What to Look For in a Kentucky Derby Champion

Churchill Downs“The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.”
~Theodore Roosevelt

The road to the Kentucky Derby has reached its climactic stretch run and now is the time to dig in to your past performances and try to discover who will win Kentucky Derby 142. Some of you may already have your Derby horse picked out, while others may be staggering home the final eighth of a mile trying to find their Derby horse.

Whichever side of the track you are on, I feel this article will still be of interest to you. Let’s take a historical look back in time at the Kentucky Derby based on a contender’s final prep race before the first Saturday in May.

A contender’s final prep race is a key indicator of how well a horse will run in the Kentucky Derby. Since the year 2000:

  • 10 out of the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby won their final prep race — that’s a whopping 62.5 percent.
  • Four out of the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby finished second place in their final prep race.
  • Giacomo and Mine That Bird were the only two Derby winners who did not finish in first or second in their final prep race (both of them finished fourth).

These stats provide us with a helpful blueprint for horses to consider for this year’s Run for the Roses.  A first- or second-place effort in one’s final Kentucky Derby prep race has led to 88 percent of the winners of the Kentucky Derby (since 2000).

YEAR HORSE

LAST RACE

BSF

YEAR HORSE

LAST RACE

BSF

2015 American Pharoah

Win

102

2016 Gun Runner

Win

100

2014 California Chrome

Win

105

2016 Exaggerator

Win

102

2013 Orb

Win

97

2016 Brody’s Cause

Win

94

2012 I’ll Have Another

Win

98

2016 Destin

Win

97

2011 Animal Kingdom

Win

97

2016 Outwork

Win

96

2010 Super Saver

Place

99

2016 Creator

Win

100

2009 Mine That Bird

4th

88

2016 Nyquist

Win

97

2008 Big Brown

Win

110

2016 Lani

Win

n/a

2007 Street Sense

Place

98

2016 Oscar Nominated

Win

91

2006 Barbaro

Win

104

2016 Azar

Place

91

2005 Giacomo

4th

100

2016 Suddenbreakingnews

Place

99

2004 Smarty Jones

Win

105

2016 Mor Spirit

Place

94

2003 Funny Cide

Place

111

2016 Tom’s Ready

Place

99

2002 War Emblem

Win

109

2016 Majesto

Place

93

2001 Monarchos

Place

108

2016 Trojan Nation

Place

96

2000 Fusaichi Pegasus

Win

110

2016 My Man Sam

Place

92

We move now to speed figures and how they are an important part of the Derby equation. Some of you might create your own figures or you might be someone who uses Brisnet or Daily Racing Form for your racing needs.

No matter which method you choose, it is important to get a feel for what kind of number you should be looking for when picking your Derby horse. In this example, we will be using data from Brisnet for our historical journey through Kentucky Derby speed figures. Since the year 2000:

  • Funny Cide recorded the highest last race Brisnet speed figure (111) out of the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby.
  • 10 out of the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby recorded a Brisnet speed figure of 100 or greater in their final prep race.
  • Five out of the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby recorded their highest Brisnet speed figure in their final prep race.
  • The median last-race Brisnet speed figure of Derby winners is 103.
  • Mine That Bird recorded the lowest last-race Brisnet speed figure (88) out of the last 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby.
  • If you throw out Mine That Bird’s Brisnet speed figure, the next-lowest last-race Brisnet speed figure was recorded by Animal Kingdom and Orb (97).
YEAR HORSE

LAST RACE

BSF

2016 Gun Runner

Win

100

2016 Exaggerator

Win

102

2016 Creator

Win

100

2016 Suddenbreakingnews

Place

99

2016 Tom’s Ready

Place

99

2016 Destin

Win

97

2016 Nyquist

Win

97

We are going to finish up today by dissecting previous Kentucky Derby odds and maybe figure out what to look for on the tote board on the first Saturday in May. Since the year 2000:

  • 7 of the last 16 Derbies have been won by the post-time favorite.
  • Post-time favorites have won the last three editions of the Kentucky Derby.
  • The lowest post-time odds on a Kentucky Derby winner were 2-1 (Fusaichi Pegasus).
  • Mine That Bird and Giacomo both won the Derby at more than 50-1 odds.
  • The median post-time odds of the Derby winner over the last 16 years is 7-1
YEAR HORSE

ODDS

2015 American Pharoah

2.9

2014 California Chrome

2.5

2013 Orb

5.0

2012 I’LL Have Another

15.3

2011 Animal Kingdom

20.9

2010 Super Saver

8.0

2009 Mine That Bird

50.6

2008 Big Brown

2.4

2007 Street Sense

4.9

2006 Barbaro

6.1

2005 Giacomo

50.3

2004 Smarty Jones

4.1

2003 Funny Cide

12.8

2002 War Emblem

20.5

2001 Monarchos

10.5

2000 Fusaichi Pegasus

2.3

Kentucky Derby 142 is shaping up to be a fantastic wagering event. I hope this article helped you make a decision or two or, at the very least, brought back some memories from Derbies past. I wish you all the best of luck and Happy Derby Day!

Andrew Morisch
Drew Morisch, aka “Drew Mo” or the “Bloghorse,” has been an avid sports fan since he was born. Growing up in Nebraska, it was easy for him to fall in love with football and horse racing. He became a huge horse racing fan by attending Ak-Sar-Ben race track before its gates closed (sadly) for the last time in 1995.

Horses such as Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Black Tie Affair, Preakness winner Gate Dancer and local favorite Who Doctor Who all graced the dirt at Ak-Sar-Ben and helped power Drew’s passion for the Sport of Kings.

Drew has other passions to go along with horse racing. He is a big Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. You will usually find him tailgating at some undisclosed location on game days. Drew loves crunching numbers and analyzing data. Whether it’s PE ratios on stocks, speed figures in horse racing, or assist-to-turnover ratios in basketball, there is no such thing as too much information in his book. Drew also plays fantasy sports.

You interact with Drew on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DrewMorisch or follow him on Twitter @thebloghorse.

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