2013 Kentucky Derby Preview

Anthony Kelzenberg for Champion Picks

Hello from the States!

My name is Anthony Kelzenberg, and I am a professional punter that has spent the last 27 years following the American Triple Crown. Over that span, I picked some Kentucky Derby winners, and some years I didn’t have any of my choices finish in the first four. Racing can be fickle that way. And I would make the argument the Kentucky Derby is THE hardest race in the world to select a winner. The horses come from all over the USA (most without ever racing against each other) and on race day the Churchill Downs racing surface can have odd biases – some related to the barrier draw, and some related to the racing surface, which no one but the race winner seemed to like. But all of us in racing enjoy a good challenge, so let’s try to make some money!

Churchill Downs’ Track Layout:
Direction – Counter clockwise (same as Victorian racetracks):

As one can see below, there are two things to remember about Kentucky Derby day: (1) there is a approximately a 400m run into the first turn as the horses leave the gate, travel through a short chute, then merge on the main track. This is why horses drawing the widest 4 or 5 barriers are actually ADVANTAGED (more on this later). When horses with wide draws have a great opportunity to avoid trouble and slot in as the field gets stretched out.

(2) There are 160,000 fans that surround the track and the paddock areas (and trust me, a very high percentage are drunk). These people want to have a good time and no young horse can be fully prepared for the activity, the bustle and the noise a crowd of this size can create. This might be bad news for morning line favorite Orb, who is a well mannered colt but has been noted to get sweaty on the neck before races.

Barrier Draw and Implications for the Kentucky Derby:

When I took this assignment from Dave D. and Champion Picks, I decided to determine if there was any obvious correlation between barrier draws and results. I looked at Impact Value (IV) as the metric. To keep the math simple, if an impact value of an observation is over 1.00 that observation is occurring more often than it would by random chance. If the impact value is below 1.00 that observation is occurring less often than predicted by random chance.

Below is the chart I developed looking at the last 13 Kentucky Derbies (2000-2012). I wanted to specifically look at barriers 1-2-3 in recent Kentucky Derbies, because there are many trainers (including leading American trainer and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert) that claim the inside posts are deathly bad.

Post Analysis
Ky Derbies 2000-2012
Post Range Runners Wins Exacta Trifecta Super Hi Five
1-2-3 39 0 2 6 9 13
Percent 15.7% 0.0% 7.7% 15.4% 17.3% 20.0%
Impact Value 0.00 0.49 0.98 1.10 1.27
4-9 78 6 10 14 20 23
Percent 31.5% 46.2% 38.5% 35.9% 38.5% 35.4%
Impact Value 1.47 1.22 1.14 1.22 1.13
10-15 78 3 7 11 13 16
Percent 31.45% 23.08% 26.92% 28.21% 25.00% 24.62%
Impact Value 0.73 0.86 0.90 0.79 0.78
16-Out 53 4 7 8 10 13
Percent 21.4% 30.8% 26.9% 20.5% 19.2% 20.0%
Impact Value 1.44 1.26 0.96 0.90 0.94
Totals 248 13 26 39 52 65

First thing to note – no winners from posts 1, 2, or 3 (39 runners). I mentioned this to a Ph.D. Physicist/Meterologist who does a ton of mathematical modeling of complex weather systems and he ran what’s called a “Monte Carlo” simulation to see how likely that was. His results indicated that there is an 11% probability by chance alone that 1-2-3 could get blanked for 13 years straight. But being naturally pessimistic, that tells me that 89% probability those posts are DEAD. Note also the probability of hitting the Kentucky Derby exacta was only 7.7%, with an impact value of 0.49, much lower than the other barrier bin groups. I think we all know that a 4% jock can win two races in row (especially after we bet against said jock), but I think the data is fairly compelling.

Also note that post 16 and out (widest drawn) have done very well in the win (1.44 IV)and exacta (1.26 IV) positions.

Effort Analysis:
A key (I believe) to handicapping the Kentucky Derby is a contender can’t have a very hard race going into the Kentucky Derby. Too strenuous an effort appears to be taxing. And TWO taxing going into the Kentucky Derby may well be the “death knell.” In my research, a very limited recent sample of seven horses showing two taxing preps in a row going into the Kentucky Derby had no luck at all – none of these horses finished in the first five!!

My contribution to determining how tough a race was on a horse is to add its pace figure (surface-adjusted split time) to its final speed figure (surface-adjusted final time). I call this a horse’s EFFORT NUMBER. The higher the number, the more stressful the race was. Here are the top contenders for the 2013 Kentucky Derby:

2013 Ky Derby
Effort table
Effort Change Peak 3yo Effort (last 2)
Sudden Imprvr
33 217
Sudden Imprvr
11 216
Sudden Imprvr
17 214
-29 213
Palace Malice (Blinkers On)
188-211-196P Regressor -23 211
-15 209
-13 200
Sudden Imprvr
11 193
Black Onyx
No Change
-4 193
Java’s War
-11 186

In a typical American race, a lone horse with consistently-high EFFORT wins. But from what I have seen from my research is that a horse that showed marked improvement (Effort Change) of 25 points or more going into the Kentucky Derby may well be “over the top” and will not run to its true form in the Kentucky Derby. That is my concern with Revolutionary, who is very well bred, has top connections, and tops the field on PEAK EFFORT (see chart above). FYI – Generally an advantage of 6 points or more is required to say one horse is significantly better than another horse.

Looking at the chart in more detail, the top six horses on my EFFORT rating are within eight points. What to do? Again, my research says to focus on horses that have a SOFT prep race relative to their race two back but also pave a PEAK EFFORT of 200 or more. Those horses are shown in the chart in GREEN.

Palace Malice

Of this group, Orb has by far the best pedigree to get the 2000m Kentucky Derby distance and he has won his last four races. All reports of his track work the last two weeks have been glowing, his trainer Shug McGuaghey is America’s closest trainer to Bart Cummings, and Orb’s rider will be Joel Rosario, who is currently better than any jock in the USA. Two negatives are Orb tends to break a touch slow (which could be an issue in a 20 horse field), and he didn’t break his maiden until his fourth start – most Derby winners break their maiden in their first or second start. He will probably be the 4/1 second choice but he has a big chance.

Verrazano will be one the race favorite but no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without a start at two since 1889 (now THAT’S a streak!). The thinking goes that two year old preparation is needed to “battle harden” a horse before the arduous three year old prep races. Interestingly, Verrazano’s first start was on January 1st, 2013!!! Talk about on the cusp. My research shows that only SUPERSTAR three year olds without that two year old foundation can get in the trifecta, and I am not convinced that Verrazano is a superstar, despite his undefeated record. His track work has been good and except for the “two year old jinx” he has every right to run well.

Palace Malice and Oxbow are speed horses with similar development patterns and questionable pedigrees for 2000m, but with the right trip I could see either one hitting the trifecta. Palace Malice is also getting a significant gear change – BLINKERS ON.

Other horses I like: Goldencents is owned in partnership with a VERY famous college basketball coach who’s based in Louisville, Kentucky – the home of Churchill Downs. I expect that this will lower his odds, which is too bad. On his numbers (EFFORT of 216 with a slight EFFORT change of +11), he can definitely win, especially if the pace is muddling. Physically, his back end is typical more of a sprinter than a 2000m horse, but if you can get 10/1 or better on him with a bookmaker take it.

Both Revolutionary and Mylute come out of the same HIGH EFFORT race – the Louisiana Derby ($1,000,000 purse). I saw a rumor on Twitter that Revolutionary is wearing protective boots and didn’t gallop Tuesday. He could regress significantly (EFFORT change of +33, a big move), and I think he has to be taken off all tickets in the win position. Mylute has a better development pattern (EFFORT change of only +17) and off the Louisiana Derby form is basically the same horse as Revolutionary anyway, so I think there is value with him.

Overanalyze looks slow on the numbers (EFFORT 193), but he was a cracking colt at two and there is a school of thought his prep sequence has been so “squeezably soft” he is the most logical horse to jump up and run a huge race in the Kentucky Derby. His trainer is one of America’s best in Todd Pletcher and his jockey Rafael Bejarano is considered by most American racing fans as one of our top three or four jocks nationally, and has been the best in Southern California for years. Overanalyze’s track work has been solid if not brilliant. The horse may get overlooked at Churchill Downs, as his prep times could have been timed with a sundial and his trainer saddles four other entrants, including favorite Verrazano. This is another horse I would check with the bookies and see if you can sneak up on them. He will probably be 15/1 in the American pool on race day.

2013 Ky Derby Barrier Draw Churchill Down’s Est. Win Anthony Kelzenberg’s Est. Win
Morning Line Probability Morning Line Probability
1 Black Onyx 50 0.02 50 0.02
2 Oxbow 30 0.03 30 0.03
3 Revolutionary 10 0.10 15 0.07
4 Golden Soul 50 0.02 50 0.02
5 Normandy Invasion 12 0.08 30 0.03
6 Mylute 15 0.07 10 0.10
7 Giant Finish 50 0.02 50 0.02
8 Goldencents 5 0.20 10 0.10
9 Overanalyze 15 0.07 10 0.10
10 Palace Malice 20 0.05 20 0.05
11 Lines of Battle 30 0.03 30 0.03
12 Itsmyluckyday 15 0.07 30 0.03
13 Falling Sky 50 0.02 100 0.01
14 Verrazano 4 0.25 10 0.10
15 Charming Kitten 20 0.05 20 0.05
16 Orb 3.5 0.29 5 0.20
17 Will Take Charge 20 0.05 50 0.02
18 Frac Daddy 50 0.02 50 0.02
19 Java’s War 15 0.07 30 0.03
20 Vyjack 15 0.07 30 0.03
sum 156.90% sum 107.67%

Note: I have small bets with Churchill Downs on Orb (13/1) and Verrazano (7/1).

Betting Strategies:
Win: Mylute and Overanalyze are definitely overs at 15/1 down to 12/1

Exacta: Box in some order Orb, Goldencents, Mylute, Overanalyze for sure and possibly Palace Malice for a big score.

Trifecta/First Fours: Orb, Mylute and Overanalyze are the most likely horses to key in the win slots. Black Onyx and Java’s War are quality backmarkers that can grind their way into third or fourth for the trifecta or first fours without getting into the exacta.

Quaddie (if available): Orb, Goldencents, Mylute, Overanalyze and Palace Malice (five horses)