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You need a little bit of luck in order to win the run for the roses. If you told a horseplayer this, he would look at you like you have two heads for this is the most obvious statement ever uttered. Where one can gain value from this is the specifics. When one says luck, what does she really mean? Are there certain factors that are so much of an advantage that a claimer could win if afforded these benefits? It turns out that there may be two things that give a horse a sizeable advantage over the competition. Take a look at the chart below.
I would say that 12, 14 and 17 not having winners is a case of statistical randomness. Just because you flip a coin four times doesn’t mean you’ll get heads twice. The way to interpret this chart is by breaking post positions in to groups of four and then treating the percentages as a raw number, then adding them up.
Look what happens:
The place to be is post positions 5 through 8- they yield a decent advantage. 13 through 16 are the only ones that present a significant obstacle. In fact, as the years progress and the sample size grows, I wouldn’t be surprise to see this group yield even fewer winners. Let’s be honest, in a field of twenty thoroughbreds, the amount of craft a jockey would have to display in order to avoid trouble from these post positions is really enough to make Shoemaker blush. The 17 through 20 group confirms what I already believed, it’s a great place for closers and a bad but not terrible place for speed horses.
Once again, the sample size isn’t as great as it needs to be, but big enough that trends are emerging and the data can point us in the right direction. I am still waiting for the TA Indicators of the Derby contenders in order to make my selection, but special consideration will be given to any horse breaking from 5 through 8.
The second advantage is training in a high elevation. Horses have two types of blood cells; rigid and balloon. The balloon red blood cells are great because they are able to carry oxygen with extreme efficiency. Many American horses don’t seem to be born with enough balloon cells in order to get ten furlongs. The great thing about elevation training is that your rigid and balloon red blood cells increase. The effects last for about a month, though I am not sure as to the rate in which the decrease happens. Let’s assume that the decrease happens at a constant rate. Now, let’s say we have a fictional horse named Wicked Fast (I don’t have the best imagination). Wicked Fast has been training at an altitude of 5,000 feet and now has double the rigid and balloon red blood cells of his competitors. Even if he loses 25% of what he has on the ride over to Churchill Downs, he still has 75% more than his rivals. These advantages seem overstated, but keep in mind the elevation of most American tracks.
The advantage of training at Sunland and to a lesser extent Oaklawn are pretty significant. Of course, this is an advantage that most trainers throw away by bringning their horses too early, but what if they didn’t? Imagine training a horse at Sunland and shipping him 5 days before the race. He would have a significntly higher amount of red blood cells-rigid and balloon- than his competitors. Now, some will say why doesn’t the Sunland Derby winner dominate the Kentucky Derby. The answer is simple; the winner is usually talentless! Imagine if you took a talented horse and trained him in that New Mexico air. The other factor is we aren’t sure if the relationship between elevation and increase of red blood cells is linear or exponential. If it is exponential, then the difference between training at the Fair Grounds or Santa Anita isn’t that great, but training at Oaklawn vs Sunland makes all the difference in the world because at that point each extra foot of elevation is creating so much more red blood cells.
There are plenty of question marks, but most will agree that horses who train in high elevations have consistently outrun their pedigree when shipping to Churchill Downs. With all of the drastic and bordeline illegal practices certain trainers have taken in order to get an edge, why not take an advantage that is greater than all the rest and most importantly legal?
Have you ever met someone who hated bow ties then loved them only to hate them three weeks later; the type of person whose words mean less than an Eastern European politician? I think most handicappers are like that. I strive never to be like that.
Several weeks ago, I spoke about the lack of class in California Chrome’s female family. I spoke about my lack of confidence in the colt and his ability to get 10 furlongs. I made it seem as though playing him at 20-1 or better was the only thing that made sense. I am still not as high on Chrome as everyone else. Many Californians have already crowned him the Derby winner; a hasty and irresponsible thing to do. I do have one thing that I would like to correct. I said that the A4 family is not a very good one and it hasn’t been for a while, but I may have missed some crucial points.
As Sid Fernando has pointed out, the third dam of the great Swaps was Betty Derr who also happens to be the 8th dam of California chrome and the sixth dam of Bayern. What we could be witnessing is the reawakening of a long dormant line. If this is what we are seeing, Chrome and Bayern will have very little trouble negotiating the distance.
Betty Derr was the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Iron Leige. Of course, most know her as the third dam of the great Swaps. Yes, what you are probably thinking right now is correct; the A4 family reeled off two Kentucky Derby winners in just three years! There have been cases of bloodlines coming back to life before, even after 60 years.
Now, let’s switch tracks and talk about Bayern. He is by Offlee Wild and is undefeated in two starts. The truth is that we can’t evaluate a horse’s intangibles until they run in graded stakes company. So, if Bayern can win or finish within a length of the winner, he will jump way up on my Derby list. If he falters here, I will have a tough time choosing him for the Derby. The thing that differentiates Chrome from Bayern is that Chrome is over-raced and Bayern is under raced. Bayern needs to get a lot out of these next few weeks if he is to win the Kentucky Derby.
I still stand by my assessment that Hoppertunity has the most classic bloodlines of the entire field. His breeding suggests that he wants 10 furlongs if not more, there may be something in the air that Chrome and Bayern will be the beneficiary of. We could be seeing a classic case of what is old becomes new again.
Every now and again I get a question from a reader that is really thought provoking, so thought provoking that I want to respond to it with an entire blog post. Last week a reader named Danielle asked which female families have been prominent in the history of the Kentucky Derby and more importantly which of these families will be represented at this year’s Kentucky Derby.
In a previous blog post I identified seven female families that have had a presence at the Kentucky Derby time and time again. These female families have persevered through the years and have maintained the traits neccesary to succeed at a mile and a quarter on the the first saturday in May.
The interesting thing is that none of these horses descend from one of the seven great families except for one; we will get to that in a moment. This year’s Derby class come from fairly mediocre female stock. I am not trying to disparage any of the connections or breeders, but there is a slight lack of classic pedigree on this year’s derby trail. I have broken down the contenders into three categories: “Pretty Bad”, “Okay” “Really Good”.
Cairo Prince has sprinters throughout his female line. I honestly tried to find an ounce of class in this line and I couldn’t find anyone of note. I’m sure that he could win the derby but it really would fly in the face of every breeding theory out there.
California Chrome has a similar style of breeding; an entire tail female line of milers. The difference here is that there is a decent amount of class including a third dam who acheived black type. The reason that I put him in the pretty bad category is that he clearly wasn’t bred for 10 furlongs, at least that is what his female family tells me.
Vicar’s in Trouble comes from the 9f family line which does have a few notable horses but once again this isn’t a family that produces a ton of derby talent but it has produced Makybe Diva and that’s not a bad thing.
Tapiture, Strong Mandate, Bayern, Social Inclusion, Samraat. Each of these horses have ancestors who have made some noise in classics and each of these horses can add to that list. They shouldn’t be viewed positively of negatively just because of their female lines.
Hoppertunity. I really had know idea before I sat down to write this article that Hoppertunity descends from the 3-l family line. Each of the seven female lines have been carefully preserved through time but 3-l is the truest throback of them all. This line has Silver Charm, A.P. Indy, Summer Squall and Lemon Drop Kid amongst others. There really isn’t a lot not to like about this female family line because it just doesn’t produce horses who tire out easily. It also has to be said that in a year in which no other horses have ties to the seven families, Hopperunity stands out even more.
Around and around we go. As some of you already know, I was really excited about the Rebel this past Saturday. The two heavyweights Strong Mandate and Tapiture had a rematch and the score was finally going to be settled. Well, Hoppertunity wound up stealing the show and winning the Rebel, but I still got a few of the answers that I was looking for.
There is too much parity this year:
This year’s derby can be won by ten different horses; so don’t be surprised if my derby top ten completely changes, as we get closer to the race. These three-year olds cannot string three brilliant races together. The best model of consistency is the Pioneer of the Nile sired Cairo Prince, but all indicators point to him being most effective at a mile. His dam was a sprinter and he always looks so tired after he crosses the wire. Tapiture looked solid in defeat and if he won, would’ve been the new “it” horse. While I definitely think he’s the most talented three year old in the country, he isn’t the type of horse who could win using his B game or C game. If he runs lights out he’ll win, but if he doesn’t he’ll probably finish mid pack.
These horses are slaves to the pace scenario
Remember when Bodemeister was let loose on the lead and I’ll have Another ran him down anyway? Well, there ain’t a single I’ll have Another in this bunch. The handicappers who love to base their handicapping on pace scenarios will be handsomely rewarded on Derby day. This will be one of those years where a ¾ of a mile in 1:10.5 will set it up for a stone cold closer unless there’s a speed bias; in that case you’ll probably see a horse wire the field. The bright side of all of this is that the best handicappers will be rewarded with a good price.
The last seven days of workouts make a difference
I know that they always do, but in years where there is this much parity getting your horse to peak on derby day becomes even more important. I could see a horse completely nail his final workout and go into the race with extreme confidence and win by five! This doesn’t mean he is a great horse, it just means he has a trainer who knows what he is doing. There is an art to getting your horse to peak at just the right time, some trainers have mastered this art and some haven’t.
This is a trainer’s race
If you go on our website, you already know that the trainer analytics (http://www.thoroughbredanalytics.com/racing-analytics/trainer-analytics) is one of its best features. I love looking for trainers who have a high TA trainer indicator in races at a mile or more on dirt. I wouldn’t throw out a horse just because his trainer has a poor TA indicator when it comes to dirt routes, but I would look at that particular horse a little more skeptically. This will probably be one of those years where an old master of the game winds up in the winner’s circle because he knew exactly how to get his horse to peak on the first Saturday in May.
It’s kind of funny when things come full circle. I recently had a debate with a few friends on twitter about whether or not the speed of the early leader determines the speed of the pack. They thought that it did. I said that it really depends on the horse and who his trainer is. A horse who was taught better will always understand the danger inherent in not running his own race.
In 2007, the most well-bred horse was Hard Spun. He really had what it took to go 12 furlongs and compete for at least one leg of the Triple Crown. He was trained by Larry Jones; a man I have a lot of respect for, but sometimes the best trainers fall short when it comes to unleashing the full potential of their horses.
When I say that Hard Spun had the potential to get a mile and a half, I need to be more specific. What I am trying to say is that if he ran with the same level of calmness that the average router runs with he would have easily gotten the 12-furlong distance. The problem is that he was very headstrong and needed more long gallops. He needed to be taught that he was a router and not a sprinter. I believe that Jones did a decent job of teaching him, but guys like John Servis and Nick Zito have done remarkable jobs. When I look at workouts from Servis or Zito, I never look at times. These guys realize that the point of a workout is to teach your racehorse skills he or she does not know as yet. Like boxing, horse racing is deceptively complex. It appears as though a bunch of horses are running around an oval, when in reality much more is happening.
Smarty Jones was a pure miler who wound up winning the Kentucky Derby and almost winning the entire Triple Crown. I know most of you will challenge my assertion that he was a miler, but that just means you need to research his pedigree a lot better. His dam loved running a mile and his sire is notorious for producing milers. He is one of the most uniformly bred racehorses I have ever seen-milers all over his pedigree. What made Smarty go from good to great was that he loved to listen to his trainer. John Servis would alternate Smarty’s speed work with 2-mile gallops. The speed work wasn’t even anything flashy. He would usually instruct the rider to go slow in the first quarter and then let the horse speed up the rest of the way. The end result was a horse that would sit off of the pace and make his move when instructed to; in other words, a professional racehorse.
This year, horses like Tapiture, Wildcat Red and General a Rod have the potential to be the next Smarty Jones or the next Hard Spun. It is your job as a handicapper to analyze their workouts in the next 6 weeks to find out which path each of these horses will take.
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