Kentucky Derby Polytrack Preps: Fact vs Opinion

Every 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 Kentucky Derby. Animal 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.

Although 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 Keeneland as their final prep races before traveling to Churchill Downs.

As you may recall, 2007 was the year of an exciting photo finish in the Bluegrass Stakes. Long-shot Dominican ran the race of his life to beat the favorite Street 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.

Dominican, 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.

Meanwhile, 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).

In 2008 none of the top three finishers in the Spiral or Bluegrass Stakes finished closer than ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

2009 - 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.

In 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.

2011 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.

Bluegrass 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 finish fifth.

Dullahan_Bluegrass_StakesLast year Dullahan, 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.

That 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.

Not 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 runners (9%).

So 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.

Bottom 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 up sloppy.


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby Polytrack Preps: Fact vs Opinion...

That was a knee slapper, Jay. You've made funnier jokes before, though. Today you, Lisa, and SSilence made my ass laughed off.... Yep, hard core. @Dish. I apologize, but I'm not a fan. I have xfinity. I do like your posts though :).
  • Dish411 · I see there's a bunch of comediens here. I have a sense of humor. It's cool. Not the founder of dish networks, but I do my homework in this sport and not afraid to dish it out! And by the way, I'm also a great cook! · 1667 days ago
Hahaha. Or did you make the 411th plate? Just kidding. Just kidding. I know it was stupid. :)
Were you the founder of Dish networks, Dish411?
I like your 411, Dish.
Great points, Dish. 100% agree. "like" on your comment.
So many factors will play into this race - conditions, speed, stamina, pedigree, post positions, jockey, etc. The one factor to avoid, is being brainwashed by all the info in the morning paper. It's enough to change your mind, and play someone else's card. Do your handicapping yourself and stick to your pick. Good luck!
Makes little difference really. With the 20 horse field and extra 1/8 mile it's the Kentucky Crapshoot. Last year two contenders got taken out because they got crunched in the bunch, CC, and UR.
Included in the title of this thread is "Fact vs. Opinion". Fact-Street Sense has never won on synthetic; fact-Hard Spun defeated Street Sense at Turfway, three months AFTER the Triple Crown had been run; Fact - Pioneer of the Nile was the ONLY horse from Santa Anita's synthetic track to hit the board. Colonel John ran up the track in the Derby, but later in the year would win the Travers Stakes. There are many reasons for those to back the purpose of synthetic. I believe, in a lot of cases, they are valid, when it comes to the well being of the horse. But, I, as a handicapper, will continue to look elsewhere when handicapping the Ky Derby. I know that Animal Kingdom had won, after running at Turfway, and, possibly, one will eventually win the Derby after prepping in the Blue Grass. As will the UAE Derby winner. But, I'll continue to roll the dice against them. Best of luck to all.
Pioneer of the Nile was 2nd in the Derby in 2009 off polytrack
20 colts trying a distance none have ever done before IS, in fact, different from a run of the mill race.
You should lookout for horses coming from the Arkansas Derby because almost every time they hit the board at Derby.
Ultimately, and this is not hard to understand, people MAKE handicapping this race far too difficult as they elevate it to some mythicaly standard, when, it is in fact, no different, in logic, to a Wednesday afternoon maiden claimer. The big diffences are in the parimutuel approaches to the contest.
There are MANY unifying concepts in the majority of Derby winners, always has been.
oh my gosh, what drivel
Also, calling Animal Kingdom an exception. I think pretty much every Derby winner is some sort of exception.
ajump, I agree. I think Polytrack is successful as far as Derby preps. Look at the Bluegrass's record, and then the Wood's. It's amazing! Regardless of Hard Spun and Street Sense being a dirt horse or not, they were runners on Poly and when they came off it they were good runners in the TC. It seems to me like you're trying to make a case against Poly and supporting it using botched information.
Well animal Kingdom prepper on Poly and won at Churchill, Dullahan won the Blue Grass and finished a close 3rd at Churchill, and Uncaptured won a few stakes races at Woodbine and won twice at Churchill. I don't think there is a real issue using the poly tracks as preps, or that the poly form won't transfer over cause it does to a point.
The logic of calling Hard Spun a "dirt horse" is flawed. He beat Street Sense over the poly, infact was undefeated over it. Also, his progeny have shown great versatility to perform well over turf and I'm sure he would have if he had spent more time over either surfaces. AND, Dullahan and Paddy O' Prado (who didn't run bad at all in one of the stronger Classic field of the century) showed strong performances over the surface sloppy or not. These races aren't gonna produce the best every year, but in 5 years they account for 2 winners and 5 horses in the money (I count that being one horse in the money per year on average).
Why were Hard Spun and Street Sense not included?

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