Will Always Dreaming’s ‘Sloppy’ Kentucky Derby Win Thwart His Preakness Hopes?


Always Dreaming splashes to victory in the Kentucky Derby (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

There is a common perception among horse racing fans that an “off” track (one labeled anything other than “fast”) is a breeding ground for upsets.

When this belief took hold is hard to pinpoint, but surely Jim Dandy’s 100-1* upset of Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox — by a resounding six lengths, no less — over a “heavy” surface in the 1930 Travers Stakes helped make it a racetrack truism in the minds of many.

To watch the 1930 Travers Stakes, click HERE.

*There was no pari-mutuel wagering in New York in 1930, so the price on Jim Dandy was established by various bookmakers and ranged from 100-1 to 500-1 by most accounts — and for good reason. Jim Dandy raced 141 times in his career and finished last in more than half of those starts. He won just 7 times.

Statistically speaking, however, this “truism” doesn’t hold up. In other words, it is “fake news”.

In a study of 12,327 sole favorites (no entries) at tracks across the country from 2012-present, I got the following numbers on “fast” tracks:

Number: 10,771
Winners: 4,065
Win Rate: 37.7%
$2 Net Return: $1.67
ROI: -16.38%
IV: 2.75 

On non-“fast” tracks, the data looks like this:

Number: 1,556
Winners: 604
Win Rate: 38.8%
$2 Net Return: $1.73
ROI: -13.71%
IV: 2.84

Note: The impact value (IV), referenced above, is a measurement of the number of times a winning horse shows a particular attribute compared to the number of times other entrants show that very same attribute.

For example, if our study concentrated on horses between the age of 0 and 99 years old, we would expect the IV to be 1.00, as all race entrants — and race winners — would meet that stipulation. If, however, we were to focus on horses over the age of six, we would get an impact value of 0.84 (I checked). Simply put, this means that horses six years of age or older win fewer — 16 percent fewer, to be exact — than their fair share of races.

Now, to be fair, there was a slight dip in the digits on tracks labeled “sloppy”— but it was hardly eye-opening.

Number: 564
Winners: 197
Win Rate: 34.9%
$2 Net Return: $1.55
ROI: -22.49%
IV: 2.53 

So what does this mean in regard to Always Dreaming’s chances in the Preakness Stakes?

Not a lot, really.

It’s well established that Kentucky Derby winners perform well in Baltimore. Since 1932, when the order of the Triple Crown races was, for the most part, set, 33 of the 76 Derby champs (43.4 percent) that competed in the Preakness Stakes won it, returning an average of $2.23 for every $2 bet. This includes eight of 18 (44.4 percent) that competed on “off” tracks in Louisville.


In fact, the real predictor of Preakness success — or the lack thereof — is not the track condition on Derby Day, but, rather, the horse’s odds. Over the past 85 years, 22 of 39 Derby winners that paid less than $12 in Kentucky won in Maryland; of those, six of seven triumphed over a wet track at Churchill Downs.

So, if Always Dreaming loses on Saturday, don’t blame the weather man.

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