The Brock Talk

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Pursuit of the Kentucky Derby Formula

Is there a formula for winning the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1)?

Certainly, there is no proven recipe for breeders to produce a Kentucky Derby winner. The last ten Kentucky Derby winners have been sired by nine different stallions. The Maria’s Mon is the only stallion during that span to have sired two winners having sired 2001 Derby winner Monarchos and last year’s winner Super Saver. That in itself put Maria’s Mon (photo right) on an elite list with only 18 other stallions that have produced more than one Kentucky Derby winner. Before Maria’s Mon, the most recent stallions with two Derby winners were Alydar (Alysheba, 1987, Strike The Gold, ’91) and Halo (Sunny’s Halo, ’83 and Sunday Silence, ’89). Falsetto, Virgil, Sir Gallahad III and Bull Lea all sired three Kentucky Derby winners with others stallions with two.

On the bottom side of the last ten Derby winnering pedigrees, only Dixieland Band is listed on as the dam’s sire on more than one. The former Lane’s End stallion sired Regal Band, the dam of Monarchos; and Street Sense's mother Bedazzle.

There is no Kentucky Derby winning map for owners either. Owners spent some $400 million on yearling’s at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton Company public yearling auctions in 2008 in search of a 2010 Kentucky Derby winner. The next year they spent an addition $64 million on two-year-olds in training at three additional Fasig-Tipton Sales Florida, Maryland and Texas. Unfortunately for all of them, the eventual winner of the 2010 Kentucky Derby would be the home-bred Super Saver – bred and raised by his owners at their WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky.

Since creating his Godolphin Stable in 1992, perhaps no one has invested more money in thoroughbred horse racing than Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He has been among the leading buyers at nearly every major thoroughbred auction in the world, spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Sheikh Mohammed also has major racing operations in Europe, North America, Japan and in his home of Dubai, UAE. His Darley has become a massive international breeding operation with farms in Kentucky, England, Dubai, Japan and Australia. Since 1992, Sheikh Mohammed has owned or was in partnership on nine Kentucky Derby starters. His best finish has be sixth with China Bowl in 2000. Money can't buy you love or a Kentucky Derby winner.

What about trainers then? Surely there must be a plan that works well for the conditioners. No, but there seems to at least be some clues. Since Lil E. Tee won the Kentucky Derby in 1992, every Derby winner has shared at least three criteria. They all raced as a two-year and had won their first race by January of their 3-year-old year. At times, the third principal is out of the trainer’s control. But every winner of those 19 Kentucky Derbies has a sharp race, (defined as finishing fourth or better and within five lengths or less lengths from the winner) in their start just previous to the Kentucky Derby.

There have been some other guidelines met by nearly all of the previous 19 Kentucky Derby winners, but not quite. Since 1992, only 1997 Derby winner Silver Charm did not run in a two-turn race by February of his 3-year-old year. Only Mine That Bird (2010) and War Emblem (2002) had not recorded at least a 90 Beyer Speed Figure before February and only Funny Cide (2003) and Sea Hero (1993) had not been first or second in a two-turn race by March.

Between Lil E. Tee in 1992 and Barbaro in 2006, every Kentucky Derby winner had at least three starts before the Derby during their three-year-old year. Since then, Street Sense (‘07), Big Brown (‘08), Mine That Bird and Super Saver, came to Churchill Downs in consecutive years with only two starts in their respective sophomore campaigns.

During the last four years, Calvin Borel seems to have the jockey secret down. The rail-hugging Borel has now won three of the last four Kentucky Derbies with Street Sense, Mine That Bird and Super Saver. In the last 19 years, only Kent Desormeaux (photo left) has won the Derby three times winning with Real Quiet (1989) Fusaichi Pegasus (2001) and Big Brown. Gary Stevens won three Kentucky Derbies going back to his first aboard Winning Colors in 1988. Since, he won the Run for the Roses with Thunder Gulch (’95) and Silver Charm (’97).

Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack have the record for most Kentucky Derby wins with five each while Bill Shoemaker has four. Arcaro won with Lawrin, Whirlaway, Hoop Jr., Citation and Hill Gail between 1938 and 1952. Hartack won the Iron Liege, Venetian Way, Decidedly, Northern Dancer and Majestic Prince from 1957 through ’69. Shoemaker won with Swaps, Tomy Lee, Lucky Debonair and Ferdinand from 1955 through 1986.

There are no paths, plans or recipes that can guarantee a Kentucky Derby winner. Watching the gut wrenching decisions of owners and trainers to withdraw horses like Toby’s Corner, The Factor and To Honor and Serve to name a few, illustrates that getting to the Kentucky Derby is a monumental task. And if plans existed and were flawlessly executed, the pull of a bad pill at the post position draw or a second, third, or fourth bump in the first half-mile of the race can shatter all plans and flawless executions.

Perhaps that is what makes it the most exciting two minutes in sports.


Net Esportes said...

I'm hoping very much for Calvin Borel, he had to have the formula!

Brock Sheridan said...

Certainly Calvin Borel now has the credentials. His riding style of staying inside and negotiating through traffic or hoping for a fortuitous opening can be troublesome.

You have to like Calvin Borel on any level though.

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