• And the Kentucky Derby Winner Is…

    POSTED May 1, 2012

    Thanks in large part to Ed Fountaine, I broke my Kentucky Derby handicapping maiden in 1984, the year that Swale gave Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr. his first — and only — garland of roses.

    So, who is Ed Fountaine, some of you may be asking?

    Well, Fountaine was — and still is, for that matter — a turf writer for the NY Post. And, every year (or so it seemed), he published a system for selecting the Derby winner in “American Turf Monthly,” a magazine devoted to convincing horseplayers that handicapping can be broken down to a few simple rules and an insufficient workout of past plays. I’m kidding about that latter bit, of course, but there’s no denying that ATM loves its angles and methods.

    Fountaine’s system was a perfect example. It awarded points to Kentucky Derby entrants based on a host of criteria that the veteran scribe deemed to be important — and it was that criteria that pointed me to Swale in 1984.

    Of course, the older and wiser I got, the more dubious I became of this kind of “race-ial” profiling, especially since Fountaine’s standards seemed to change every year. In ‘84, for example, he allotted 30 points to the winner of the Arkansas Derby; the year before, the victor got squat. Is it merely a coincidence that Sunny’s Halo captured the 109th Run for the Roses after first triumphing in Hot Springs?

    Still, there’s no denying that systems like Fountaine’s are a lot of fun, so in April of 2009 I decided to join the party by producing “Simon’s Historical Investment Technique” for the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, the method lived down to its acronym in the 2009 Run for the Roses, but I re-tooled it the following spring and, voila, Super Saver proved that my Simon’s Historical Investment Technique doesn’t stink, as he won the Derby just like the method predicted he would.

    Unfortunately, last year’s results were back in the toilet, but I’m confident that this year things will be different. Below are the top system contenders for the 2012 Kentucky Derby:

    1st: Daddy Nose Best
    2nd: Union Rags
    3rd: El Padrino
    4th: Sabercat

    Best of luck to you all and remember: it pays to know your Simon’s Historical Investment Technique on the first Saturday in May.


    (Click on image to enlarge)
    One horse that I’ve recently warmed up to is Gemologist, the undefeated Tiznow colt trained by Todd Pletcher. Although I rated him highly in my Kentucky Derby Betting Guide, I was still on the fence as to whether or not I would use him on Derby Day. After his early morning drill at Palm Meadows on Sunday, however, I think he has to be played (if the odds warrant it, of course).

    Gemologist worked four furlongs in company with last year’s Demoiselle champ, Disposablepleasure, in 50.49 seconds.

    Granted, on the surface, a half-mile in 50+ seconds is hardly worth writing home about, but that clocking was 1.27 seconds quicker than the next-fastest four-furlong drill on the tab. And there were some pretty decent animals stretching their legs at Palm Meadows on Sunday, including probable Kentucky Oaks favorite Grace Hall, Grade I winner Brilliant Speed and stakes winners Turbo Compressor and Alma d’Oro.

    True, workout times are not the same as race times and Gemologist worked before a second wave of rain showers made the track even gooier, but I was still impressed by the improvement the Winstar Farm colt showed since his last appearance at Palm Meadows on April 20; couple that with the stellar record that undefeated horses have in the Derby (see chart above) and Gemologist looks like a top contender.


    Last week, in a column entitled “Post One Poppycock,” I produced a host of statistics refuting the claim that the no. 1 post position is a Kentucky Derby death sentence.

    With the passion and persistence of Dr. Seuss’ Sam-I-Am, I showed that in small fields or large, present day or past, horses drawing the rail performed just as well — if not better — than their opponents. Then, I sat back with a contented smile on my face and waited for the appreciative e-mails and you-saved-me-from-drowning-in-my-own-ignorance comments to start flooding in.

    But they didn’t.

    Instead, even my own colleague, Ed DeRosa, took issue with my findings.

    “If there are 20 horses in the gate then the one hole is a tremendous handicap,” Ed insisted. “It's INSIDE the inside rail. Yes, there might be some melodrama involved in how much it impacts a horse and what affect it should have on a horse's price (especially depending on other variables like his running style and who is to his outside), but it's absolutely a terrible draw.”

    Others argued that there hadn’t been a Derby winner from post one since Ferdinand in 1986 and that many rail runners had gotten nightmarish trips.

    I’ll address the latter points first.

    Since 1986, the Derby has averaged 17.6 entrants, which means the expected success rate for any single post position is approximately 5.6 percent. Hence, the chance of the one hole (or any other position in the gate, for that matter) going winless for 25 years is 23.2 percent — four times greater than the expected win rate.

    With this in mind, is it any surprise that post position one isn’t the only 25-year maiden? In the past quarter-century, posts two, nine and 12 are 0-for-25, post 14 is 0-for-24, post 17 is 0-for-18, post 18 is 0-for-15 and post 19 is 0-for-12.

    As to the claim that the rail horse is destined for a rough trip… well, not from what I witnessed. I watched replays of the last 10 Derbies and here’s what I saw:

    2011: Although the official chart notes that Archarcharch “steadied early,” I defy anybody to watch the overhead replay and point out where this supposed steadying took place — and, if it did take place and I need to have a serious talk with my Lasik surgeon, how much did it really affect the stretch-running colt? Frankly, the horse had a dream trip and, regrettably, got hurt.

    2010: There’s no denying that Lookin At Lucky had a horrendous trip, but the bulk of his trouble occurred when Paddy O’Prado bulled his way through the field and herded Stately Victor into the favorite’s path nearing the one-mile pole, which would have happened to any horse in jockey Kent Desormeaux’s path that day. And, frankly, such rough riding incidents will probably continue given that only two horses in Derby history have ever been disqualified — just one for a racing-related incident (Gate Dancer for lugging out and bothering Fali Time in 1984).

    2009: West Side Bernie’s biggest obstacle was not the one hole, but his lack of speed.

    2008: Cool Coal Man had a perfect trip; he simply wasn’t good enough.

    2007: Sedgefield, a horse that wound up winning exactly two lifetime races — both on grass — finished a very respectable fifth, thanks in part to a rail-hugging run from post one.

    2006: Jazil broke inward — the one thing you can’t do when starting from the rail — yet still managed to recover and close ground late, eventually finishing in a dead heat for fourth with Brother Derek.

    2005: Another perfect trip that the overmatched Sort It Out, whose Derby credentials included an allowance score and a win in the ungraded Whirlaway, was unable to take advantage of.

    2004: Outside of steadying slightly entering the first turn, Limehouse had a dream run, finishing fourth at 41-1.

    2003: Supah Blitz actually caused more trouble than he endured, veering out at the start and causing Brancusi to bump with Atswhatimtalknbout.

    2002: BC Juvenile winner Johannesburg had a tough trip… but only because he entered the Kentucky Derby off of one seven-furlong prep — on the lawn — and seemed ill-prepared to go 10 furlongs.

    Now, let’s tackle the position of the gate. While it may appear that the rail juts out into the path of the one-horse, the truth is any hindrance the inner rail causes is mild at most. To prove my point, I offer Exhibit A — an aerial view of the start of the 2008 Run for the Roses, which featured a full field of 20 horses.

    Start of the 2008 Kentucky Derby
     (Click on image to enlarge)

    Notice all the room to the inside of the rail horse, Cool Coal Man — more than enough to accommodate for the gentle curve of the turn. However, for those who won’t believe something until they see it with their own eyes, I offer the actual video of the start of the 2008 Derby.

    Hopefully, this puts the “post one is Derby death” talk to a rest… at least until next year.


    05/04/12 Churchill Downs Win Factor Report
    05/04/12 Churchill Downs Pace Profile Report
    05/05/12 Churchill Downs Win Factor Report (with fair $1 exacta prices) 
    05/05/12 Churchill Downs Pace Profile Report 


    Among the interesting bets on Oaks/Derby weekend is the Kentucky Oaks-Woodford Reserve-Kentucky Derby pick-3. Below is my take on the sequence:

    Kentucky Oaks
    05/04/12 Churchill Downs (race 11)

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    I know, I know, Grace Hall is the best filly of all-time and a lock in some people’s minds to win the Oaks. I agree that she’s very talented, but like I said on my podcast, I’m not sure she’ll offer any value in this spot and I’m very concerned about her last race.

    After recording a 104 Brisnet speed figure (the Oaks par is 102) and -3 late speed ration (LSR) while finishing a close second in the Davona Dale on Feb. 25, Grace Hall regressed in the Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 31. Despite winning that Grade II affair by 6 ½ lengths, the Richard Dutrow-trained filly earned a 101 BSF and — most alarming — a relatively weak -10 LSR. This is reminiscent of last year’s Oaks favorite Joyful Victory, who followed up a smashing win in the Honeybee with a ho-hum score in the Fantasy that earned a -11 LSR.

    Joyful Victory finished fourth.

    I think Grace Hall is a contender — this edition of the Oaks doesn’t appear to be very deep (nothing like last year) — but she’s no cinch.

    Two with reasonable chances to upset the likely favorite are On Fire Baby, who is a perfect 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs and has reportedly been training great, and Karlovy Vary, who ran deceptively well in her only try on dirt over this track in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes on Nov. 26.

    Despite a five-wide trip that day, Karlovy Kary rallied into a slow pace on the turn only to tire late. She’s better now and the pace figures to be much more to her liking.

    Hard Not To Like also deserves a look at a big price.

    Contenders: 1, 2, 5, 11.
    Suggested Plays: WIN on 1 at odds of 7-2 or greater and/or WIN on 11 at odds of 10-1 or greater.

    Woodford Reserve
    05/05/12 Churchill Downs (race 10)

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    It’s tough no to like last year’s hard-luck BC Mile runner-up Turallure in this spot, as he always seems to give his best — especially in races featuring large fields and an honest pace. When Turallure has faced at least nine opponents, he has never been out of the money, with four wins, three seconds and two thirds from nine lifetime starts.

    If the favorite does get beat, however (and veteran handicappers know there is a thin line between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat on turf), there are three that I think are most likely to get the job done:

    * Doubles Partner – This guy had a tough trip last time, but still recorded a 98 BSF and +2 LSR.

    * Data Link – Son of War Front got the best of both Turallure and Doubles Partner last time at Keeneland and has every right to do so again.

    * Papaw Bodie – If a “Bodie” wins at Churchill Downs on Saturday, I’m hoping it’s this one. Yeah, he’s an outsider at 30-1 on the morning line, but his April 1 race at Fair Grounds was much better than it looks on paper. Not only did the son of Strong Hope record a 102 BSF and +1 LSR in that April Fool’s Day event, but the race itself earned a 6.7 Key Race Rating, meaning it was a particularly good Grade II affair.

    Contenders: 2, 6, 7, 11.
    Suggested Plays: WIN on 2 at odds of 5-2 or greater and/or WIN/PLACE on 11 at odds of 12-1 or greater. 

    Kentucky Derby
    05/05/12 Churchill Downs (race 11)

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    I wrote extensively about the horses I like — and why — in my 2012 Kentucky Derby Betting Guide, which is available through Brisnet.com for just $10. The only horse I subsequently feel I shortchanged in that analysis is Gemologist and I rectified that situation above.

    Hence, my final top four win contenders for the 2012 Run for the Roses (and their fair odds) stand as follows:

    16-El Padrino (8-1 fair odds)
    4-Union Rags (9-2)
    10-Daddy Nose Best (8-1)
    15-Gemologist (8-1)

    Suggested Plays: WIN on any/all final contenders at or above their fair odds.

     (Click on image to enlarge)

    royhobbs said...

    Thanks for that Post 1 information. The overhead view is interesting. The head-on shot, for all recent Derbies, seems to show the starting gate "behind" the rail (i.e., it takes a couple of seconds to reach the rail). But the overhead certainly doesn't show the same thing. Maybe it's not a big disadvantage for a horse who breaks well and who has decent early speed, such as Cool Coal Man.

    But I'm not going to ignore the fact that there's only been one winner from Post 1 since 1963 (when JFK was president and when a cell phone was something that prisoners wished they had). Additionally, no horse has even finished in the money from Post 1 since Ferdinand's 1986 win.

    My picks are Creative Cause, Gemologist, and El Padrino (unless, of course, one of them gets Post 1!!).

    Derek Simon said...

    Ha, ha. Roy, if one of those horses wins -- from post one -- you're going to need a doctor to extract your foot from... well, someplace it shouldn't be (LOL).

    Seriously, though, have a great Derby. I've enjoyed the debate.

    royhobbs said...

    Thanks! I'm praying three times a day until the post-position draw.

    royhobbs said...

    Kent Desormeaux, winner of three Ky Derbies had this to say today about the post-position draw:

    “That would be a good idea,” he said of getting Dullahan off the rail at the outset of the 1 1/4-mile race, so he doesn’t have to fight to avoid being trapped inside the large field. “The 1 stall is almost inside the turn. You have to make a right to get out of there. The positioning for the 1 hole is, you’re already getting shut out. I like to be able to float to my spot on my own.”

    Derek Simon said...

    LOL. Watch Desormeaux's ride on Paddy O'Prado. If that's his definition of "floating to a spot," I'd hate to see him in an aggressive mode. "Paddy" should have been DQ'd.

    IanLozada said...

    I find it more than a little odd that you didn't talk about your picks or reasoning at all.

    PTP said...


    Stop it!

    Despite the numbers, the fancy math, the unassailable logic, post one sucks.



    PTP said...

    PS: It'll be said that post one sucks 47 times this weekend, from people who bet Calvin down to 10-1 on Comma to the Top, a lady in a pink hat that's never been to the races, trainers who could not handicap their way out of a 40/60 odds coin flip, and a few NBC commentators.

    That trumps your stuff like a gazillion to one.

    Just live it and take it all in.


    Derek Simon said...

    LOL PTP.

    Ian, I provided in-depth analysis in the Derby Betting Guide (http://www.brisnet.com/cgi-bin/special_reps.cgi) that I put out.

    I will also delve into the Derby on my podcast (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/twinspires/2012/05/02/twinspires-horse-racing-podcast-wderek-simon) this week (live at 1pm ET on May 2 and archived thereafter).

    Anonymous said...



    Anonymous said...

    Here's my take..have enjoyed the lead up Derek/Ed, keep up the good work.

    Easy Part; Order/Selections!

    A+,Bodemeister, possibly by daylight!
    B+,DaddyNose, Gemol
    C-X,DaddyLong?,Hansen,El Padrino,WentDay, RousingSerm, Sabercat.
    X,Trinniberg, Liasion, Optimizer, Prospective, Done Talking.

    HardPart; how to bet them!
    Have a few fixed at $21(Bode,Gem,Dull,DNose $28) so will let them ride. Will be laying off some also at $21 (Alpha/CC/IHA) and using them as savers only/using that win money to bet some deep trifectas without those 3 on top. See the tri paying say $600min, $900par, $2800max.

    Good luck to all. SB

    PTP said...

    When Daddy Long Legs drew the rail this year, I think the rail was the one who was pissed.


    Derek Simon said...

    Ha, ha. Sadly, Daddy Long Legs was my top pick, but now I make him 99-1 ;).

    royhobbs said...

    None of the contenders should be compromised by their post positions. Thank god!! My top two picks are Creative Cause and Gemologist. But excellent prices will be had on El Padrino, Daddy Knows Best, and Went the Day Well.

    There's a fair chance of an off track on Saturday. Union Rags and El Padrino are the only ones with slop wins. Of the five sloppy or muddy Derby tracks since 1989, four of the winners had previously won in the slop or mud. Only Mine That Bird didn't have an off-track win, and he had raced only on fast tracks.

    Derek Simon said...

    "Of the five sloppy or muddy Derby tracks since 1989, four of the winners had previously won in the slop or mud. Only Mine That Bird didn't have an off-track win, and he had raced only on fast tracks."

    Good stuff, Roy. Not surprisingly (LOL), I love stats like this.

    royhobbs said...

    Thanks, Derek. I can't wait for the race. We're so overdue for a star.

    Anonymous said...

    Hi fellows

    Has anybody a link to see the race from abroad US?


    Derek Simon said...

    Anonymous, I don't outside of getting a TwinSpires account (if that's possible for you).

    I'd try to tape it and post it to my Facebook Wall for you... but I'm concerned someone would post something about the result in the meantime.

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks Derek

    You´re a very nice person.

    Derek Simon said...

    Sorry this took so long. Click or copy and paste the link below to watch the race:


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