first rule about the Kentucky Derby (or any horse race) is
that the "favorite" does not always win! Just because
a particular horse is supposed to win, doesn't make it
Alex was supposed to win, but the long shot, Giacomo won the
Derby in a surprise run. Brother Derek was supposed to be a
shoe in-- but the magnificent Barbaro was unstoppable. (RIP
It is only natural for a person
new to thoroughbred racing to assume that the best horse
will win the race. Deciding which horse that might be
doesn't seem like too difficult a task. The program is
loaded with information to assist them in making that
decision. The problem is that while the best horse may win,
more often it is another who gets his picture taken in the
winner's circle. Were it otherwise Triple Crown winners
(Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes) would be
common rather than being an almost extinct species.
There are many reasons for this phenomena. They have to do
with form, tactics, and other matters that those new to
racing don't need to understand in order to have a fun day
at the races and having fun is the most important thing. Of
course, collecting money is much more fun than tearing up
tickets so betting a few winners would be very nice. As long
as we don't get to greedy that really isn't very difficult.
The first thing that we need to do is admit that we don't
know enough about the mysterious "art form" called
handicapping to try to decide which horse to bet on our own.
We need help, and fortunately help is available in terms of
the "tote board". The "win" odds it displays for each horse
are based upon how much money has been bet on them. As such,
it represents the weighted hopes and fears of all those
playing the race. Since they are more experienced than us,
the "tote board" is a logical pace to find the help we need.
We could just let the "tote board" do our handicapping and
bet the favorite in every race. In all likelihood that would
let us cash some tickets. The favorite is usually the most
likely horse to win, it does make mistakes. After all, the
favorite only wins about 35% of the races. Not all of the
losers can be chalked up to legitimate excuses such as bad
racing luck. A good plan for those who are new to racing is
to back the favorites who deserve to be favored and avoid
those who are suspected of being mistakes.
This can be accomplished by following a few simple rules.
Back the favorite unless:
1. His jockey hasn't won at least 8-10% of his or her races
(overall - not just at the current meet.) We want a capable
rider but not necessarily the meet's top rider. The horse's
trainer should pass the same test.
2. The race's distance isn't within a sixteenth-of-a-mile
(one furlong) of being the same as the distance of the
horse's previous race, or a distance at which the horse
recently won (or almost won.)
3. The horse's last race was more than 35 days ago.
4. The jockey isn't the same fellow who rode the horse in
his last race unless the trainer is switching to a jockey
who won (or nearly won) aboard the horse in the past.
Should this process identify a favorite as suspect, we
suggest you apply the same tests to the second favorite and
so on until a horse to play is found. Some of the horses
eliminated will win, of course, but not at the same rate
that those who are not eliminated.
This process will eliminate some winners! Those eliminated,
however, will not win as often as those who are not
This is by far the most popular way of winnowing out who
can make the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles and who can't. A
simple explanation is that dosage figures a given
contender's distance potential based on stallions from the
first 4 generations of that horse's pedigree. It's a
genetically-based theory that takes into account not only
how well certain ancestors of the horse did, but also how
far back in the horse's line they are. Points are awarded
for speed and stamina of top-notch horses that often appear
in contenders' pedigrees. These super stallions are called
"chefs de race." Any horse with a dosage of 4.00 or less is
supposed to be able to make the derby distance. So far,
since the derby began in 1875, only four winners have had
dosages higher than 4.00; however, all of those were
relatively recently. They were Strike The Gold in
1991, Real Quiet in 1998, Charismatic in 1999
and Giacomo in 2005. Because of a reclassification of
his sire, Strike the Gold would now qualify.
To learn more about dosage, visit the website of the
creator of the modern day dosage system
Dual qualifiers are those horses that not only have a
dosage of 4.00 or less but also are within 10 pounds of the
high weight in the Experimental Free Handicap rating. It is
based only on races from the contenders' 2-year-old season.
The last Dual Qualifier to win the Derby was Silver Charm
in 1997. This year's dual qualifiers are Stevie Wonderboy,
First Samurai, Brother Derek and Private Vow.
Raise A Native Sire Line
Twelve Derby winners so far had the horse Raise A
Native in their sire line, meaning the line of male
horses extending back directly from the sire. (In other
words, the sire's sire, and his sire, and his sire, etc.)
So far, no horse who has ever won the Breeders Cup
Juvenile has ever won the derby. Last year's Breeders' Cup
Juvenile and 2-year-old champion was Stevie Wonderboy.
Only one gelding has won the Derby since Clyde Van
Dusen in 1929. That was Funny Cide in 2003.
Only three fillies have ever won the Derby, Regret
in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors
in 1988. There are no fillies in this year's field.
Unraced at 2
The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing
at age 2 was Apollo in 1882.
The last horse to win without more than 2 prep races at
age 3 was Sunny's Halo in 1983.
Also, the vast majority had at least a third place finish
in their last prep, but last year Giacomo went on to
win the Derby after having been 4th in his previous race.
No horse has won the Derby without a race four weeks or
fewer before it since Needles in 1956. Horses
attempting it this year are High Fly and Noble
This is the theory the great Marvin Stone taught years
ago. The problem with it is that it works best when the
horses are observed in the Derby post parade, and that's a
little too late if you want to place a bet at the track.
It's simple enough. Just look at the flank muscles on the
horse while he/she is walking. Do you see a ripple effect?
Do the muscles there appear bigger, more well-toned than
those of the other horses? Is the coat shiny and does the
horse appear fit? Of course, this theory is very subjective,
but from what I can see, it may work the best in judging how
a horse will do that day.
This is a common sense predictor, but it can only be used
immediately before the Derby. Churchill Downs on Derby Day
is a place full of commotion. Horses are many times upset by
the crowd. They skitter sideways in the post parade or just
in the walk over from the paddock. They often have trouble
loading in the starting gate. Obviously, a horse with his
mind on the crowd does not have his mind on racing. Also, a
horse who uses up his energy in nervous tension before the
race doesn't have as much when the race actually begins.
LH-X (Large Heart) Factor
This is a relatively new theory based on the book The
X Factor published in 1997 and available at
Amazon.com. In a
nutshell, it says certain horses have a mutant gene that
creates unusually large hearts (Secretariat's was estimated
at 22 lbs. when the normal weight is about 8 lbs. for
example) and that this gene appears to be sex-linked through
the X chromosome. This means all of a large-hearted sire's
daughters and none of his sons will have the gene. The
daughters will pass them down to a statistical 50% of both
sexes of their progeny. The percentage chance a given horse
has this gene is then cut in half by each successive
generation, following the X chromosome. Horses who could
have a gene passed down to them from a large-hearted sire in
his/her pedigree are said to have "roads" to those horses.
For those who wish to find out more, check out
Beyer Speed Figures
Beyers are numbers invented by Washington Post
turf columnist Andrew Beyer as a way to compare how fast
different horses are on different tracks on different days.
The higher the number, the speedier the horse is supposed to
be. These numbers may change drastically for a horse from
race to race as the horse gets fitter (and thus faster) or