It’s Post Time by Jon White: 2017 Derby Strikes Underway

Following last Saturday’s victories by Always Dreaming in the Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby and by Girvin in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, I now can count up the strikes for each colt.

It is not until a horse has made his or her final start before the Kentucky Derby that one can determine a horse’s number of strikes. Here is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, with the number of strikes for each horse in parenthesis if now known:

  1. McCraken (strikes still to be determined)
  2. Tapwrit (strikes still to be determined)
  3. Gunnevera (0)
  4. Girvin (1)
  5. Thunder Snow (0)
  6. Classic Empire (strikes still to be determined)
  7. One Liner (strikes still to be determined)
  8. Irish War Cry (strikes still to be determined)
  9. J Boys Echo (strikes still to be determined)
  10. Hence (1)

I developed my Derby Strikes System back in 1999. The goal was to ascertain the chances of a horse to win the Kentucky Derby from both a tactical perspective and a historical standpoint.

The system consists of nine key factors. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors are explained at the end of this column.

Inasmuch as Girvin has one strike and Always Dreaming has two, you might think, “Big deal. There’s not much difference between having one strike or two.”

That’s not true. A horse with only one strike has a much better chance to win the May 6 Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes, according to the strikes system. That’s because 38 of the last 44 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike. Only five of the last 44 have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003) and Giacomo (2005). Thus, according to the strikes system, it’s not impossible for a horse to win the Kentucky Derby with two strikes, but it is unlikely.

Any horse with three or more strikes has only a remote chance of winning the Kentucky Derby. Of the last 44 horses to win the Run for the Roses, the only one to have more than two strikes was Mine That Bird, who had four.

Nyquist, last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, had zero strikes. American Pharoah, who captured the 2015 renewal, had only one strike. American Pharoah went on to win the Preakness and Belmont to become the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown in 37 years.

The lone strike for American Pharoah was in the “sufficient racing experience” category, which awards a strike if the horse has fewer than six starts prior to the Kentucky Derby. I have come to the conclusion that this is the least important of the nine categories due to the fact that horses just do not race as much these days as when I first came up with the Derby Strikes System in 1999.

The only strike for five of the last 11 Kentucky Derby winners came in the “sufficient racing experience” category. The five were Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Animal Kingdom (2011), I’ll Have Another (2012) and American Pharoah (2015).

Interestingly, Girvin’s lone strike is in the “sufficient racing experience category.”

The good news for Girvin is he has only one strike. The bad news for him is he will be going into the Kentucky Derby with just four starts. There have been only five Kentucky Derby winners in the history of the race with four or fewer career starts. These four horses were:

2011 Animal Kingdom (4 starts)

2008 Big Brown (3 starts)

1918 Exterminator (4 starts)

1915 Regret (3 starts)

1902 Alan-a-Dale (4 starts)

Two current Kentucky Derby candidates who are in big trouble strikes-wise are Local Hero and Patch. Local Hero has three strikes, while Patch has four.

These are the number of strikes for nine Kentucky Derby candidates who are not scheduled to race again before the first Saturday in May:

ZERO STRIKES

Fast and Accurate

Gunnevera

Thunder Snow

ONE STRIKE

Hence (Category 4)

Girvin (Category 6)

TWO STRIKES

Always Dreaming (Categories 1 and 6)

State of Honor (Categories 2 and 7)

THREE STRIKES

Local Hero (Categories 2, 4, 6)

FOUR STRIKES

Patch (Categories 1, 2, 6 and 8)

Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:

1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)

1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4

1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)

1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)

1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)

1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)

1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)

1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)

1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1

1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3

1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1

1984 Swale (0 strikes)

1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)

1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4

1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2

1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)

1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)

1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3

1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)

1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)

1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5

1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)

1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)

1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)

1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4

1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)

1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5

2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6

2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)

2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)

2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9

2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)

2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5

2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6

2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)

2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6

2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9

2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4

2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6

2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6

2013 Orb (0 strikes)

2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)

2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6

2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)

These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:

  1. THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race as a 3-year-old before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition early in the year at 3 and not just at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and Mine That Bird in 2009 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 3 before March 31.)
  1. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
  1. THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 51 of the last 54 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
  1. THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
  1. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
  1. THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012 and American Pharoah in 2015. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another and American Pharoah each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
  1. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
  1. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 is the only Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. There now have been 133 straight Kentucky Derby winners who raced as a 2-year-old. Through 2016, the score is 140-1 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 0 for 59 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to even place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; and Bodemeister, second in 2012.)
  1. THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)

End

It’s Post Time by Jon White: 2017 Derby Strikes Underway