That figures: 3 Derby horses poised to out-run their numbers

April 30, 2019 08:42am
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Handicapping races by blindly picking the top speed figure will not work out in the long run. Too many other variables are present to make that a viable strategy. But of course, speed figures remain important, and the bigger picture gets lost at times as bettors become too attached to specific numbers. 

When it comes to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, there is no one dominant speed figure horse on any scale, be it Beyer, TimeformUS or Brisnet. This fact makes lower figures more forgivable, as the difference in talent from top to bottom is smaller. A couple of fringe contenders who had excuses recently or are lightly raced can move forward and pop a big number.

Below, I'll focus on three Derby contenders who ran low speed figures last time on the TimeformUS scale but are still capable of winning Saturday's race at Churchill Downs.

As a helpful note, the two highest last-out TimeformUS Speed Figures belong to Omaha Beach and Tax, who both ran a 121 in their final prep. 

Code of Honor
Last TimeformUS figure: 109

For those who use Beyer Speed Figures, a 109 on the TimeformUS scale roughly equals an 89 Beyer. That is a low speed figure to accept when trying to sort out Derby win contenders. But Code of Honor's effort in the Florida Derby (G1) is forgivable if factoring in the sluggish pace.

Pace setter Maximum Security ran a slow fraction at every point, opening in 24.42 and continuing in 48.98, 1:12.90 and 1:36.34.

When the fractions are slow, it usually depresses the speed figures because the chance of a slow final time becomes higher. In this case, Maximum Security drew off to victory and still managed a 116 on TimeformUS.

But the closers never got an opportunity to show their best run, making their numbers unusable on any scale. Code of Honor is capable of better, as he earned a 118 in the Fountain of Youth (G2) -- albeit closing into with a fast pace.

Furthermore, eighth-place finisher Harvey Wallbanger ran a 101 and returned in the Lexington Stakes (G3) with a 104. Also, the 10th-place horse Garter and Tie went from a 100 in this spot to a 106 in the Roar Stakes.

It is possible Code of Honor will not enjoy running longer given his damside family appears sprint-oriented, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt.


Last TimeformUS figure: 113

Bob Baffert’s highly touted Roadster is hard to make a case for on TimeformUS, as he enjoyed a nice trip while winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and only ran a 113. The pace was moderate, and his paths were clear.

Roadster saved ground on the first turn and then continued on a few lengths behind the pace on the far side. Once the field approached the second turn, he oddly began to lose contact, but re-engaged and circled the field.

Visually, Roadster ran an impressive race, even with the clear trip.

Is it really possible Roadster is only capable of a 113? The second-place finisher Game Winner earned a 118 one start earlier in the Rebel Stakes (G2) when getting nosed out by the expected Derby favorite Omaha Beach.

Gut instinct says Roadster is capable of a higher speed figure. With only two starts, he can register a huge number in his third start off the bench.

Plus, Roadster does own tactical speed, although he seemed to forget he did for a few seconds in the Santa Anita Derby. But his previous races show him sitting second or third, which might equal sixth or seventh in the Derby.

As a final point, Baffert thinks highly of this horse. The speed figures don't yet equal the trainer’s enthusiasm, but they are an indication of what Roadster has done, not what he's capable of doing.

War of Will
Last TimeformUS figure: 104

Here is a colt who owns more than one figure that appears alarmingly low on the TimeformUS scale. The last one is easily forgivable, though.

Rather than display his usual pressing speed, War of Will lost his footing at the start of the Louisiana Derby (G2) and settled in mid-pack, about four or five lengths off the leader. The odd incident put him in an unfamiliar position and he did not adapt too well, showing no interest late.

Perhaps the jockey took it easy on War of Will after he realized they could not win. After all, War of Will already owned enough qualifying points.

Therefore, the 104 he earned on TimeformUS for finishing ninth is one handicappers should toss, as War of Will is clearly capable of a better figure.

He won both the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and Risen Star Stakes (G2) with a 110.

In the latter race, it is also interesting to point out that War of Will finished in 1:44.59. Earlier in the card, By My Standards ran in 1:45.04 for the same distance, while earning a 103 on TimeformUS. In his next start, By My Standards won the Louisiana Derby after a good inside trip with a 117. 

It is also great to see trainer Mark Casse working War of Will fast, as he fired a bullet 59 flat in his April 13 workout at Keeneland. Fast works are preferable to slow works approaching the Derby because the pace is fast, even if slower than normal compared to other editions.

If War of Will uses that speed to secure a pressing position, he might have a chance at a nice price.

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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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