by Jon White
April 28, 2021
Undefeated champion Essential Quality heads a field of 20 entered in Saturday’s 147th running of the Grade I, $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
This means barring any scratches, the track’s special 20-stall starting gate will be filled to capacity for the 1 1/4-mile classic. The first Kentucky Derby in which the 20-stall gate was used was the 2020 renewal, which Authentic won while defeating 14 foes. Prior to that, Churchill utilized a 14-stall gate and a six-stall auxiliary gate, with space between the two gates.
Getting right to it, my selections for this year’s Run for the Roses are below:
1. Essential Quality (2-1 morning-line favorite)
2. Rock Your World (5-1)
3. Known Agenda (6-1)
4. Hot Rod Charlie (8-1)
My expectation is it is going to be either Essential Quality or Rock Your World draped in the garland of roses.
Is it clever, bold or cool to pick the favorite on top? No, absolutely not. Actually, it’s rather boring.
I do get the impression that a lot of people are going to pick and bet against Essential Quality. They will go shopping for a horse at a better price. They will be looking for so-called “value.”
While Essential Quality’s odds were never going to have much appeal, his price now will be even more negatively affected due to what Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale has vowed to do.
McIngvale has said he plans to make a bet of at least $2 million to win on “the Derby favorite,” which is almost certainly going to be Essential Quality. McIngvale will be placing the wager as a hedge on a mattress promotion that is tied to “the Derby favorite.”
McIngvale’s Gallery Furniture stores are promising customers who buy a mattress for $3,000 or more will receive a complete refund on the purchase price, up to $5,000, if the favorite wins the Derby “on the first Saturday of May.” The promotion will also give those same customers a 150% store credit, up to $7,500, if they choose to decline the mattress refund, McIngvale has said.
The mattress promotion was made “on the Derby favorite [rather than a single horse] because the favorite has won six out of the last eight years,” Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty quoted McIngvale as saying. “So we thought that was best for the customers.”
The exact size of McIngvale’s bet will be determined by the total amount of liability the company is facing from its mattress sales in the days leading up to the Derby, according to McIngvale. That liability currently is projected to be $2 million, but it could go higher.
McIngvale has made similar huge “hedge wagers” in the past. Earlier this year, he bet $3.2 million on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay won by a score of 31-9.
“He cashed the bet, but it only covered the store’s liability, so it was a wash,” Hegarty wrote.
While the Derby win pool is expected to be $35 million or more, “a $2 million win bet will obviously make a significant impact on a horse’s odds,” Hegarty wrote.
McIngvale, who is behind the bombardment of advertising for the sire Runhappy, said the Derby bet will be “by far” the largest wager he has ever placed on a horse race.
Bill Finley of the Thoroughbred Daily News noted that it’s believed that McIngvale’s bet will be the largest placed on any U.S. horse race.
Keep in mind, if Essential Quality does get the job done at relatively low odds, those who elect to put their money on someone else to win the race will not be cashing. A concept “value shoppers” sometimes just don’t get is a void mutuel ticket has absolutely no “value.”
MY FINAL KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Back on Dec. 2, Essential Quality was No. 1 on my earliest Kentucky Derby Top 10 for Xpressbet. And it’s none other than Essential Quality who is No. 1 on my final Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Much can change in horse racing from month to month, week to week and even day to day. Charlie Whittingham was, in my opinion, the greatest trainer of all time. He used to say “horses are like strawberries. They can go bad overnight.”
With that in mind, it’s rather surprising four horses from my Top 10 on Dec. 2 made it all the way to be entered in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. My final Top 10 is below:
1. Essential Quality
2. Rock Your World
3. Known Agenda
4. Hot Rod Charlie
5. Medina Spirit
7. Highly Motivated
8. Midnight Bourbon
9. Super Stock
10. O Besos
These are the Kentucky Derby entrants who were on my Top 10 in early December: Essential Quality (who was No. 1 at that time), Highly Motivated (No. 3), Hot Rod Charlie (No. 4), Keepmeinmind (No. 5) and Mandaloun (No. 9).
These are the horses not entered Saturday who were on my earliest Top 10: Life Is Good (who was No. 2 on Dec. 2), Fire At Will (No. 6), Jackie’s Warrior (No. 7), Caddo River (No. 8) and Dr. Schivel (No. 10).
Going beyond my final Top 10, this is how I rank the remaining Kentucky Derby entrants:
12. Dynamic One
13. King Fury
15. Soup and Sandwich
18. Brooklyn Strong
19. Like the King
20. Hidden Stash
THE IMPORTANCE OF A CERTAIN POLE
When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, which pole among those spaced at various points inside Churchill’s main track is the most important?
Well, that’s easy. It’s the pole located right at the finish line, aka the finish post. Whoever’s nose reaches that post first is the winner (unless, of course, there is a disqualification, as with Maximum Security in 2019 and Dancer’s Image in 1968).
To me, the second-most important pole is the green and white one located 220 yards up the stretch from the finish line. That’s the eighth pole, aka the furlong marker, aka the furlong pole.
Horses competing in the Kentucky Derby pass the eighth pole twice. They go by it for the first time early in the race, a furlong after the start.
It’s what happens when the horses pass the eighth pole the second time that’s extremely significant to me. It’s been proven over a long period of time that there is a high probability the eventual winner of the race almost certainly will be either first or second at the eighth pole, at which point there is one furlong left to run in the 10-furlong race.
Since I developed my Derby Strikes System (DSS) many years ago, I have found that it behooves one to try and figure out who appears to have the capability of being first or second with a furlong to go. That’s because 52 of the last 55 Kentucky Derby winners found themselves in what I term “the prime position to win the race” by being either first or second at that point.
This emphasis on the eighth pole was a major reason why my top Kentucky Derby pick in 2005 was Closing Argument. As I wrote for Xpressbet before that race, I thought Closing Argument had a very good chance to be first or second a furlong from the finish.
Closing Argument was virtually ignored by bettors, going off at 71-1. It turned out that Closing Argument did, in fact, have the lead a furlong from the finish. But Giacomo, a 50-1 longshot, ran down Closing Argument in the shadow of the wire. Giacomo won by a half-length. Afleet Alex finished third at odds of 9-2. The 5-2 favorite, Bellamy Road, wound up seventh in the field of 20.
Giacomo paid $102.60, $45.80 and $19.80 across the board. Closing Argument paid $70.00 to place and $24.80 to show. Afleet Alex returned $4.60 to show.
Though my top pick did not win the 2005 Kentucky Derby, no horse in the long history of the race has ever paid more for a $2 place wager than Closing Argument.
FOUR EIGHTH-POLE CANDIDATES
One of the reasons I regard Essential Quality, Rock Your World, Known Agenda and Hot Rod Charlie as major players Saturday is I see each of them as a candidate to be first or second a furlong from the finish.
Only once in Essential Quality’s five races has he not been one-two with a furlong to go. That’s when he was fourth at the eighth pole in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland last Nov. 6. Essential Quality won the BC Juvenile by three-quarters of a length at odds of 7-2. He overtook Hot Rod Charlie in the last sixteenth that day. Hot Rod Charlie, who gave it a splendid try, finished second at a humongous 94-1.
Rock Your World has been in front with a furlong to in two of his three career starts.
Known Agenda probably will be racing well off the early pace Saturday. But he’s shown that he is capable of being either first or second a furlong from the finish. In his two starts since adding blinkers, not only did Known Agenda win both times, he was in front with a furlong to go on in both races.
Hot Rod Charlie has been first or second with a furlong to run in all four of his starts since having blinkers added to his equipment.
A CLOSER LOOK AT MY TOP FOUR
Why is Essential Quality my top pick? The main reason is he has not done a thing wrong so far. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt brings an unblemished record of five wins from five starts into Saturday’s race.
Has Essential Quality been dazzling? No. But it takes a special equine athlete to do what he’s done in terms of being victorious regardless of whatever type of pace he has encountered. Essential Quality has demonstrated an ability to win whether the pace is fast, moderate or slow.
Would it be better if Essential Quality had exhibited a little more of a sparkle in his two most recent workouts at Churchill for trainer Brad Cox (who is attempting to become the first Louisville native to win the city’s famed race)? Yes, that’s probably true. And perhaps after Saturday’s race has been run, Essential Quality’s less-than-snazzy Churchill drills will have been a clue as to why he tasted defeat for the first time.
There will be those taking a stand against Essential Quality primarily because they feel his two Churchill works coming up to the race left something to be desired. But taking such a dogmatically negative view of those drills just might be making a mountain out of a molehill. As recently as Tuesday, Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch, who has a keen eye when it comes to such matters, observed that Essential Quality was giving off “positive vibes” when training Tuesday. The gray colt “looked as good as he has all week, relaxed and a picture of health, while galloping a mile and a half,” Welsch wrote.
While Essential Quality is my top pick, he certainly is no slam-dunk. Heck, there’s probably no better example of an undefeated horse getting beat in the Kentucky Derby than Native Dancer in 1953. After winning his first 11 races, Native Dancer experienced early traffic trouble in the Kentucky Derby and finished second. Dark Star won by a head. It was the lone defeat in Native Dancer’s 22-race career.
How about Mister Frisky? He was my top pick in the 1990 Kentucky Derby. Mister Frisky went into the race undefeated in 16 career starts. It’s the longest unbeaten winning streak by any starter in Kentucky Derby history. Like Rock Your World, Mister Frisky won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. But Mister Frisky could finish no better than eighth in the Kentucky Derby as the 9-5 favorite.
But I do believe it matters that Essential Quality has managed to win all of his races so far. Think of some of the outstanding horses who were not undefeated before winning the Kentucky Derby, such as Secretariat (who went into the race with three losses), Affirmed (two losses), Spectacular Bid (two losses), Alysheba (nine losses), Winning Colors (one loss), Sunday Silence (two losses), Silver Charm (three losses), Street Sense (four losses), California Chrome (four losses) and American Pharoah (one loss).
While Essential Quality does not have the best Beyer Speed Figure going into Saturday’s race, it is more meaningful to me that he does own the two best Thoro-Graph numbers in the field. When it comes to Thoro-Graph, a lower number is better than a higher one. This is the opposite of Beyer Speed Figures.
Thoro-Graph takes many more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
As I wrote for Xpressbet, I thought Greatest Honour did not run as well as the Thoro-Graph numbers indicated when he won Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes and Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes. His Thoro-Graph number was a 1 for each race. I thought the Beyers of 89 for both races were a far truer reflection of those performances by Greatest Honour. As I’ve said before, I think Beyer Speed Figures are a helpful tool. If I didn’t, I would not quote them as often as I do. But in the vast majority of cases, I give more credence to Thoro-Graph than Beyer Speed Figures.
The best Thoro-Graph number recorded by anyone in this year’s Kentucky Derby is Essential Quality’s negative 1/2 for when he won Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Southwest Stakes on a sloppy track in his first 2021 start on Feb. 27.
The second-best Thoro-Graph number posted by any of this year’s Kentucky Derby entrants is Essential Quality’s 0 when he won Keeneland’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes by a neck on April 3.
Though Essential Quality did have a close call in the Blue Grass, it should be noted that he did travel 29 feet farther than runner-up Highly Motivated, according to Trakus.
Speaking of Highly Motivated, he owns the third-best Thoro-Graph number in this year’s Kentucky Derby field. He received a 1 1/4 for finishing second in the Blue Grass.
Known Agenda and Soup and Sandwich have the only other two Thoro-Graph numbers lower than a 2 going into this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Known Agenda’s Thoro-Graph number was a 1 1/2 for his victory in Gulfstream Park’s Grade I Florida Derby on March 27. He won that race by 2 3/4 lengths.
Soup and Sandwich finished second in the Florida Derby. He came away from that race with a 1 3/4 from the Thoro-Graph folks.
All in all, can Essential Quality become the first Blue Grass Stakes winner to capture the famed Kentucky Derby since Strike the Gold took the two races 30 years ago? I think he can.
ROCK YOUR WORLD: HIGH CRUISING SPEED
Rock Your World, like Essential Quality, is undefeated going into the Kentucky Derby. He’s three for three. Whether he wins or loses Saturday, it’s clear that Rock Your World is an exceptional colt.
In Santa Anita’s Pasadena Stakes at one mile on turf Feb. 27, Rock Your World raced just off the early pace. When he was asked by the rider during the stretch run, Rock Your World’s explosive acceleration was impressive, to say the least. Not only that, after crossing the finishing line, the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt continued on strongly, galloping out far in front.
When asked to race on dirt for the first time in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, Rock Your World won in front-running fashion. He drew away in the stretch to prevail by 4 1/4 lengths, then again continued on strongly after the finish when galloping out far in front.
“He has a high cruising speed,” trainer John Sadler said of Rock Your World in a recent interview.
Sadler has expressed confidence that Rock Your World can carry his high cruising speed a classic distance, which is to say 1 1/4 miles. The colt’s super gallop-outs certainly have done nothing to dispel that notion.
I also think it helps Rock Your World that he’s being reunited Saturday with jockey Joel Rosario, who was aboard for the colt’s debut victory. Rosario won the Louisiana Derby on Hot Rod Charlie. Yet who is Rosario riding in the Kentucky Derby? Hot Rod Charlie? Nope. Rosario will be aboard Rock Your World. That’s one of the reasons I like Rock Your World better than Hot Rod Charlie in Saturday’s race.
Another thing I like about Rock Your World is he’s similar to Justify in a number of ways. Both did not race at 2. Both were three for three going into the Kentucky Derby. Both won the Santa Anita Derby by daylight (Justify by three lengths, Rock Your World by 4 1/4 lengths).
Justify won the Kentucky Derby while on his way to becoming the 13th horse to sweep this country’s Triple Crown.
In terms of speed figures, Rock Your World boasts the best Beyer of anyone in this year’s Kentucky Derby, a 100 in the Santa Anita Derby. His Thoro-Graph figure for that race was a 2 3/4.
Rock Your World must race farther than 1 1/8 miles for the first time Saturday. How will he do at the longer trip? Not only are his strong gallop-outs after the finish of the Pasadena Stakes and Santa Anita Derby encouraging in this regard, his sire certainly had no problem succeeding when asked to go 1 1/4 miles on dirt in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic in 2003. Candy Ride set a track record of 1:59.11 that day, a mark that still stands all these years later.
Additionally, Rock Your World’s dam, Charm the Maker, is a daughter of 2003 Kentucky Derby runner-up Empire Maker, who possessed the stamina to win the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
Rock Your World, Sainthood and Soup and Sandwich are the three entrants in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby who will be trying to join Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 as the only winners of the race who did not start at 2.
But in the case of Rock Your World, he missed racing at 2 by just one day. He made his career debut at Santa Anita on Jan. 1.
Something I can’t help but wonder is will Sadler really win American racing’s most coveted prize with Rock Your World when the Santa Anita Derby winner quite possibly is not even be the best 3-year-old colt in Sadler’s barn? Sadler unleashed a $1 million auction purchase by the name of Flightline last Saturday at Santa Anita.
Flightline drew off in the lane to win a six-furlong maiden race in isolated splendor by 13 1/4 lengths in a sizzling 1:08.75. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt was credited with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.
“He might have as much potential as any young horse I’ve ever trained,” Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen quoted Sadler as saying.
KNOWN AGENDA BREAKS FROM INSIDE POST
Even though Known Agenda must begin from the dreaded inside post Saturday, the Kentucky-bred Curlin colt belongs on the list of contenders.
Talk about coming into the race with a solid foundation. Known Agenda goes into the Kentucky Derby with four 1 1/8-mile races under his belt.
Granted, it’s not easy to get a good or even decent trip after breaking from the inside post in a 20-horse field. But what mitigates the rail draw to some extent is Known Agenda has a terrific rider. Irad Ortiz Jr. has been voted the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Todd Pletcher, Known Agenda’s trainer, has two Kentucky Derby wins to his credit (Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017).
In addition to Known Agenda, Pletcher will be sending out Dynamic One (20-1 morning line), Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic (30-1) and Jeff Ruby Steaks runner-up Sainthood (50-1).
HOT ROD CHARLIE SEEKS REVENGE
Hot Rod Charlie, as mentioned earlier, nearly pulled off a gigantic upset when leading late in the BC Juvenile. But he had to settle for second on that occasion when unable to stave off Essential Quality.
Can Hot Rod Charlie turn the tables on Essential Quality in their rematch Saturday? It is a possibility.’
It is to Hot Rod Charlie’s credit that he’s already won a race farther than 1 1/8 miles. He registered a two-length victory in the Grade II Louisiana Derby at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds on March 20 for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill (I’ll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016).
As for Saturday’s rematch with Essential Quality, look for Hot Rod Charlie to be somewhere between 9-2 and 9-1 this time rather than his 94-1 odds in the BC Juvenile.
SOME OTHER THOUGHTS
--Watch out for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Oh, sure, Baffert is not running the brilliant Life Is Good or the talented Concert Tour. Life Is Good is on the shelf while recuperating from a left-hind ankle issue that required surgery. Concert Tour, who worked a crisp five furlongs in :47.80 at Churchill on Monday, is being prepared for the Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 15 after not coming out of the Arkansas Derby to Baffert’s satisfaction. Concert Tour finished third as the 3-10 favorite in the Arkansas Derby, his first loss in four career starts.
But even though Life is Good and Concert Tour are not participating, it’s not hard for me to envision Baffert still winning the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, who finished second in the Santa Anita Derby as the 9-10 favorite.
Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby a record-tying six times: Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002, American Pharoah in 2015, Justify in 2018 and Authentic in 2020. American Pharoah and Justify were Triple Crown winners.
The only other trainer to win the Kentucky Derby six times is Ben Jones: Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952).
When Baffert won last year’s Kentucky Derby, he increased his total number of victories in Triple Crown races to a record 16. The trainers with seven or more such wins are listed below:
Total (Ky. Derby, Preakness, Belmont wins) Trainer
16 (6-7-3) Bob Baffert
14 (4-6-4) D. Wayne Lukas
13 (3-4-6) “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons
11 (2-1-8) James Rowe
11 (0-7-4) R. Wyndam Walden
9 (3-2-4) Max Hirsch
9 (6-2-2) Ben Jones
8 (2-1-5) Woody Stephens
7 (0-0-7) Sam Hildreth
7 (2-4-1) Jimmy Jones
Another plus for Medina Spirit is his jockey, John Velazquez, who has won the Kentucky Derby three times: (Animal Kingdom in 2011, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Authentic in 2020).
--Along with Essential Quality, Cox trains Mandaloun. After Mandaloun finished sixth as the 13-10 favorite in the Louisiana Derby, he dropped off my Kentucky Derby Top 10. In time, as he seemed to be training well, Mandaloun returned to my Top 10. And as his training all the way up to the Kentucky Derby has continued to elicit rave reviews from Cox, Mandaloun has steadily been moving up on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list until ultimately reaching No. 6 this week.
--Because of his consistency, I will not be surprised if Midnight Bourbon finishes first, second or third Saturday. He’s going into the Kentucky Derby having never run worse than third in seven lifetime starts.
--I mentioned earlier that Closing Argument finished second at 71-1 as my top pick in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock is a grandson of Closing Argument. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains Midnight Bourbon and Super Stock.
--I consider O Besos, Keepmeinmind and Dynamic One as legit candidates to finish in the superfecta Saturday.
O Besos, who is 20-1 on the Kentucky Derby morning line, came on strongly late to finish third in the Louisiana Derby. My enthusiasm for him as a win possibility is diminished a bit, though, because of my skepticism that he has what it takes to be first or second a furlong from the finsh. But who knows? Maybe he can find a way to be first or second at that important point in the race. After all, O Besos’ sire, Orb, was able to do it. Orb was second with a furlong to go when he won the 2013 Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths.
Keepmeinmind was good enough to finish third, only two lengths behind the victorious Essential Quality, in the BC Juvenile. Keepmeinmind then won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill. That he already has won a grade stakes race on the same track as the Kentucky Derby is not something to pooh-pooh.
In two starts this year, Keepmeinmind finished sixth in Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes and fifth in the Blue Grass. His training regimen got messed up at Oaklawn earlier this year when a winter storm hit that track. But Keepmeinmind had a bullet four-furlong workout in :46.20 at Churchill last Friday. It was the best of 108 works at the distance that morning. Maybe that dandy drill is a sign that Keepmeinmind will give a good account of himself Saturday at a mouth-watering 50-1 on the morning line.
Dynamic One finished second in the Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. The winner was Bourbonic, who rallied from last to win by a head in a shocker. He paid $146.50 for each $2 win wager. Dynamic One finished second at odds of 15-1.
Bourbonic’s $146.50 was the highest win mutuel in the 96-year history of the Wood Memorial, breaking the record of $129.50 Manassa Mauler paid in 1959.
Even though Dynamic One did not win the Wood, a compelling case can be made that he ran the best race. Dynamic One might be blossoming at the right time and could make some noise Saturday at a juicy price in the wagering.
THE DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM SITUATION
I alluded earlier to my Derby Strikes System. I came up with the DSS years ago to try and determine a horse’s chances to win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May from both tactical and historical perspectives. The DSS consists of eight categories. When a horse does not qualify in one of the categories, the horse gets a strike. The eight categories are listed at the end of this column/blog/article.
A number of the categories in the DSS are associated with the Kentucky Derby being run in May. Consequently, when the race was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 last year due to the pandemic, it rendered the DSS unworkable.
The DSS is back in 2021 now that the Kentucky Derby has returned to its traditional spot on the calendar.
The vast majority (81%) of the Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973 and excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September.
The DSS can’t go any further back than 1973 because a number of the system’s categories are linked to graded races. Races in the U.S. were first graded in 1973.
Going back to 1973 and again excluding 2020 when the race was run in September, 39 out of the 48 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike, while seven have had two strikes and only one has had more than two strikes.
The seven Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were:
Cannonade (1974) Categories 3 and 4
Ferdinand (1986) Categories 2 and 4
Sea Hero (1993) Categories 3 and 5
Funny Cide (2003) Categories 2 and 8
Giacomo (2015) Categories 2 and 5
Justify (2018) Categories 1 and 8
Country House (2019) Categories 2 and 3
The only Kentucky Derby winner with more than two strikes was:
Mine That Bird (2009) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 8
In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security had zero strikes and finished first by 1 1/4 lengths. However, the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th when ruling that he had committed a foul by veering out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy.
According to the DSS, the entrants Saturday who are in the group that wins the Kentucky Derby 81% of the time are, in alphabetical order:
Horse (Strikes) Category or Categories
Brooklyn Strong (1) Category 8
Essential Quality (0)
Helium (1) Category 5
Hot Rod Charlie (1) Category 4
Known Agenda (0)
Like the King (0)
Mandaloun (1) Category 4
Medina Spirit (0)
Midnight Bourbon (1) Category 4
Super Stock (1) Category 3
Those with two strikes are:
Bourbonic (2) Categories 1 and 3
Hidden Stash (2) Categories 2 and 5
Highly Motivated (2) Categories 2 and 4
Keepmeinmind (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
O Besos (2) Categories 2 and 3
Rock Your World (2) Categories 1 and 7
Sainthood (2) Categories 2 and 7
Soup and Sandwich (2) Categories 2 and 7
Those with three strikes are:
Dynamic One (3) Categories 1, 2 and 4
King Fury (3) Categories 4, 5 and 6
NUMBER OF STRIKES FOR DERBY WINNERS SINCE 1973
These are the number of strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 (again, the eight categories in the Derby Strikes System are listed at the end of this column/blog/article):
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3*
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first, disqualified and placed 17th
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll (in the same order as last week):
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 349 Mystic Guide (30)
2. 324 Charlatan (7)
3. 246 Monomoy Girl
4. 231 Knicks Go
5. 186 Colonel Liam
6. 176 Letruska
7. 95 Gamine
8. 87 Idol
9. 72 Swiss Skydiver
10. 47 C Z Rocket
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll heading into Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (the only change in the rankings is Hot Rod Charlie and Known Agenda exchanging positions):
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 363 Essential Quality (31)
2. 282 Rock Your World (2)
3. 266 Hod Rod Charlie (1)
4. 253 Known Agenda (2)
5. 158 Highly Motivated
6. 128 Super Stock
7. 107 Medina Spirit
8. 101 Concert Tour
9. 80 Life Is Good (1)
10. 57 Midnight Bourbon
MY DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:
1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (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 CATEGORY. (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 CATEGORY. (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 CATEGORY. (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 CATEGORY. (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 NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (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.)
7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 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.)
8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (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.)