When I found out the news via a text message from a friend, I had trouble breathing.
No, I did not have an entrapped epiglottis. But I did have trouble breathing because I felt as if somebody had just punched me in the gut really, really hard.
I was so much looking forward to Omaha Beach running in Saturday’s 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby. I felt he had an excellent chance to win it. Now, instead of running in it and possibly winning it, he has to miss the Grade I event because of an entrapped epiglottis.
I will be totally honest. I am so disappointed by this shocking development that it is hard for me to even be typing these words. I can only imagine how disappointing this is for owner Rick Porter (Fox Hills Farm), Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Porter, though, certainly is able to put Omaha Beach’s setback into some perspective. Considering the owner is someone who is in remission after a serious battle with cancer that had him at death’s door, it is far from the end of the world.
Smith had his choice of riding either Grade I Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach or Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster in the Kentucky Derby. But in a cruel twist of fate, after Smith made the difficult decision to ride Omaha Beach, that colt is now out of the race. Thanks to Smith opting for Omaha Beach, Roadster’s pilot will be Florent Geroux.
After working as an assistant to trainer Lefty Nickerson, Mandella went out on his own in 1974. He said Thursday that this is his biggest disappointment in all the years he’s been a trainer.
Mandella elaborated that it was so disappointing because “the [Kentucky] Derby is what it is” and because Omaha Beach is such a special horse. Mandella said the way Omaha Beach had trained at Churchill Downs, it looked “like Muhammad Ali when he was going into the ring.” Omaha Beach “would just bounce and hardly touch the ground and float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. It just said to me, he’s really special.”
Despite Omaha Beach’s misfortune that precludes him from participating in the Kentucky Derby, Mandella somehow has managed to keep his sense of humor. He said his wife, Randi, “last night tied one of my legs down to the bed so I couldn’t jump out the hotel window.”
Mandella also said that his wife has “a little bucket. She’ll walk around. If you throw a donation in there to help us get home…”
Thursday morning at the barn, Mandella joked that Omaha Beach had wanted to talk to the media but couldn’t do so because he has a sore throat.
Omaha Beach’s exit from the Kentucky Derby field has opened the door for Bodexpress, the maiden who ran second in the Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby, to get into the race from the also-eligible list.
As of Thursday morning, the status of another Kentucky Derby entrant, Haikal, was in doubt due to an abscess in his left front foot. A final determination as to whether or not Haikal runs in the race will be made Friday morning, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
It had appeared to be all systems go Wednesday morning for Omaha Beach. A day after being installed as the 4-1 favorite on the Kentucky Derby morning line, Omaha Beach galloped 1 3/4 miles on the Churchill oval Wednesday with regular exercise rider Taylor Cambra in the saddle for Mandella.
After Omaha Beach’s a.m. exercise had concluded, Cambra was reported to have been beaming. Cambra said the colt had not galloped any better since arriving at Churchill following his victory in the Arkansas Derby on April 13.
As soon as Omaha Beach had completed his gallop, Mandella was asked how the colt was doing. The trainer responded by saying “good as ever.”
But later in the day it was announced that Omaha Beach would be scratched from this year’s Run for the Roses.
“After training this morning we noticed him cough a few times,” Mandella was quoted as saying Wednesday in a Churchill Downs press release. “It caused us to scope him and we found an entrapped epiglottis. We can’t fix this in a week so we’ll have to have a procedure done in a few days. We’ll have to figure out a whole new game plan.”
In a news conference Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, Mandella said Omaha Beach would be undergoing surgery later in the day to address the entrapped epiglottis. The operation would be performed by Dr. Rolf Embertson at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.
At some point after the surgery, Omaha Beach will return to home at Mandella’s Santa Anita barn. I thought it was not out of the question for Omaha Beach to sweep the Triple Crown. With all three Triple Crown races now off the table for the colt, Mandella said they will look at summertime races like the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 20, Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar and Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 24 as possibilities.
Meanwhile, in terms of my selections for the 2019 Kentucky Derby, fate has rudely pulled the rug out from under me. Omaha Beach had been my pick to win, but the furlongs of copy I wrote explaining why he was my choice had to be tossed into the garbage can Wednesday afternoon. Forced to call an audible, my selections for the 1 1/4-mile classic now are:
1. War of Will (15-1 morning line)
2. Game Winner (9-2 morning-line favorite in Omaha Beach’s absence)
3. Improbable (5-1)
4. Roadster (5-1)
I have decided to go ahead and pick War of Will to win because I think he could possibly get the job done at a juicy price. I’m switching from one War Front colt, Omaha Beach, to another War Front colt, War of Will.
Trained by Mark Casse, War of Will was sent away as the 4-5 favorite in the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. He finished ninth. If War of Will had won that race, his odds this Saturday quite likely would have been around 6-1 to 10-1. Instead, he figures to be probably 15-1 or higher, possibly much higher.
A prime example of how the public can overreact to one defeat occurred in 1995. Thunder Gulch won the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes and Grade I Florida Derby that year, both at Gulfstream. He then finished fourth as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
If you had drawn a line through Thunder Gulch’s Blue Grass and bet him to win the Kentucky Derby, you would have enjoyed seeing him prevail by 2 1/4 lengths. Thunder Gulch returned $51 for each $2 win ticket.
Imagine that, a Florida Derby winner trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Gary Stevens paying $51.
Thunder Gulch went from 6-5 in the Blue Grass to an inflated 24-1 in the Kentucky Derby.
War of Will is likely to go from 4-5 in the Louisiana Derby to much higher odds than they should be in the Kentucky Derby.
I, for one, certainly am willingly to draw a line through War of Will’s Louisiana Derby. He broke alertly, then abruptly broke stride when he lost his footing behind shortly after the start. War of Will emerged from the race with a strained patellar ligament, according to Casse.
But after getting a thorough physical examination in Kentucky following his Louisiana Derby debacle, War of Will has trained marvelously. Since his hiccup in New Orleans, he has recorded four dandy workouts while firing bullets as if he were a four-footed version of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holiday. For you fans of the movie “Tombstone,” it’s as if War of Will is telling everyone, “I’m your huckleberry.” War of Will’s four workouts after the Louisiana Derby are listed below:
Distance Time Track and Date (Ranking)
4f :48.80 Keeneland on April 6 (35/111)
5f :59.00 Keeneland on April 13 from gate (1/44)
5f 1:00.20 Keeneland on April 19 (1/9)
4f :47.60 Churchill Downs on April 27 (1/78)
On Mike Willman’s radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles, respected private clocker Gary Young said last Sunday that War of Will “worked lights out” in his :47.60 drill Saturday at Churchill. It was the fastest of 78 at the distance that morning.
Young said last Sunday that, “as of right now,” if he were to pick someone other than the Southern California-based horses that “is most likely to win the Derby, it would probably be this horse off his work yesterday,” referring to War of Will.
Except for the Louisiana Derby, War of Will has never been beaten when racing on dirt, winning by five, four and 2 1/4 lengths.
Don’t forget how well War of Will ran at Churchill Downs when making his first start on dirt. He won a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race on a sloppy track last Nov. 14. He posted a final time of 1:45.45. On that same track that same day, Signalman won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at the same distance in 1:45.29.
War of Will’s sparkling maiden win in the slop certainly could bode well for him Saturday if the Kentucky Derby is run on a wet track.
Prior to War of Will’s Louisiana Derby fiasco, he had won a pair of graded stakes on the dirt in New Orleans. He registered an emphatic four-length victory in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 19. That was followed by a 2 1/4-length win in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes.
Consider what a couple of War of Will’s victims in the Risen Star have done since that race.
Owendale finished eighth in the Risen Star, 10 lengths behind War of Will. Yes, that’s the same Owendale who won the Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 13..
Plus Que Parfait finished 13th in the Risen Star, 20 1/4 lengths behind War of Will. Yes, that’s the same Plus Que Parfait who won the Group II, $2.5 million UAE Derby in Dubai on March 30. Plus Que Parfait is entered in the Kentucky Derby.
There will be many Kentucky Derby bettors who especially will have no interest in backing War of Will because he drew the dreaded No. 1 post position. This does figure to help his price. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby from post 1 since Ferdinand in 1986.
Ferdinand was ridden by quite possibly the greatest jockey of all time, Bill Shoemaker, and was conditioned by quite possibly the greatest trainer of all time, Charlie Whittingham. After being last in the field of 16 at one point, Ferdinand and Shoemaker rallied to loom menacingly approaching the top of the stretch.
But just before straightening away in the stretch, Ferdinand found himself behind a wall of horses. Shoemaker had to make a split-second decision. He could swing toward the outside, which is what most riders would have done. But Shoemaker instead boldly took Ferdinand down to the inside rail. Ferdinand and Shoe found a narrow seam and surged to the lead as the eighth pole loomed, then kicked away to a 2 1/4-length triumph. It ranks among Shoemaker’s finest and most famous rides.
As far as War of Will having to begin from post 1, he typically breaks alertly. If he does that Saturday, he most likely will be racing in a forward position early. The pace in this particular edition of the Kentucky Derby is not expected to be all that fast. If that’s the case, it will help War of Will.
Another reason I think War of Will might win the Kentucky Derby is he has a chance to be first or second with a furlong to go. If that happens, it will put him in a prime position to win the race. History tells us that correctly foreseeing who will be first or second with a furlong left to run is a major key in correctly picking the winner.
For example, in 2005, my selection to win the Kentucky Derby was Closing Argument. One of the main reasons I picked him was my feeling that he had a good chance to be first or second with a furlong remaining. It turned out that he was in front by a half-length with a furlong to go. He remained in front until the final yards when Giacomo, with Mike Smith in the saddle, got up to win by a half-length at 50-1. Closing Argument was virtually ignored by the bettors, starting at 71-1. Even though I did not pick the winner that year, I take some solace in that Closing Argument paid $70 for each $2 place ticket. To this day it’s the biggest place payout in the history of the Kentucky Derby
Casse has called War of Will “a superstar.” If War of Will is indeed a superstar, he can win the 2019 Kentucky Derby. But I believe that no matter what happens Saturday, War of Will at the very least is a super-live longshot.
There is the possibility that War of Will isn’t going to win Saturday because he simply did not get much out of the Louisiana Derby. It’s definitely a concern. Not having had a race in the six weeks since the Louisiana Derby also is something of a concern.
Additionally, War of Will almost certainly must run faster than he ever has before in order to win the roses. He has not recorded a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 94. Perhaps he just is not fast enough to win the Kentucky Derby.
But it’s not as if this group has run a whole bunch of triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures. In fact, only one entrant, Maximum Security, has ever earned a Beyer of 100 or higher, something he has done twice.
Being able to produce a Beyer of 100 or higher in the Kentucky Derby is important. It almost always takes a Beyer of 100 or higher to win the roses.
The American Racing Manual lists the Beyer for each Kentucky Derby going back to 1989, with no figure listed for 1990 and 1992. Only once during all this time has a horse won the Kentucky Derby with a sub-100 Beyer Speed Figure. That was California Chrome’s 97 in 2014.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1989:
2018 Justify (103)
2017 Always Dreaming (102)
2016 Nyquist (103)
2015 American Pharoah (105)
2014 California Chrome (97)
2013 Orb (104)
2012 I’ll Have Another (101)
2011 Animal Kingdom (103)
2010 Super Saver (104)
2009 Mine That Bird (105)
2008 Big Brown (109)
2007 Street Sense (110)
2006 Barbaro (111)
2005 Giacomo (100)
2004 Smarty Jones (107)
2003 Funny Cide (109)
2002 War Emblem (114)
2001 Monarchos (116)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (108)
1999 Charismatic (108)
1998 Real Quiet (107)
1997 Silver Charm (115)
1996 Grindstone (112)
1995 Thunder Gulch (108)
1994 Go for Gin (112)
1993 Sea Hero (105)
1992 Lil E. Tee (107)
1991 Strike the Gold*
1989 Sunday Silence (102)
*No Beyer Speed Figure listed
BAFFERT HOLDING A VERY STRONG HAND
Even with Omaha Beach now out of the race, many are expecting three other Southern California-based runners — Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster — to do well in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains all three.
SoCal-based runners have won five of the last seven editions of the Kentucky Derby: I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014), American Pharoah (2015), Nyquist (2016) and Justify (2018).
If Baffert does get another Kentucky Derby victory this year, he will equal Ben Jones’ longstanding record for most wins in this race by a trainer.
Jones has six wins to his credit: Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952)
Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby five times: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2015).
I have tremendous respect for Game Winner. He was a three-time Grade I winner last year, highlighted by a BC Juvenile victory over the same track as the Kentucky Derby. He was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
Keep in mind that Game Winner is only a nose and a half-length away from being a seven-for-seven champion going into the Kentucky Derby. His first 2019 defeat was by only the slimmest of margins to Omaha Beach. And when Game Winner finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, he actually acquitted himself well in defeat. Game Winner lost the Santa Anita Derby by a half-length to Roadster. However, according to Trakus info, Game Winner traveled 38 feet, or approximately four lengths, farther than Roadster.
I think they are going to have a hard time keeping Game Winner out of the exacta this Saturday.
Beyond War of Will and the Baffert-trained trio, I think Maximum Security or Tacitus could possibly win this year’s Kentucky Derby.
The way I look at Maximum Security, it really might be a case of feast or famine. I could see him either winning or finishing way back.
Undefeated and untested, Maximum Security, as mentioned earlier, is the only horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby to have recorded any Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or higher.
Maximum Security recorded a 102 Beyer when he won a seven-furlong allowance/optional claiming race by 18 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20. Maximum Security then posted a 101 when victorious by 3 1/2 lengths in Gulfstream’s Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles on March 30.
How good is Maximum Security? We really don’t know. What if he’s a freak? His average margin of victory in four career starts is 9 1/2 lengths! Considering he has an unblemished record and sports the only two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in the field, if Maximum Security does outrun them all on Saturday, I am going to feel pretty dumb for not picking him to win.
If Maximum Security manages to continue his winning streak Saturday, he will become the 10th undefeated Kentucky Derby winner, joining Regret (1915), Morvich (1922), Majestic Prince (1969), Seattle Slew (1977), Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Nyquist (2016) and Justify (2018).
On the other hand, it’s also possible that Maximum Security could have his bubble of invincibility popped big-time this Saturday due to facing much tougher opponents than ever before. And if he does not win, I will be surprised if Maximum Security is part of the superfecta.
There is much to like about Tacitus. There is his Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, who is seeking his first Kentucky Derby victory. There also is Tacitus’ wonderful pedigree. He is a son of premier sire Tapit and the First Defence mare Close Hatches. Close Hatches was one of my favorites during her racing career in which she was voted a 2014 Eclipse Award as champion older female.
Tacitus took the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby by 1 1/4 lengths on March 9. He then won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by the same margin on April 13 in what was a particularly admirable effort in the context that he got knocked around early and was making only his fourth career start.
However, the fact that Tacitus goes into the Kentucky Derby having made only four lifetime starts is a concern for me. Maximum Security and Roadster likewise each have made just four career starts. I also am concerned about that with regard to those two contenders. Longshot Spinoff is another who has only four lifetime starts. Everyone else in this year’s Kentucky Derby has made five or more career starts.
There have been just six winners in the history of the Kentucky Derby who previously had made four or fewer lifetime starts. They are:
2018 Justify (3 starts)
2011 Animal Kingdom (4 starts)
2008 Big Brown (3 starts)
1918 Exterminator (4 starts)
1915 Regret (3 starts)
1902 Alan-a-Dale (4 starts)
DERBY STRIKES SITUATION
Improbable and Roadster both are extremely talented individuals. As such, they both must be taken very seriously. I would like them better, though, if they did not have as many strikes as they do. In the Derby Strikes System that I developed years ago, Improbable has three strikes, while Roadster has two strikes.
Improbable had blinkers added when he started in the Rebel. He’s having the blinkers removed for the Kentucky Derby. Improbable gets a strike in my Derby Strikes System for having blinkers added in his final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby. Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no Kentucky Derby winner has either added blinkers or had blinkers removed in their final start at 3 prior to the Kentucky Derby.
In 1999, I developed my Derby Strikes System. The system consists of nine key factors that attempt to determine the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors (or categories) are explained at the end of this column.
Based on past results, a horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. Going back to 1973, 38 of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike.
Six of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
Though it’s not out of the question for a horse with more than two strikes to win the Kentucky Derby, it is improbable (pun intended). Of the last 46 horses to win the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird and Justify are the only two horses to do so with more than two strikes. Mine That Bird had four strikes, one more than Improbable.
Improbable, like Justify last year, has three strikes. In addition to Improbable’s strike in Category 7 for having blinkers added in the Arkansas Derby, he also gets a strike in Category 4 and Category 6. He gets a strike in Category 4 because he had the lead a furlong out in the Rebel before finishing second. His strike in Category 6 is for having made fewer than six lifetime starts.
I now consider Category 6, in which a starter gets a strike for having made fewer than six career starts, to be by far the least important of the nine categories. Horses just do not race as much these days as when I developed the Derby Strikes System in 1999. Category 6 no longer is as important as it was during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973 due to the fact that two of my nine key factors deal with graded stakes races. Races in the United States were first graded in 1973.
From 1973 through 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was the only Kentucky Derby winner to get a strike in Category 6 for making fewer than six career starts prior to the Run for the Roses.
But from 2001 through 2018, seven Kentucky Derby winners — Barbaro, Big Brown, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah, Always Dreaming and Justify — got a strike in Category 6.
Put another way, only 3.5% of the Kentucky Derby winners in the 28 years from 1973 through 2000 had a strike in Category 6. But 36.8% of the winners in the last 18 years from 2001 through 2018 had a strike in that category.
Of the 20 entrants that remain in this year’s Kentucky Derby after the defection of Omaha Beach, only Game Winner and Cutting Humor have zero strikes. I previously had listed Cutting Humor as having a strike in Category 6. But Bob Laud contacted me to point out this mistake. Inasmuch as Cutting Humor has made six lifetime starts, he does not get a strike in Category 6, which means he has zero strikes.
Seven of the 20 entrants have only one strike. According to the Derby Strikes System, there is a very good chance that the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner is going to be one of the horses with zero strikes or one strike.
Below are the strikes for each horse entered in this year’s Kentucky Derby:
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE
By My Standards (Category 6)
Code of Honor (Category 6)
Cutting Humor (0 strikes)
Game Winner (0 strikes)
Maximum Security (Category 6)
Plus Que Parfait (Category 7)
Tacitus (Category 6)
Vekoma (Category 6)
War of Will (Category 5)
Bodexpress (Categories 2 and 6)
Country House (Categories 2 and 3)
Gray Magician (Categories 2 and 3)
Haikal (Categories 3 and 6)
Roadster (Categories 1 and 6)
Tax (Categories 6 and 9)
Win Win Win (Categories 2 and 3)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES
Improbable (Categories 4, 6 and 7)
Long Range Toddy (Categories 3, 4 and 5)
Master Fencer (Categories 1, 2 and 3)
Spinoff (Categories 2, 4 and 6)
WINNER’S STRIKES FROM 1973 THROUGH 2018
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)
2017 Always Dreaming (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 6
2018 Justify (3 strikes) Categories 1, 6 and 8
DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
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 at 3 prior to March 31 rather than 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, Mine That Bird in 2009, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 3 before March 31.)
2. 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.)
3. 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 53 of the last 56 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.)
4. 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.)
5. 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.)
6. 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 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, American Pharoah in 2015, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown and Justify had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. 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.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 are the only Kentucky Derby winners who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. Through 2018, the score is 142-2 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to win, 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; Bodemeister, second in 2012; Battle of Midway, third in 2017; and Justify, first in 2018.)
9. 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.)