Kentucky Derby Analysis (04/29/14)

In-depth analysis of the 2014 Kentucky Derby including Pace Figures and Form Cycle Pattern of each starter. Please refer to the Legend or Pattern Guide for back-up definitions and patterns. Play Derby Props Pick'em. Listen to Kentucky Derby Podcast.

The Pace Figures will tell you if a horse is likely to improve or regress in its next start. Pace Figures are not just a single speed number, but rather a series of numbers that are incredibly powerful in identifying the Form Cycle Patterns of a horse.

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#1: Vicar's in Trouble (20-1)

A start to finish winner in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, Vicar's in Trouble (ViT) is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the leading owner of thoroughbreds by money earned in both 2013 and 2014 YTD. Purchased at auction for $80k as a two year old in May 2013, Vicar's in Trouble has amassed over $750,000 in earnings in his five lifetime starts. Jockey Rosie Napravink stays aboard looking to become the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby (five female jockeys rode in the Derby a total of six times with the following finishes: 15th, 11th, 16th, 14th, 11th and 13th).

As seen below, Vicar's Final Pace Figures top out at 74.9 his last race, a step down from his competitors. While ViT's Final Pace Figures show a gradual increase, his 4f figures still show a level of inconsistency bouncing around from 73.5 – 65.9 – 73.8 (in his last start), meaning Vicar's in Trouble is unlikely to get command of the race early.

The play: REGRESSOR - Outmatched, not likely to sustain pace of last race and is not considered a top contender.

#2: Harry's Holiday (50-1)

Another runner out of the Blue Grass Stakes, Harry's Holiday also got beat by 28 lengths, but got up at the wire to nose out Vincermos. A $50k yearling purchase in 2012, Harry's Holiday is another with a first time Derby jockey.

Harry's Holiday's Final Page Figure was 64.8 in his last start. His lifetime best is a 6f effort of 74.3/81.4. Notice Harry's Holiday's 4f Pace Figures following the 81.4; 77.4 – 75.8 – 71.0. Both his 4f and Final Pace Figure tailed off 10 points on four starts.

The play: SLOW - Over his head and off form.

#3: Uncle Sigh (30-1)

A $270k purchase, in the New York bred Saratoga 2012 auction, Uncle Sigh is one of two New York breds' (Samraat is the other) in the race. Uncle Sigh broke a step slow in the Wood Memorial and by some observers, lost all chance (though not by ours). Jockey Corey Nakatani is replaced by Irad Ortiz, one of the top two jockeys in New York.

Turning to Uncle Sigh's Pace Figures, notice his 6f, 4f and Final Page Figure from the Wood (4/5) and compare that to the race winner, Wicked Strong (see small chart below). Uncle Sigh broke two steps slow in the race yet his 4f Pace Figure was almost identical to Wicked Strong's. Uncle Sigh's 6f figure was two points less than Wicked Strong's and finished with a 76.5 Final Pace Figure compared to Wicked Strong's 80.4 Final Pace Figure. This is an indication of a runner who was not necessarily keeping pace with the field. The jockey change to Ortiz will put him closer to the lead but Uncle Sigh's four furlong Pace Figures are not high enough to garner separation.

The play: REGRESSOR - The jockey change to Ortiz will put Uncle Sigh closer to the lead but as the Pace Figures indicate he was used hard in his last race. Regression would not be surprising.

#4: Danza (8-1)

Purchased as a yearling at auction for $105k, Danza is the most lightly raced colt in the field with just four starts lifetime. One of four trained by perennial leading trainer, Todd Pletcher, who, has struggled in the Derby winning only once with Super Saver in 2010. Pletcher's Derby race record in 36 starts; one win, two seconds and two thirds (36-1-2-2).

Danza's upset win in the Arkansas Derby was visually impressive, drawing away late, though he did take the shortest way around, staying tight on the rail the entire race. Jockey Joe Bravo (0 for 2 lifetime in the Derby with both 16th place finishes) stays aboard after “race riding” this colt the last quarter mile.

Danza is one of only three Derby starters coming into the Derby off a Form Cycle Pattern. His most recent Pace Figures in the Arkansas Derby were 77/69.3 (final/4f), considered a Reversal Pattern (REV - the first time a horse runs a faster final Pace Figure than a 4f Pace Figure). As mentioned in the Arkansas Derby Race Analysis, he ran a 76.5/80.6, Double Top Pattern (DTOP - fastest Final and 4f Pace Figure) in August of 2013. Smartly, Pletcher noticed this over-exertion and gave Danza six months off from which he posted an even 73.7/73.8 (final/4f) effort on 2/1/2014.

As you can see by Danza's chart below, his Final Pace Figure is heading higher while his 4f Pace Figure is declining. This increase in his dirt spread (4f figure minus final figure) to 7.7 signifies a horse managing his energy well, which is conducive to the 10 furlong Derby.

The play: CONTENDER - Danza is coming into the Derby off a REV (Reversal), a key Form Cycle Pattern especially for young horses continuing to stretch out in distance (he goes from 9 to 10 furlongs). Danza appears to have the most value in this race.

#5: California Chrome (5-2)

The first thing to notice about California Chrome (CC) is his ten lifetime starts. As a course of history in the modern age of the Kentucky Derby (modern age is considered from 1979 to the present as 1978 was the last time there was a Triple Crown winner – Affirmed), there have been nine Derby winners who had over ten starts in their career prior to the Derby. The last runner to win the Derby with more than ten starts was Charismatic in 1999 (14 starts).

California Chrome is the only runner to earn over $1,000,000 lifetime and comes into the Derby as the early morning line favorite. California Chrome has never left the state of California (either racing or training) and is a homebred (owners have a mare that they bred to a stallion). California Chrome is a well-deserved favorite at 3:1 in the early morning line, CC has won each of his last four races by at least five lengths (and heavily bet as well).

Looking at California Chrome's Pace Figures, CC is on a very good line. California Chrome had three positive patterns – REV (Reversal), SOFT (Soft win) and NPT (New Pace Top) leading into his Santa Anita Derby win (4/5/14). Each of the patterns suggested a forward move and CC did not disappoint winning off of a REV, SOFT and NPT. California Chrome ran the Santa Anita Derby in a 78.8/72.2 (final/4f) meaning he had a slight increase in his final figure while a decrease in his 4f figure, indicating an improving distribution of energy.

The play: CONTENDER - A deserving Derby favorite, though his value is only at odds greater than his 3:1 morning line.

#6: Samraat (15-1)

The lone New York bred in the Derby field; Samraat looks to become only the second New York Bred to win the Derby (Funny Cide 1999 was the first New York Bred Derby winner). Rick Violette, the journeyman trainer out of New York returns ten years after he saddled another Derby runner in the 2004 Derby, read the Footnotes (finished 7th). Siding on the absurd, over the course of 139 run Kentucky Derby's, horses that start with the letter S have won 19, the most of any letter.

Samraat's most recent Final Pace Figure of 78.6 in the Wood was just 0.3 higher than the previous top of 78.3 on 2/23. These Final Pace Figures are as close to a paired up top as you can get (back to back equal Final Pace Figures). The rise from a 71.4 in Samraat's first start to the 78.6 in the Wood shows a gradual increase in Final Pace Figures (which is a positive). As well, Samraat's two most recent Final Pace Figures average 78.5, second in the field behind Wildcat Red.

Turning to Samraat's 4f figures, they are more erratic than the finals figures. Notice the inconsistency from his first start of 76.9, down to a low of 65.2 back up to 76.9. Samraat's 4f Pace Figure over the last two starts jumped from 71.7 to 76.1, which could indicate a runner who wants to be closer to the lead. As well, the 78.6/76.1 (final/4f) in the Wood is just 0.8 off a DTOP (Double Top – highest Final Figure and 4f figure in the same race).

The play: REGRESSOR - It is reasonable to expect this continued uneven distribution of energy as Samraat's 4f increases and Final Pace Figure is forced to decline as more energy is used early. Not playable.

#7: We Miss Artie (50-1)

The second of two runners for the Ramsey's and third from the Pletcher barn, We Miss Artie (WMA) is a paltry zero for three on a dirt surface. Purchased as a yearling for $90k, WMA looks to become only the second Canadian bred runner in the modern age of horse racing (1979 to present) to win the Derby. We Miss Artie finished 17 lengths behind both Wildcat Red and General A Rod in the Fountain of Youth, then choosing an easier path to earn his Derby points in the GIII Spiral Stakes (Turfway Park).

The third of three runners off a REV pattern, WMA is another with inconsistent 4f Pace Figures and a flat Final Pace Figure line, at least 6 points less than his competition.

The play: SLOW - One of the weaker starters in the race, We Miss Artie's early morning line odds are not high enough to provide value.

#8: General A Rod (15-1)

The “General” retains the services of Joel Rosario (second in money earned in 2013 and third YTD in 2014). An ultra-competitive sort has finished no worse than third in his five lifetime starts. Three horses in the modern age of racing have come into the Derby off 35 days' rest, and all three have something in common – they have won the Derby convincingly (Orb, Big Brown and Barbaro).

Looking at General A Rod's Pace Figures, notice the Double Top (DTOP – highest final and 4f Pace Figure) on 2/22. It was no surprise that General A Rod tailed off in his most recent start dropping 3.2 points in his final Pace Figure (79.9 – 76.7) while decreasing 14.4 points in his 4f figure (81.5 to 68.1). This severe decrease in his 4f Pace Figure accompanied by a drop in his final Pace Figure of three points, signifies regression and it is likely that the 2/22 effort was a top.

The play: GASSED - Another runner whose Pace Figures are tailing off coming into the Derby, a throw out.

#9: Vinceremos (30-1)

The fourth of Pletcher's Derby runners, Vinceremos was a $340k purchase in the April 2013 two-year old in training sale. First time Derby jockey Joe Rocco gets the mount looking to become the 28th jockey to win the Derby in his first mount.

Vinceremos lost his last race in the Blue Grass Stakes by 28 lengths to Dances with Fate, Vinceremos ran the slowest Final Page figure of all starters, 64.7. His Final Pace Figure has only cracked 70 once which means even on Vinceremos' best day, he is too slow.

The play: SLOW - Over his head and off form.

#10: Wildcat Red (15-1)

Wildcat Red (WR) has been no worse than second in seven lifetime starts and is less than a combined length from being undefeated and the Derby favorite. Wildcat Red has battled gamely in deep stretches in his last two starts including a second place finish by a neck in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Speaking of which, WR has raced only at Gulfstream Park under the guise of a relatively unknown trainer, Jose Garoffalo.

The first note on Wildcat Red's Pace Figures is he has earned a Pace Figure Pattern in six of seven starts, most recently he put a up a Reversal (REV - the first time a horse runs a faster final Pace Figure than a 4f Pace Figure) of 77.3/69.2 (Final/4f). Preceding the REV were back-to-back Double Tops (DTOP - fastest Final Pace Figure and 4f figure lifetime). Winning off a DTOP with another DTOP indicates back-to-back all out efforts, which was also seen on the track. Wildcat Red's Reversal in this case can been seen more as regression rather than improved energy distribution as there is a clear drop-off in both Pace Figures.

The play: FRINGE CONTENDER - Either the weakest true contender or the strongest fringe contender, there are some concerns about Wildcat Red regressing at new track and longer distance, but the likely longshot appears to have decent value as a coming off a REV Form Cycle Pattern leading into this race.

#11: Hoppertunity (6-1) SCRATCHED

Hoppertunity's chances of winning the Derby start and stop with the last “Derby rule” left standing – having never raced at two years old. Apollo, the winner of the 1882 race, was the only winner to never race at two years of age. In what is considered the modern age in racing (since 1979), the race record of Derby runners who did not race at two, is 31 starts, zero wins, two seconds and two thirds (31-0-2-2). Trained by Bob Baffert, who is tied for third all-time with three Derby wins (23-3-3-2), with jockey Mike Smith (20-1-4-1 in Derby starts) staying aboard, Hoppertunity's best effort was his last outing finishing second to Derby favorite, California Chrome. Another 2012 yearling purchased at auction for $300k, "Hopp's" will need to overcome history to hit the wire first.

Hoppertunity started off his racing career with a Compression Line (COMP – which means his Final and 4f Pace Figures were consistent, his specifically was also a Reversal). This strong first out line was followed by a nice win with a 72.7/73.1 (Final/4f). While a Double Top (DTOP) Pattern, the two figures were close enough (and early enough) in his racing career to not be an issue. Subsequently, Hoppertunity's three Final Pace Figures and 4f Pace Figures moved nicely together forming what can be seen in his chart below as parallel lines. His dirt spread (4f Pace Figure minus final Pace Figure) has remained consistent over those last three races – 6.5, 5.9 and 6 most recently.

The play: FRINGE CONTENDER - A decent play if he remains a longshot, it would not surprise if Hoppertunity's Final and 4f Pace figure improved in the Derby, though it would have to be dramatic for him to get in the money.

#12: Dances with Fate (20-1)

A west coast runner, Dances with Fate (DWF) shipped into Lexington, KY and went onto win the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes. Since Keeneland made the move to Polytrack in 2006 (synthetic surface, also known as All-Weather), the only winner to have a finish in the top three in the Derby was Dullahan (3rd in 2012). Out of an average sire (Two Step Salsa), Dances with Fate was sold at the Ocala Auction in April of 2013 for $120,000. Jockey Corey Nakatani retains the mount carrying with him an exercise in Derby futility finishing only second (on Nehro in 2011) out of 16 starts (that's 1 for 16 in the money).

Dances with Fate's Final Pace Figure last out was a 77.8. While one of the highest final times, DWF moved from a 70.2 to a 77.8, an increase of 7.6 points in his Final Pace Figure. And, while not a DTOP (double top – meaning a horse's fastest Final Pace Figure and 4f figure), the 77.8 stands out as a big effort and top. Dances with Fate's lifetime best final figure on dirt was a 72.8 (1/24/14) which is another indication that he may be best suited on the grass or synthetic.

The play: REGRESSOR - The Bluegrass Stakes looked like his Derby, which lends itself to an expected step back in his next race.He should not be considered a contender.

#13: Chitu (20-1)

Martin Garcia (zero for two in Derbies) stays on as the jockey of this potential front-runner. Trained by Bob Baffert, Chitu owners have been on the fence about running him in the Derby, as he has been declared out of and then back into the race. A lightly raced colt, Chitu enters the race as one of only two starters with only four starts; Danza is the other (note that during the modern age of racing, 1979 - present, two horses have won with four or less starts - Animal Kingdom and Big Brown).

Looking at his Pace Figures, Chitu put up three positive Pace Figure Patterns in his first three races; Compression (COMP - an even first out effort), New Pace Top in a 6 furlong spring (NPT - highest 4f Pace Figure with a final Pace Figure that is not a clear max) and a Reversal (REV - the first time a horse runs a faster final Pace Figure than a 4f Pace Figure). His most recent Final Pace Figure of 80.6 is the highest of all starters and is a 6.6 point jump off the 74 Final Pace Figure in his prior race. This is a sign of a horse that fully exerted himself last out with a top effort. In this respect, regression in his next start, the Kentucky Derby, is likely.

The play: REGRESSOR - Only Animal Kingdom in the modern age of the Derby (1979 – present) has won the race with more than 40 days rest. Combine that with a “toppy” last out and the chance of Chitu making it 10 furlongs and in the money is remote.

#14: Medal Count (20-1)

A $360K yearling purchased in September 2012, Dale Romans who is zero for four in Derbies (4-0-0-2) ran Medal Count (MC) back off just a week's rest to finish second in the Bluegrass, amassing enough points to find his way into the Derby starting gate. Medal Count has two races on regular dirt finishing fifth and eleventh respectively. Jockey Robbie Albarado is on board looking for his first Derby win from what will be his 14th start.

Medal Count's 4f Pace Figures look erratic. In his two races on dirt, the 4f Pace Figures are 75.5 and 77.6 respectively, his two highest 4f furlong marks. This indicates that on a true dirt surface, Medal Count will be forwardly placed (which is unlike his past performances). His two most recent final Pace Figures are “paired up tops,” meaning he ran back to back 77's, which in some cases would be construed as a positive pattern. However, given both efforts were on synthetic (artificial grass of horse racing), there is not much stock in either of those efforts.

The play: REGRESSOR - Overly aggressive owners got him in the Derby, but it is unlikely Medal Count can fire a third time in a row, especially on dirt.

#15: Tapiture (12-1)

Immediately notice jockey Joel Rosario (second in money earned in 2013 and third YTD in 2014), gets on and off the horse in one mount. Joel's agent, Ron Anderson is the leading jockey agent which means Joel's defection off Tapiture is significant. Tapiture was a highly regarded colt who was one of the early favorites in the fixed odds Derby futures at the Wynn, Las Vegas at 28:1, Tapiture should be all of that come post time.

From a Pace Figure perspective, there is not much to like. Tapiture's career race was in November 2013 when he put up a 77.1/73.2 (final/4f) Pace Figure preceded by a Reversal (REV) of 72.8/71.4. Both Tapiture's final and 4f Pace Figures have decreased since this clear top demonstrating a horse who is peaked early and has tailed off sequentially over his last three starts.

The play: GASSED - Final and 4f Pace Figures are both heading the wrong direction and not competitive. Not playable.

#16: Intense Holiday (8-1)

Intense Holiday (IH), the most expensive of the starters bought as a yearling at auction in 2012 for 380k and is the second of Pletcher's four starters. While IH's jockey, Mike Smith, opts to ride another horse, IH picks up the services of the legendary jockey John (“Johnny V”) Velasquez who has one Derby victory to his name in 15 starts (15-1-1-0).

The most obvious and troublesome thing to notice from Intense Holiday's Pace Figure Chart below is the erratic pattern of the Final Pace Figure and even more-so, his 4f Pace Figure.

The play: SLOW - This inconsistent nature of his internal Pace (4f) Figures combined with a lower set of Final Pace Figures is a major concern. Complete toss-out.

#17: Commanding Curve (50-1)

Bought as a $75k purchase in the April 2013 Two-year old in training sale, Commanding Curve has earned the least money in the field, earning $142k from six starts (6 - 1 - 1 - 2). His jockey (Shawn Bridgemohan) is zero for five in Derbies with an average placing of eleventh from five starts.

Commanding Curve's Pace Figures are another from the set of “parallel lines.” His dirt spreads have remained consistent (9.7 – 7.2 – 7-9 in his most recent start), though his Final Pace Figures are still not competitive.

The play: SLOW - Neither Commanding Curve's 4f or Final Pace Figures show an ability to step up to compete.

#18: Candy Boy (15-1)

Candy Boy is another Derby runner who has not traveled outside California in his racing career. He exits the Santa Anita Derby after running a distant third to California Chrome with Hall-of Fame jockey Gary Stevens riding him for the fourth time. Stevens is tied with Calvin Borel for most Derby wins by a jockey in the race, with three wins from 19 starts (19-3-2-1).

What stands out most about Candy Boy's Pace Figures is the dirt spread (4f Pace Figure minus Final Pace Figure) over the last four starts, from 4.7 – 2.4 – 3.5 – 3.1 (most recent). This pattern (as seen by parallel lines in the graph below), shows a horse who is doing a decent job of distributing his energy throughout the race. A concern is that Candy Boy's 4f Pace Figures are increasing, meaning he is likely to run closer to the front, a potential negative as he goes from his most recent 9f race to the 10f Kentucky Derby.

The play: FRINGE CONTENDER - Final Pace Figures are not competitive with the true contenders, but any improvement would put this longshot on the fringe of the money.

#19: Ride on Curlin (15-1)

A bargain at $25k in the yearling auction in September of 2012, Ride on Curlin (ROC) is one of only two active horses in training with unheard of trainer William Gowan (the other horse is a $5,000 claiming horse named Miesque Amour). ROC picks back up jockey Calvin Borel, who has two wins and a second and third in five starts aboard. Borel is considered a Derby specialist and has won three Derbies from eleven starts (11-3-0-1). Ride on Curlin is coming back off 21 days rest (as are almost half of the starters), which is the most common number of days rest for horses winning the Kentucky Derby in the modern age (from 1979-2013, 13 horses won the Derby off 21 days rest). As a point of comparison, seven horses have won the Derby off 28 days rest during the same period, the second most common.

The first observation of Ride on Curlin's Pace Figures is that ROC had the fastest Final Pace Figure as a two-year old of all Derby starters. The 78.1/80.2 (final/4f) in his second lifetime start established Ride on Curlin as a potential Derby contender very early in his career. Notice the sequence of his 4f figures since that race. Except for the 82.1 in the 6 furlong sprint on 1/21 that was a New Pace Top effort (NPT – fastest lifetime 4f effort with not a lifetime top Final Pace figure), which makes it reasonable to think this effort was a glorified workout and tune-up, his internal race form cycle is improving.

ROC's three most recent 4f figures have been on a slow decline (71.3 – 69.8 – 67.6) while his final Pace Figure has improved (69.3 – 75.1 – 74.8) indicating a runner who is getting better at conserving his energy.

The play: CONTENDER - An improved effort is expected and with Borel at the reigns, value is there to include Ride on Curlin in the top three.

#20: Wicked Strong (6-1)

A convincing winner of the Wood Memorial, Wicked Strong (WS) had a perfect trip off the speed and kicked it into high gear at the 8th pole. A $375k yearling in September of 2012, Wicked Strong is the second most expensive horse sold at auction in this year's Derby. One of three Wood runners in the Derby, Wicked Strong comes out of a race that hasn't had a runner finish in the top three in the Derby in ten years (22 starts – zero 1st, 2nd or 3rd place finishes).

Wicked Strong's most recent Final Pace Figure was 80.3, the fastest Final Pace Figure of all Derby starters. WS continued his big step forward over the last three races from 69.6 (final on 1/25/14) to 75.4 (2/22/14) to 80.3 in the Wood. This 10.7 point jump over the course of three races is significant and could likely indicate a horse nearing or on a top. You'll also notice an up and down set of 4f Pace Figures, which shows inconsistency during the early part of the race, not ideal when pitted against 19 rivals.

The play: REGRESSOR - Expected to be a lukewarm second choice and favorite of other pros, but the value is not there to back him. He ran a Final Page figure of almost seven points better in his last race than ever before, which is likely unsustainable. - Want to bet the Derby? Get started today!

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