In case you're not keeping track, we're only about 360 hours from the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. Then, in two minutes, it'll be over.
The ratio of time spent mulling, hand-wringing and doing mental gymnastics about the Derby to the duration of the event is astronomically high, and I can't think of anything in the world that comes close. I've designed a mathematical formula to illustrate this.
D + E + R + B + Y : M²
D = Time it takes to drive across country
E = Time spent studying for a bar exam
R = Amount of time invested in reading War and Peace
B = Half a bowling season
Y = Yes, you're still thinking about the Derby
M² = Amount of time it takes to microwave a burrito or if you're a racehorse, run 1 1/4 miles
Let's see what other numbers we have in the Derby Capsule this week.
Let's pace ourselves
Some of the mental gymnastics about the Derby focus on deciding how fast the pace might be and who will benefit or be exposed by it. Under the points system, aside from the Great 2013 Fiasco of Palace Malice in Blinkers, the early pace in the Derby has mostly been reasonable. Horses now earn all of their points in route races, so there's a lot more tactical speed and fewer speedballs.
I've heard talk this year's field might be pretty speed-favoring, so I decided to take a closer look. This isn't a scientific study. It's more of an educated guess based on the position of the contenders at the second call, averaged out over several races. I've tossed a few outliers so they wouldn't skew the results but here's what I've come with. A negative average (with Justify for example) means the horse was in front on average at the second call.
Frontrunners (Within a length of the lead at second call)
Promises Fulfilled (-.9)
Noble Indy (.25)
Magnum Moon (.5)
Stalkers (Within two lengths)
Good Magic (1.4)
Bolt d”Oro (1.6)
Mid-Pack (Within three lengths)
Vino Rosso (2.5)
Firenze Fire (2.7)
Free Drop Billy (2.8)
Closers (Four lengths or more behind)
Lone Sailor (4.1)
My Boy Jack (4.6)
I put Gronkowski toward the back of the pack based on chart-caller comments and watching his races. Mendelssohn clearly likes to be forwardly placed but not necessarily leading the way he was throughout the UAE Derby.
I did this exercise a couple of years ago, having heard observers comment that the Derby field was a bunch of frontrunners and the results came back quite balanced among the running styles (stalker Nyquist ended up winning). That is not the case this year. Based on their previous races, more than half this field wants to be near the lead, with half a dozen having the potential to be in front. I'm still hesitant to predict an eyeball-popping pace because again, even the frontrunners aren't sprinters. They have tactical speed, they're mostly professional and some of them will have to settle.
Still, we probably need to give a good, long look at some of those toward the back of the field who could pounce late on an early cavalry charge.
Fast, fast, fast
According to the Beyer Speed Figures for the final prep races, there are two clear standouts in this field. One of them is Justify, whose figure in the Santa Anita Derby was well clear of the other stateside prep winners. However, the Beyer team came up with what they consider a very reliable figure for Mendelssohn's romp in the UAE Derby. The basis for the figure was a comparison to the Dubai World Cup, and it came back one point shy of Justify's number.
“We would never have published this figure if we were shaky about it,” Beyer said.
While Brisnet did not publish a speed figure for Mendelssohn's victory, notably at the longer distance of 1 3/16 miles rather than 1 1/8, it did back up the Beyer figure for Justify. Brisnet's figure of 114 is the fastest rating of any horse since the Derby points system was implemented in 2013. So if Mendelssohn's Beyer number is as reliable as the team suggests, we have a pair of extremely fast standouts in this race. Below is a look at the final prep speed figures and the top Brisnet speed figs run by every horse in the top 20.
Beyer Speed Figures, Final Preps
Magnum Moon 98
Vino Rosso 98
Good Magic 95
Noble Indy 95
My Boy Jack 90
Brisnet Figures, Final Preps
Vino Rosso 102
Noble Indy 100
Magnum Moon 99
Good Magic 98
My Boy Jack 94
Top Brisnet Speed Figures for each contender
Justify 114 (SA Derby)
Bolt d'Oro 110 (SA Derby)
Audible 107 (Fla Derby)
Good Magic 105 (BC Juvenile)
Enticed 104 (Gotham)
Hofburg 104 (Fla Derby)
Promises Fulfilled 104 (FOY)
Vino Rosso 102 (Wood)
Flameaway 101 (S.F Davis)
Solomini 101 (Los Al Futurity)
Magnum Moon 100 (Rebel)
Noble Indy 100 (LA Derby)
Lone Sailor 100 (LA Derby)
Free Drop Billy 99 (Holy Bull)
My Boy Jack 99 (LA Derby)
Bravazo 98 (Risen Star)
Quip 98 (Tampa Bay Derby)
Firenze Fire 96 (Champagne)
In the last decade, two horses have come into the Derby undefeated and end up wearing the roses. Who were they? Answer below.
This year, only two colts come into the race with unblemished records, and those two happen to be the only colts with a chance to break the Curse of Apollo. Justify is three-for-three. Magnum Moon has won all four of his starts.
Top Ten Two Weeks Out
1. Mendelssohn: Noted above, his Beyer in the UAE Derby was one measly point behind Justify's Santa Anita Derby. He blew the doors off that field effortlessly. Aidan O'Brien has always engaged in American racing, and this colt will make the mainstream public know his trainer's name.
2. Justify: Seems just about everybody has him the clear favorite to run off with the Derby, but he will face more horses in Louisville than he has in his whopping three-race career. He simply might be too talented to beat, but after five favorites in a row, we are overdue for a non-favorite to win the Derby.
3. Audible: He won the Florida Derby. and based on history, that right there makes him a serious contender. Trainer Todd Pletcher is loaded for Derby this year, and this guy is his number one.
4. Magnum Moon: Or is it this guy? His drifting in the stretch might be a concern, but his pedigree and the fact that no one has sniffed him in his four-race, undefeated career make him a serious chance to win it all.
5. Bolt d'Oro: I think Bolt is a racehorse, in the most complimentary way. On Derby day, I will not ignore him like some might when they are Justify-ing their picks. Still, trainer Mick Ruis hasn't proven he's up to the task of taking down a Pletcher or a Baffert at this level.
6. Good Magic: Wasn't that impressed with the Blue Grass visually, and he hasn't worked since that race. That could be a concern, and I'm thinking a bounce could be coming.
7. Vino Rosso: Love the pedigree (Curlin out of a Street Cry mare), but the Curlins can be later developers and that might be the case with this one. Plus, the Wood hasn't been source of many Derby winners.
8. Hofburg: Who knows how good this colt might be? Son of Tapit ran a big one in the Florida Derby in only his third start. Mott doesn't run ‘em in a spot like this unless they're ready. Man, this is a good field.
9. My Boy Jack: Reminds me so much of Derby runner-up and Preakness winner Exaggerator. He came into the Derby with nine starts. MBJ has ten. Both deep closers, both trained by Keith Desormeaux, ridden by brother Kent. Neither cost much. There isn't a better trifecta key in this field than MBJ.
10. Lone Sailor: Also an excellent longshot to key for hitting the board, with his closing style. Only lost a neck to one of the Pletcher “quad” Noble Indy in the Louisiana Derby. That six-week layoff has rarely been a recipe for winning the Derby, but Lone Sailor just smoked a five-furlong breeze at Churchill (in 57 and change!), so the surface nor acclimating to the track will be an issue.
Trivia answer: Big Brown (2008), Nyquist (2016)
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