LET IT FLOW: A RacingFlow.com Analysis of This Year’s Derby Prep RacesOne of the most powerful handicapping tools I've come across in recent years are the figures provided by Racing Flow Incorporated. Racing Flow Incorporated(www.racingflow.com) calculates race shape (FLOW) and track bias (BIAS) figures for twenty North American tracks. FLOW and BIAS figures are used to identify runners exiting races in which their running styles were compromised (upgrades) and runners benefitting from ideal conditions (downgrades).
Special to the Twinspires blog, R. Jake Jacobs (bio below) takes a look at this year’s key Derby preps with an eye toward evaluating overall performance based on individual race set-ups. Use this information to upgrade or downgrade horses accordingly as they make their next starts in the Kentucky Derby (G1) or elsewhere.
1/15: Sham Stakes (G3): TAPIZAR took advantage of modestly speed-favoring conditions to win this race, but he was a downgrade for his next start.
2/12: Robert B. Lewis (G2): ANTHONY’S CROSS took advantage of modestly closer-favoring conditions to close from short range.
3/12: San Felipe (G2): Winner PREMIER PEGASUS caught a very favorable FLOW and BIAS, making his effort look better than it was. We had planned to take a strong stand against him in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but fate intervened.
4/9: Santa Anita Derby (G1): MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE won under fair conditions for all running styles; runner-up COMMA TO THE TOP had no FLOW or BIAS excuse for failing late.
1/22: Lecomte (G3): WILKINSON closed a bit of ground under difficult circumstances. We upgraded him for his next start, but he was not up to the task.
2/19: Risen Star (G2): MUCHO MACHO MAN proved best in a race run under fair conditions to all running styles.
3/26: Louisiana Derby (G2): PANTS ON FIRE won fair and square in a race with BIAS and FLOW that were fair to all styles.
2/21: Southwest (G3): This race was run under “fair for all” conditions, and the winner, ARCHARCHARCH, rated kindly.
3/19: Rebel (G2): THE FACTOR won fair and square, as BIAS and FLOW figures say that this contest was also fair to all styles. He was clearly better than this bunch on this day.
4/16: Arkansas Derby (G1): Winner ARCHARCHARCH and runner-up NEHRO took advantage of closer-friendly conditions based primarily on the track BIAS. Notable upgrades in this race go to J P’S GUSTO, DANCE CITY, and SWAY AWAY.
1/30: Holy Bull (G3): DIALED IN was spectacular. Since the Gulfstream Park surface was reconfigured, eighty-two flat-mile races had been run with such a speed-favoring FLOW, and seventy-nine of the winners raced on or within three lengths of the lead at the first call. The three winning exceptions were each four- to six-lengths back after a quarter mile; the chart says DIALED IN was more than ten lengths back. We can recall just two other runners to win their stakes debuts against adverse conditions of this magnitude: Gio Ponti and Zenyatta.
2/26: Fountain of Youth (G2): We didn’t like winner SOLDAT coming into this race, since his previous victory was a wire-to-wire win with a favorable FLOW and BIAS; we liked him less after this one, where he got the identical favorable scenario. All of the others in the field were logical upgrades in their next starts.
3/6: OC 62K/N2X: Winner Equestrio is a 4-year-old, but this race made runner-up DIALED IN an official “double” upgrade, sending us to the Derby (G1) advance pool for a future wager at 11/1.
3/12: Timely Writer: UNCLE MO was as dominant as expected. The surface was modestly closer-friendly (by Gulfstream Park standards), but the race unfolded in a manner tailor-made for the early leader. The less-than-distinguished quality of the field revived memories of War Pass’s initial start at 3-years-old, which preceded a bridge-jumper’s disaster in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
4/3: Florida Derby (G1): DIALED IN won fair and square. It’s interesting to note that his performance was nearly identical to that of Ice Box, who had a similar FLOW/BIAS set-up in this race last year before running second in the Derby (G1). One difference: Julien Leparoux was on the correct side of the photo this year.
3/5: Gotham (G3): We consider this race to have been fair to all running styles. Although STAY THIRSTY overcame a speed-favoring FLOW, he did so on a surface that was modestly closer-friendly.
4/9: Wood Memorial (G1): Going into the race, we had neither upgraded nor downgraded winner TOBY’S CORNER, since he exited the “fair for all” Gotham. Our play, based on the War Pass out-of-the-money scenario mentioned previously, was a show bet on “all but UNCLE MO.” That strategy failed when only two rivals passed him, fortunate indeed for bridge-jumpers the world over.
Contrary to popular opinion, we interpret this race as modestly closer-friendly (the surface modestly favored closers while the FLOW was fair to all)—but the figures are slightly below the level required to give UNCLE MO a complete pass.
3/26: Spiral (G3): Turfway Park has run just thirty-eight races at 9-furlongs since the Polytrack was installed, and this one ranks as the second-most closer-friendly. A strong upgrade goes to DECISIVE MOMENT, who was involved in the running throughout, as opposed to winner ANIMAL KINGDOM, who went last-to-first under ideal conditions.
4/16: Blue Grass (G1): We thought for a moment KING CONGIE would get it done, but stablemate BRILLIANT SPEED passed them all. The FLOW was modestly speed-favoring, but the surface gave a slight advantage to closers. We classify this one as a fairly run contest.
4/9: Illinois Derby (G3): The race was run under conditions fair to all styles, so we won’t be upgrading or downgrading any of the runners, including winner JOE VANN.
R JAKE JACOBS, aka “Senior Plod Boy,” along with Phil Gregoire, is a co-founder of Racing Flow Incorporated. For the past ten years, he has brought his statistics/analytics skills to the study of thoroughbred race dynamics.
Special thanks to Frank R. Scatoni and The HorsePlayer magazine for their assistance with this piece.