Don’t Rely on Horse-for-Course Angle in Derby

by Horstradamus

posted on May 2, 2012 in Handicapping, Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby, | No Comments >>


If you’re thinking about the horse-for-the-course angle in the Kentucky Derby, better have something more in your handicapping toolbox by Saturday.

More than two dozen horses that previously won as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs failed in the Derby. The average finish of more than 50 runners with at least one race on the main track was off the board.

However, two colts during the past four years repeated their victories in sophomore stakes at Churchill Downs in the Derby: Street Sense in ’07, who captured the ’06 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Super Saver in ’10, who won the ’09 Kentucky Jockey Club.

More important over the long haul is how horses handle the main track training for the big dance as most winners during the past decade posted bullet workouts.

Running on the front-end isn’t exactly the way to win the Derby either. During the previous 137th renewals only 22 horses went wire to wire. The last time was in ’02 when War Emblem triumphed by four lengths.

Spend a Buck led at every call in ’85, winning by 5 ¼ lengths, recording the fourth fastest time for the 1 ¼-contest: 2:00 1/5.

Since ’87, seven horses that had the lead at the eighth pole weren’t the first to hit the wire. Four ran second: Closing Argument, ’05; Cavonnier, ’96; Casual Lies, ’92; and Bet Twice, ’87. Only Sea Cadet in ’91 failed to hit the board, finishing eighth.

The trend of winning favorites has been an off-and-on occurrence dating back to the 1880s when only two scored. Four favorites won in the ’30s and ’40s, including one of the two lowest odds-on choices in modern times: ’48 Triple Crown champ Citation and Count Fleet five years earlier.

Favorites performed the best in the ’70s, winning the most times – six. Remember these winning thoroughbreds that were top choices: Riva Ridge, ’72, Secretariat, ’73; Cannonade, ’74; Foolish Pleasure, ’75; Seattle Slew, ’77; and Spectacular Bid, ’79.

Surprisingly, Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner in ’78, wasn’t favored at Louisville.

Over the past three decades only four favorites have triumphed, all in the 21st Century: Big Brown, ’08; Street Sense,’07; Smarty Jones, ’04; and Fusaichi Pegasus, ’00.

Hitting the board in the final prep on the Road to the Roses is overrated. All but four winners during the past half century triumphed at Louisville after failing to it the board in their previous race. All ran fourth.

In ’05, Giacomo paid a bundle after finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and returned $102.60.

Two horses that ran fourth a couple years apart in the Blue Grass won the Derby and paid very well: Sea Hero, $27.80 in ’93, and Thunder Gulch, $24.50 in ’95.

In ’09, Mine That Bird exited a fourth in the Sunland Derby to triumph at Churchill Downs and returned $103.20.