As I sit down to write this, the 142nd Kentucky Derby is 176 days, 22 hours, 23 minutes and two seconds away… and I haven’t even picked out what I’m going to wear yet! I jest, anybody who has seen me walk into the local supermarket on a Saturday morning — alright, alright, any morning — knows that I don’t spend six seconds deciding what to wear, much less six months.
But I have been thinking about the Kentucky Derby lately — and I’m guessing many other racing fans have been too (come on, admit it).
Heck, we know NBC’s Randy Moss has bluegrass on the brain. Nyquist had barely crossed the finish line in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before Moss was noting how much faster Songbird had gone in the BC Juvenile Fillies a few races earlier (1.06 seconds for those wondering) and what that meant in regard to the most exciting two minutes in sports.
As it turns out, Moss need not have fretted. According to her owner, Rick Porter, Songbird will not compete against the boys in America’s most famous horse race.
“If they hadn’t changed the point system [to exclude races restricted to fillies] I might have considered it,” Porter told Thoroughbred Daily News.
Ah, the point system. Instituted as a means to get the best possible field of 20 sophomores into the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May, the Road to the Kentucky Derby consists of 35 stakes events carded at tracks across the country and around the globe. Points are awarded to the top four finishers in each of the designated races and the 20 horses with the most points earn the right to compete in the big one, the Kentucky Derby.
Simple, right? In theory, yes, but someone needs to explain to me how a win in the Illinois Derby — the same race that War Emblem used as a springboard to his Kentucky Derby score in 2002 — gets zero points, while a win in the UAE Derby, which hasn’t even produced a superfecta finisher in Louisville, is worth 50 points.
I suspect Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is at work here — giving the Land of Lincoln the bird (as if Jay Cutler’s $126 million contract isn’t ignominious enough).
Putting the politics of points aside, however, I was curious as to how Breeders’ Cup Juvenile entrants had performed on the big stage in Kentucky. Of course, most of us know that Street Sense is the only horse to have won both the Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby (these days we’d call that the “Junior Slam”), but how have other Juvenile entrants performed?
Well, I don’t have stats going back to 1984 — I ran out of Red Bull and vodka — but I do have digits dating back to 1997 and here’s what they reveal:
- Of the 349 Kentucky Derby starters during that time, only 55 (15.8 percent) competed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This means that the absolute minimum future book odds you should accept on any BC Juvenile runner is 6-1, because those are the odds that it will even start in the Kentucky Derby (granted, the horse’s odds in the Juvenile probably need to be factored in as well).
- From the 55 horses above (those that started in both the Juvenile and the Derby), only two — the aforementioned Street Sense (2007) and Mine That Bird (2009) — posed for pictures in Louisville.
- Horses that earned a “poor” late speed ration (LSR) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have not hit the board in 29 tries in Kentucky. This year, that blacklist includes Isotherm, Ralis and Unbridled Outlaw.
- The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile typically features very precocious two-year-olds and, often, these early superstars are distance- and/or pace-challenged. Not surprisingly, colts and geldings that earned a negative (fast) early speed ration (ESR) in the Juvenile are zip-for-34 in the Big Dance and have hit the board just once. This year, the Derby scarlet letters go to Cocked and Loaded, Conquest Big E, Exaggerator, Isotherm, Nyquist (the Juvenile winner), Ralis, Riker, Siding Spring and Unbridled Outlaw.
Derek Simon can be reached at email@example.com.