Why Your Mom Was Right About the Kentucky Derby Pace

Mom Reading StoryGrowing up, I am sure I wasn’t the only one who heard the expression “slow and steady wins the race” and heard the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” ad nauseam from mother.  After reviewing the probable pace scenarios of this year’s Kentucky Derby, she appears to be right!

Laura Pugh does a great job discussing how the pace will be slower this year versus years past in her article Don’t Be Fooled, the Derby Pace Won’t Be Blistering.  I have to echo her assessment of why the pace has slowed down in recent years since the inception of the point based system to place into the Kentucky Derby versus the old graded stakes earning method.

The inclusion of sprinters is no longer an issue.

What does that mean to me in terms of this year’s pace analysis?  Quite simply, no crazy early speed but, as Laura points out, “a different breed of speed.  It is classic speed that can be carried over a distance, instead of cheap speed that wilts away.”

Below is my pace chart and my most likely pace scenario analysis for the 2016 Kentucky Derby:

Derby Pace Chart

The most likely pace scenario here sets up for a Strong E/P or Strong Presser (P).

Half Mile Projection– :47.0 

The race sets up with Outwork and Danzing Candy heading out for the early lead.  Outwork’s comfortable fractions are much slower than the anticipated first call that will be set by Danzing Candy (or Laoban if he draws into the field).

Danzing Candy is a one-dimensional frontrunner and, while he should be on the lead at the half mile, he will be caught either right before or shortly thereafter.  Outwork will have expended too much energy by this point and will not be making any additional forward progress.

At this point, I expect Nyquist, Mor Spirit, Destin, Gunner Runner and Mohaymen to be within about three lengths of the lead.  Majesto, Shagaf, Oscar Nominated and Mo Tom will be roughly four to six lengths back.  The rest of this large field will trail them including Exaggerator, Brody’s Cause, Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Tom’s Ready, My Man Sam, Trojan Nation and Lani.

Six Furlongs 1:11.1 

By the time the field has hit six furlongs, I expect Outwork, Danzing Candy, and Destin to be non-factors.  Mohaymen and Majesto will start to fade as well.  Some horses will appear flat at this point, including Shagaf, Oscar Nominated, Brody’s Cuase, Tom’s Ready, Trojan Nation and Lani.  The lead will likely be held by either Nyquist or Gun Runner at this point with More Spirit about a length or two off of them.  Mo Tom, Exaggerator, Suddenbreakdingnews, Whitmore, Creator, and My Man Sam will all be starting to advance up in running position while still sitting further back off the lead.


By this point, Mor Spirit and Nyquist are vying for the top spot.  Late runs have started as Exaggerator and Gun Runner are sitting a length or two off the lead, with the closers Creator, Whitmore, Suddenbreakingnews and Mo Tom are trying to gain ground from the middle of the pack.  Given the pace so far, it will be hard for the closers to make up all the ground between them and the leaders.


At the wire, I expect it to still be close between Mor Spirit and Nyquist, with an advantage to the former since my pace analysis was done off of a sloppy track and a troubled trip.  Of the closers, I expect to see Mo Tom, Creator and Suddenbreakingnews around late for the bottom half of your superfecta.  There is a large enough pace advantage for Nyquist (and the excused performances of Mor Spirit) to figure that the late runners will be short based on the adjusted second call times.  Under the most probable pace scenario, this race sets up perfectly for the running styles and comfortable fractions of Mor Spirit and Nyquist.

While no one can anticipate if one of the twenty entrants will be sent on a suicide mission to the front of the pack in a sub 46-second half mile, it is highly unlikely.  When I was assessing the pace of this race, I discounted the notion that any horse would try to set that fast of a half-mile split.

However, you need to think that many of the E/P and Pressers may be tasked to try to stalk the pace or close.  Given the amount of strong speed horses in this race, I don’t see the six-furlong split going any slower than 1:12.0.  Even if Mor Spirit or Nyquist get in some trouble early on, there is enough other speed to apply the pressure needed to upset the weak early speed horses here.

Grab a mint julep and enjoy the race!

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at ray.wallin@live.com.

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