by Jon White
March 28, 2018
Derby Strikes season 2018 has arrived.
Back in 1999, I developed my Derby Strikes System. The system consists of nine key factors. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors are explained at the end of this column.
Various “rules” for the Kentucky Derby once were quite popular. A “Derby rule” meant a horse needed to have done this or that, or not done this or that, in order to win the race. However, through the years, as many of the “Derby rules” were broken, their popularity seemingly has waned.
What I think quite possibly distinguishes my Derby Strikes System from any single “Derby rule” is the strikes system is much more comprehensive. The Derby Strikes System is an amalgamation of factors that attempts to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives. It is the marriage of the TACTICAL with the HISTORICAL that might well be what makes the strikes system better than any “Derby rule,” per se.
It is not until a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby that a horse’s number of strikes can be determined. Thus, it was with great interest that I read Jay Privman’s Daily Racing Form story that stated Noble Indy and Lone Sailor, the one-two finishers in last Saturday’s Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, would not have another race squeezed in between now and the May 5 Kentucky Derby. That’s the word from Todd Pletcher, who trains Noble Indy, and Tom Amoss, who conditions Lone Sailor.
Meanwhile, according to Privman’s DRF colleague Mary Rampellini, trainer Todd Fincher currently is making plans for the Kentucky Derby to be the next start for Runaway Ghost, who won last Sunday’s Grade III Sunland Derby at Sunland Park.
Noble Indy has three strikes. This isn’t good. According to the Derby Strikes System, any horse with three or more strikes has only a remote chance of winning the Kentucky Derby. That’s because of the last 45 horses to win the Run for the Roses, the only one to have more than two strikes was Mine That Bird, who had four.
What are Noble Indy’s three strikes? He gets one in Category 3 for not having been first or second at the eighth pole in either of his last two starts. He also gets a strike in Category 6 for not having at least six lifetime starts. And he gets yet another strike in Category 7 for adding blinkers in his final start before the Kentucky Derby.
The thinking behind Category 7 is if a horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby, a trainer typically is not tinkering with a horse’s equipment so close to the race. In Privman’s Louisiana Derby analysis, he wrote that Pletcher calls Noble Indy “a work in progress.” Generally speaking, a “work in progress” this close to the Kentucky Derby will not be winning the roses.
It looks like McKinzie also will be getting a strike in Category 7 when he runs in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 7, his fifth career start. The DRF’s Marcus Hersh reports that trainer Bob Baffert said McKinzie will race will adding blinkers in the Santa Anita Derby. McKinzie raced with blinkers in his first two career starts, then did not wear them in his next two starts. Now, according to Hersh, the blinkers will be going back on McKinzie in his final start before the Kentucky Derby.
This means even before he runs in the Santa Anita Derby, McKinzie will have at least two strikes. He also is going to get a strike in Category 6 for having made fewer than six lifetime starts going into the Kentucky Derby.
According to the Derby Strikes System, if a horse has two strikes, it’s not impossible to win the roses, but it is unlikely. Only six of the last 45 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
The good news for McKinzie is I do consider Category 6, “the sufficient racing experience” category, to be the least important by far, as I wrote last week. That’s because horses just do not race as much nowadays as when I first came up with the Derby Strikes System.
The only strike for five of the last 12 Kentucky Derby winners came in the “sufficient racing experience” category. The five were Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Animal Kingdom (2011), I’ll Have Another (2012) and American Pharoah (2015).
As noted above, Always Dreaming won last year’s Kentucky Derby with two strikes. One of his two strikes came in the “sufficient racing experience” category. His other strike came in Category 1 for not having started in a graded stakes race before March 31.
If McKinzie can keep it to just two strikes, with one of them in Category 6, at least he then would have the same number of strikes as the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner.
Lone Sailor has two strikes. He gets one in Category 2 for not having won a graded stakes race. He gets another in Category 4 because he had the lead at the eighth pole before finishing second in the Louisiana Derby. For a horse to avoid getting a strike in Category 4, the finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby can’t be worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.
Runaway Ghost has only one strike. According to the Derby Strikes System, a horse with zero strikes or one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two or more strikes. That’s because 38 of the last 45 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike.
What is Runaway Ghost’s only strike? Runaway Ghost, like Lone Sailor, gets a strike in Category 4. He was in front at the eighth pole before finishing second in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park on March 25.
WINNER’S STRIKES GOING BACK TO 1973
Several years ago, at the suggestion of racing enthusiast Ryan Stillman, I researched how many strikes each Kentucky Derby winner prior to 1999 had going all the way back to 1973. I could not go back further than 1973 because that was the year in which stakes races in the U.S. were first graded. Two of my nine key Derby factors deal with graded stakes races.
Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6
2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2017 Always Dreaming (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 6
NOBLE INDY REFUSED TO LOSE
Noble Indy stalked the early pace in the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby, opened a clear lead on the far turn, then relinquished the advantage for a time in the stretch. According to the Equibase chart, Noble Indy was third at the eighth pole. Lone Sailor was in front by a length at that point, with My Boy Jack a head in front of Noble Indy.
But to Noble Indy’s credit (and/or the lack of the needed late punch by Lone Sailor and/or My Boy Jack), the Kentucky-bred Take Charge Indy colt re-rallied to prevail by a neck in 1:50.28. Lone Sailor, who had been ninth early, finished second. My Boy Jack, the early trailer in the field of 10, made a strong rally on the far turn while extremely wide. With a furlong to go, it appeared he had an excellent chance to win. But My Boy Jack had to settle for third, a half-length behind Lone Sailor.
The Louisiana Derby was Noble Indy’s third win from four career starts. His lone defeat came when he finished third behind Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 17 at the venerable New Orleans track. In the Louisiana Derby, Snapper Sinclair finished fifth and Bravazo eighth.
Not only did Noble Indy resolutely come back on to win the Louisiana Derby after getting passed in the stretch, he galloped out strongly after the finish, an encouraging sign vis-a-vis the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. He also continues to improve in the Beyer Speed Figure department. He recorded Beyers of 77, 84 and then 91 in his first three career starts before getting a 95 in the Louisiana Derby.
A SUNLAND VICTORY FOR THE “HOME TEAM”
Runaway Ghost, eighth early in a field of 12, swept to the front while circling three foes on the far turn in the 1 1/8-mile Sunland Derby. He opened up a four-length advantage at the eighth pole and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:49.20.
Of the dozen starters, Runaway Ghost was the lone locally-based runner. His victims consisted of horses to have last raced at Oaklawn Park (four starters), Santa Anita (three starters), Golden Gate Fields, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Tampa Bay Downs and Turf Paradise.
Runaway Ghost, a Kentucky-bred Ghostzapper colt, now has registered four wins and two seconds from seven lifetime starts. He was assigned a modest 85 Beyer Speed Figure for his Sunland Derby effort. His career-best Beyer had been an 87 when he was the runner-up to Reride in the Mine That Bird Derby. Reride is entered in this Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai.
Heading the UAE Derby field of nine is Mendelssohn, winner of last year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar. Another contender is Gold Town, who is two for two on the dirt in Dubai this year, winning by 4 1/4 and 10 1/2 lengths.
THIS WEEK’S KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Noble Indy and Runaway Ghost certainly deserve credit for getting the job done last weekend. But for me neither performance was good enough for them to crack my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10 (no changes from last week):
2. Bolt d’Oro
4. Good Magic
6. Magnum Moon
8. Promises Fulfilled
No. 1 McKinzie, No. 2 Bolt d’Oro and No. 3 Justify each had a splendid workout Monday at Santa Anita. McKinzie drilled five furlongs in a bullet :59.40, best of 118 works at the distance. Bolt d’Oro worked four furlongs in a bullet :47.00, best of 93 works at the distance.
Fans certainly are looking forward to the rematch between McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby after their slugfest in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 10. McKinzie finished first by a head, but was disqualified and placed second for fouling Bolt d’Oro in deep stretch. Bolt d’Oro, who finished second, was elevated to first by the stewards following an inquiry that lasted for more than 10 minutes.
Justify’s workout Monday at Santa Anita was timed in :59.60, making it the second-fastest of the 116 works at five furlongs. He’s undefeated and untested in two career starts. He will make his next start in Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 14.
No. 7 Solomini, runner-up to Magnum Moon in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 17, worked four furlongs Monday at Santa Anita in :48.00. Solomini is headed to Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial on April 7.
No. 5 Audible and No. 8 Promises Fulfilled are entered in Saturday’s Grade I Xpressbet Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Audible won the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream on Feb. 3. Promises Fulfilled took the Grade II Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream on March 3.
Audible is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the Florida Derby. Promises Fullfilled the 3-1 second choice, followed by Catholic Boy at 7-2, Strike Power at 4-1, Mississippi at 12-1, Hofburg at 20-1, Storm Runner at 20-1, Tip Sheet at 30-1 and Millionaire Runner at 50-1.
MCKINZIE FAVORED AT THE WYNN
McKinzie was listed late Sunday as the 7-1 favorite in the Wynn Race Book’s odds to win the Kentucky Derby. The others at 15-1 or lower at the Las Vegas establishment: Bolt d’Oro (8-1), Justify (8-1), Magnum Moon (10-1), Noble Indy (12-1), Solomini (12-1), Audible (15-1) and Good Magic (15-1)
WINX BREAKS JOHN HENRY’S RECORD
Wonder mare Winx made it 24 consecutive victories when she captured the George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill in Australia on March 24.
With regular rider Hugh Bowman in the saddle for trainer Chris Waller, Winx prevailed by three-quarters of a length in a field of six. It was her 17th win in a Group I race. Winx thereby broke the world record for most Grade I/Group I wins on the flat that she had shared with America’s legendary gelding John Henry, who was the 1981 and 1984 Horse of the Year in Eclipse Award voting. The Irish hurdler Hurricane Fly won 22 Group I races in Europe from 2008-15.
This also was Winx’s third straight victory in the George Ryder. In what was reported to be the largest bet the Australian firm TAB has taken on Winx throughout her career, a person wagered $114,000 on her to win this year’s George Ryder. That bettor’s profit was $11,400.
Winx is slated to make her next start in the Group I Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick on April 14, a race she won last year. The 6-year-old Australian superstar is by Street Cry, who also sired an American superstar in Zenyatta. Winx now has won 28 of 34 career starts. During Zenyatta’s tremendous career, she won 19 of 20 lifetime starts.
There had been speculation that Winx might compete in England after her next race. However, Waller has announced that Winx will remain Down Under after the Queen Elizabeth and “not embark on an international campaign.”
THE LATEST NTRA POLLS
Here is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 443 West Coast (31)
2. 327 Unique Bella (2)
3. 296 Roy H (1)
4. 254 Forever Unbridled (1)
5. 227 Accelerate
6. 161 World Approval
7. 137 Gun Runner (11)
8. 124 Gunnevera
9. 123 Abel Tasman
10. 87 Sharp Azteca
Here is this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 446 Bolt d’Oro (31)
2. 416 McKinzie (13)
3. 275 Magnum Moon (1)
4. 228 Audible
5. 224 Good Magic
6. 166 Justify
7. 157 Noble Indy
8. 149 Promises Fulfilled
9. 116 Solomini
10. 115 Enticed
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:
1. THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 52 of the last 55 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012, American Pharoah in 2015 and Always Dreaming in 2017. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 is the only Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. There now have been 135 straight Kentucky Derby winners who raced as a 2-year-old. Through 2017, the score is 142-1 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 0 for 61 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to even place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
9. THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)