Squeezing the Lemon Dry: What Speed Figures Can Tell Us About the Kentucky Derby

Horatio Luro (photo via horseracinghalloffame.com).

Horatio Luro (photo via horseracinghalloffame.com).

Horatio Luro, the dashing Argentinian trainer who saddled the great Northern Dancer, is credited with a phrase that has become a Triple Crown mantra over the years.

“Don’t squeeze the lemon dry,” Luro said, referring to the fact that a “fresh” horse is needed to withstand the rigors of competing in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Yet, knowing when a horse is “over the top” (another cute racing phrase) is easier said than done. One quick and easy way that I’ve found to identify stale runners (or horses likely to regress), is by examining their speed figures. In both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, it is a decidedly negative sign to show a vastly improved speed rating last time out. In fact, it is generally a no-no to show much variance at all.

In the last 25 years, just two horses (Sea Hero in 1993 and Always Dreaming last year) have won in Louisville after recording a last-race Brisnet speed figure (BSF) that was more than 10 points better — or worse — than the one preceding it.

Kentucky-Derby-Bounce-Stats

This year, there are several contenders that history frowns upon in the Bluegrass State, including a couple of highly-rated entrants:

  • Firenze Fire (-3)
  • Free Drop Billy (-2)
  • Promises Fulfilled (-37)
  • Flameaway (0)
  • Audible (+2)
  • Good Magic (0)
  • Justify (+10)
  • Lone Sailor (+17)
  • Hofburg (+8)
  • My Boy Jack (-5)
  • Bolt D’Oro (+12)
  • Enticed (-5)
  • Bravazo (-22)
  • Mendelssohn
  • Instilled Regard (+7)
  • Magnum Moon (-1)
  • Solomini (-1)
  • Vino Rosso (+11)
  • Noble Indy (+4)
  • Combatant (-2)
  • Blended Citizen (-7)
Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.
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