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Inside the Numbers

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 3/16/2011 12:44:04 PM

When March Madness, the Masters and the first pitch of the spring on the baseball diamonds are distant memories, fans have the greatest 2 minutes in sports to look forward to and handicapping the Kentucky Derby every year keeps all of us young at heart.

The greatest thing about this extravaganza is the fact that rules are broken every year and there is no tried and true blueprint for success.

Street Sense became the first horse in history to parlay a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win to glory the first Saturday in May in Louisville and he won’t be the last.

Big Brown got the glory in only his 4th career start.

In 2009 Mine That Bird became the first horse ever to prep at Sunland Park and shock in Kentucky.

Last year Super Saver was a tough beat 2nd in the Arkansas Derby directly before his success.

A factor bettors can count on is the frenetic pace that will occur in the Derby. The human connections are usually entirely drained before the gates open and when they do riders of the up to 20 horses in the field will forget about game plans and just ride like hell.

One thing that is about as set in stone as the pyramids is the fact that only one horse in history won the Kentucky Derby after not racing at 2 and that winner, Apollo, did it in 1882.

Even the sensational Curlin could not win the Derby after not racing as a juvenile.

According to past thoughts by long-time trainer Frankie Brothers in the Courier-Journal, it will take an exceptional horse to break the trend. Brothers: “It’s hard to buck history, there’s a reason for that. It seems like the more precocious ones, not necessarily the really fast ones, are the ones who get something done at 2. Their bones are obviously strong. They mentally know how to run and they seem to be much farther ahead than the ones who just start at 3.”

With that in mind, how runners get to the big dance is key and evaluating the preps leading up to the Derby is pivotal as to who has the best chance to succeed.

The year Street Sense won, he took a light route to Derby glory with only a nose win in the Tampa Bay Derby and a nose beat in the pedestrian Blue Grass as tune-ups before reaching back for the Derby s score.

In 2006, the brilliant Barbaro won all three of his preps before overcoming a horrible start in the Run for the Roses.

One of the reasons the Giacomo was a 50-1 winner of the 2005 Derby is that he had lost all three of his preps and here likes a caveat that some bettors may be able to draw from this year. Note that since 1980 only 4 Derby winners had not been in the money in their final Derby prep. And since 1937, only 7 winners have finished off the board in their final start before the Derby.

Wintering at Hot Springs during the Oaklawn Park meeting has been a good place for Derby winners somewhat recently.

Smarty Jones opened his sophomore season winning in New York, posted the hat trick at Oaklawn capped by his Arkansas Derby score before winning his 7th straight race in the Kentucky Derby.

Afleet Alex was stationed at Oaklawn before his troubled third in the Derby and back in the day Lil E. Tee and Sunny’s Halo parlayed wins in the Arkansas Derby to the May payday.

The first three Derby winners of the decade, War Emblem, Monarchos and Fusaichi Pegasus were prepped a bit differently. Emblem not only won his final prep in the Illinois Derby but also was sold. Monarchos was the beaten chalk in the Wood before his win and FuPeg parlayed a handy win in the Wood to Derby lore.

The bottom line is that 5 races have had the greatest impact on the Big Day in recent years. They are the Arkansas, Florida and Santa Anita Derbies, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Wood Memorial. A total of 40 of the past 52 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second in one of those races.

When the smoke clears, the facts are all unveiled and the gates open, running style is the premium issue.

The best way of going is to have the ability to stalk, be within 4 or so lengths of the leader after a half mile. One-dimensional runners, those that pretty much need the lead, are usually up against it. War Emblem took them flagfall to that’s all, but he was the first to go all the way since the filly Winning Colors scored in 1988.

Overall, since 1925, only nine Derby winners have led all the way.

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