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What is the Best Kentucky Derby Running Style?

Revolutionary_La_Derby_615X400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
As the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby approaches, attention turns to picking a winner.  Accordingly there is a lot of discussion about the running style that will win the Run for the Roses.
 
Just the other day I heard an expert on the radio say, “The big closers don’t win the Kentucky Derby.” He also went on to mention, “That I don’t like horses that have a way of finding trouble.” Does that point of view have any merit? If it does, then we can certainly eliminate Revolutionary as a contender.
 
I have also been hearing talk about how Goldencents is the horse that has the kind of front running style that can lead to success in the Derby.  Or is that front-runner going to be the speedy Itsmyluckyday?  Can either of these horses relax on the lead and carry their speed for the ten furlongs?
 
There are so many questions to be asked and there will be even more people with the answers to those questions. I am the kind of handicapper that prefers to stick to the facts, so I made a chart that shows the running lines for all of the Derby winners since 2000.
 
 
As you can see War Emblem, in 2002, was the only horse to win the Derby as a front-runner, in gate to wire style. None of the other 12 winners had a lead before the one mile point of call.
 


Five of the victors from the first Saturday in May were what I have called deep closers. Those horses trailed by more than double digits at the first point of call and rallied from way behind: 19th, 18th, 18th, 15th, and 13th place.
 
Three more of them, I considered to be closers.  Those horses stayed mid-pack and began making their come from behind moves after about a mile of the race.
 
Finally there were four horses that won at Churchill Downs as stalkers. They stayed within a few lengths of the lead in the early stages and took control of the race in the stretch.
 
Interestingly, only four of the horses waited to take the lead until right near the finish (I’ll Have Another, Animal Kingdom, Giacomo, and Monarchos). All the other winners had gotten to the front by the “stretch” point of call.
 
I hope that this research will help you make an educated Derby choice. I know that it has helped me make my Derby pick. Revolutionary is a closer or deep closer and that is the running style that has been successful in eight of the last thirteen runnings of the Derby.  It is OK for a horse to get behind and Revolutionary has shown the courage and determination to find his way through a crowd of horses.
 
[For more analysis of Derby trends and running styles check out the 2013 Kentucky Derby Super Screener] 
 
  

 

What the Nation is saying about What is the Best Kentucky Derby Running Style?...

Have to agree with the last comment, but will these three closers get a clean trip? Even if he skims the rail, I think Revolutionary is going to have to make an early move like he did going into the far turn in the LA Derby. I definitely think he'll be coming from the inside while Orb and Normandy will be wide coming down the stretch. It should be an exciting finish.
Orb, Normandy Invasion & Revolutionary are the only horses improving as the distances increase, on dirt. Palace Malice & Will Take Charge are my sleepers.
position is relative to pace: faster pace, further back, slower pace, futher up
I'm with you, Matt ... I like to see a horse who can make that winning move on the turn and then power home in the stretch. Revolutionary fits the bill for me.
Hey Andy. I’m not really high on any one horse at this time. I like Will take Charge for the upset, but am concerned about the long layoff going into the race and the fact that he hasn’t been beyond 8.5F yet. He’s had two solid one-mile breezes though, which is always a good sign. I like his running style too and I think that Jon Court might be able to get him into a good position early on. The way in which he turned the tables on Super Ninety-Nine in the Rebel was impressive when going from a defeat on a sloppy track in the Southwest, to a nice win on a fast track. The time in that race doesn’t jump off the page, but the fact that he was in trouble in the far turn and got out of it, raced a wide 4-wide around that turn, actually lost ground in that short stretch and then really turned it on in the end are great selling points on me. I like Orb over Verrazano even though Verrazano’s individual fractional times in the Wood were more impressive than Orb’s. I like Orb’s ability to relax and conserve energy. I don’t think that Verrazano will be able to relax enough in a large 20 horse field to get the needed value out of it…..Revolutionary is an intriguing horse and at this point is my second choice. His Louisiana Derby is a bit misleading. IMO he didn’t win the race in the stretch, but rather in the second and third quarters when he closed from 12 ¼ lengths off the lead to 2 ¾ off the lead. Both quarters were sub 24 quarters and though he slowed by nearly two full seconds in his fourth quarter, there are reasons, one of them being 5-wide on the far turn (he was also 4-wide on the first turn). In his stretch run he showed remarkable resiliency in holding off Mylute and if you take his final 8th and extrapolate it to another furlong, he outran Goldencents, Orb and Verrazano. A red flag is Castellano jumping off him and going on Normandy Invasion. Normandy is still only a maiden winner and the last time I can recall a horse winning the Derby in it’s second lifetime win was Giacomo in a wild finish and Alysheba, who actually won the Blue Grass but was DQ’d.
The KyDerby is the only race that I adjust my Closer tag. Because it's a 20 horse field, any horse that is sitting as far back as 6th is someone that i still consider a Stalker. Prime examples are IHA and Super Saver. Orb might be trying to win from that position as well. Good points here about Revolutionary, especially the one by Laz. He was a deep closer in the LA Derby but he was in position before the stretch. As we all seem to agree, that is the most reliable way to win the KyDerby as a "Deep Closer". Borel played that card to tee on 2 occasions (MTB / Street Sense) and that is proof that you have to be in position before you reach the top of the stretch
LAZ--It was interesting the right that immediately after the Rebel Lukas said he would train Will Take Charge up to the Derby.
At the moment, I'm inclined to think the best running style for this year's Derby is to have Joel Rosario up, lol.
really the only thing we can take from this data is to toss or down grade front runners. And that really only eliminates Goldencents, who happens to have the highest 8.5 or 9 furlong beyer and increasing figures in his last 3 races. Im more apt to toss him on his pedigree than his running style
really the only thing we can take from this data is to toss or down grade front runners. And that really only eliminates Goldencents, who happens to have the highest 8.5 or 9 furlong beyer and increasing figures in his last 3 races. Im more apt to toss him on his pedigree than his running style
I agree with LAZ. It really jumped off the page when I saw that the winners have to be in close contention by the stretch. Is that because the riders are afraid of traffic and want to get there and not risk more trouble down the stretch? Who do you like to win it this year?
LAZ, nice to have your input again.
Looking at your chart two of the three horses you have as closers I would have as stalkers, SS and IHA. I'm not trying to get argumentive, but a 20 horse field adds a lot of luck to the equation. Last year two horses I thought would have been in the top 4 Creative Cause and Union Rags had troubles.
Going back the past 20 or 25 years, just about every Derby winner has been in position to win the race between midway in the far turn and the top of the stretch, and most of them were already in the lead before the 8th pole. I think it’s imperative to be in position going into that far turn and to really turn it on from that point, either while on the lead or coming from off the pace. I don’t see where many Derby’s have been won by deep closers who are well back at the top of the stretch.
Well this years 'deep' closers would presumably be: Java's War, Revolutionary, Will Take Charge, Normandy Invasion, and possibly Vyjack depending on the pace.
Derek, that's a talented group you just mentioned there.
Well this years 'deep' closers would presumably be: Java's War, Revolutionary, Will Take Charge, Normandy Invasion, and possibly Vyjack depending on the pace.
davetg95, the Derby puts horses into situations in which they have never been. Horses get way farther behind than they have ever been. In a 12 horse field runners have a better chance of doing what they may typically want to do. But in the Derby a stalker may very quickly need to close far more lengths than is typical. That chart described the uniqueness of the Derby's 20 horse field.
Cont..Barbaro 2nd & 1st. Smarty 1st & 2nd. These guys were anything but closers by trade. Funny Cide 2nd & 1st. So really the only confirmed closers Giacomo & Monarchos were the only pure closers on paper, and both those races were total pace meltdowns.
With all due respect, this is pretty useless if you really try to apply it to this year. Consider for debate...I will give you the 5 "deep closers" , as all of them except FuPeg were genuine off the pace types. However, the argument falls apart calling many of the others "closers". Is a horse that runs in the 4th position of a 20 horse field a closer? Hardly. He is beating 16 horses at the 2nd call, that's not a closer by most any definition. Also as a predictive tool, most of these were speed or stalkers by trade. 2nd Call of some of these "closers" in preps. IHA 3rd & 2nd. Super Saver 1st & 1st. Mine That Bird (deep closer) 3rd & 1st. Big Brown 1st & 2

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Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

 

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A Kentucky Derby Field with Just 14 Horses


What is the Best Kentucky Derby Running Style?