Tag Archives: Kentucky Derby Points System

Revisiting the Trends From the Kentucky Derby Points System

Country House with jockey Flavien Prat after winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Revisiting The Trends From The Kentucky Derby Points System

The 2019 Kentucky Derby provided plenty of talking points as Maximum Security crossed the line first, but was subsequently disqualified and placed 17th, which elevated Country House from second to become the winner of the event’s 145th running. Here is a replay of the race below for those who may have not seen it.

This article does not address whether the disqualification was correct, nor does it address the slew of concerns as result of the disqualification related to transparency and consistency from stewards. Those issues deserve a separate discussion some of which have already been rigorously debated on social media. This article is a revisit of one from three years ago that reviewed the trends in the Kentucky Derby. In summary, the article from 2016 basically noted the obvious: favorites, speed, and California based horses were dominating the Kentucky Derby.

For a bit of history, prior to the 2013 Kentucky Derby, entrants were determined by how much purse money they earned in graded stake races regardless of distance, surface, and also included juvenile race earnings. Since 2013, the Kentucky Derby entrants have been determined by how many points a horse totals in the designated races, which focus on longer distance events. The earlier events between September and February have a lower point value assigned to them while the largest point value races are held primarily in March and April. With that context, here are the winners of the last seven years, all under the current Kentucky Derby points system.

YearWinner$2 WinTrack
Condition
Field
Size
Favorite
Finish
2019Country
House
$132.40 Sloppy
(Sealed)
194th
2018Justify$7.80Sloppy
(Sealed)
201st
2017Always
Dreaming
$11.40Wet Fast
(Sealed)
201st
2016Nyquist$6.60Fast201st
2015American
Pharoah
$7.80Fast181st
2014California
Chrome
$7.00Fast191st
2013Orb$12.80Sloppy
(Sealed)
191st

In the first six years showed a parade of favorites and the track condition did not matter. Justify was the only California horse to win the last three years, but he made quite the impression by winning the Triple Crown (Maximum Security was the second favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby).

To keep things in perspective, let’s look at the seven years prior to the introduction of the points system.

YearWinner$2 WinTrack
Condition
Field
Size
Favorite
Finish
2012I’ll Have
Another
$32.60Fast202nd
2011Animal
Kingdom
$43.80Fast198th
2010Super Saver$18.00Sloppy
(Sealed)
206th
2009Mine That
Bird
$103.20Sloppy
(Sealed)
1918th
2008Big Brown$6.80Fast201st
2007Street Sense$11.80Fast201st
2006Barbaro$14.20Fast207th

The previous seven years before the points system show only two winning favorites with another favorite finishing as the runner up. Also, only I’ll Have Another had previously run in California and then won the Derby. It is worth noting that over the last 20 years Santa Anita (California), Oaklawn (Arkansas), and Gulfstream Park (Florida) have had the best success producing Kentucky Derby winners, which is an interesting trend in itself in terms of quality prep races.

Looking at results alone is insufficient to draw conclusions. Let’s now look at the internal fractions to see if there was indeed a shift in how fast the races were being run.

Year1/4
Split
1/2
Split
3/4
Split
Final
Time
Track Winning
Style

201922.3146.621:12.50 2:03.93 Sloppy
(Sealed)
Mid Pack
201822.2445.771:11.01 2:04.20 Sloppy
(Sealed)
Near Lead
201722.7046.531:11.122:03.59Wet Fast
(Sealed)
Near Lead
201622.5845.721:10.402:01.31FastNear Lead
201523.2447.341:11.292:03.02FastNear Lead
201423.0447.371:11.802:03.66FastNear Lead
201322.5745.331:09.802:02.89Sloppy
(Sealed)
Deep
Closer

Based on the seven years of the points system, it is clear that a horse near the lead does quite well. One caveat is that the horses that won these races were the favorites and were considered better than the competition. This could be nothing more than the best horses having a similar style while also being head and shoulders above their peers. Below are the seven years before the start of the points system.

Year1/4
Split
1/2
Split
3/4
Split
Final
Time
Track
Winning
Style
201222.3245.391:09.802:01.83FastMid Pack
201123.2448.631:13.402:02.04FastMid Pack
201022.6346.161:10.582:04.45Sloppy
(Sealed)
Stalker
200922.9847.231:12.092:02.66Sloppy
(Sealed)
Deep
Closer
200823.3047.041:11.142:01.82FastNear Lead
200722.9646.261:11.132:02.17FastDeep
Closer
200622.6346.071:10.882:01.36FastNear Lead

The 2006 – 2012 time frame saw fewer near the lead types winning with a fair distribution between the different running styles. Let’s average the time splits for the two periods for comparison.

Time Frame1/4 Split1/2 Split3/4 SplitFinal Time
2013 – 201922.6746.381:11.132:03.23
2006 – 201222.8746.681:11.292:02.33

In 2015, yours truly theorized that cheap speed (horses who are more adept at shorter distances) were causing the early fractions to be too quick and tiring out more horses, thus leading to more upsets. Trinniberg from the 2012 Derby is an of cited example of a speed horse who entered the Kentucky Derby with little chance of winning. However, the averages say the opposite is happening; the races under the points system are faster, on average. Hmm.

The early half of the race is quicker by about a length, yet speed horses are still winning. Maybe this is indicative of Churchill Downs getting the points system right by allowing the quality speed horses to shine? (Some will say this is true except for Maximum Security after Saturday’s controversial ending, but that is a whole different discussion). For what it’s worth, had Maximum Security not been disqualified, he would have been a gate-to-wire winner, which would have made it six straight years a horse on or near the lead won the Kentucky Derby. As stated earlier, it could be the case that the best horses were accurately made the favorite and all had similar front running styles that were most effective against the competition. Or maybe the points system is working as intended.

Conclusion

The Kentucky Derby is such a unique event to draw any parallels from as each running is different from any other one.
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? Was there interference at some point? What about the variation in training methods over the years? Or race-day medication? Security barn regulations? Those are just a small sample of the many questions that can have different answers between time periods or year to year for how each race was run and won. The myriad of factors changing from year to year can also make it nigh impossible to establish legitimate trends though that will not stop some from trying.

It is worth tracking how speed horses fare over the next few runnings to see if this is a legitimate trend. So far, speed has been quite dominant under the points system, but that could easily be an early trend due to the novelty of the system. Perhaps Country House is the start of a mid-pack or closer streak of winners. Furthermore, quite a few trends have been broken in the last 15 years that seemed unlikely such as Justify becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without a start at two. Or Barbaro winning the 2006 Kentucky Derby after a five-week layoff, a feat that had not been achieved for the previous 50 years. Or Big Brown winning the 2008 race from post 20 becoming the first horse to do that since 1929.

The Kentucky Derby is always a spectacle for both casual and long-time observers. 2019 did not disappoint in that regard. Enjoy the rest of the Triple Crown trail (and whatever drama comes along with it)!

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!