year handicappers struck with a bad case of Derby fever seek out an
angle or horse who can reward its backers with a long-shot victory.
Since 2007, one of these angles has been the Polytrack to dirt angle.
Many erstwhile horse players insist that horses with turf or Polytrack
form do well over the Churchill Downs dirt track. Quick, name the
horses who have triumphed over the Polytrack and/or turf that won the
Kingdom comes to mind. In fact, Animal Kingdom is the only one
who comes to mind. Always curious about fact vs. popular opinion, I
decided to research just how well horses whose last prep race over
Polytrack or turf did in the big race. The results weren't pretty.
Polytrack was installed at Turfway Park in 2005 and at Keeneland in
time for the 2006 fall meet, none of the Kentucky Derby entrants had
a prep race over the Polytrack until 2007. That year, seven colts
used either the Spiral
Stakes (a/k/a Jim Beam) at Turfway Park or the BluegrassStakesat
as their final prep races before traveling to Churchill Downs.
you may recall, 2007 was the year of an exciting photo finish in the
Stakes. Long-shot Dominican ran the race of his life to beat the
Sense – who had his head in front of the third place finisher,
Zanjero. Street Sense, a dirt horse through and through, went on to
win the Kentucky Derby.
who had previously shown his best form over Polytrack, was buried in
the pack in the Derby and finished eleventh – a neck in front of
Zanjero, who had also won previously over Polytrack. The Bluegrass
Stakes fourth place finisher, the gallant Teuflesburg was 17th
in the Derby.
over at Turfway, another dirt-oriented horse Hard Spun won the
Spiral. He finished second to Street Sense in the Derby. Other
contestants who made a failed attempt to transfer their
Polytrack/turf form to Churchill dirt that year include Sedgefield
(second in the Spiral, fifth in the Derby) and Great Hunter (fifth in
the Blue Grass, 13 in the Derby).
2008 none of the top three finishers in the Spiral or Bluegrass
Stakes finished closer than ninth in the Kentucky Derby.
- 2010 saw the Kentucky Derby held over a sloppy track. Often,
turf/polytrack oriented horses perform well over an off track. None
of the top poly-preppers finished closer than tenth in 2009.
2010, there was plenty of hype surrounding the winners of the Spiral
(Dean's Kitten) and Bluegrass Stakes (Paddy O'Prado). Dean's Kitten
never made it out of the back of the pack, but Paddy O'Prado stormed
from the clouds to just miss second place by a neck. A true turf
horse, Paddy O'Prado was off of the board over a fast track in the
Preakness. Switched to turf, he reeled off victories in three graded
stakes over the lawn. Returning to Churchill for the Breeders' Cup
Classic, he was again off of the board over a fast track.
was the year of the Animal. Previously untested on dirt, Animal
Kingdom showed his class and versatility with a 2 ¾ length victory.
He authenticated that victory while dominating the Dubai Wold Cup
held over Tapeta.
Stakes winner Brilliant Speed was also touted as a horse to watch in
the 2011 Kentucky Derby. We did watch, as he made a late bid to
finish seventh. Surprisingly, the English entry Master of Hounds,
who had never stepped hoof on dirt previously, worked his way up to
half brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, was the
Polytrack/turf media darling after his furious rush to win the Blue
Grass. Went The Day Well, winner of the Spiral, also received some
buzz. Both colts acquitted themselves well, finishing third and
fourth, respectively in the Kentucky Derby. Dullahan later proved
his Polytrack superiority with a record-setting victory in the
Pacific Classic, yet he was unplaced in dirt stakes.
brings us to Kentucky Derby 2013. Black
Onyx is already generating buzz. The Spiral Stakes has sent a
winner and runner-up to the Kentucky Derby in the last seven years.
The higher-rated Blue Grass Stakes has produced one Derby winner and
a third place finisher.
counting Street Sense and Hard Spun, as their preferred surface was
dirt, 34 colts have placed in the Twin Spires and Blue Grass Stakes.
Of those, there have been one winner (3%) and two third place
how do we determine which turf/Poly runners might surprise in the
Derby? Pedigree can be a factor in how colts who've never faced dirt
will fare in Kentucky. Animal Kingdom's pedigree is pure turf. He's
one of those rare very good horses who will win over everything.
Dullahan's pedigree is a mix of dirt and turf influences. His sire
Even The Score won over dirt and turf and his damsire Smart Strike
gets winners over all surfaces. Paddy O'Prado's sire and dam were
both turf horses.
line, unless the top three in the Spiral and Blue Grass Stakes have a
pedigree containing dirt attributes and have proven themselves over
dirt, don't expect miracles in the Kentucky Derby if there's a dry
track. These horses may be worth a second look should the track come