You've heard me say it at least once each year in a post, "pace makes the race." You correctly guess the pace scenario and you have a huge advantage in cashing tickets at the window. I could not have been further off from my pace analysis than this year's Derby since I expected a moderate to slow pace based on previous split times. And my early bias against Orb's pre-Florida Derby races also cost me from having him in my win spot in exotic bets, but I would never have included Golden Soul for second so I don't feel so bad. The excuses (err... explanations) are as follows;
1) Rogue speed - Palace Malice. Todd Pletcher will tell you it was the addition of blinkers that caused PM to run away from Mike Smith with suicidal fractions. Mike Smith will tell you he broke on a flyer and couldn't restrain him. Conspiracy bloggers will tell you it was Pletcher instructing Smith to be the rabbit to set up Revolutionary's late run. But this would compromise Verrazano's chances and would mean pissing off (and possibly being fired by) his best clients, Dogwood Stable and Lets Go Racing Stable. So that is not plausible either. Perhaps it is a little of each of the above that sent Palace Malice on a suicide mission but the fact that he still finished mid-pack beaten "only" 13 lengths back (Falling Sky was officially 53 lengths behind) tells me that somebody screwed this horse out of a top 3 finish with those insane fractions. And it also depleted his racing tank such that he will not run back in the Preakness in two weeks, which could have been his best spot.
2) Sealed "sloppy" track. If any of you have ever been down near the track when it is sealed you will recall the dense packing and thud of hooves when horses travel over the off track. It actually allows for quicker foot action and speed in the short-run. Think of running across a grassy field versus track - no give in the track allows for quicker times whereas your foot sinks into the ground when running cross country. But in the long-run it creates more fatigue on a horse. I would say the 10 furlong distance of The Derby qualifies as long-run having a detrimental effect on any horse close to the front on Saturday. Bottom line is that 4 of the top 5 placed-horses only had one horse beat after 6 furlongs, and that was Java's War who missed the break and was out of contention from the start. The lone exception was Normandy Invasion, who was in 6th place only 5 lengths off the pace. Look at his DRF chart and you will note that any typical year he is in the winning position at that point of the race but instead he finishes a tiring 4th. But certainly this was an atypically run Derby.
3) Palace Malice's breakaway speed caused a chain reaction of the other speed-oriented horses (Goldencents, Falling Sky, Verrazano, Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday) chasing him down and kept the swift fractions going each successive quarter mile until the race unraveled at the mile point and final 10 furlong time. 22.2, 22.3, 24.2, 26.1, 26.3 split times for a moderate final time of 2:02.89. Historical relevance; In 2001 Point Given was also 3 1/2 lengths behind a wicked 1:09.25 six furlong pace that watched him labor home in 5th position in the 2nd fastest Kentucky Derby in history, only behind "Big Red" in 1973. Point Given was clearly superior in this group and proved it by winning each Grade I race before and after the Derby (including an easy Preakness score and 12 length Belmont romp over Derby winner Monarchos) before being injured later in the year and retired to stud duty. I'm not saying Normandy is in the same league as this horse but it proves how significant the pace can factor into an outcome.
4) Trip line. While Orb was officially 6 wide into the stretch, the replay showed that he came away from the gates clean and was never impeded while racing on the outside (even though his head looked like the grill of a 4X4 Jeep after going muddin'). Compare that to Revolutionary, "bumped, waited 1/4 pole," Normandy Invasion, "steadied start, weakened" and my long-shot pick Will Take Charge, "5 wide run, checked 3/16 pole" who certainly got the worst trip of all as he was traveling in stride with Orb on the turn until that damn Verrazano drifted into his path as he was tiring. Now I'm not implying that Orb is not a worthy winner by any means and I am very pleased that "Shug" won his elusive Derby, being a Kentuckian. I am just stating that he got the winning trip and it may not come as easy in Baltimore on May 18th, which makes it an intriguing betting race - albeit nowhere near the odds of Kentucky. So if you are like me in trying to get back a little dough, this is NOT the race to "double down!"
Fortunately, many of the also-rans (Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday, Vyjack, Will Take Charge) along with 4 of the top 6 finishers at Churchill Downs will get one more chance in the Preakness and hope for better conditions. And there are two new shooters that will come into the Preakness a bit fresh in Govenor Charlie (Bob Baffert) and Departing (Al Stall). Speaking of which, if you believe in "key races" as I do and is particularly useful among early 3YO races, the one thing I was right about is how good the crop in Louisiana was this year (in spite of slower speed figures). Four of the top six Derby finishers came out of a Louisiana prep race and another went on to win the Illinois Derby! And if you think this trend holds up, you've got to look at Departing, who finished just 3 lengths behind Revolutionary and Mylute in the LA Derby and in front of Golden Soul, who shredded a lot of Derby exacta, trifecta and superfecta tickets when he rolled home second at 35-1.
I will have another post out just prior to the Preakness, but I felt I needed to "explain myself" after my disappointing predictions. After hitting all top five finishers last year (though not in exact order) I felt my 3 for 5 this year left a little to be desired. I hope to fare better at Pimlico and feel good about a couple of price horses.
Hope you enjoyed Kentucky Derby 139, truly a race unlike any other!