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Kentucky Derby 2016

  Handicapping the Kentucky Derby

The first rule about the Kentucky Derby (or any horse race) is that the "favorite" does not always win!  Just because a particular horse is supposed to win, doesn't make it happen.  Afleet Alex was supposed to win, but the long shot, Giacomo won the Derby in a surprise run. Brother Derek was supposed to be a shoe in-- but the magnificent Barbaro was unstoppable. (RIP Barbaro).

It is only natural for a person new to thoroughbred racing to assume that the best horse will win the race. Deciding which horse that might be doesn't seem like too difficult a task. The program is loaded with information to assist them in making that decision. The problem is that while the best horse may win, more often it is another who gets his picture taken in the winner's circle. Were it otherwise Triple Crown winners (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes) would be common rather than being an almost extinct species.

There are many reasons for this phenomena. They have to do with form, tactics, and other matters that those new to racing don't need to understand in order to have a fun day at the races and having fun is the most important thing. Of course, collecting money is much more fun than tearing up tickets so betting a few winners would be very nice. As long as we don't get to greedy that really isn't very difficult.
The first thing that we need to do is admit that we don't know enough about the mysterious "art form" called handicapping to try to decide which horse to bet on our own. We need help, and fortunately help is available in terms of the "tote board". The "win" odds it displays for each horse are based upon how much money has been bet on them. As such, it represents the weighted hopes and fears of all those playing the race. Since they are more experienced than us, the "tote board" is a logical pace to find the help we need.

We could just let the "tote board" do our handicapping and bet the favorite in every race. In all likelihood that would let us cash some tickets. The favorite is usually the most likely horse to win, it does make mistakes. After all, the favorite only wins about 35% of the races. Not all of the losers can be chalked up to legitimate excuses such as bad racing luck. A good plan for those who are new to racing is to back the favorites who deserve to be favored and avoid those who are suspected of being mistakes.

This can be accomplished by following a few simple rules. Back the favorite unless:

1. His jockey hasn't won at least 8-10% of his or her races (overall - not just at the current meet.) We want a capable rider but not necessarily the meet's top rider. The horse's trainer should pass the same test.

2. The race's distance isn't within a sixteenth-of-a-mile (one furlong) of being the same as the distance of the horse's previous race, or a distance at which the horse recently won (or almost won.)

3. The horse's last race was more than 35 days ago.

4. The jockey isn't the same fellow who rode the horse in his last race unless the trainer is switching to a jockey who won (or nearly won) aboard the horse in the past.

Should this process identify a favorite as suspect, we suggest you apply the same tests to the second favorite and so on until a horse to play is found. Some of the horses eliminated will win, of course, but not at the same rate that those who are not eliminated.

This process will eliminate some winners! Those eliminated, however, will not win as often as those who are not eliminated.

Dosage Index

This is by far the most popular way of winnowing out who can make the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles and who can't. A simple explanation is that dosage figures a given contender's distance potential based on stallions from the first 4 generations of that horse's pedigree. It's a genetically-based theory that takes into account not only how well certain ancestors of the horse did, but also how far back in the horse's line they are. Points are awarded for speed and stamina of top-notch horses that often appear in contenders' pedigrees. These super stallions are called "chefs de race." Any horse with a dosage of 4.00 or less is supposed to be able to make the derby distance. So far, since the derby began in 1875, only four winners have had dosages higher than 4.00; however, all of those were relatively recently. They were Strike The Gold in 1991, Real Quiet in 1998, Charismatic in 1999 and Giacomo in 2005. Because of a reclassification of his sire, Strike the Gold would now qualify.

To learn more about dosage, visit the website of the creator of the modern day dosage system .

Dual Qualifiers

Dual qualifiers are those horses that not only have a dosage of 4.00 or less but also are within 10 pounds of the high weight in the Experimental Free Handicap rating. It is based only on races from the contenders' 2-year-old season. The last Dual Qualifier to win the Derby was Silver Charm in 1997. This year's dual qualifiers are Stevie Wonderboy, First Samurai, Brother Derek and Private Vow.


Raise A Native Sire Line

Twelve Derby winners so far had the horse Raise A Native in their sire line, meaning the line of male horses extending back directly from the sire. (In other words, the sire's sire, and his sire, and his sire, etc.)


Juvenile Jinx

So far, no horse who has ever won the Breeders Cup Juvenile has ever won the derby. Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and 2-year-old champion was Stevie Wonderboy.



Only one gelding has won the Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. That was Funny Cide in 2003.



Only three fillies have ever won the Derby, Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988. There are no fillies in this year's field.


Unraced at 2

The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing at age 2 was Apollo in 1882.


3-year-old Preps

The last horse to win without more than 2 prep races at age 3 was Sunny's Halo in 1983.

Also, the vast majority had at least a third place finish in their last prep, but last year Giacomo went on to win the Derby after having been 4th in his previous race.

No horse has won the Derby without a race four weeks or fewer before it since Needles in 1956. Horses attempting it this year are High Fly and Noble Causeway.


Muscle Power

This is the theory the great Marvin Stone taught years ago. The problem with it is that it works best when the horses are observed in the Derby post parade, and that's a little too late if you want to place a bet at the track. It's simple enough. Just look at the flank muscles on the horse while he/she is walking. Do you see a ripple effect? Do the muscles there appear bigger, more well-toned than those of the other horses? Is the coat shiny and does the horse appear fit? Of course, this theory is very subjective, but from what I can see, it may work the best in judging how a horse will do that day.



This is a common sense predictor, but it can only be used immediately before the Derby. Churchill Downs on Derby Day is a place full of commotion. Horses are many times upset by the crowd. They skitter sideways in the post parade or just in the walk over from the paddock. They often have trouble loading in the starting gate. Obviously, a horse with his mind on the crowd does not have his mind on racing. Also, a horse who uses up his energy in nervous tension before the race doesn't have as much when the race actually begins.


LH-X (Large Heart) Factor

This is a relatively new theory based on the book The X Factor published in 1997 and available at . In a nutshell, it says certain horses have a mutant gene that creates unusually large hearts (Secretariat's was estimated at 22 lbs. when the normal weight is about 8 lbs. for example) and that this gene appears to be sex-linked through the X chromosome. This means all of a large-hearted sire's daughters and none of his sons will have the gene. The daughters will pass them down to a statistical 50% of both sexes of their progeny. The percentage chance a given horse has this gene is then cut in half by each successive generation, following the X chromosome. Horses who could have a gene passed down to them from a large-hearted sire in his/her pedigree are said to have "roads" to those horses. For those who wish to find out more, check out Pedigree Query.


Beyer Speed Figures

Beyers are numbers invented by Washington Post turf columnist Andrew Beyer as a way to compare how fast different horses are on different tracks on different days. The higher the number, the speedier the horse is supposed to be. These numbers may change drastically for a horse from race to race as the horse gets fitter (and thus faster) or has problems.


Good luck!


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