• ‘Key’ Derby Preps

    POSTED Mar 23, 2013
    About this time last year, I unveiled a method of determining “key races” that didn’t require one to spend months in limbo waiting for horses to return to the racetrack. The term “key race,” some of you will remember, was originally used by handicapping author Steve Davidowitz to describe a race with an inordinate number of next-out winners — the logic being that such events are probably stronger than their classification indicates.

    The problem, which I pointed out in The 'Key Race' and Havre Disgrace, is that “by the time an event can confidently be deemed a Key Race it has lost its value as a predictive tool.”

    “After all,” I note, “what good is it to discover a particularly strong race after half a dozen horses have already won their next start?”

    Hence, I offered the following formula to rate the strength of a given field:

    A) Using the result chart from a horse’s last race, find the median finishing position for all the entrants in their prior race. This information can be found in the leftmost column following the (abbreviated) track name. For example, by examining the chart below, one will discover that On Lockdown finished fifth in his last race, which was run at Oaklawn Park (OP) on March 15, 2012.

    Note: For those who don’t have kids in school, the median is simply the middle value of an ordered array of numbers. If the array is even, it is the average of the two values closest to the middle. 

    B) Divide the number of entrants, or the field size, by the figure obtained above to get the Key Race Rating.

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    CAUTION: Keep in mind that we are looking for strong — or weak — races at a specified class level. The Key Race Rating is not a measurement of overall talent. Just because a Grade I affair earned, say, a 2.3 KRR does not mean it was inferior to $10,000 claiming affair that earned a 9.0 KRR.

    This new method of assessing Key Races has proven to be especially helpful in evaluating Kentucky Derby prep events. Since 1997 (as far back as I could get reliable charts), no winner of the Run for the Roses has exited a prep with a Key Race Rating of less than 3.0.

    In 2008 this group of preps included the Illinois Derby (2.3 KRR), Spiral Stakes (2.8) and Wood Memorial (2.3) — a trio of stakes that produced seven (35 percent) of the 20 Derby starters that year.

    Yet among Denis of Cork (Illinois Derby), Tale of Ekati (Wood), Recapturetheglory (Illinois Derby), Adriano (Spiral), Z Humor (Illinois Derby), Anak Nakal (Wood) and Court Vision (Wood) only the former, who finished third, managed to hit the board in Louisville.

    So far in 2013, there have been two weak preps (less than 3.0 KRR) and a couple of very strong ones, as the following chart attests to:

    (Click on image to enlarge)
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