The Kentucky Derby: When Change Isn’t a Good Thing

If there is one consistent theme relating to the Kentucky Derby it is that change is not a good thing.

The young horses competing on the first Saturday in May have enough to deal with — a large, screaming, partially-inebriated crowd, intense media scrutiny, a big field, a unique race distance, etc. — without adding extraneous changes to their routines.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of equipment changes, specifically blinkers on/off.

Generally, horses are equipped with blinkers to help them focus. And many handicappers believe that they increase a horse’s early speed as well. According to my database studies, this is true. Horses donning blinkers improve their latest early speed ration (see key below) by an average of 1.1 lengths. Conversely, horses removing blinkers witness their ESRs increase, i.e. get slower, by 1.1 lengths.

Of course, sometimes the results are more dramatic than that. Like, for example, in 2013, when Palace Malice added blinkers for his Derby run and wound up setting a torrid pace that all but handed the race to Orb (who never won again).

Below is a chart detailing how horses donning or removing blinkers at various points prior to the Kentucky Derby have fared since 1992:



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