If you watched the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita back on Feb. 15, it turned out that you got a preview of the Kentucky Derby exacta. Nyquist remained undefeated when he won the San Vicente by 1 1/2 lengths, with Exaggerator finishing second.
In this column last week, I wrote: “One scenario I think is quite plausible this year is for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby to have the same one-two finish (Nyquist first, Exaggerator second) as the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 15. I have made my selections with that thought in mind.”
These were my selections:
4. Mor Spirit
I noted last week that I not only had great confidence last year that American Pharoah would win the Run for the Roses, I thought he was so talented he might sweep the Triple Crown, which he did to end a 37-year drought.
I admitted last week that I did not have as much confidence that Nyquist would get the job done in the Kentucky Derby as I did last year with American Pharoah. With that said, I did pick Nyquist to win for a number of reasons, such as:
--His zero strikes in my Derby Strikes System. I will provide more information regarding the Derby Strikes System later in this column.
--Being based in California. For the Xpressbet Kentucky Derby Wager Guide, I wrote: “The group in California appears to be the strongest this year, an impression seemingly affirmed by what happened in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby. California-based Nyquist won the Florida Derby by 3 1/4 emphatic lengths to remain undefeated in seven career starts while beating fourth-place finisher Mohaymen [based in Florida] by 8 1/4 lengths. Even the performances by a couple of maidens in graded stakes races nationwide would seem to be an indication of California’s strength this year. Trojan Nation very nearly won the Wood, while another California-based maiden, Laoban, ran second in the Gotham Stakes and fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes.”
--The Beyer Speed Figure situation. For the Louisville Courier-Journal, I wrote: “The average winner’s speed figure for the Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby is way down this year [94.6] when compared to last year [102.8]. Indeed, the average winner’s speed figure for those six races this year ranks last in the last decade. It is an indication to me that the bar has not been set very high for this year’s Kentucky Derby, a situation that could play into the hands of probable favorite Nyquist. Based on speed figures, it does not appear Nyquist has to beat an especially strong group to win the roses. It also suggests that while there is a concern by many with regard to Nyquist’s breeding as to whether he possesses the stamina to win a 1 1/4-mile race, the speed figure situation means he might not have to be all that great a 1 1/4-mile horse in order to win this year’s Run for the Roses.”
--His class. He was voted a 2015 Eclipse Award as 2-year-old male champion.
--His pace versatility. He has demonstrated an ability to win either when in front early or from off the pace.
--Being able to win on four different tracks (Santa Anita, Del Mar, Keeneland and Gulfstream Park) prior to the Kentucky Derby.
--Having an owner (Paul and Zillah Reddam’s Reddam Racing), trainer (Doug O’Neill) and jockey (Mario Gutierrez) who already had collaborated to win a Kentucky Derby, having done so in 2012 with I’ll Have Another, who paid $32.60 as my pick to win here at Xpressbet.com and on HRTV.
THE FAVORITE WINS AGAIN
Ever since I’ll Have Another prevailed at 15-1 in 2012, four straight favorites have won the Kentucky Derby: Orb ($12.80) in 2013, California Chrome ($7) in 2014, American Pharoah ($7.80) in 2015 and Nyquist ($6.60) in 2016.
For all the talk in the media that Nyquist was not getting as much respect as one might think, he certainly was no Rodney Dangerfield in the wagering, going off at a shorter price in the Kentucky Derby than both California Chrome and American Pharoah.
And while many -- including yours truly -- thought anything might happen in this year’s Kentucky Derby, perhaps even an upset, it is interesting that the first four betting choices finished 1-2-3-4 in the order in which they were bet:
1. Nyquist (2-1 favorite)
2. Exaggerator (5-1)
3. Gun Runner (10-1)
4. Mohaymen (11-1)
During all the years in which the Kentucky Derby has had pari-mutuel wagering (1889 and 1908-2016), this was the first time the first four betting choices have finished 1-2-3-4 in the order in which they were bet. Indeed, only twice before have the first three betting choices finished 1-2-3 in the order in which they were bet. The first time was when Donau won in 1910. It happened again when Count Fleet won in 1943.
Nyquist’s final time of 2:01.31 made it the fastest Kentucky Derby since Funny Cide’s 2:01.19 clocking in 2003. American Pharoah posted a final time of 2:03.02 last year.
American Pharoah was assigned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his Kentucky Derby triumph, while Nyquist received a 103 for his. That’s pretty much what I expected to see for this year’s winner in the Beyer Speed Figure department. I was on record as saying I expected that it probably would not take anything more than a 99 to 103 to win the roses this year. I had this view mainly because of the aforementioned Beyer Speed Figure situation in terms of the average winner’s figure for the Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby being way down this year compared to last year.
“The relatively low Beyers this year are an indication to me that it is quite possible a horse will be able to prevail in this year’s Kentucky Derby without having to run as well as American Pharoah last year when he won with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure,” I wrote in the April 27 edition of this column.
As noted, Nyquist’s final time in the Kentucky Derby this year was quite a bit faster than American Pharoah’s last year, yet Nyquist’s Beyer Speed Figure was lower. This indicates the surface most likely was faster this year than last year. The Beyer Speed Figures take into account how fast a surface is deemed to have been.
Here are the Beyer Speed Figures for the Kentucky Derby winners going back to 1989:
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 is listed in the American Racing Manual for Strike the Gold or Unbridled.
THE EIGHTH UNDEFEATED WINNER
These are the undefeated horses to have won the Kentucky Derby:
1969 Majestic Prince
1977 Seattle Slew
2004 Smarty Jones
2008 Big Brown
CONNECTIONS EXECUTED PLAN TO PERFECTION
Some expressed a concern that Nyquist went into the Kentucky Derby having only run in a seven-furlong race and a 1 1/8-mile race this year. They questioned whether a single two-turn race this year would be enough.
This was something that did not bother me at all. As I mentioned on Steve Byk’s radio program At The Races on April 9 when the subject came up, I felt Nyquist’s owner and trainer had established credibility that their plan of two races at 3 for Nyquist before the Kentucky Derby had a good chance to succeed because of what they had done with I’ll Have Another four years ago.
After I’ll Have Another won Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes in Feb. 4, Reddam and O’Neill announced that they would skip Santa Anita’s San Felipe Stakes and run next in the Santa Anita Derby. That plan would give I’ll Have Another only two races at 3 before the Kentucky Derby, though they were two-turn races.
Many felt that skipping the San Felipe with I’ll Have Another was a bad idea. And keep in mind there was a risk with this plan in that if I’ll Have Another did not finish first or second in the Santa Anita Derby, he might not have the necessary graded stakes earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby.
Despite the naysayers, Paul Reddam and O’Neill stuck to their plan. And what happened? I’ll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby, then the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness.
When Reddam and O’Neill revealed their plan that Nyquist would run only in the San Vicente and Florida Derby this year before the Kentucky Derby, I was willing to trust their judgment, making it a non-issue for me. And what happened? Nyquist won the San Vicente, then won the Florida Derby, then won the Kentucky Derby.
ZERO STRIKES FOR THE 2016 WINNER
As mentioned earlier, Nyquist had zero strikes in the Derby Strikes Systems I developed many years ago to try and determine a horse’s chances to win the Kentucky Derby from both a tactical perspective and historical standpoint.
The Derby Strikes System consists of nine key factors or categories. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. A detailed explanation for each of the nine categories can be found at the end of this column.
Based on past results, it is important for a horse to have zero strikes or only one strike. That’s because now 38 of the last 44 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike.
Statistically speaking, it is unlikely, but not impossible, for a horse to win with two strikes. Only five of the 43 Kentucky Derby winners since 1973 have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003) and Giacomo (2005).
If a horse has three or more strikes, a Kentucky Derby victory is almost impossible. 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. The only horse in the race this year with four strikes was Shagaf, who did not finish. (Some, including Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker, have incorrectly stated that Shagaf was “eased” in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Shagaf was not “eased.” He was “pulled up.” There is a difference. If a horse was not being persevered with and crosses the finish line, the horse was “eased.” If a horse does not cross the finish line after having been pulled up by the jockey, the horse was “pulled up.” The official Equibase chart got it right, stating that Shagaf “chased three to four wide for a half, faltered, was pulled up inside the furlong marker but walked off.”)
I consider the “eighth pole factor” to be one of the more important categories. In order to avoid getting a strike in this category, a horse must have been either first or second with a furlong to go in either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby.
Because the Kentucky Derby is a 1 1/4-mile race, many perceive the race is won in the final furlong. But the overwhelming evidence is the Kentucky Derby almost always is won BEFORE the final furlong. Including this year, 51 of the last 54 Kentucky Derby winners were first or second with a furlong to run.
With a furlong to go this year, Nyquist was 2 1/2 lengths in front. With a furlong left to run last year, American Pharoah led by a head. Two years ago, California Chrome had a commanding five-length advantage with a furlong remaining.
Not only is the “eighth pole factor” helpful in trying to come up with the winner, it also sheds light on a late closer whose chances to win are diminished by virtue of the likelihood that he or she probably will not be first or second with a furlong to go. Suddenbreakingnews is a good example. He received a strike in the “eighth pole” category. And was he first or second with a furlong to run in the Kentucky Derby? No. He was seventh, then came charging in the final furlong to finish fifth while being beaten by only a head and a nose for third.
NUMBER OF STRIKES FOR PREVIOUS WINNERS
The Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973 because that was the year in which stakes races in the U.S. were first graded. Two of my nine key Derby factors deal with graded stakes races.
Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6
2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
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.)
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 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.)
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 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.)
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 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.)
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.)