A Sweet Derby run

May 2, 2006 3:21 AM

For some reason, there seems to be added excitement over this year’s Derby. Maybe it’s the notion that another 50-1 longshot can duplicate Giacomo’s win in last year’s Run for the Roses.

Maybe bettors in Las Vegas are just thrilled that pari-mutuel betting has been restored after the Churchill group signed off last week on a three-year deal with the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association.

Whatever the reason, Derby excitement is at a fever pitch, and GT has the cure — a solid race analysis leading to the eventual winner (knock on wood!).

There are a variety of variables to consider when trying to solve the Derby puzzle. Speed, class, recent form, conditioning, lineage, and — if you’ve been playing the horses for a while — cryptic factors such as dosage and center of distribution, all of which provide some measure of a horse’s ability.

Complicating the task of picking the right horse is knowing how much weight to apply to each factor.

Finally, the luck of the draw (post position) and the actual nuances of the race can greatly enhance or detract from a horse’s chances.

The 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday appears to be a wide-open affair.

There are only two undefeated horses (Barbaro and Showing Up), neither of which will be the morning line favorite. That honor will go to a lukewarm Brother Derek at 7-2.

Without a clear-cut "super horse," any number of horses can win. (Odds-on favorites at less than even money have been outstanding bets in the past.)

We’ll start by identifying the fastest horses, based on Beyer speed ratings.

Over the past several years, GT has been able to identify the Derby winner from among a group of five horses by applying a formula involving Beyer numbers.

Without getting into the actual math, here are this year’s top five contenders, based on Beyer ratings:

”¡ Sweetnorthernsaint

”¡ Keyed Entry

”¡ Brother Derek

”¡ Bob and John

”¡ Barbaro

Among these, Keyed Entry, Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint appear to enjoy running on the lead. This can be dangerous in a Derby with so many other front runners — Sinister Minister, Sharp Humor and Lawyer Ron are among the fastest, although the latter (Lawyer Ron) appears he can come from off the pace, if necessary, as can Sweetnorthernsaint.

Therefore, we will approach with caution those two horses (Brother Derek and Keyed Entry) who might get caught up in an early speed duel, which over the course of a mile and a quarter, could be fatal.

Because we will tend toward rejecting front-runners, we will instead concentrate on apparent closers. They include A.P. Warrior, Bob and John, Jazil, Point Determined, Private Vow and Steppenwolfer. We’re also keeping Sweetnorthernsaint in the mix because of its stalking ability.

Among the closers, we want a horse that will be fairly close to the lead — either within the first "wave" of runners or at the front of the second wave.

Horses that trail the field have problems in Kentucky because of so many horses they have to overtake. Steppenwolfer and Jazil appear they will have too much ground to make up, though Jazil could be included in exotics such as Trifectas or Superfectas.

In addition to Jazil, we’ll take a hard look at Point Determined, Private Vow and Bob and John to be moving quickly at the wire.

In addition to the horses’ running style, we need a horse that is physically fit. This is a result of how recent and how often he’s raced, as well as his work tab.

The only contender bucking a trend is Barbaro, whose win in the Florida Derby five weeks ago is outside the preferred four-week guideline. (The last time the Derby was won by a horse with a five-week layoff was in 1956.)

Leading up to the Derby there have been some impressive workouts by the top contenders. Although workout times can be deceiving, they at least indicate if a horse is running to his potential.

Last Saturday, Barbaro drilled a sizzling 46 seconds for four furlongs (half mile), the best time of 69 runners at that distance. He finished the work at 59.48 seconds for five furlongs, running effortlessly while showing "electrifying" turn of foot coming down the stretch.

Both Lawyer Ron and Sweetnorthernsaint posted the fastest times at their distance. Lawyer Ron zipped five furlongs in 58.80 seconds, the best among 48 at the distance. And Sweetnorthernsaint drilled six furlongs in 1:11.60, the best of 11 at the distance.

Speed horse Sharp Humor zipped five furlongs in 59 seconds, second only to Lawyer Ron among 48 at that distance.

Noteworthy among workouts was Jazil and stablemate Flashy Bull, both of them clocking 1:00.40 for five furlongs.

The horses seemed to push each other, with Jazil finishing marginally ahead of Flashy Bull, who will probably miss the Derby because of his career earnings.

On Sunday, Bob and John blazed six furlongs in 1:11.40, the fastest of nine workouts at the distance (note that Bob and John worked at Santa Anita and wasn’t scheduled to travel to Kentucky until Tuesday).

His stable mate, Point Determined worked five furlongs in :59.80 seconds, the third-fastest of 40 horses at that distance.

Finally, factors such as the Experimental Free Handicap, dosage and center of distribution figures provide another set of rankings to consider.

The annual Experimental Free Handicap ranks the top 3-year-olds at the end of their 2-year-old campaign. This year, the top horses are out of the Derby (Stevie Wonderboy, First Samurai and Henny Hughes), leaving Brother Derek, Private Vow, Bluegrass Cat, Barbaro and Bob and John among the top 10 contenders.

From these, only Brother Derek and Private Vow are "dual qualifiers," that is, they have a dosage index below 4.0 and a center of distribution of 1.25 or less.

Now the fun begins — examining all the factors and coming up with a Derby scenario. Using a combination of probability theory, decades of experience and a newly-acquired rabbit’s foot, the order of finish will be:

Sweetnorthernsaint

Bob and John

Lawyer Ron

Jazil

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