Tag Archives: American Pharoah

Four Year Trends Under The Kentucky Derby Points System

Mario Gutierrez rode Nyquist to the victory in the 142nd Kentucky Derby (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Four Year Trends Under The Kentucky Derby Points System

The dust has hardly settled on Nyquist’s win in the 142nd Kentucky Derby, but that does not stop us from looking back on his race as well several other Kentucky Derbies. 2016 marked the fourth year of the Kentucky Derby Points System that helps determine the entrants into the race. Below we will take a look at the last four years (2013 through 2016) under the Points System as well as the four years prior to the Points System (2009 through 2012).

Some trends have become apparent in the last few years, but keep in mind that 4 years of data is hardly enough to start planning a strategy around betting the 2017 Kentucky Derby. And anyone who has followed horse racing knows this sport can turn in a hurry. Let’s look at the first trend of the winners in the last eight years.

Favorites Dominate Kentucky Derby Under Points System

The favorites have won each of the first four runnings of the Kentucky Derby under the points system. In the four years prior to the Points System, the favorite never won and only one to hit the board was Bodemeister in 2012 with his wonderful front running effort. The tables below show each of the last 8 years.

4 Years Since Start of Kentucky Derby Points System
Year Winner $2 Win $2 Exacta Field Size Favorite Finish
2016 Nyquist $6.60 (Fav) $30.60 20 Winner
2015 American Pharoah $7.80 (Fav) $72.60 18 Winner
2014 California Chrome $7.00 (Fav) $340.00 19 Winner
2013 Orb $12.80 (Fav) $981.60 19 Winner

 

4 Years Prior to Start of Kentucky Derby Points System
Year Winner $2 Win $2 Exacta Field Size Favorite Finish
2012 I’ll Have Another $30.60 $306.60 20 2nd
2011 Animal Kingdom $43.80 $329.80 19 8th
2010 Super Saver $18.00 $152.40 20 6th
2009 Mine That Bird $103.20 $2,074.80 19 18th

One thing to keep is mind is that the favorites are so for a reason: they are considered to be one of the best going into the race. This is quite true for each of the last four horses. Nyquist was considered the best three year old, though there were concerns whether he could handle a mile and a quarter. American Pharoah and California Chrome were considered stand outs against their peers while Orb was a tepid favorite, but still highly regarded to get the distance and had a beloved trainer in his corner.

Even the exactas have gotten chalkier since the start of the Points System. Orb’s exacta paid just short of a grand, but is has been shorter since then including a paltry $30.60 with Nyquist and Exaggerator going 1-2 this year. It is hard to see the payout getting much smaller than that unless there are two towering choices in 2017.

California Based Horses Rise To The Top Under Points System

California horse racing is known for its speed. The horses are bred to go as fast as possible as soon as possible. That does not exactly seem like a recipe for getting a mile and a quarter, but we have seen a shift of 3 year old dominance to the West Coast.

Consider this: 4 of the last 5 horses to win the Kentucky Derby have spent significant time based in California during their two and/or three year old season.

Nyquist (2016): Ran five of his eight races in California. His three races outside of the state have been in Kentucky (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and now Derby) and Florida (Florida Derby), which happens to be the site of his three biggest career wins.

American Pharoah (2015): Ran all three of his two year old races in California before being shipped between California and Arkansas for his Derby Preps. It worked well as he went on to become the first Triple Crown Winner since Affirmed in 1978.

California Chrome (2014): He ran 10 races in California prior to the Kentucky Derby.

Orb (2013): He wintered in Florida where he won three races before winning the Kentucky Derby.

I’ll Have Another (2012): He raced twice in California as a two year old before a poor race at Saratoga to end his season. At three, he stayed in California before heading to the Kentucky Derby.

Animal Kingdom (2011) and Super Saver (2010) were nomadic in their careers prior to the Derby. Mine That Bird (2009) did have a race in California as a two year old, but it was a stopover in the Breeders’ Cup after his career started in Canada. He eventually landed at Sunland Park before his unlikely Derby win.

For whatever reasons, California has churned out the Kentucky Derby prospects and they are not just winning. They are also doing well enough to hit the board the last two years. Nyquist and Exaggerator went 1-2 this year while American Pharoah, Firing Line, and Dortmund went 1-2-3 in 2015. Again, two years of data in dominating the exacta is far from a serious trend, but is still worth noting.

Position of Winners Under Points System

Another trend that has begun to emerge from the last four years is not just favorites or Californian horses winning the Kentucky Derby. It is also how they are winning the race. Each of the last three years the winning horses have been very close to the lead with none of the them being worse than third during their race. The tables below provide some insight as to where the winners were during their race.

4 Years Since Start of Kentucky Derby Points System
Year Winner 1/4 Split 1/2 Split 3/4 Split 1 Mile Split Final Time Field Size Track Condition Winning Style
2016 Nyquist 22.58 45.72 1:10.40 1:35.61 2:01.31 20 Fast Near Front / Presser
2015 American Pharoah 23.24 47.34 1:11.29 1:36.45 2:03.02 18 Fast Near Front / Presser
2014 California Chrome 23.04 47.37 1:11.80 1:37.45 2:03.66 19 Fast Near Front / Presser
2013 Orb 22.57 45.33 1:09.80 1:36.16 2:02.89 19 Sloppy (Sealed) Deep Closer

 

4 Years Prior to Start of Kentucky Derby Points System
Year Winner 1/4 Split 1/2 Split 3/4 Split 1 Mile Split Final Time Field Size Track Condition Winning Style
2012 I’ll Have Another 22.32 45.39 1:09.80 1:35.19 2:01.83 20 Fast Off Leaders / Stalking
2011 Animal Kingdom 23.24 48.63 1:13.40 1:37.49 2:02.04 19 Fast Mid Pack / Closer
2010 Super Saver 22.63 46.16 1:10.58 1:37.65 2:04.45 20 Sloppy (Sealed) Off Leaders / Stalking
2009 Mine That Bird 22.98 47.23 1:12.09 1:37.49 2:02.66 19 Sloppy (Sealed) Deep Closer

In the five previous Kentucky Derbies (2009-2013), runners close to the pace were usually nowhere to be found. As previously mentioned, Bodemeister set the pace in the 2012 Kentucky Derby won by I’ll Have Another and finished second. Shackleford tried to wire the field in 2011, but finished fourth by 3 3/4 lengths. Super Saver was close to the lead in terms of position, but was more than 5 lengths off the pace until the mile marker. Pioneerof the Nile (Sire of American Pharoah) was close throughout his Kentucky Derby run (never more than 3 lengths off the lead) while finishing second to Mine That Bird.

One of the hardest conclusions to draw is from race position. Each Kentucky Derby is completely different in how it is run. How many horses were setting the pace? Was there any pressure on the leader(s)? How was the track condition? How did the track condition affect the shape of the race? Did one of the speed horses not break well? Those are just a few of the many questions that can have different answers each year in how the race was run.

Nevertheless, the trend is there that horses near the front are doing well. However, keep in mind that the last three years, the top 3 year old entering the Derby was considered above the rest of the crop. Perhaps this is nothing more than the best horse in the race having a similar style and just being better than their peers.

Speed Under the Kentucky Derby Points System

Last year I postulated that the Kentucky Derby was slowing down in terms of time. After three years of data it appeared to be correct, but then 2016 happened. This year the Kentucky Derby went in 22.58 for the quarter and 45.72 for the opening half-mile. 2015 saw the same fractions go in 23.24 and 47.34, respectively. As stated two paragraphs above, the shape of the race is contingent on many different factors. The draw, the track condition, if a bias is present on the track, the break at the start of the race, etc. all can completely change how a race is run and won, especially in a race with as many as 20 horses.

Conclusion

What you have read above was worth pointing out, but by no means should sculpt one’s handicapping for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. The favorites have dominated the last four years and the winner has run the same race in the last three years. Does that mean it will continue? Not at all, but the trend can also still continue in 2017.

What makes the Derby so different (and difficult) is there is no race to compare it. There are no other races for 3 year olds that are run at a mile and a quarter AND allow 20 horses. The uniqueness of it allows it to be one of, if not the, most popular races each year. That uniqueness also makes it hard to find parallels as noted above.

Horse racing is a fickle sport. The highest highs can be followed by the lowest lows. The trends laid out above could easily be blown apart when a horse completely changes tactics (see Palace Malice in the 2013 Kentucky Derby). A real, concrete pattern may not emerge for another decade or more (four years is hardly a great basis for drawing a solid conclusion). A lot of things can change in the next decade which may show this four year trend as an anomaly. 

One trend that will not probably change is my picking of the Kentucky Derby Toss. I had #9 Destin this year and he finished 6th. In addition, there will probably be an article like this one looking back at five year trends instead of four year trends. Enjoy the Triple Crown!

American Pharoah Runs Into Racing Immortality

American Pharoah winning the 2015 Belmont Stakes with Victor Espinoza aboard (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)
American Pharoah winning the 2015 Belmont Stakes with Victor Espinoza aboard (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

American Pharoah Runs Into Racing Immortality

The 37 year wait to see a Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred racing is now over. American Pharoah led from start to finish in the Belmont Stakes on his way to a 5 1/2 length victory and becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner in history.

Jockey Victor Espinoza won the Triple Crown after having two previous attempts in 2002 aboard War Emblem and 2014 aboard California Chrome. For trainer Bob Baffert, it was his fourth attempt after tries in 1997 with Silver Charm, 1998 with Real Quiet, and 2002 with War Emblem.

American Pharoah went straight to the lead and Espinoza was determined to control the pace early on. To his outside was Materiality in second and Frosted in third. Mubtaahij was fourth on the rail with Keen Ice fifth, and Madefromlucky sixth. The trailing duo was Tale of Verve and Frammento with the latter nearly nine lengths off the pacesetter.

Pharoah set pressure-less fractions of 24.06 for the opening quarter and 48.83 for the opening half mile while Materiality was still on the outside about a length off the lead. Mubtaahij continued to save ground on the rail with Keen Ice, Frosted, and Madefromlucky behind him. Tale of Verve was starting to be pushed entering the far turn and Frammento was still the trailer.

After going six furlongs in 1:13.41 and a mile in 1:37.99, American Pharoah was set down for the final quarter of a mile and his only real threat was Frosted. Frosted came out in the stretch and looked like he would make a race of it down to the wire, but Pharoah simply pulled away to win by 5 1/2 lengths.

Frosted was second with Keen Ice coming back on for third and Mubtaahij was fourth. The remaining order of finish was Frammento, Madefromlucky, Tale of Verve, and Materiality. The entire chart can be found here via Equibase.

American Pharoah is by Pioneerof The Nile out of the Yankee Gentleman mare Littleprincessemma. He paid $3.50 to win, $2.80 to place, and $2.50 to show.

The debate will now shift to how American Pharoah stacks up against the other Triple Crown winners. That will rage on for decades after this incredible run of races. Pharoah is expected to run again in 2015 though it is highly unlikely he will run beyond the end of this year.

2015 Belmont Stakes Preview

American Pharoah training at Belmont Park (Reuters)
American Pharoah training at Belmont Park (Reuters)

2015 Belmont Stakes Preview

The 2015 Triple Crown culminates on Saturday with 2015 Belmont Stakes. Once again, there is the possibility of a Triple Crown winner with American Pharoah having won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in May.

A field of eight has been assembled to vie for the 2015 Belmont Stakes that carries a purse of $1,500,000. They will go one mile and one-half (12 furlongs) over the main track dubbed “Big Sandy.”

Post time for the Belmont Stakes is at 6:50 PM Eastern time and is carded as the 11th of 13 races on Saturday. Free past performances can be found here.

The table below provides the entries along with the jockey, trainer, and morning line odds.

Post PositionHorseJockeyTrainerMorning Line Odds
1MubtaahijIrad Ortiz, Jr.Mike de Kock10-1
2Tale of VerveGary StevensDallas Stewart15-1
3MadefromluckyJavier CastellanoTodd Pletcher12-1
4FrammentoMike SmithNick Zito30-1
5American PharoahVictor EspinozaBob Baffert3-5
6FrostedJoel RosarioKiaran McLaughlin5-1
7Keen IceKent DesormeauxDale Romans20-1
8MaterialityJohn VelazquezTodd Pletcher6-1

 

1. Mubtaahij – He was the easy winner of the Group 2 UAE Derby in late March before taking on the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, he sat mid pack for most of the race and he did not have much of a response in the stretch as he finished 8th. He should like this 12 furlong distance and if he can sit closer to the pace, he could make some noise down the stretch.

2. Tale of Verve – It took this guy six starts to break his maiden and he was then entered in the Preakness Stakes. He surprised many by running second to American Pharoah at odds of 28-1, but he was seven lengths behind Pharoah. That race has led some to believe he has a chance to pick the pieces once again at big odds. He will need some pace to run at in this spot and there does not appear to be much.

3. Madefromlucky – He was under consideration for the Kentucky Derby, but was sent into the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes instead. He did well in the Peter Pan when he made a four wide move in the stretch and pulled away to win by a length. He did beat only four horses that day and he ran fourth and second to Pharoah in his two races previous to the Peter Pan. He could add value to the exotics at a decent price.

4. Frammento – He was a longshot in the Kentucky Derby and he ran like it. He finished 11th beaten 12 lengths that day. He had no pace to run at in the Derby and he does not appear to have any pace in the Belmont either. He is taking the blinkers off for this race, but he appears likely headed for a spot in the bottom of the superfecta at best.

5. American Pharoah – There is not much more to say about him. He has won six straight races after a poor debut including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He is clearly the horse to beat and he will probably be the controlling speed in this race. He is just a mile and a half from horse racing immortality if he can win this race. The obvious favorite here and the top choice.

6. Frosted – He and Materiality were the only ones to really make up ground in the Kentucky Derby. Frosted just missed third as the wire came before he was able to blow past Dortmund and he finished fourth by 3 1/4 lengths. He should not be nearly as far back in this race and he could sit just off the leaders to give him a good spot turning for home. Must be considered as a slight upset possibility.

7. Keen Ice – He is another closer that will need some pace to run at in the Belmont. He was able to move from 14th to 7th in the stretch during the Kentucky Derby. His efforts prior to the Kentucky Derby show that he was an underneath horse at best and that appears to be the case here as well.

8. Materiality – He started his career a perfect 3 for 3 entering the Kentucky Derby. He had a bad draw with the three post, which caused him to come off the pace. He was near the back of the pack midway through the race and rallied to finish sixth with some trouble. In the Belmont, he should not have the same trip and will be much closer to the pace, if not contesting it with Pharoah. He certainly has a chance in this race.

Selections

This race runs through #5 American Pharoah as expected. He is likely to be the controlling speed and has not done anything wrong this year. He may have pace pressure from #8 Materiality, but he has shown the ability to win coming from behind. #1 Mubtaahij is interesting because he should relish the distance and be closer to the pace than he was in the Derby. #6 Frosted will be worth a look if you are trying to beat Pharoah while #3 Madefromlucky looked nice winning the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 9.

Top selection – #5 American Pharoah

2nd selection – #1 Mubtaahij

3rd selection – #6 Frosted

4th selection – #3 Madefromlucky

Check back on Saturday night for a recap of the 2015 Belmont Stakes.

American Pharoah Wins Preakness Easily In The Slop

American Pharoah (center) wins the 2015 Preakness Stakes with Victor Espinoza aboard (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
American Pharoah (center) wins the 2015 Preakness Stakes with Victor Espinoza aboard (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

American Pharoah Wins Preakness Easily In The Slop

A torrential downpour that began about 15 minutes prior to the start of the Preakness Stakes did not matter. In fact, it probably helped the Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah dominate his foes by 7 lengths in a gate-to-wire performance.

The race began with American Pharoah hustled to the lead by jockey Victor Espinoza. Mr. Z was also gunned to the lead while Dortmund settled in third about 5 lengths off the lead. Divining Rod was fourth, Bodhisattva as fifth, and Firing Line was sixth. Danzig Moon sat in seventh early on,about 9 lengths off the lead while Tale of Verve was nearly 15 lengths off the leader in last.

American Pharoah was not relinquishing that lead as he led the field through an opening quarter mile in 22.90 and an opening half mile in 46.49. He was still being tracked by Mr. Z and Dortmund was moved outside to track from third. Divining Rod sat fourth, Firing Line was up to fifth, Bodhisattva was sixth, Danzig Moon was seventh, and Tale of Verve was last of eight.

Entering the far turn, Mr. Z, Dortmund, and Divining Rod all began to make their moves, but American Pharoah was having none of that as he began to pull away when the straightened out in the stretch.

It was clear that no one was going to catch him at that point and he would end up winning by 7 lengths. Longshot Tale of Verve rallied to be second over Divining Rod in third and Dortmund held on for fourth place.

The remaining order of finish was Mr. Z, Danzig Moon, Firing Line, and Bodhisattva. The official chart can be found here courtesy of Equibase.

American Pharoah went off as the 4-5 favorite and paid $3.80 to win, $3.40 to place, and $2.80 to show. He ran the one mile and three sixteenths in 1:58.46 over a very sloppy race track. He also won $900,000 as the winner’s share of the $1.5 million purse.

He is trained by Bob Baffert who will be making his fourth attempt at winning the Triple Crown. He previously failed to win it with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002.

Jockey Victor Espinoza was aboard for War Emblem’s failed Triple Crown attempt in 2002 and he was also aboard for California Chrome’s failed attempt in 2014.

American Pharoah will try to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Thirteen horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but failed to win the Belmont Stakes. One horse, I’ll Have Another, did not race due to a foot injury discovered the day before the Belmont.

The Belmont will be run at one and a half miles on Saturday, June 6. It is called “The Test of a Champion” due to the taxing nature of a race at 12 furlongs. If American Pharoah does win the Belmont Stakes, he will be the 12th Triple Crown winner in history.

2015 Preakness Stakes Preview

The Preakness Stakes is the second jewel of the Triple Crown (Maryland Jockey Club)
The Preakness Stakes is the second jewel of the Triple Crown (Maryland Jockey Club)

2015 Preakness Stakes Preview

The second jewel of American’s Thoroughbred Triple Crown will be run on Saturday from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.

This year a field of eight three-year olds will be going postward including the 2015 Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah. In no surprise, he is listed as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2015 Preakness Stakes at 4-5.

The Preakness Stakes will be run at one mile and three-sixteenths (one sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby) for a purse of $1,500,000.

Post time for the Preakness Stakes is approximately 6:18 PM Eastern Time and is carded as the thirteenth of 14 races at Pimlico. Free past performances for the Preakness can be found here.

The table below provides the entries for the Preakness Stakes as well.

Post PositionHorseJockeyTrainerMorning Line Odds
1American PharoahVictor EspinozaBob Baffert4-5
2DortmundMartin GarciaBob Baffert3-1
3Mr. ZCorey NakataniD. Wayne Lukas20-1
4Danzig MoonJulien LeparouxMark Casse15-1
5Tale of VerveJoel RosarioDallas Stewart30-1
6BodhisattvaTrevor McCarthyJose Corrales20-1
7Divining RodJavier CastellanoArnaud Delacour12-1
8Firing LineGary StevensSimon Callaghan4-1

1. American Pharoah – He has done nothing wrong since he finished fifth in his debut. He dominated the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes with a 6 1/4 length win and then throttled the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby field by 8 lengths. His Kentucky Derby was not nearly as impressive to his previous races, but he did get the job done. In this spot, he rates as the horse to beat and should get another great trip even from the rail.

2. DortmundBob Baffert was a bit unlucky to draw the 1 and 2 post positions here, but at least he did it here and not in Kentucky. In the post race coverage, it was reported that Dortmund had a “slight bout of colic,” which was unknown to nearly every bettor. Whether that was the reason he did not win is a different story. He got away with easy fractions in the Derby and little pressure from Firing Line. From this spot, he will probably have to go to the lead again and could once again be the controlling pace in the race.

3. Mr. Z – What a bizarre tale Mr. Z has been the last two weeks. He was not seriously considered for the Preakness and former owner Ahmed Zayat even said so earlier this week. Well, he has been sold to Calumet Farm and will run in this race anyway. In any case, Mr. Z is up against it here despite his “troubled” trip in the Kentucky Derby. He will need to improve by leaps and bounds to be a threat to win.

4. Danzig Moon – He ran a solid race in the Kentucky Derby though he did not really improve his position much during the running of the race. He was bumped during the race, but he was not likely to challenge the top four with the pace they were running at. It is difficult to decide what to do with him knowing he was not a threat to the top three that return here.

5. Tale of Verve – He was the also-eligible for the Kentucky Derby, but was not able to get in by scratch time. He does have a win at this distance of 9.5 furlongs last time out, but that was against maiden company and he faced only 5 other horses. Perhaps this is the obligatory Dallas Stewart longshot entrant, but this horse is not the same caliber as the others here.

6. Bodhisattva – He won the local prep race for the Preakness Stakes here at Pimlico in the Federico Tesio. He went to the lead, was headed in the stretch, and then fought back for the win by a length and a half. He is the only horse in this field to even have a race over this track, let alone a victory and he also has the local connections. It still feels like a tall task for him here.

7. Divining Rod – There has been some chatter about this horse being the wise guy’s selection. He was second by a neck in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis behind Ocean Knight in his first start on lasix. He was no match for Carpe Diem in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes with a perfect trip and ride at Keeneland five weeks ago. He should be able to work out another good trip, but the question is can he really threaten the top 3? The feeling here is most likely not.

8. Firing Line – He was right near the lead in the Kentucky Derby making sure that Dortmund did not get away from him. He pushed American Pharoah all the way to the finish line, but was unable to get the victory. This is an incredible post for him as he will be able to get a perfect trip. He seems likeliest of all to turn the tables on American Pharoah.

Selections

It is an unfortunate conclusion to come to in this race, but this really seems to be a three horse race. #1 American Pharoah is the horse to beat based on his body of work, but #8 Firing Line got an excellent draw all the way to the outside. Of course, we cannot count out #2 Dortmund to return to his winning way he showed in his first six starts. Who will finish fourth, or possibly higher if one or more of the favorites falter, is the real question.

Top selection – #8 Firing Line

2nd selection – #1 American Pharoah

3rd selection – #6 Dortmund

4th selection – #4 Danzig Moon

Check back on Saturday evening for a recap of the 2015 Preakness Stakes.

2015 Preakness Stakes Draw

American Pharoah (#18 on the left) winning the 2015 Kentucky Derby (Reuters Photo)
American Pharoah (#18 on the left) winning the 2015 Kentucky Derby (Reuters Photo)

2015 Preakness Stakes Draw

The 2015 Preakness Stakes draw took place on Wednesday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. It is in three days time that we will see if American Pharoah can win the second leg of the Triple Crown.

With only a field of 8 horses entered there should not be much traffic trouble in this race compared to the Kentucky Derby. The entries for the 2015 Preakness Stakes can be found in the table below.

Post PositionHorseJockeyTrainerMorning Line Odds
1American PharoahVictor EspinozaBob Baffert4-5
2DortmundMartin GarciaBob Baffert3-1
3Mr. ZCorey NakataniD. Wayne Lukas20-1
4Danzig MoonJulien LeparouxMark Casse15-1
5Tale of VerveJoel RosarioDallas Stewart30-1
6BodhisattvaTrevor McCarthyJose Corrales20-1
7Divining RodJavier CastellanoArnaud Delacour12-1
8Firing LineGary StevensSimon Callaghan4-1

Bob Baffert, trainer of the two inside horses including Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah, was less than enthusiastic about the draw.

“I never like the 1 hole. That’s the first time I’ve ever drawn the rail here. I’ve been so lucky. You don’t like to see it, but if he’s the best horse we’ll find out,” Baffert said.

Meanwhile, Firing Line‘s jockey Gary Stevens was excited about drawing the outside post in the Preakness.

“I’m pleased not so much where I drew but where Dortmund and American Pharoah drew – 1, 2 – and Mr. Z outside of them,” Stevens said. “I expect Mr. Z to show more speed than he had in the Kentucky Derby with new ownership. Wayne’s going out for the kill; that’s going to make those guys make some decisions earlier in the race that they didn’t have the benefit of making in the Kentucky Derby. Now, I’ve got that benefit.”

As mentioned in Gary Stevens’ quote above, Mr. Z was sold by Ahmed Zayat to Calumet Farm in order to race in the Preakness. He will still be trained by D. Wayne Lukas.

The Preakness Stakes is carded as the 13th of 14 races at Pimlico on Saturday. The approximate post time is 6:18 PM Eastern Time with the eight three year olds going a mile and three sixteenths over the main track. Free past performances can be found here.

Check back in the next few days to read a preview and analysis of the 2015 Preakness Stakes.

Unanswered Questions From The 2015 Kentucky Derby

American Pharoah (#18 forefront furthest left) defeats Firing Line and Dortmund in the 2015 Kentucky Derby (Elsa/Getty Images North America)
American Pharoah (#18 forefront furthest left) defeats Firing Line and Dortmund in the 2015 Kentucky Derby (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Unanswered Questions From The 2015 Kentucky Derby

The 2015 Kentucky Derby was an exciting race that saw American Pharoah defeat Firing Line by one length. There were even some lessons learned that could be applied in the future.

While the dust settles and the Preakness contenders are considered, there are still some questions that need to be answered even if it will not happen for many months (or possibly years).

Below are unanswered questions from the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

1. Were the Top Four Finishers that much Better than the Rest?

The top four finishers in the Kentucky Derby were American Pharoah, Firing Line, Dortmund, and Frosted. Those four were separated by 3 1/4 lengths while the rest were at least another 3 1/4 lengths behind.

It was an easy pace for the top three as they went around the track basically as the top three throughout the running of the Kentucky Derby. Frosted was the only one of the top four horses who had to close late and he barely missed third by a shortening head.

But were they really that much better than the rest of the field? Perhaps they are just head and shoulders above the rest of the horses in the Kentucky Derby, but that is probably not the case.

We will see over the next few months if the top four really were better than every other horse.

2. How Good is this Crop as a Whole?

Coming into the race, we had a pretty good idea about Dortmund and American Pharoah, as well as several other horses such as Materiality, Carpe Diem, Upstart, and Frosted.

It turned out that American Pharoah and Dortmund were better than nearly everyone else in the Kentucky Derby.

The caveat here is that we will not be able to answer this question for many months because these horses are still going to face fellow three year olds for the next few months. If we want to compare crops, we will not be able to do so for a few years when most of these horses will no longer be competing.

Many have said this is one of the more talented and deep three year old crops in the last decade and Saturday’s Kentucky Derby results may just prove how good they are if the top four continue to dominate. The real question then becomes how the fringe horses, those who are considered good, but not yet at the same level as the top four, do later this year.

It will be an intriguing journey to watch, that is for sure and there will be plenty of opportunities in the fall for the three year olds to match up against older horses.

3. Is American Pharoah a Legitimate Threat to Win the Triple Crown?

In the immediate aftermath of the Kentucky Derby (literally the first 10 or 15 minutes after the conclusion of the race), many opinions are thrown around about whether or not a horse can go on and win the elusive Triple Crown.

Well, that is only going to intensify with the advent of social media to get opinions out there within mere second of the conclusion and there are usually only two camps; one that is adamant he will win the Triple Crown and another that is adamant he will not win the Triple Crown.

This author falls in the latter camp that does not think he will win the Triple Crown. Of course, that is hardly an inclination of whether or not he will.

First, he must win the Preakness before even having a shot at winning the Triple Crown, but he is quite likely to win the Preakness shortening up a half furlong.

Secondly, he had a dream trip in the Kentucky Derby just off of Dortmund and Firing Line, but he did not have that huge burst of speed at the top of the stretch to pull away from his foes. Then again, maybe he was being saved by Victor Espinoza.

Third, the Belmont is called the Test of Champions for a reason. It is the third race in five weeks and it will be American Pharoah’s fourth race in eight weeks. There is a reason 13 horses have tried since 1978 and failed to win the Triple Crown. The grueling mile and a half journey will not be kind to him.

Again, none of this is a guarantee American Pharoah will not win the Triple Crown, but history is against him.

4. What do we do with the horses that finished well?

Given the slow pace of the Kentucky Derby, it is hardly a shock that few horses were able to close in the final quarter of a mile. On Saturday, there were only three horses that were really identified as being able to make up ground in the stretch.

Below is an image (courtesy of Blood-Horse) of the horses turning for home to provide an idea of where each horse was.

2015 Derby Final Turn

The three horses we will focus on are #3 Materiality (near the top of the photo) #14 Keen Ice (to the left of Materiality) and #15 Frosted (middle of the photo to the left).

The most impressive of the three horses mentioned was Materiality, who came from way back in the field as seen in the photo. He did well to go from nearly last to sixth in the final quarter of a mile and he ran the final two furlongs in :25.61, according to the Daily Racing Form. None of that even mentions the poor start he had.

Frosted was the only horse to be shown during the live running of the race to have closed well. He just missed third place from Dortmund, but he was closing even prior to the final quarter of a mile. Between the six furlong and one mile calls, Frosted went from 15th to 7th and ran that quarter of a mile in :23.97.

He slowed down in the stretch, but still did well to make up the ground he did into such a slow pace. His final quarter was timed in :25.98.

The only other horse to make up ground was Keen Ice. Coming into the Kentucky Derby, most knew he would make one run and needed some pace to have a chance to hit the board. That proved to be the case.

He was immediately brought to the fence at the start of the race and continued to race near the back of the field throughout. At the top of the stretch he had five horses beaten and then closed to to finish seventh, losing by 8 3/4 lengths.

The obvious thinking here is that these horses will be prime candidates at Belmont going a mile and a half in the Belmont Stakes.

Just last year, Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve (the fourth and second place finishers in the Kentucky Derby respectively), were considered possibilities to win. The former finished in a dead heat for fourth and the latter was eighth.

In 2013, the second and third place finishers from the Derby, Golden Soul and Revolutionary, were the deep closers who hit the board in Kentucky. They finished ninth and fifth respectively in the Belmont Stakes.

In 2012, Dullahan closed to finish third in the Derby, but failed to do so at Belmont. He finished seventh as the 5/2 favorite that day.

Ice Box in 2010 was expected to do well in the Belmont Stakes. He ran fast closing second in the Derby, but failed at the 9/5 favorite in the Belmont by finishing ninth.

A lot of people think back to a deep closer winning the Belmont in Jazil (2006). That was nearly a decade ago. The problem with deep closers is two-fold. First, the pace of the race needs to be somewhat fast for a mile and a half. Second, they need to be able to get a mile and a half.

Deep closers can win the Belmont, they just need a lot of things to break their way in order to do it.

5. Is the Kentucky Derby Points System Working?

This is a tricky question because everyone has a different idea of how it should work. 2015 marks the third year of the Kentucky Derby points system. Coincidentally, it also marks the third straight year that a favorite won the Kentucky Derby. Make of that what you will.

It is probably not a mistake that the fractions have slowed down dramatically since the inception of the points system. 2013 saw an opening quarter go in 22.57 and the opening half mile in 45.33. In 2014, it was 23.04 and 47.37 while 2015 was 23.24 and 47.34.

The reason for this is simple. There is no more cheap speed in the Kentucky Derby. In 2012, the last year without a points system, a horse named Trinniberg entered the Kentucky Derby. His prep racing coming into the Derby was the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes at 7 furlongs on the main track. He ended 2012 by winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

There can still be unexpected speed in the race. Take 2013, for example, when Palace Malice shocked nearly everyone when he went straight to the lead under Mike Smith and tried to go gate-to-wire though he tired on the far turn.

It is clear that the Kentucky Derby points system is keeping sprinters out of the Kentucky Derby and that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it has led to slower fractions and favorites winning the last three years. It is up to you to decide if that means the system is working.

Perhaps, and this is simply conjecture, is that more horses will be bred to go the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. It is still possible to have speed going 10 furlongs, though stamina will be needed to allow a horse to last the distance.

The Kentucky Derby points system will be fun to keep an eye on for the future and how it affects those who enter in Derby prep races. We may continue to see favorites or we may start to see a parade of long shots.