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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 04/28/2019

Using historical trends and the past performances for the top 23 Kentucky Derby contenders by points, we have weighted several factors to develop the following ranked list. Each horse was given points for his conformation to a Derby winners profile. Of course this does not guarantee that the horse with the most points will win, but it does give you a good idea who to eliminate from the winning position. It follows that if a horse doesn't fit the winner's profile, he may still finish in the money, much like how handicappers might bet anti-bias horses on the bottom of exotics. We also recommend checking workout patterns in the final week since these are a good indicator of who is ready. Preferably you're looking for horses that have at least two workouts over the Churchill Downs surface and at least one bullet work, and also consider post positions once drawn, as some positions are known to be unfavorable such as the rail and the 17.

With so many late drop-outs this year, it looks like the cutoff to make the field will be about 40 points, and the tiebreaker (non-restricted stakes earnings) puts #19 Spinoff in the field ahead of #21 Bodexpress. Master Fencer is already guaranteed in as the Japan Road to the Derby invitee, and so is listed as #20. At time of writing #23 Anothertwistafate and #25 Bourbon War have declared out of the Derby so they are not included in the analysis.

As observed the last several years, we have an unusually tight group under our analysis, suggesting that the points system is more effective at weeding out pretenders compared to the former graded earnings scheme. We will use the Derby points ranking list as our tiebreaker when horses scored equally in the analysis, rather than merely calling it a tie between x number of horses. We will note when this tiebreaker was used. We are looking for 100+ BRIS speed figures this year, and 90+ figures last year (2-year-old races). For horses with foreign races in their past performances, the Racing Post ratings were converted to BRIS figures using Steve Roman's equivalency chart (Dr. Roman has "retired" from racing and his website is no longer available). The departure of Roman from the business will affect this analysis in future years as the "chefs" used to calculate Dosage Index and Center of Distribution will no longer be updated. The Jockey Club discontinued its Experimental Free Handicap (renamed the "Top 2-Year-Old Rankings" last year, for its final edition) marking the end of the Dual Qualifier angle which made use of the handicap in combination with Dosage.

For more information on the trends and statistics used in this analysis, check out my article on Handicapping the Derby, the book Betting the Kentucky Derby by Dean Keppler, and Triple Crown Handicapper by Jim Mazur. This is an older article on angles from American Turf Monthly. This is the most over-analyzed race on the planet, so there are lots of trends and angles you can use. You can get free past performances for the Derby contenders here from Brisnet.com.

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.

The first 2 horses tied in points so are listed in points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Plus Que Parfait - ranked highly but will attempt to break the Dubai jinx in the Derby, as no Dubai runner has ever won the Run for the Roses and he will likely go off at long odds on Saturday. The Brendan Walsh trainee shipped to Meydan to pick up 100 points by winning the UAE Derby earning him a 110 Racing Post rating (about 99 BRIS), which is his best this year but a point short of the 100 par. The win did give him a stakes win this year and a sharp prep, but beyond the recommended 4 week layoff limit. He made 4 starts last year including a stakes appearance (a close 2nd in the Kentucky Jockey Club), to go with his 3 starts this year. Arguably he shipped out to "duck" tougher competition as he finished a 5th in the LeComte and then a distant 13th in the Risen Star before his Meydan upset.

horse racing kentucky derby Win Win Win - ranked highly despite being an expected longshot. It is worth noting here that unlike in past years, no horse scored on every factor in the analysis, every horse failed on at least 2 of the factors. He raced 3 times both at 2 and 3, raced in stakes company as a juvenile, and has a stakes win this year (in the ungraded Pasco at Tampa Bay). He comes to Louisville off a 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out. However, he is one of 4 horses in this analysis to fail on Dosage with his 4.50 index (but he did quality on Center of Distribution with 0.91), and loses a point for taking a Tampa Bay prep path.

The following 6 horses tied in points so are listed in points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Omaha Beach - comes to Louisville off a 3 race winning streak including the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, using the Oaklawn prep path despite training in California. Given his high ranking here it shouldn't be a surprise that Mike Smith chose to ride this Richard Mandella trainee in the Derby rather than have his pick of the powerful Bob Baffert barn. He has had enough starts at 2 and 3, won stakes at 3, is coming in off a sharp prep 3 weeks out, and qualifies on both Dosage factors. However, he did not compete in stakes company as a juvenile nor did he meet the BRIS pars, topping out at 86 as a juvenile and 99 this year. He will need to step up in speed figures to win.

Vekoma - has only raced 4 times in his career, twice as a juvenile (including the Nashua at Aqueduct) and twice this year (including winning the Blue Grass - a sharp prep 4 weeks out). He qualifies on speed figures, scoring 101 in both the Nashua and Blue Grass, and qualifies on both Dosage factors. Clearly his lack of foundation is the main concern here, but as we saw last year with Justify even that angle may be failing over time, especially given the Derby points system giving heavy weight to 3-year-old stakes races.

Haikal - only raced twice as a juvenile (but not in stakes company), but did make 3 starts as a 3-year-old including wins in the Jimmy Winkfield and Gotham both at Aqueduct. He finished 3rd in the Wood Memorial earning him a sharp prep 4 weeks out. He qualified on speed figures with his 95 when breaking his maiden, and the 102 in the Gotham. His only downsides were not enough starts at 2 nor a stakes start, but as explained above this angle may lose significance.

horse racing kentucky derby War of Will - is one of the most experienced horses in the field with his 8 lifetime starts, 5 as a juvenile (albeit mostly on turf) and 3 this year. The Mark Casse trainee used the Louisiana path, winning the LeComte and Risen Star (earning him the required stakes win at 3), but then was a disappointing 9th in the Louisiana Derby (not a sharp prep, and off too long a layoff). His top figure of 94 (breaking his maiden on dirt in November) qualifies him on that factor, but he has not topped 100 this year, his best being 96 in the Risen Star. He will need to project beyond that to win on Saturday.

Tax - represents the first Derby runner for trainer Danny Gargan who claimed him from original owners and breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider out of a race at Keeneland in October. Tax went on to finish 3rd in the Withers (a stakes race at 2), win the Withers at 3, and then finish 2nd in the Wood Memorial (a sharp prep 4 weeks out). His 3 starts as a juvenile and the 103 figure in the Remsen qualify, as does his 102 Withers figure, however he only had 2 starts as a 3-year-old. We deduct a point for having the highest figure lifetime in the field, which in this group is 103. The good news is that he earned that fig 3 starts back and if he can run back to that he would be competitive on Saturday.

Cutting Humor - qualifies on foundation, with his 3 starts last year (including a 93 figure at Gulfstream West) and 3 this year. The Todd Pletcher trainee took the "road less traveled", finishing a disappointing 7th in the Southwest and then shipping to New Mexico to win the Sunland Derby (a sharp prep but outside the 4 week window), earning him a spot in the field. He did not compete in stakes as a juvenile, and his top fig was a 99, just missing the 100 par at Sunland. So far only Mine That Bird has used the Sunland Derby to success as a final prep for the Roses.

The following 7 horses tied in points so are listed in points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Game Winner - is the juvenile champion who went undefeated in 4 starts last year including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile where he scored a 103 figure, more than par for the season, however he only has raced twice this year, finishing 2nd in both the Rebel and Santa Anita Derby and topping out with a 98 figure at Oaklawn, failing to meet par and number of required starts. He qualifies on Dosage but with his 103 figure he earns a knock for tying for highest figure in the field. He will likely go off at low odds despite these negative factors.

Long Range Toddy - ties for number of starts in the field with 8, nicely balanced with 4 last year (all at Remington Park including 2 stakes wins), and 4 this year, including a win in the Rebel at Oaklawn. The Steve Asmussen trainee comes to Louisville off a distant 6th place finish in the Arkansas Derby, not a sharp prep but inside the 4 week window. He fails on speed figures, topping out at 89 last year and 97 this year, and his dosage index is just above the cutoff at 4.33.

Master Fencer - represents the first Japan Road to the Derby invitee to accept his invitation and make the trip over the Pacific. He comes here with 3 starts last year including a win (in stakes company at Hanshin), and 3 this year, however he lacks a stakes win this year, finishing 4th in the Hyacinth and 2nd in the Fukuryu (earning him a sharp prep but outside 4 weeks). The 95 Racing Post Rating earned in the Fukuryu converts to about 91 BRIS, well short of the 100 par. He qualifies on both Dosage factors. New rider and locally experienced Julien Leparoux picks up the mount aboard this longshot.

horse racing kentucky derby Maximum Security - makes his first trip away from South Florida, having trained at Palm Meadows and raced at Gulfstream Park exclusively for trainer Jason Servis. Undefeated in his 4 starts (short of the par of 6), he made just 1 start as a juvenile (well short of the par of 3), romping in his debut with a 94 figure which more than qualifies. This year, he won two allowance races and then won the Florida Derby, a sharp final prep with a qualifying 102 figure, but outside the 4 week window. His figures have progressed upward over his 4 starts, so it begs the question, will he "bounce" in the Derby?

Roadster - won the Santa Anita Derby for trainer Bob Baffert, giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out, but that was only his 2nd start this year after making just 2 starts last year, so he is short on foundation (with just 4 starts lifetime). He scored a 96 fig in his debut win, qualifying him for that factor, but his 98 at the Santa Anita Derby fell short of the 100 par. He will need to progress above 100 to win. We did see a Bob Baffert colt "short on foundation" sweep the Triple Crown last year, however it is worth noting that Mike Smith was aboard for all 4 of Roadster's starts but chose to ride Omaha Beach in the Derby. New rider Florent Geroux picks up the mount.

Signalman - ties War of Will with the most juvenile starts in the field with 5, including a 2nd place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile earning a qualifying 99 figure, then "regressing" to a 95 fig to win the Kentucky Jockey Club, both races at Churchill. However, this year he only has 2 starts, finishing a disappointing 7th in the Fountain of Youth then 3rd in the Blue Grass, a sharp prep 4 weeks out but with a 97 figure, just short of the century mark. He also loses a point for having a start at Saratoga, suggesting his best days may already be behind him (his debut was almost a year ago, on May 17). He will need help to draw into the field.

Sueno - will need some defections this week to draw into the field. He raced 3 times last year, including winning the Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate, but his best fig as a juvenile was just 88 when breaking his maiden at Del Mar. This year he has raced 4 times but has failed to win, finishing 2nd in the Sham and Southwest before finishing 3rd in the Louisiana Derby and the Lexington. This at least earns him a sharp prep 3 weeks out, but his top figure this year was 96, in both of his last 2 starts. Finally, his 4.14 Dosage Index is above the limit of 4.

The following 5 horses tied in points so are listed in points order:

horse racing kentucky derby By My Standards - made just 2 starts as a juvenile, failing to win either start (both in maiden company) with an 86 figure in his debut, all short of the pars for the juvenile season. He started 3 times this year, winning the Louisiana Derby for his final prep and scoring 102 figure there. So he is short on foundation (in terms of juvenile and career starts) and he is coming off a longer than 4 week layoff. He qualifies on both Dosage requirements. Regular rider Gabriel Saez, who has been aboard for all 5 starts, gets the call Saturday for trainer Bret Calhoun.

Code of Honor - represents the powerful barn of trainer Shug McGaughey and owner William S. Farish (Lane's End Farm). He made 2 starts as a juvenile, both in the 90's including a 2nd place finish in the Champagne. This year he has 3 starts, a win in the Fountain of Youth followed by a 3rd place finish in the Florida Derby, earning him a sharp prep but outside 4 weeks, and topping out with 95 figures in those two stakes, short of the par. He will need to progress again (after paired top figs) to win on Saturday. Regular rider John Velazquez retains the ride.

Country House - comes to the Derby off a 3rd place finish in the Arkansas Derby, giving him a sharp prep 3 weeks out, however he has not won a stakes race this season, his best being a 2nd place finish in the Risen Star. His best figure this year was the 95 when finishing 4th in the Louisiana Derby. As a juvenile he only made 2 starts, both in maiden races, with a best figure of 89 at Aqueduct. The Bill Mott trainee qualifies on dosage, number of starts this year (4) and lifetime (6). He will need to progress in figures to be competitive. New jockey Flavien Prat rides for trainer Bill Mott.

Gray Magician - finished a close second to Plus Que Parfait in the UAE Derby, earning a sharp prep (but outside 4 weeks) and a 109 Racing Post rating, converted to approximately 98 BRIS, still short of par. He still lacks a stakes win nor did he compete in stakes company as a juvenile, but qualifies on number of starts with 4 last year and 3 this year. He also fails on Dosage Index with a 5.00, but his Center of Distribution passes with 1.00. The Peter Miller trainee did run a 90 figure in December, which qualifies. His 1 for 8 record and slow figures suggest he will go off at long odds.

horse racing kentucky derby Improbable - was undefeated in 3 starts as a juvenile including the Los Alamitos Futurity where he scored a 100 BRIS figure. However, this year he only started twice and finished second both times, in the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, earning him a sharp prep 3 weeks out but still lacks a 3-year-old stakes win. His 5 starts liftime and 2 this year are short of par, and his Dosage Index is 4.23. Although he has several faults under this system, if he can run back to that 100 figure he may be competitive. Irad Ortiz Jr. retains the ride for trainer Bob Baffert.

Tacitus - topped the Road to the Derby points standings with 150, off his Wood Memorial victory where he earned a 103 figure. This gives him a 3-year-old stakes win, a sharp prep 4 weeks out, and a qualifying 3-digit figure, but with several knocks, he may be a poor bet at low odds. He has only raced 4 times (twice last year, neither in stakes, and twice this year) so he is lacking in foundation for the big dance. He qualifies on dosage and did run a 93 in his debut, but he earns a knock for running at Tampa Bay (winning the Tampa Bay Derby) which may suggest "ducking" the tougher competition elsewhere. In addition his 103 figure is the fastest in the field so he also earns that knock. Jose Ortiz Jr. who has been aboard for all 4 starts rides again Saturday.

The bottom 2 horses tied in points so are listed in points order:

horse racing kentucky derby Spinoff - is lighgtly raced having just 2 starts last year and 2 this year. After winning his debut at Gulfstream he finished 3rd in the Saratoga Special (scoring an 89 BRIS figure, one point shy of par) which qualifies as a stakes start at 2 but also a knock for running at Saratoga, before going on an extended layoff. He won his 3-year-old debut in a Tampa Bay allowance (earning that knock) before finishing a close second in the Louisiana Derby, earning him a sharp prep but outside 4 weeks, but means he is winless in stakes company.

Bodexpress - will need a defection in order to draw in. Still winless in his 5 starts (1 short of par), he ran twice as a juvenile (also 1 short of par), with a best figure of 90 which met the par. This year he started off with an 18-ength loss against maidens, then a neck defeat also in maiden company, but was entered in the Florida Derby for his stakes debut where he finished second at odds of 71-1! That effort earns him a sharp prep outside the 4 week window, but the 98 fig earned at Gulfstream is also short of par. To add insult to injury his dosage index is a whopping 8.33, the highest in the field, and his 1.14 center of distribution also misses.

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