Kentucky Derby Recap- The Drought Ends for the Matty

As I watched the sun come out unexpectedly and dry the sloppy Churchill Downs track Saturday afternoon while sipping on mint julep after mint julep, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly confident about my win pick for the Derby. It was a feeling that I haven’t had since Empire Maker in 2003. That pick ended up not working out for me, but I got the same feeling this time around as the race approached. Maybe it was the bourbon talking, but by the time the horses were at the gate, I had told pretty much anyone within an earshot that there was no conceivable way that Street Sense was going to lose this race. I could feel it. I even went back to the window and put some extra money on him just to win. My confidence in my pick was bursting to exciting levels.

In the end, I made a common handicapping mistake and got greedy. I bet just over $100 on the Derby, and based on how confident I was about Street Sense’s victory, I should have spent it all on a win bet. In retrospect, his 5-1 odds were almost absurdly generous in this field. Instead, I reasoned that since I already knew the winner, I would bet enough on him to cover my losses if my exotics didn’t hit, and went for the big payday- a “free” shot at hitting an exacta and trifecta essentially. I suppose it could have worked out and might have been worth it, and hindsight is always 20/20. At least I didn’t lose any money Saturday and above all, got to revisit that incredible feeling of picking the right horse out of 20 and basically looking like a genius to everyone around you, favorite or no favorite.

I’ll be pulling for my new boy, Street Sense, to become the first horse of my lifetime to win the elusive Triple Crown every step of the way. There’s no reason to think he can’t do it either, or at least to think that any of the six in the last ten years that had a shot to win it but lost the Belmont had any better shot than he could have. But before we start talking Preakness sometime next week, here are my brief wrap-up thoughts on what was a very memorable Kentucky Derby:

  • First and foremost, you can’t talk about this Derby without at least mentioning what an incredible race Hard Spun ran. Since Street Since winning didn’t surprise me much, I’d have to say what blew my mind about this Derby was the fact that Hard Spun nearly wired this field after setting pretty respectable fractions, demonstrating a shocking amount of staying power. I didn’t give him the respect he deserved, although I did admit in my preview that he scared the daylights out of me, and he nearly destroyed my day.
  • Onto Street Sense’s trip. Personally, I wasn’t as surprised as some (the announcer for one) that Street Sense was sitting 19th out of 20 after a half a mile. I expected him to be in the 2nd to last pack of horses, so anywhere between 13th and 17th would have put right where I thought he should have been, and sitting two spots out of position behind a faster pace than I anticipated didn’t worry me too much. What I will never understand as how the entire rail was open when he started to make his move. Being in 19th position is even less of a problem when the first 12 horses in front of you are all running three wide of the rail and are all slower. Street Sense knocked ten of them off almost immediately and never had to break his momentum, as jockey Calvin Borel made a great decision coming around the final turn and chose to veer wide of the rail to move around Sedgefield rather than continue to hug it. It was curtains after that, as Street Sense exploded up the stretch to win the Roses by more than two lengths. Wow does he love this track.
  • Of the Derby “rules” that are commonly used as statistics to handicap the Derby, Street Sense put a couple of big ones to sleep. The Juvenile jinx is over, as he became the first horse ever to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. Also, he became one of the only horses to ever win the Kentucky Derby after only two spring prep races. I obviously discounted both of these factors when picking my winner, because I didn’t feel like the correlation could be very high due to an extreme lack of sample size for these statistics-that is, how many horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then ran in the Derby, and how many have run in the Derby after only two prep races? The answer is not as many as you would think, and these “rules” have always been throwouts for me. What IS always an important “rule” for me is the 100 Beyer rule. Only one horse has ever won the Derby without ever running a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or more at some point in his career, and that was arguably the strangest Derby ever. Using this rule helped me to eliminate a lot of horses that got substantial support, such as Scat Daddy, Nobiz Like Showbiz and Dominican just to name a few. And as we look back at those who ended up hitting the board, we see three horses that all ran Beyer figures of over 100 in prep races this year. It makes sense, eh?
  • Curlin ran a huge race given the fact he was moving up to ten furlongs in only his fourth career race. I for one didn’t really give him a shot to hit the board and it will be interesting to see if he can develop into the monster that many think he is. Still, after rewatching the race many times, it is incredibly evident that Street Sense and Hard Spun are in another league compared to the rest of the field. The Beyer speed figures they posted show a huge improvement, as the ran very respectable figs of 110 and 107 respectably.
  • Poor, poor Pletcher. His highly touted stable of five horses didn’t even make the top five, let alone hit the board. And really, only one of his horses ran a decent race, and that was Circular Quay, who was closing at the end and finished 6th. Any Given Saturday had no real excuses besides a bad post, Sam P never factored and Scat Daddy and Cowtown Cat couldn’t have been much worse. Better luck next year I guess!
  • Another interesting note was the fact that the top four finishers in last year’s Juvenile over this same track finished in the same order at the Derby as well. Street Sense won both, Circular Quay was 2nd in the Juvenile and 6th in the Derby, Great Hunter was 3rd and 13th respectively, and Scat Daddy was 4th and 18th. So really, the hard part was just fitting the other horses between these four. That would have saved me a lot of time…

Good luck to Street Sense. I won’t be getting 5-1 on him any time soon, but I’ll still be pulling for him!

Preakness analysis coming next week…

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