This Saturday sees the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, hosted beneath the iconic twin spires of Louisville's Churchill Downs race track. Here in Blighty, we think the track is over-crowded when Royal Ascot shoehorns in 60,000 socialites and revellers for Ladies' Day; but the 2015 Durrby in Kentucky welcomed a whopping 170,513 race fans through its gates!
To this year's contest and, if you're playing catch up in terms of which horses have done what; where you need to be drawn; and, crucially, who might win, this post is your shortcut salvation. In it, you'll find links to some great articles on the relevance of the draw, stamina questions, form insights and some betting odds.
It may or may not help you find the Kentucky Derby 2016 winner, but you'll be able to place a more educated wager than otherwise might have been the case, at the very least. Let's get started...
Kentucky Derby Post Position Statistics
Most US races comprise single-digit fields. The maximum field size for the annual Breeders' Cup jamboree is generally 14 runners. But all of twenty aspirants are scheduled go to post for the 2016 Ky Derby. That's been the case in recent times, so what bearing has draw, or post position, had?
In this post by the America's Best Racing website, an argument is put forward that a wide draw may not be the negative it first appears. With starting stalls first deployed for the race in 1930, the 86 winners in that time were divided in to quartiles thus:
Stalls 1-5: 34/430 - 7.9%
Stalls 6-10: 29/417 - 7.0%
Stalls 11-15: 16/330 - 4.8%
Stalls 16-20: 7/149 - 4.7%
Whilst the all time data points towards an inside draw being favoured, more recent evidence is less supportive of that notion. The 17 renewals since 1999 have gone thus:
Stalls 1-5: 4/85 - 4.7%
Stalls 6-10: 4/85 - 4.7%
Stalls 11-15: 4/85 - 4.7%
Stalls 16-20: 5/66 - 7.6%
Remarkable uniformity between the inside three quartiles - a function of coincidence as much as an even distribution - gives way to a clear top performing quarter of the draw to the outside. From 19 less runners, the widest drawn horses have notched five wins. And, moreover, stall 15 - at the outer limit of the third quartile - has unleashed the winners of two of the last three Runs for the Roses.
Why might this be? Well, again, it may be coincidence, to some degree at least. It may also relate to the uneven distribution of fancied runners to the outside posts. American Pharoah, Big Brown and Fusaichi Pegasus were all hot favourites when winning from trap 15 or wider. But... those outside gates also housed winning bombers at 15/1, 21/1, and 31/1.
Ultimately, without deeper data - for instance incorporating at least the first four home - it would be dangerous to make confident statements. But what we can say is that it is a least probably not a disadvantage to be posted wide.
That will come as a relief if you're a fan of Nyquist (13), Mohaymen (14), Outwork (15), Mor Spirit (17), Brody's Cause (19) or Danzing Candy (20), all of whom are at least fairly well fancied in the Kentucky Derby betting.
Kentucky Derby Dosage Profiles
As well as the outlandish field size, the Kentucky Derby is also run over a distance - ten furlongs, or a mile and a quarter - over which few of the young three-year-olds will have raced previously. So how can we know if they'll flourish or flounder for the final furlong?
The answer, according to many, is in the pedigree charts, and especially in dosage profiles. Dosage is about much more than establishing the stamina credentials of Derby contenders either side of 'the pond' - it covers five different characteristics including speed and class, as well as stamina - but it tends to be a tad typecast as a barometer of staying power.
The conventional wisdom is, or at least was, that a dosage index (DI) of 4.00 or less was evidence of the requisite stamina to get the Kentucky Derby job done. However, in 2005 and 2009, a pair of long shots prevailed with DI's above the historical ceiling.
Those high profile reverses were claimed as the death knell for dosage usage in forecasting the Derby. And yet, in this excellent piece on chef-de-race.com, author Steven Roman argues that only in sub-standard renewals of the Kentucky Derby has a horse whose profile leans more towards speed than stamina passed the post in front.
The below table, taken from that article, shows the 26 Ky Derby's since 1990 ranked by the winners' Beyer Speed Figure in the race.
|5||1994||Go For Gin||1||112|
|14||1992||Lil E. Tee||3||107|
|17||1991||Strike the Gold||9||107|
|19||2009||Mine That Bird||5.4||105|
|24||2012||I'll Have Another||2.11||101|
He closes by saying,
There is only about a 2% likelihood that the difference we see in the BSFs is the result of chance.
That begs the following questions
- Is this likely to be an above average renewal, where stamina will truly come into play?
- What are the DI scores for this year's runners?
The answer to question 2 is found on that same excellent website in this article.
Rather than 'sponge' off Dr Roman's work any longer, you're strongly encouraged to take a look at the link above. What I will tell you is that, of the twenty runners this year (excluding reserves), 17 have a DI of 4.00 or less. Interestingly - very interestingly - clear favourite, the unbeaten-in-seven Nyquist, has a DI of 7.00, higher than all bar 1991 winner, Strike The Gold, from the above sample. All fifty of the winners prior to 1990 had a DI of 4.00 or less!
To spell that out, Nyquist has a higher Dosage Index than every single Kentucky Derby winner since 1940, with a single exception. Interesting, as I said.
It's also worth noting that eight of the top ten Kentucky Derby-winning Beyer speed performances were achieved by horses with a Dosage Index score of 1.81 or below. In this year's field, only five horses fit that bill: Mo Tom, Gun Runner, Destin, Mor Spirit and Brody's Cause. One more, Lani, has a DI less than 2.
The answer to question 1 is hard to answer without the benefit of hindsight. After all, last year American Pharoah's Derby win looked moderate on the clock, but he improved throughout the season to plunder the Triple Crown, the first since 1978 to do that, and topped it all off with a win in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Kentucky Derby Odds
Below are the latest odds with the British bookmakers. They're compared with the US Morning Line (predicted odds) and latest Vegas odds (live shows).
The two right hand columns show the variance between UK odds and the Morning Line (forecast post time odds), and between the UK and Vegas live books (i.e. prices you can bet).
In all cases, the best UK price is better than the Vegas show. In the highlighted cases, the UK top offer is at least 50% higher than the Morning Line, and/or at least 33% better than the Vegas line.
If you simply want to bet a horse that might be the wrong price without looking at the form, then any or all of Whitmore, Shagaf and Danzing Candy are your friends.
Kentucky Derby 2016 Pace Projection
The 2016 Derby field may fall into the following early pace groups:
On the lead: Nyquist (Post 13), Outwork (15), Danzing Candy (20)
Prominent: Gun Runner (5), Destin (9), Exaggerator (11), Mohaymen (14), Shagaf (16), Majesto (18)
Mid-Division: Oscar Nominated (7), Lani (8), Whitmore (10), Tom's Ready (12), Mor Spirit (17)
Held Up: Trojan Nation (1), Suddenbreakingnews (2), Creator (3), Mo Tom (4), My Man Sam (6), Brody's Cause (19)
It is always possible - likely even - that a no-hoper or two will be rushed up for a glory call from the commentators and a palpitation for its owners. Despite that, favourite Nyquist has a sound chance to get from trap thirteen to the rail before the first turn. Outwork and Danzing Candy will be attempting to track his course to the head of the field.
Five of the inside six stalls will be briefly occupied by horses that are generally late runners, so the early dash could be very interesting. Destin, Mohaymen and Shagaf could get trapped a little wide, especially the latter pair, which would be sub-optimal.
Meanwhile, Exaggerator usually races handily but has been campaigned more patiently on his most recent two outings, and with some success. A middle draw and a versatile run style give him options.
Brody's Cause should be able to tack across from the cheap seats after the early pacers have got out of his way, but he'll have to pass plenty of parked cars down the back straight and around the home turn. He'll need a goodly dollop of luck to get the job done, I fear.
Who is going to win Kentucky Derby 2016?
At the end of the day, it boils down this. "I don't know".
Nyquist is seven from seven and probably hasn't got the credit that a Breeders Cup Juvenile winner should. He's game and keeps finding. He's also a short price and has stamina to prove (don't they all?)
Brody's Cause was an improver for a longer trip and a patient ride when winning a nine furlong G1 last time, but he'll need the luck from post 19. There is also the niggle that his best three runs have all come at Keeneland which, although nearby, is not Churchill Downs. Luis Saez has taken over from the frequently inept Corey Lanerie - more shortly - and looks a far better option.
Mohaymen has plenty to prove after losing his unbeaten record to Nyquist - and allowing another two horses, and eight and a half lengths, to pass him. He'd previously been going away at the end of his mile-and-a-teeny (1m 1/2f) runs, but this is another 330 yards.
Exaggerator has a lot going for him - top speed figure (albeit on a sloppy oval), consistently high class form, versatile run style - and looks more likely than many to run his race. That's factored into his price too, at a top quote of 10/1, which is solid but unspectacular, much like this chap.
The first three home in the Arkansas Derby - Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, and Whitmore - all re-oppose and all run late. Creator got the best splits last time, but Suddenbreakingnews' late rally was the 'notebook run'. I'm not sure any of them can step forward enough to win a Kentucky Derby, mind. Whitmore has been running well but getting beaten and he's not an obvious improver for a longer trip.
Gun Runner is a nice uncomplicated horse, with talent. He got a perfect trip in the Risen Star Stakes, and a perfect trip in the Louisiana Derby, and he won them both. Drawn five, with over-sleepers from the gate all around, he should be able to amble to his preferred stalking position as the likes of Nyquist charge across and, presumably, in front.
In other words, he's set to get another perfect trip. He stayed well last time, pulling further clear in the last half furlong, and has one of the best jockeys in the region in Florent Geroux.
Compare that rider with Corey Lanerie, whose bungled efforts on Mo Tom in the same pair of races as Gun Runner above, have seen that animal no better than third since winning a Grade 3 three back. He might have got to Gun Runner had Lanerie not gone inside and been checked in the Risen Star; but he wouldn't have got to that one when again going inside and again getting checked in the La. Derby. He'll be finishing fresher than many, but the bird is expected to have flown by then.
And what about fly in the ointment, Lani? This Japanese globe-trotter won the UAE Derby last time over a trip 100 metres shy of the Ky Derby distance. That's further than any of his rivals have run. And... he bobbled badly out of the stalls that day, conceding five lengths off what was, granted, a slow early gallop. He has less to find than many and is unbeaten on a dry dirt track (both dirt defeats on a muddy track).
Destin was a good winner of the Tampa Bay Derby - Brody's Cause never able to get into it under that man, Lanerie - but he looked all out over the extended mile, and might not get home.
The San Felipe Stakes is worth a watch: Danzing Candy gets an uncontested lead throughout, from an inside draw, while Mor Spirit is a little outpaced, and Exaggerator sits quietly at the back. Come the home straight and Candy has skipped clear having had the total run of it, Exaggerator has gone a clear second with Mor Spirit seemingly beaten off.
But into the final furlong and Mor Spirit finishes with gusto, suggesting the extra range at Churchill will fit him well. Box 17 won't be the beating of him, even though it is the hoodoo stall - no horse has EVER won the Derby from that gate, the only one without a win. I think he might well come out in front of that trio.
The bookmakers make Exaggerator the clear pick of the three, based on his next time out/last day win, beating Mor Spirit, in the Santa Anita Derby. But that was on a sloppy track and, with two dry days forecast before the Derby, it is expected to be a fast dirt surface on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier in the season, I was quite taken by Shagaf in the Gotham Stakes, but he was very flat on his only subsequent start, the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, where he was sent off the 19/10 favourite. Perhaps it was the muddy track that did for him there. If it was, odds of 40/1 could look tasty (I took 33/1 before that reversal, sigh); if it wasn't he won't be troubling the judge.
And still there are more runners, though it's hard to make a credible case for any of them on what we've seen so far.
Come on! WHO is going to win the Kentucky Derby?
I still don't know! But, here's what I think. Nyquist deserves to be favourite. He has a good chance of bagging the rail despite trap 13, and he wasn't stopping in the nine furlong Florida Derby.
Against that, he doesn't have form lines with many of these, except the normally-beaten Exaggerator. That gives him little in hand on collateral evidence, and the clock also makes him only one of a number in the front rank.
Better value options, with similar credentials (barring the unbroken string of 1's in the form column), might be Gun Runner and Brody's Cause.
The former is four from five, his only defeat coming on a sloppy track. He's by Candy Ride out of a Giant's Causeway mare, a perfect cross for this sort of challenge, and he looks like getting a 'no excuses' trip, something many others will not. 12/1 is a solid play.
Brody's Cause has a very wide draw in 19 to overcome, but improved for his ring-rusty seasonal bow to blitz the G1 Bluegrass in sizzling last-to-first fashion. If the splits come at the right times, he'll be an exciting voucher to be holding. If they don't, he'll be a frustrating one. But Skybet are going a fantastic fifth the first FIVE places, and they're top priced 14/1 about BC. That's too good to miss.
At bigger prices, I retain faint hope for Shagaf, though no more than that; and I think Mor Spirit could be a big improver for the trip.
2016 Kentucky Derby Pick: Gun Runner 12/1 (1/4 1-2-3 bet365)
2016 Kentucky Derby Alternative: Brody's Cause 14/1 (1/5 1-2-3-4-5 Skybet)
2016 Kentucky Derby Mild Outsider: Mor Spirit 16/1 (1/5 1-2-3-4-5 Skybet)