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Apr 24, 2015

Kentucky Derby winners usually lay close to the pace

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Horse racing handicappers look for certain traits in a Kentucky Derby winner. One of them is a powerful burst of speed around the far turn, taking the horse from back of the pack to the lead.

One popular Kentucky Derby misconception is just that: the winner usually comes from further back as opposed to closer to the pace. Point of fact, in seven of the last nine Derbies run on fast tracks, the winner was no more than six lengths off the lead after the first quarter-mile.

Even when the pace is fast, recent Kentucky Derby winners still were closer than one might expect. Three years ago, I'll Have Another was 4 1/4 lengths behind Bodemeister in a 22 1/5 first quarter and both colts wound up completing the exacta.

Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby in 2006 after sitting just 2 1/4 lengths off of Keyed Entry after a 22 3/5 quarter. Even Funny Cide was just two lengths behind the leader in a 22 3/5 first quarter-mile in 2003.

The lone two outliers were Street Sense, who had just two horses beaten in a 22 4/5 quarter in 2007 and Giacomo, who also was 18th in a 22 1/5 first quarter back in 2005.

The reason these figures stretch out back to the early 2000s when War Emblem won gate-to-wire is due to a high abundance of sloppy tracks in recent years.

When the rain is in play, the opposite usually takes place. The last three Kentucky Derby winners over the slop were 10, 8 and 16 lengths off the lead after similar quarter-miles of 22 2/5, 22 3/5 and 22 4/5, respectively.

Given the above numbers, the 2015 Kentucky Derby winner should come from close to the pace, if the track is fast, and off the pace, if the track is sloppy. The long-range forecast for Derby Day is fabulous. Little to no rain is expected with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s.

With an expected dry track, how can this information help in figuring out the winner?

I have placed the expected runners in four separate categories: (1) speed, (2) stalk, (3) midpack and (4) closers.

One caveat. It is somewhat difficult to guess which of the 20 horses will be setting the pace, especially before post-positions are drawn. Nevertheless, given each horse's racing style, it is easy to make educated guesses.

Category one has: (1) Dortmund, (2) Stanford, (3) American Pharoah, (4) Mr. Z and (5) Ocho Ocho Ocho. Look for quick early fractions of 22 4/5 and 46 2/5 seconds from this quintet.

Category two has: (1) Firing Line, (2) Carpe Diem and (3) Bolo. These three horses should be about three lengths off the lead and ready to fire approaching the far turn.

Category three has the bulk of the field and this is where post-position draw and riding tactics will come into play. The eight horses are: (1) Tencendur, (2) Mubtaahij, (3) Upstart, (4) Materiality, (5) Madefromlucky, (6) Danzig Moon, (7) Itsaknockout and (8) Frosted. Expect this class to be about five-to- six lengths in back of the five colts in category one.

Category four has (1) International Star, (2) War Story, (3) El Kabeir, (4) Far Right and (5) Keen Ice and (6) Frammento (if Todd Pletcher removes two of his three from Stanford, Madefromlucky and Itsaknockout).

Based on their running style, category four horses could be more than six lengths behind the early pace, which if the recent trend comes to fruition, leaves them with only a 20 percent chance to win the Run for the Roses.

However, it might not be wise to leave one or two of them out of the trifectas and superfectas as deep closers have finished second each of the last two years.

There also is room for discussion concerning individual horses from groups two and three. I have seen many experts who feel Carpe Diem (group 2) could be further back than just a few lengths after the first quarter-mile. On the flip side, many feel Materiality, another one of Pletcher's crew, might be closer.

Carpe Diem has broken out of the gate on top in both his 2015 starts and he was right on Ocho Ocho Ocho's tail early on in the Blue Grass, I fully expect John Velazquez to hustle the son of Giant's Causeway at the start and seek a spot right behind the leaders.

As for Materiality, it is true he has been a close second at the first call in his last two starts. However, he has run his first quarters in a slow 23 4/5 both times. So even though he races close up, he does not have the early speed to run close behind the likes of Dortmund and American Pharoah. Expect the undefeated colt to be about five-to-six lengths off the early lead and then mount his charge later in the race.


Every week I post my top 12 so there should be no secrets as to which horses are at the bottom of the pecking order.

The best bet to run last in the 2015 Kentucky Derby is Mr. Z. Not only does the D. Wayne Lukas colt sport the most starts of any horse in the race, the Derby will be his third appearance in just six weeks. He proved in the Louisiana Derby he can drop out of it quickly as he finished ninth in a field of nine, so a quick retreat in the Run for the Roses is extremely possible.

The next three on the list all hail from the barn of Todd Pletcher. As of this writing, Madefromlucky, Itsaknockout and Stanford all are up in the air in terms of reaching the starting gate, and for a trainer such as Pletcher, who normally has multiple entries in the Derby, the fact he has not given the go- ahead nine days from the race is quite telling.

The next two are Ocho Ocho Ocho and Tencendur. The former got into the Derby with a third-place finish in the Blue Grass behind Carpe Diem and Danzig Moon. The five horses he beat that day have never finished first or second in a graded stakes.

Ocho Ocho Ocho is the second top play behind Mr. Z to finish in last place as he also might be a casualty of an expected quick pace.

Tencendur ran the race of his life in the Wood Memorial running second to Frosted. Still, it was the first and only time he finished in-the-money in a stakes race. His pedigree is all speed, which means he is another top contender for last place in the Derby.

Staying with the Wood Memorial, El Kabeir will find the going much tougher on the first Saturday in May than he has in his prior nine attempts. The third- place finisher in New York's final prep is a tremendous horse to own as he obviously has talent to win four of nine races.

Nevertheless, he is not in the same league as the top 10 to 12 horses in the race so he is another one to toss, especially since his odds will be much lower than they should be with Calvin Borel in the saddle.

War Story is akin to the little horse that could. The gelding has not finished off-the-board in all five of his starts and has looked to be the winner at one point or another in each of his three losses.

But the Louisiana circuit was not too strong this year, and if International Star, with three straight wins, is just No. 7 on my list, it is doubtful War Story can climb the ladder and ring the big bell to get the roses.

The final two horses are the bottom two in the latest Jeff Frank "Dirty Dozen."

Bolo, at No. 12 would not even be in this race if trainer Carla Gaines had her way. Still, the turf runner does possess a modicum of talent on the dirt with consecutive third-place finishes to Dortmund and has a slim chance to win the Derby.

The other colt is Far Right. A fast pace certainly will help the ridgling move up the ladder on May 2, but even with blistering early fractions in the Arkansas Derby, Far Right still finished eight lengths behind American Pharoah.

Improvement is expected since that race as it was his first start since February. Nonetheless, he is just not fast enough to make a dent inside the final furlong.

Next week, I'll run through my top 10, predict the odds for all 20 horses and make my final selections. Hopefully this year will be as successful as the last three.

Remember, back in 2012, the top five horses in the final "Dirty Dozen" were I'll Have Another (first), Bodemeister (second), Union Rags (seventh), Dullahan (third) and Creative Cause (fifth). I'll Have Another paid an extremely generous $32.20, the exacta came back $306.60, while a $2 four-horse trifecta netted $3,065.60.

Two years ago, the initial "Dirty Dozen" had the eventual runner-up Golden Soul (34-1 odds in the Derby) in the top spot, while the final list had the Derby winner Orb as the second choice behind Verrazano.

Last year, two of the top three choices in the final "Dirty Dozen" hit the board as California Chrome and Danza won and finished third, respectively.


1) Mubtaahij - Powerful mover has best chance to run 1st or 2nd

2) Firing Line - Might win if he can rate. Final furlong is key

3) American Pharoah - Sports most talent of any horse in field

4) Dortmund - Will he handle getting bumped around in huge field

5) Carpe Diem - Velazquez chose him over Materiality. Wise move?

6) Materiality - Lots to like, lots to dislike heading into race

7) Upstart - Seems to be thriving after fever forced missed work

8) Frosted - Did throat procedure make him a viable candidate?

9) Danzig Moon - Couldn't be doing better. Ready for race of life

10) International Star - Must run faster than he has been of late

11) Far Right - A top finish is dependant on a fast early pace

12) Bolo - Better suited to coming from further off the pace

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