. "oh look, that dot is about to overtake that other dot." they must get their web design lessons from espn. just awful.
|# May 6th, 2006 10:10 PM BVBigBro|
|Jazil was 4th.
Between the two of us Kris, we had this race pegged. I can't believe the two obvious closers and Barbaro went off at such high odds. Makes you wonder if people have actually watched previous Derbys.
|# May 7th, 2006 8:24 AM kris|
|PDF of the official chart. BV, Jazil actually dead heated with Brother Derek for 4th.
If you have an educated opinion in the Derby you can make some money because so many people put money into the pool and know absolutely nothing about horse racing. The problem is that even if you're right, there's so many horses in the race that your bets are expensive. To box my five horses in the tri would have cost $120.
Although, my actual analysis was wrong as a stalker won the race. I liked Barbaro, but I thought he'd be further back. For question 1, I almost wrote that there was no clear potential superstar, with the possible exception of Barbaro.
I don't know what to make of the race yet. Barbaro was very impressive but he did have everything his own way. But, he might have had everything his own way precisely because he's the type of great horse that makes his own luck.
I'm a little wary of him in the Preakness because he's been trained to have long gaps between races and this time he'll only have two weeks.
|# May 7th, 2006 9:27 AM BVBigBro|
|Barbaro didn't have everything his own way. The race set up absolutely perfect for Jazil and Steppenwolfer. The early pace killed half the field, which was the obvious thing to expect, and Jazil got an awesome run right on the rail after the hot pace. Barbaro was just too good.
The only break he caught was the field going seven wide through the final turn, which was truly foolish. The horses running from off the pace, though, didn't have to go wide.
If you knew ahaed of time how the race was going to set up, I don't think you would have picked Barbaro.
|# May 7th, 2006 10:08 AM kris|
|The pace was actually NOT that fast. They went 3/4 in 1:10 and change, which is good, but not THAT fast. It really set up nicely for a stalker and the fact that closers came up for the rest of the superfecta is really more of a testament to how poorly the rest of the acclaimed horses ran than anything. |
|# May 7th, 2006 11:10 AM kris|
|Just to give some perspective on the pace, in 1998, Old Trieste ran the first mile in 1:35.61, which I believe was, at the time, the fastest first mile in Derby history. In 2001, Songandaprayer ran the first 3/4 in 109.25 and the mile in 1:35 flat. This was the tremendous pace that cooked the great Point Given. Last year, Spanish Chestnut doomed the front runners and stalkers with 3/4 in 1:09.59 and a mile in 1:35.88.
This year, Sinister Minister and Keyed Entry ran three quarters in 1:10.88 and the mile went in a significantly slower 1:37.02 flat. What happened is that they ran a respectably fast first 3/4 and then completely collapsed in the next quarter, which is why Barbaro was able to run right past them. By the time the deep closers got going, Barbaro was way too far ahead.
I don't meant to take anything away from Barbaro. I really like him and his connections and I'm thrilled that a Roberto-line horse just won the Derby. But, the race set up absolutely perfectly for him. He might be a great one, but I need to see him do it again before I'm a believer.
|# May 7th, 2006 11:29 AM kris|
|some data for comparison's sake:
1997 - 3/4 in 1:12 1/5, mile in 1:37 flat, finish in 2:02 2/5, the winner is the stalking Silver Charm
1998 - 3/4 in 1:10.62, mile in 1:35.61, finish in 2:02.38, winner is the closer Real Quiet.
1999 - 3/4 in 1:12.52, mile in 1:37.58, finish in 2:03.29, the winner is the stalker Charismatic.
2000 - 3/4 in 1.09.99, mile in 1:35.74, finish in 2:01.12, winner is the deep closer Fusaichi Pegasus.
2001- 3/4 in 1:09.25, mile in 1:35, finish in 1.59.97, winner is the deep closer Monarchos.
2002 - 3/4 in 1:11.75, mile in 1:36.70, finish in 2:01.13, winner is the front runner War Emblem.
2003 - 3/4 in 1:10.48, mile in 1:35.75, finish in 2:01.19, winner is the stalker Funny Cide.
2004 - 3/4 in 1:11.88, mile in 1:37.35, finish in 2:04.06, winner is the stalker Smarty Jones.
2005 - 3/4 in 1:09.59, mile in 1:35.88, finish in 2:02.75, winner is the deep closer Giacomo.
2006 - 3/4 in 1:10.88, mile in 1:37.02, finish in 2:01.36, winner is the stalker Barbaro
I think this year's race was absolutely typical of a Derby won by a stalker. The best thing about Barbaro's race was the rather stellar file quarter that he ran in 24.34.
|# May 7th, 2006 12:08 PM james|
|i just hope barbaro wasnt a baffert horse. i hate that guy.
the announcers couldnt shut up about him, as if he's the second coming or something. i honestly think that each of the male announcers would gladly ... well, do *anything* that he asked them.
"baffert has 4 horses in this race, and has trained 5 derby winners!!" well no shit, if you train 1/5 of the horses in the race each year, you're going to have a a winner once in a while.
|# May 7th, 2006 12:10 PM kris|
|he isn't-he's trained by the guy who saved the kids in that Iowa plane crash
the media love Baffert because he gives them great quotes