5 trends key to picking the Kentucky Derby 2019 winner

April 29, 2019 08:25am

Handicapping the 2019 Kentucky Derby presents several challenges given its 20-horse field and 1 1/4-mile distance. But with the first leg of the Triple Crown also entering its 145th running next weekend, we also have available plenty of information to consider through historical trends.

So, how to crack the code? Unfortunately, there isn't a basic pattern available for finding the winner in any race. However, there are some simple patterns noticeable for a practical assessment of this year's contenders.

100-point club

Since the current scoring system began with the 2013 Kentucky Derby, the last six winners each scored at least 100 points, or the value paid out for winning a major prep race. In 2015, American Pharoah, who was ranked fourth with 160 points, became the first points-era Kentucky Derby winner that wasn't ranked No. 1 in the standings, and since then Nyquist (second), Always Dreaming (sixth) and Justify (ninth) followed. But each hit triple digits.

Relying on this pattern, we can drop more than half of the 2019 Derby field from contention for the win spot. Here's who fits the bill:

1. Tacitus (150)
2. Omaha Beach (137.5)
3. Vekoma (110)
4. Plus Que Parfait (104)
5. Roadster (100)
6. By My Standards (100)
7. Maximum Security (100)

Winning the final prep race

The last horse to score in the Kentucky Derby having not won his final prep was Super Saver in 2010. Before arriving at Churchill Downs, Super Saver finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby and second in the Arkansas Derby. This trend began the following year with Animal Kingdom, and Justify continued it last spring.

A look at our most-recent eight winners and their final prep race before they won the roses:

2011: Animal Kingdom (Spiral Stakes)
2012: I’ll Have Another (Santa Anita Derby)
2013: Orb (Florida Derby)
2014: California Chrome (Santa Anita Derby)
2015: American Pharoah (Arkansas Derby)
2016: Nyquist (Florida Derby)
2017: Always Dreaming (Florida Derby)
2018: Justify (Santa Anita Derby)

In 2019, the seven horses with at least 100 qualifying points also won their final prep. Therefore, we won't trim the list further...yet.
3-year-old perfection

Over the last seven years, beginning with I'll Have Another in 2012, the Kentucky Derby winner entered the starting gate undefeated at age 3.

Nyquist and Justify even left Louisville with an overall unbeaten record. With that accomplishment, they joined an elite club of undefeated Derby winners that includes Big Brown (2008), Barbaro (2006), Smarty Jones (2004), Seattle Slew (1977), Majestic Prince (1969), Morvich (1922) and Regret (1915).

The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby after losing a prep race in his sophomore campaign was Animal Kingdom in 2011. He finished second in an allowance optional claiming race before winning the Spiral Stakes.

Trend losers:

Omaha Beach: 2nd - MSW - Jan. 4
Vekoma: 3rd - Fountain of Youth Stakes - March 2
Plus Que Parfait: 13th - Risen Star Stakes - Feb. 16
By My Standards: 3rd - MSW - Jan. 19


Tacitus 2-2-0-0
Roadster 2-2-0-0
Maximum Security 3-3-0-0

Maxing out at three prep races

Past Derby winners commonly raced four times as sophomores leading up to the Derby, but in recent years, at most three starts has been a more successful maximum. The last Kentucky Derby winner to race four times as a 3-year-old before the first Saturday in May was Smarty Jones in 2004. Since then, the winner has started in either two or three races before the Kentucky Derby.

In 2019, the probable Derby starters with four races this year: Omaha Beach, Long Range Toddy, Country House, and Gray Magician.

Remaining Contenders

Maximum Security

Winning time in final prep

While winning a final prep race has been key over the last several years, so too has been the final time. 
The key to this trend concerning the final prep race is twofold: a winning time under 1:51.00 going a distance of 1 1/8 miles. Even if the Derby winner didn't also win that prep, the final time faster than that mark indicates a competitive race.

Over the last 26 years, there have only been two exceptions, with both of those final preps over a synthetic surface (Street Sense in 2007 and Animal Kingdom in 2011). Because this racing surface is traditionally slower than dirt, it shouldn't be surprising and may even provide variance worth considering with this trend. 

There's also an outlier with this trend. The 1999 Kentucky Derby winner, Charismatic, made the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes his final stop before moving on to claim the roses. But before the Lexington, he ran four in the Santa Anita Derby when the final time for the winner was 1:48.92.

In 2019, four of the six major preps raced at a distance of 1 1/8 miles had a winning time faster than 1:51.00. Note, too, that since safety concerns were addressed at Santa Anita Park, the track has played especially slow.

1. Florida Derby - 1:48.86 (Fast)
2. Louisiana Derby - 1:49.53 (Fast)
3. Arkansas Derby - 1:49.91 (Sloppy)
4. Blue Grass Stakes - 1:50.93 (Fast)
5. Wood Memorial - 1:51.23 (Fast)
6. Santa Anita Derby - 1:51.28 (Fast)

Remaining Contenders: Maximum Security

In conclusion

As we saw last year when Justify became the first Kentucky Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 that did not race as a 2-year-old, trends do come to an end. While some of these patterns are likely remain in play after the 2019 Kentucky Derby, there's one other to note: The favorite has won each points-era Derby, and Omaha Beach doesn't check all the boxes here. Something has to give.

Last year, two starters were able to check all the boxes: Justify and Audible. Even though Maximum Security is the only one left this time, he could be a play against given an easy pace scenario while winning the Florida Derby.

Taking a shot with a complete outlier might not be a bad idea in 2019. From the horses that only checked a few of the trend boxes, I believe Game Winner has the best chance to win. Another outlier that is worth looking at is War of Will.

As for the list of horses that checked at least some of trend boxes, Roadster and Tacitus are the only contenders that could extend four of the five trends into next year should they win the Kentucky Derby.

If Omaha Beach goes off as the top choice, and if he wins the Derby, three of the five key trends will remain in tact -- and he will become the seventh consecutive post time favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.



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About Me

Meet Bryan Brinkmeyer  


Growing up across the river from the Bluegrass State, I was able to spend a lot of summer days at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. It was there that my attraction to the Sport of Kings began. In the spring of 2000, I made my inaugural Kentucky Derby appearance, and the tradition continues annually because there is no other city in the racing world like Louisville, Ky., on Derby Day.

Although the story of a Kentucky Derby winner is legendary, a champion's trail is what The Kentucky Derby Post is all about. It begins when 2-year-olds hit the track & continues until the field is set, the picks are in, and the roses are awarded. 

Twitter: @thederbypost

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