Classic Empire, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion of 2016 and recent winner of the Arkansas Derby in a statement of redemption after being upset in his 2017 debut, heads a competitive field assembled for this Saturday’s 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.
Also regarded as contenders in the 1 1/4-mile classic are Always Dreaming, impressive winner of the Xpressbet Florida Derby; McCraken, who was four for four prior to finishing third as the favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes; and Irish War Cry, who comes off a sparkling victory in the Wood Memorial.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has pegged Classic Empire as the 4-1 morning-line favorite. Always Dreaming and McCraken are the co-second choices at 5-1. Irish War Cry is 6-1. Everyone else is in double digits.
Saturday’s race follows what has been an unusually wacky Road to the Kentucky Derby in which a number of high-profile horses encountered a bump in the road, such as:
--Classic Empire finishing third as the 1-2 favorite in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4.
--Irish War Cry finishing seventh as the even-money favorite in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on March 4.
--McCraken finishing third as the 8-5 favorite in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 8.
I think quite possibly the most significant bump occurred at Santa Anita Park on March 11. Mastery won the San Felipe with authority by 6 3/4 lengths in his 2017 debut to remain undefeated in four career starts. But excitement over his scintillating performance was short-lived. Mike Smith pulled up Mastery about 25 seconds after they had crossed the finish line. Mastery was vanned to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s barn. The colt was found to have a condylar fracture in his left front ankle, knocking him out the Kentucky Derby.
It is Mastery’s absence in this year’s Run for the Roses that I believe seriously complicates matters for horseplayers. If Mastery had won the Santa Anita Derby, I don’t think there is any doubt he would have been the favorite this Saturday. There is a 99% chance he also would have been my pick to win.
Without Mastery in the race, the 2017 Kentucky Derby seems a very difficult puzzle for horseplayers, as I wrote in the Xpressbet Wager Guide. But as I also wrote in the Wager Guide, amid an apparent lack of clarity, there is this: If Classic Empire runs like he did in last year’s Breeders’ Cup, or Irish War Cry runs like he did in this year’s Wood Memorial, or Always Dreaming runs like he did in this year’s Xpressbet Florida Derby, they will have a good chance to win the roses.
There have been four straight winning Kentucky Derby favorites: Orb (5-1 in 2013), California Chrome (5-2 in 2014), American Pharoah (5-2 in 2015) and Nyquist (5-2 in 2016). The race has not had five straight winning favorites since six straight from 1891-96. My gut instinct is that the favorite -- be it Classic Empire or someone else -- is not going to get the job done this year.
And so it seems to me this could be a very good year to take a chance and pick a longshot to win. In 2005, I had this same feeling. My pick to win in 2005 was Closing Argument. And a longshot did win that year. It just turned out to be the wrong longshot for me. Closing Argument finished second at 71-1, losing by just a half-length to 50-1 Giacomo. Closing Argument did pay a record $70 for a $2 place ticket. It remains the highest place payoff in Kentucky Derby history.
This year reminds me a lot of 1971. In 1970 and 1971, Hoist the Flag made six starts, winning them all, though he was disqualified in the Champagne Stakes for causing interference. However, his racing career came to an abrupt end one morning in 1971 on March 20 because of an ankle injury.
In the book “Thoroughbreds I Have Known” featuring portraits by Richard Stone Reeves, Juno Cole Weyer wrote of Hoist the Flag: “At 3, he won an allowance race by 15 lengths and annexed the Bay Shore Stakes by seven lengths, turning back Droll Role, later destined to win the 1972 Washington, D.C., International, and his old adversaries Jim French and Limit to Reason. It began to look as if Hoist the Flag would have the 3-year-old classics at his mercy, if only he could stay sound.
“But one cool morning at Belmont Park while working out in preparation for the Wood Memorial, the big colt took a bad step and had to be pulled up. His exercise boy jumped off, fearing the worst. Hoist the Flag’s right hind ankle had been shattered.”
Fortunately, after many hours of surgery, Hoist the Flag did go on to become an outstanding sire. He sired 51 stakes winners, including two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged. Hoist the Flag also was the broodmare sire of undefeated Personal Ensign, voted a 1988 Eclipse Award as champion older filly or mare following her dramatic nose triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
After Hoist the Flag’s racing career ended, the 1971 Kentucky Derby picture changed dramatically. Unconscious won Santa Anita’s San Felipe Handicap, then ran second as a 4-5 favorite to Jim French in the Santa Anita Derby. Jim French then finished fourth in the Wood Memorial. After Unconscious lost the Santa Anita Derby, he won the California Derby at Golden Gate. Don’t those wins and losses by Unconscious and Jim French in 1971 seem similar to the ups and downs on the Derby trail this year by Classic Empire, Irish War Cry and McCraken?
Unconscious was the 5-2 favorite in the 1971 Kentucky Derby. Two Calumet Farm-owned runners were coupled in the wagering, Eastern Fleet and Bold and Able, going off as the 7-2 second favorite. Jim French was 9-2.
Looking back, the 1971 Kentucky Derby seemed to be begging for a longshot to win it after Hoist the Flag was knocked out of the race due to his ankle injury. And a longshot did win, a foreign horse who had done all of his racing in Venezuela at 2 and 3 except for two losses at Del Mar as a 2-year-old. Canonero II shocked the racing world when he rallied from 18th to win the 1971 Kentucky Derby going away by 3 3/4 lengths. The only reason he was not a much higher price than 8-1 is he was one of six horses in the mutuel field. The five other mutuel field runners finished 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th.
And so, 46 years after the likely Kentucky Derby favorite was knocked out of the race in March due to an ankle injury, I am going to take a shot and pick a foreign horse to win in a year in which the likely Kentucky Derby favorite was knocked out of the race in March due to an ankle injury. I am picking a foreign runner who has a much better record than Canonero II did going into his Kentucky Derby.
These are my selections:
- Thunder Snow
- Irish War Cry
- Classic Empire
I am sticking with Thunder Snow despite his No. 2 post position. Am I happy about his post position? No. But I also certainly was not happy with I’ll Have Another’s No. 19 post position in 2012. And I decided to stick with I’ll Have Another as my pick to win despite his post, which was 0 for 20 going into that year’s race. As it turned out, I’ll Have Another got the job done and paid $32.60 to win. I really would have been kicking myself if I had not stuck with I’ll Have Another because of his post position.
Another reason I’m sticking with Thunder Snow is my next choice would be Irish War Cry, but he seemingly also did not do well in terms of his post position. Irish War Cry drew post 17, which is 0 for 38 through 2016. So, under the circumstances, Thunder Snow remains my pick to win.
Thunder Snow typically has left the starting gate well. If he does get out of the gate in good shape this Saturday, he has sufficient tactical speed to possibly get into a beautiful spot early, maybe third, fourth, fifth or sixth while racing not all that far off the pace. If there is a plus for having post 2, Thunder Snow does not figure to have a wide trip. He should save a lot of ground. I think it’s great for Thunder Snow that he has a terrific European rider in Christophe Soumillion, who has so much experience in big fields. And the big fields Soumillion rides in are almost always grass races in which the field is well-bunched. Soumillion is expert at being able to work out a good trip in a well-bunched field, something that could really help Thunder Snow after he departs from post 2.
Thunder Snow is 20-1 on the morning line. Here are a dozen reasons why I think he has a good chance to win the Kentucky Derby as a longshot even though he drew post position No. 2:
--The favorite for the English 2000 Guineas and the current favorite for the historic Epsom Derby is a colt called Churchill. Thunder Snow finished within two lengths of Churchill in a Group I race in England last October.
--When Thunder Snow won the UAE Derby, he defeated Japan’s Epicharis. I think Epicharis is a very talented colt. The UAE Derby was the first defeat for Epicharais, a grandson of 1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence.
--Thunder Snow twice has defeated Lancaster Bomber. Thunder Snow has beaten Lancaster Bomber once on the grass and once on the dirt. Lancaster Bomber was good enough to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last fall. I like the company Thunder Snow has been holding his own against, most notably Churchill and Epicharis. This is similar as to why I liked Point Piper in last year’s Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. Point Piper was 5-1 in the betting, yet I felt a strong case could be made that he was the best horse in the race because he had been running against Bayern, Dortmund, California Chrome, Hoppertunity, Effinex and Melatonin. How often do you get odds like 5-1 on a horse that might well be the best horse in the race? Well, Thunder Snow is 20-1 on the morning line. And I think there is the possibility he is the best horse in the race based on how he has fared against Churchill, Epicharus and Lancaster Bomber.
--Thunder Snow is two for two when racing on the dirt. Girvin is three for three on the dirt. These are the only two entrants who are undefeated on the dirt. And if the surface should be wet Saturday, Thunder Snow’s win in the UAE Derby did come on a track listed as muddy.
--When ridden by Soumillion, Thunder Snow is three for three.
--Goldolphin Racing, Thunder Snow’s owner, has been red-hot. Godolphin was the leading owner at the Keeneland spring meet that was adjourned last Saturday. Godolphin won four races in one day at Keeneland this year on April 15, including a Grade I race and a Grade III race.
--Thunder Snow, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, has won at 1 3/16 miles. No other horse in the Kentucky Derby has even run in a race going that far. Thunder Snow also galloped out well after crossing the finish line in the UAE Derby. “He is a big, strong colt who is improving all the time and acts on dirt,” bin Suroor said in a Godolphin press release announcing Thunder Snow would be running in the Kentucky Derby. “We are looking forward to seeing him take on the best 3-year-olds in America. Thunder Snow is a colt of the highest class. I hope he can step up in the Kentucky Derby.”
--A question that needs to be asked is this: Even if this is not the strongest of Kentucky Derby fields, is Thunder Snow good enough to win? An indication that he might well have the quality to win is his final time in the UAE Derby. The UAE Derby has been run at 1 3/16 miles at Meydan Racecourse for seven straight years now, the first four of those on synthetic footing, the last three on the dirt. Thunder Snow’s final time was faster than all seven of these UAE Derbies. That means Thunder Snow’s final time was faster than Lani, Mubtaahij and Toast of New York. Lani was good enough to finish third in the Belmont Stakes last year. Mubtaahij finished fourth in American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes and later finished second to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup. Toast of New York finished second in Shared Belief’s Pacific Classic and second in Bayern’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
--People hardly pay much attention to weight these days. This is understandable inasmuch as handicap racing has become passe. But the longer a race, the more weight can come into play. The Kentucky Derby is a 1 1/4-mile race in which all starters will be carrying 126 pounds. With the exception of Thunder Snow, everyone will be carrying more weight than ever before by anywhere from two to eight pounds. And Thunder Snow’s opponents also must go a furlong farther than ever before, not a good combination. Thunder Snow has carried 126 pounds or more in seven of his eight career starts. In one of his victories, he carried 131 pounds. Nobody else entered in the Kentucky Derby has ever carried more than 124. Gormley, Battle of Midway and Royal Mo (an also eligible) have never carried more than 124. Fast and Accurate, Irap, Irish War Cry, McCraken, J Boys Echo, Practical Joke, Sonneteer and Tapwrit have never carried more than 123. Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Girvin, Gunnevera, Hence, Lookin At Lee, Master Plan (an also eligible), Patch and State of Honor have never carried more than 122. Untrapped has never carried more than 118.
--I know that dosage, in terms of a Thoroughbred's breeding, has fallen out of favor. But I still think dosage is worth taking into consideration. The lower a dosage number, the better in terms of stamina. For the Kentucky Derby you want a horse’s dosage number to be 4.00 or lower. But I do not consider it a deal-breaker, as evidenced by the fact that I did not hesitate to pick American Pharoah to win the Kentucky Derby even though his dosage was 4.33. In fact, even though his dosage was 4.33, before the Kentucky Derby I bet on American Pharoah to win the Triple Crown, which of course includes the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. And American Pharoah, with his 4.33 dosage, did win the Triple Crown. But I’d still much rather see a horse’s dosage be 4.00 or lower. The dosage for both Always Dreaming and Classic Empire is the highest in this year’s Kentucky Derby field, each at 5.00. And who has the lowest dosage number of all the Kentucky Derby entrants this year? Thunder Snow, a stamina-fantastic 0.89.
--The bar just does not seem to be set particularly high in this year. It appears there is not a favorite in the 5-2 range like Nyquist, American Pharoah or California Chrome. Thus, it stands to reason it helps the chances of a foreign horse like Thunder Snow, a la Canonero II. The Beyer Speed Figures are an indication that the bar is not set very high in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Only three horses have a triple-digit Beyer to their credit -- Classic Empire (102), J Boys Echo (102) and Irish War Cry (101 twice). In the last 10 years, only once has the career-top Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby been lower than this year’s 102 -- that was in 2010 when Devil May Care and Sidney’s Candy each had a career top Beyer of 100. This indicates that in order for Thunder Snow to win this year’s Kentucky Derby, he might not have to be as good as he would have needed to have been to win in 9 of the last 10 years.
--Thunder Snow has zero strikes in my Derby Strikes System. The Derby Strikes System attempts to determine a horse’s chances of winning the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives. There are nine key factors. When a horse doesn’t qualify in any of the nine categories, a horse gets a strike. The nine key factors are listed at the end of this column, following the number of strikes for each of this year’s Kentucky Derby entrants. According to the strikes system, a horse has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby with zero strikes or one strike. That’s because 38 of the last 44 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike. If a horse has two strikes, a Kentucky Derby victory isn’t impossible, but it is unlikely inasmuch as only five of the last 44 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes. And if a horse has more than two strikes, a Kentucky Derby victory is almost impossible. Only one of the last 44 Kentucky Derby winners has had more than two strikes. That was Mine That Bird, who had four strikes. While Thunder Snow has zero strikes, his chances at victory seem enhanced by the fact that three of the leading contenders -- Always Dreaming, McCraken and Irish War Cry -- each have two strikes. Another entrant with two strikes is Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley, who is 15-1 on the morning line.
IRISH WAR CRY, CLASSIC EMPIRE & MCRAKEN MERIT RESPECT
I had a very difficult time choosing between Thunder Snow and Irish War Cry. But since I have so many reasons why I like Thunder Snow and he will be a much better price than Irish War Cry, I ultimately opted for Thunder Snow as my top pick. But I also like Irish War Cry a lot.
When you look at Irish War Cry’s poor performance in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth when he lost by 21 3/4 lengths and recorded a measly 63 Beyer Speed Figure, it just seems too bad to be true compared to his Holy Bull and Wood victories. He won the Holy Bull by 3 3/4 lengths when assigned a 101 Beyer. He took the Wood by 3 1/2 lengths while again posting a 101 Beyer. Irish War Cry is the only entrant in this year’s Kentucky Derby field to have more than one triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. He also is the only entrant to have both a triple-digit Beyer and a negative Thoro-Graph number. In terms of Thoro-Graph (which I think are better figures than the Beyers), the lower a number the better. Irish War Cry recorded a negative 2 3/4 in the Wood. Another plus for Irish War Cry is that his trainer, Graham Motion, saddled Animal Kingdom to win the roses in 2011. A negative would seem to be Irish War Cry’s No. 17 post position, which is 0 for 38. But, again, no horse had ever won the roses from post 19 until I’ll Have Another did it. I’ll Have Another proved it could be done. Perhaps Irish War Cry likewise will prove it can be done from post 19.
Classic Empire recorded a 102 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the BC Juvenile. I am projecting that it will take a Beyer of around 99 to 101 to win the roses this year. However, after Classic Empire finished third in the Holy Bull, it has been far from smooth sailing. After the Holy Bull, trainer Mark Casse had to deal with the colt’s nasty foot abscess. Classic Empire twice refused to work at Palm Meadows in Florida. He also was treated for a back problem. But in what has to be acknowledged as a fantastic training job by Casse, Classic Empire stepped up and won the April 15 Arkansas Derby by a half-length. He was assigned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure for his Oaklawn Park victory.
Will Classic Empire do better than a 94 this Saturday? I envision that it probably is going to take something in the high 90s or low 100s to win the roses. Classic Empire has demonstrated that he is capable of a triple-digit Beyer. That means he is capable of winning this Saturday. Also, don’t forget Classic Empire is two for two at Churchill. It’s just that I’m concerned that he is up to the task of winning a 1 1/4-mile race under 126 pounds after training-interuptus and only a lackluster Holy Bull and a slowish Arkansas Derby under his belt race-wise since the Breeders’ Cup last Nov. 5.
McCraken is three for three at Churchill. He was undefeated in four career starts before he finished third in the April 8 Blue Grass at Keeneland. But he did not have the best of trips in the Blue Grass. He also has a trainer in Ian Wilkes who excels at having a horse at his or her peak for a big race. In this regard Wilkes is like his mentor, Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the Run for the Roses in 1990 with Unbridled and in 2007 with Street Sense. Wilkes had a hand in those two Derby wins, first as an exercise rider for Unbridled and then as an assistant trainer for Street Sense.
I certainly can picture McCraken rebounding from the Blue Grass and running a big race this Saturday. But is his best race good enough to win? McCraken has yet to record a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 95. Considering who trains McCraken, I would not be surprised if the colt did take his Beyer game to a higher level than 95 this Saturday. And if McCraken does go higher than 95, that would mean he is in the mix to be the one draped in roses.
STRIKES FOR EACH KENTUCKY DERBY ENTRANT
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE (The prime group)
Classic Empire (Category 3)
Fast and Accurate (0 strikes)
Girvin (Category 6)
Gunnevera (0 strikes)
Hence (Category 4)
Irap (Category 7)
J Boys Echo (0 strikes)
Practical Joke (0 strikes)
Royal Mo-also eligible (Category 4)
Tapwrit (Category 5)
Thunder Snow (0 strikes)
TWO STRIKES (A victory is possible but it is unlikely group)
Always Dreaming (Categories 1 and 6)
Gormley (Categories 3 and 4)
Irish War Cry (Categories 4 and 6)
Lookin At Lee (Categories 2 and 3)
McCraken (Categories 3 and 6)
State of Honor (Categories 2 and 7)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES (A victory is almost impossible group)
Battle of Midway (Categories 2, 4, 6, 8)
Master Plan-also eligible (Categories 2, 3, 6)
Patch (Categories 1, 2, 6 and 8)
Sonneteer (Categories 2, 3, 6)
Untrapped (Categories 2, 4, 5, 7)
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:
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)