Tag Archives: Palace Malice

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!

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.