Updated 2016 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings

kentucky_derby_20142

April 18th 2016 – Updated April 28th 2016

The Kentucky Derby prep season is officially over and it went out with a bang in the Arkansas Derby this past Saturday when Creator (11.6-1 odds) surprised the Oaklawn crowd with the win. This has been a theme for the big point paying final Derby prep races this season as none of the race favorites found victory lane. Not a single one. Let’s review: Mo Tom (Louisiana Derby), Mohaymen (Florida Derby), Shagaf (Wood Memorial), Zulu (Blue Grass Stakes), Mor Spirit (Santa Anita Derby) and Cupid (Arkansas Derby).

Who won these races? Gun Runner the bettors 3rd favorite in the Louisiana Derby. Nyquist the bettors 2nd favorite in the Florida Derby. Outwork the bettors 2nd favorite in the Wood Memorial. Brody’s Cause–2nd favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes. Exaggerator–3rd favorite in the Santa Anita Derby. And Creator, the bettors 4th favorite in the Arkansas Derby.

The Kentucky Derby favorite only wins roughly 1/3rd of the time. So when you are alone in your thoughts at the Churchill Downs window and ready to place a Win bet for the Kentucky Derby, you might opt for the 2nd favorite among bettors. Right now that appears to be Exaggerator and if the Derby is a wet, sloppy race this year, he should be your race favorite. Remember how the Desormeaux brother’s colt Swipe gave Nyquist a run for his money last year? Keith and Kent Desormeaux felt all along that Exaggerator was their most talented Derby trail colt with the most upside.

Overall, the unpredictability of the big Derby prep races says quite a bit about this 2016 Kentucky Derby class. We were spoiled by the 2014 and 2015 classes. The 2016 class as a lot are INCONSISTENT, their times are slow and they have failed to produce any eye-popping Beyer Speed Figures. Note that we didn’t have a 2 year-old in this class eclipse the 100 mark for a Beyer Speed Figure. This was the first time this has happened going back to the records I have from 1993.

So this is why I think the 2016 Kentucky Derby will be wide open and an exciting race. Nyquist undoubtedly is the cream of the crop. And the filly Songbird is the best 3 year-old regardless of gender and a superstar in the making. Unfortunately, she will miss the Kentucky Oaks due to a fever but she will be back.

Getting back to Nyquist, he has impressively gone undefeated in 7 starts. He should be the Kentucky Derby favorite around 5/2 or 3/1 odds. He has proven that he can win several different ways as pacesetter, as a stalker and coming off the pace like he did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that I alluded to in my last blog.

If you need a visual reminder, rewatch Nyquist (horse #13) in this video below. This is a 15 horse Breeders’ Cup Juvenile field (just 5 less than the Kentucky Derby field) and Nyquist displays impressive talent moving mid pack through traffic to cross the wire first. He didn’t have the greatest trip and was forced wide:

We will have to wait to see who officially gets entered into the Kentucky Derby and post-position draws. However, right now, I see Nyquist assuming a stalking position behind Danzing Candy in the Kentucky Derby. I see Destin and Mor Spirit in the same stalking group. Then I think these three will battle it out for the lead coming into the stretch and then the leader will have to ward off late chargers Exaggerator, Brody’s Cause, Suddenbreakingnews and Creator. Right now as far as betting strategies, I would probably key Nyquist to win in a Trifecta with 3 horses: Exaggerator, Destin and Mor Spirit.

Below is my Top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders along with projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds in parentheses. As you will see, I don’t have the Arkansas Derby winner Creator in my Top 10 as I feel Steve Asmussen’s most talented Derby horse is Gun Runner. Why is that? It took Creator six attempts to break his maiden. I think the race that 2nd place finisher Suddenbreakingnews ran in the Arkansas Derby will translate better to the Kentucky Derby with an additional furlong of distance.

I also moved Mohaymen up a few spots as I feel that I may have been a bit too harsh on his 4th place finish in the Florida Derby. Note that in the past 20 years, only two horses (Giacomo and Mine That Bird) finished 4th in their final prep race (the Santa Anita Derby) and went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

***I originally had Outwork 4th and Mor Spirit 5th in my rankings but after reviewing times from the final 3/8ths of a mile in the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, Mor Spirit had a significantly faster stretch run. So I moved Mor Spirit up one and Outwork down one. I also switched Brody’s Cause and Danzing Candy because I feel that a closer will fare better than a pacesetter in this year’s Derby.

1) Nyquist (3/1 Odds) – The 2015 Eclipse 2 Year Old Male Horse of the Year. Undefeated in 7 starts, he has 4 Grade 1 stakes wins and has already earned $3.3 million dollars. He was the first of the 2016 Kentucky Derby crop to produce a 100+ Beyer Speed Figure with his win in the San Vicente in January. Trainer Doug O’Neill is following the same “2 races as a 3 year-old” strategy that he used with I’ll Have Another to win the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

Career: 7 Starts 7-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Uncle Mo  (Finished 10th in 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Trainer: Doug O’Neill (2012 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Projected Jockey: Mario Gutierrez (2012 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.79 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.11 – Florida Derby
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 101, 94  – 97.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 101 – San Vicente Stakes

2) Exaggerator (6/1) – The only Derby trail horse to produce three 95+ Beyer Speed Figures in 2016: San Vicente Stakes 98, San Felipe Stakes 96, Santa Anita 103. His 103 Beyer Speed Figure earned in the Santa Anita Derby is the top speed figure for this year’s Kentucky Derby crop. His pedigree (Sire: Curlin) suggests that he should excel in races as the distances gets longer. If anybody is going to upset Nyquist, Exaggerator seems to be the most likely. He lost to Nyquist in the San Vicente but he will have 3 more furlongs to work with at Churchill Downs. 

Career: 9 Starts 4-2-1-1 
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>1st
Sire: Curlin (Finished 3rd in 2007 Kentucky Derby, 1st in 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Projected Jockey: Kent Desormeaux (1998, 2000 & 2008 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.43 (calculated) Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.66 – Santa Anita Derby
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 96, 103  – 99.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 103 – Santa Anita Derby

3) Destin (12/1) – He set track record of 1:42.82 in the Tampa Bay Derby (shown below)–good for a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. He is the full brother to Creative Cause who finished 5th in the Kentucky Derby and 3rd in the Preakness Stakes in 2012. Todd Pletcher bypassed a final Derby prep race, instead opting for some rest and 8 weeks of training. A fast, fresh horse could be very dangerous in the Kentucky Derby.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-1
Last 3 starts: 4th–>1st–>1st
Sire: Giant’s Causeway  (Finished 2nd in 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Projected Jockey: Javier Castellano
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.82Tampa Bay Derby
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 98, 100  – 99 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 100 – Tampa Bay Derby

4) Mor Spirit (12/1) – After his Robert B. Lewis Stakes win, he has two 2nd place finishes in the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby. I think his running style is best suited for dry, fast tracks. Note that he has never finished below 2nd place in all seven of his career starts.

Career: 7 Starts 3-4-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Eskendereya 
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997, 1998, 2002, 2015 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Projected Jockey: Gary Stevens (1988, 1995 and 1998 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.21 – Robert B. Lewis Stakes
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.66 (calculated) – Santa Anita Derby
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 97, 94  – 95.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 97San Felipe Stakes

5) Outwork  (15/1) – Winner of the Wood Memorial, he is a half brother to Nyquist. Prior to the Tampa Bay Derby, he had never raced further than 6 furlongs. He broke his maiden way back in April of 2015 at Keeneland but didn’t resume racing until this past February. He has never finished below 2nd in 4 career starts. He seems to be peaking at the right time.

Career: 4 Starts 3-1-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>1st
Sire: Uncle Mo (Finished 10th in 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Projected Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.98 (calculated) – Tampa Bay Derby
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:52.92 – Wood Memorial
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 98, 93  – 95.5 avg
Beyer Speed Average for 2016: 989.3Best Beyer Speed Figure: 98 – Tampa Bay Derby

6) Mohaymen  (8/1) – He finished a disappointing 4th in the Florida Derby and didn’t seem to have the necessary kick and stamina down the stretch to make me feel that he will be in the mix in the Kentucky Derby. 

Career: 6 Starts 5-0-0-1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>4th
Sire: Tapit (Finished 9th in 2004 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Projected Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.07 – Holy Bull Stakes
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.43 (calculated) – Florida Derby 
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 95, 80  – 87.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95 – Holy Bull Stakes

7) Brody’s Cause (15/1) Dale Roman’s winner of the Blue Grass Stakes and the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes. He has excellent closing speed which may make him a factor in the Kentucky Derby if the opening fractions are fast. 

Career: 6 Starts 3-0-1-0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>7th–>1st
Sire: Giant’s Causeway (Finished 2nd in 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Trainer: Dale Romans
Projected Jockey: Luis Saez
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.27 – Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.20 – Blue Grass Stakes
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 80, 91  – 85.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 91 – Blue Grass Stakes

8) Danzing Candy  (20/1) – The San Felipe Stakes  winner (shown below) finished a disappointing 4th in the Santa Anita Derby. He may be a one-trick pony, limited to getting out early into the lead for wins. This won’t translate well to the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby distance.

Career: 5 Starts 3-0-0-1 
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>4th
Sire: Twirling Candy
Trainer: Clifford Sise
Projected Jockey: Mike Smith (2005 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.04 – San Felipe Stakes
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.78 (calculated) – Santa Anita Derby
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 100, 83  – 91.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 100San Felipe Stakes

9) Gun Runner (15/1) – Since the creation of the Derby point system in 2013, every Kentucky Derby winner had 150 or more Derby points. Gun Runner is the only horse that will fit this description this year (151 points). I generally don’t see him as a serious threat to win the Kentucky Derby. The last Louisiana Derby winner that went on to win the Kentucky Derby was Grindstone in 1996. I see Gun Runner more as a horse who could round out a superfecta. 

Career: 5 Starts 4-0-0-1
Last 3 starts: 4th–>1st–>1st

Sire: Candy Ride
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Projected Jockey: Florent Geroux 
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.79 – Keeneland Allowance Race 10/17/15
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.06 – Louisiana Derby 
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 90, 91  – 90.5 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 91 – Louisiana Derby 

10) Suddenbreakingnews (20/1) – He will join Exaggerator and Brody’s Cause as closers that will try to mow down Nyquist in the final furlong. 

Career: 8 Starts 3-4-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>2nd
Sire: Mineshaft 
Trainer: Donnie Von Hemel
Projected Jockey: Luis Quinonez
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:44.64 (calculated) – Rebel Stakes 
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.30 (calculated)Arkansas Derby
Last Two Beyer Speed Figures: 86, 94  – 90 avg
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – Southwest Stakes


These 20 horses have qualified for the Kentucky Derby: Gun Runner 151, Nyquist 130, Exaggerator 126, Outwork 120, Brody’s Cause 114, Creator 110, Lani 100, Mor Spirit 84, Mohaymen 80, Danzing Candy 60, Destin 51, Cupid 50, Shagaf 50, Oscar Nominated 50, Suddenbreakingnews 50, Whitmore 44, Tom’s Ready 44, My Man Sam 40, Majesto 40 and Trojan Nation 40.

There are always horses every year who qualify for the Derby but aren’t entered for various reasons. It was announced last week that Bob Baffert won’t enter Cupid into the Derby. So these six horses will be next in line in case any horse listed above isn’t entered or they can become one of the two alternates in case of scratches: Mo Tom 32, Fellowship 32, Adventist 32, Laoban 32, Dazzling Gem 30, Cherry Wine 25.

For updated Kentucky Derby Point Standings, click HERE.


FWIW – Beyer Speed Figures in the Kentucky Derby

Since 1990, the lowest winning Beyer Speed Figure for the Kentucky Derby came in 2014 when California Chrome won with a 97 Beyer. The only horses projected to start in this year’s Kentucky Derby that have produced a 97 or higher Beyer Speed Figure are: Exaggerator (103, 98), Nyquist (101), Destin (100, 98),  Danzing Candy (100), Outwork (98) and Mor Spirit (97).    


 I would also like to remind everyone that many handicappers have various predictive analytics they like to use to forecast the Kentucky Derby winner. I have a few I like, such as raced as a 2 year-0ld, broke his maiden in his first 3 starts, produced a sub 1:50 time in a 1 1/8th mile race, finished first or second in his last start, etc.

However, remember that occasionally there will be a horse like Mine That Bird where you can just throw every conventional analytic out the window. Mine that Bird finished 4th in the 2009 Sunland Derby–his last derby prep race. Most of his success came as a 2 year old on synthetic surfaces at Woodbine in Canada. He finished dead last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race. Consequently, he was a 50-1 longshot but scored one of the biggest upsets in sports history by winning the 2009 Kentucky Derby (shown below).

–Michael

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