Is Remsen Winner Maximus Mischief a Legitimate Kentucky Derby Contender?

Although the Remsen Stakes (G2) hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Thunder Gulch in 1995, the annual feature for two-year-olds has certainly generated more than its fair share of good horses.

Mohaymen was an early Kentucky Derby favorite after his Remsen score in 2015 and Honor Code was responsible for more buzz than dying housefly when he captured the 2013 Remsen after a runner-up performance in the Champagne Stakes (G1) and a scintillating last-to-first win in his debut.

Then, of course, there is Catholic Boy. He followed his Remsen victory in 2017 with a second-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), a fourth-place showing in the Florida Derby (G1) and a win in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1) on grass before upsetting the field in the prestigious Travers (G1) at Saratoga.

So, how does this year’s winner, Maximus Mischief, compare to past Remsen champs?

Well, he’s fast, I’ll give him that… but there are several things that make me go hmmm.

Let’s start with the obvious: The pace of this weekend’s Remsen was so slow that the first four furlongs could have been timed with a sundial. Granted, the Aqueduct main track could hardly be described as “glib” on Dec. 1, but the opening half-mile in the Remsen was nearly 1 ½ seconds slower than the opening half of the Demoiselle (G2). This despite the fact that the latter is restricted to two-year-old fillies, while the former is open to juveniles of any sex, and the track was arguably faster later in the day when the Remsen was run.

Maximus-Mischief

I do like the fact that Maximus Mischief came home fast (relatively speaking), earning a +2 late speed ration (LSR) in his first route try. (By way of comparison, the winner of the Demoiselle — Positive Spirit — recorded a -7 LSR.) Still, the Kentucky Derby pace (ESR) par is about 15 lengths faster than what Maximus Mischief ran on Saturday, meaning that the Robert Reid trainee will need to go a whole lot faster to grab the early lead on the first Saturday in May (should he make the Derby field) or he’ll need to learn to rate.

Speed Rations ExplainedSecondly, Maximus Mischief isn’t exactly bred for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance. His sire, Into Mischief, is mostly known for producing middle-distance runners, like two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) champion Goldencents. In fact, Into Mischief’s top five money-winning progeny — Goldencents ($3,044,00), Practical Joke ($1,795,800), Vyjack ($1,427,600), Vicar’s in Trouble ($1,228,292) and Audible ($1,200,720) — are a combined 4-for-21 in races at nine furlongs or greater, with two of those wins belonging to Vicar’s In Trouble, who posted frontrunning scores in both the Super Derby (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Into Mischief
(Northern Hemisphere lifetime statistics)

Foals of Racing Age: 628
Starters: 461 (73%)

Total Starts: 5,267
Total Wins: 940 (18%)
Avg. Earnings Index: 1.94

Avg. Winning Distance: 6.69 furlongs
Avg. Maximum Winning Distance: 7.08 furlongs

(From equineline.com.)

Lastly, Maximus Mischief’s running style is all wrong. Of the 59 Kentucky Derby entrants possessing eight Quirin speed points (the maximum) over the past 22 years, only Big Brown wound up wearing the roses. This equates to a 0.31 impact value and a 0.25 odds-based impact value (see chart below).

OBIV-IV-Key

Note: Devised by handicapping author William Quirin, Quirin speed points measure a horses’ early speed on a 0-to-8-point scale (horses with zero points have demonstrated no early speed in their last three ratable races, while horses with eight points have been on or very close to the lead in their last three ratable races).

With Maximus Mischief’s 2019 Kentucky Derby odds currently sitting at 15/1, I think he’s a decided underlay right now.

I wouldn’t play him with your money.

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.
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