Food for Thought While Watching Derby Preps

The Kentucky Derby, the best known race in America and possibly the World, is likely the most “handicapped” race. In hopes of finding a winner on the first Saturday in May, many fans scrutinize the various preps around the country to find their pick. Like the vast majority of handicappers out there, we love our statistics. Using the past to predict the future is at the heart of nearly every handicapping strategy. Many try to use a specific horse’s past to predict their next performance. However, for big races a more historical approach is often utilized to find the similarities and trends in past winners to lead you to the next winner.

In order to help you find the 2017 Kentucky Derby Winner, we have evaluated the past 15 winners, and the races they prepped in, to find trends to watch for and follow over the next few weeks.

Running Style/Pace:

Our handicapping strategy always starts with an evaluation of the pace scenario. The Derby is no exception. With twenty horses in the race, you are almost assured of a fair, competitive pace. However, two running styles have dominated the Derby in recent years. A stalker (i.e. horse who runs within two-three lengths of the lead, usually within top 5 or 6 spots, for first half mile) has won the Derby 8 of the last 15 times. Additionally,  a closer  (a horse running at last or near the back for first half mile) won 4 of the last 15. Most intriguingly, only ONE horse has taken the Derby from start to finish since in the last 15 years: War Emblem in 2002.

So as you are watching these next two rounds of Derby Preps, look for horses who do not mind coming from of the pace and passing horses. And if you find a horse who needs the lead in order to win, you may want to keep them out of the “A” spot on your Derby wagers.

Number of Preps:

Gone are the days of two weeks rest, and horses prepping in the Derby Trial. Modern day trainers have moved toward running horses fresh, with few total starts in a year and more time between them. In the past 15 years, 14 horses have had either two (8) or three (6) preps before the Derby, with the lone exception being War Emblem, who had 4.

How do you use this to your advantage? Don’t rule out horses who haven’t run yet this year. Six of the past 15 winners didn’t have a start in their three year old year as of February 25th. So closely watch those fresh horses and new shooters to see who jumps up in their first three year old start.

Prepping At Home:

A common handicapping angle is the Road Warrior, a horse who can take his/her game from track to track and can run their best race on any surface. However, in the lead up to the Derby showing that you are a road warrior could be a detriment. Nine (9) of the last fifteen (15)  winners have made all of their preps at the same track before the Derby (this includes American Pharoah, one of the most impressive road warriors, who trained at Santa Anita, but traveled to Oaklawn for both his preps). The likely cause of this trend is that fresh horses run better, and travel tends to wear down young horses.

Recent Trends:

In the firs five years of the Road to the Kentucky Points system, all the winners have been favorites except I’ll Have Another (16-1, 2012).  We think it’s because sprinters no longer have the ability to gain points towards the elusive 20 spots in the Derby starting gate by winning or placing in graded stakes at less than a mile at 3 years old.

How do you use this to your advantage? Watch for horses who are making multiple starts at their home track, who are eliminating the stress of travel from their preparation. Although not a requirement, the advantage of not traveling might just make the difference for a young horse in its development towards the Run for the Roses.

The Fountain of Youth, Tampa Bay Derby, and Rebel are all coming up quickly on the horizon. As Winston Churchill said, “History is distilled experience”. So use this experience we have distilled for you while watching theses preps in hopes of finding the 2017 Kentucky Derby Winner.


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