2014 Prep Race Wrap-Up: Strong But Wrong

[dropcap]U[/dropcap] nlike last year, most 2014 Derby prep races at 1-1/8th miles sported final times faster than this decade’s average for each contest. Only the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (won by Vicar’s In Trouble and Dance With Fate, respectively) registered slower-than-average times. Many bettors might conclude from these brisk clockings that a standout 3-year-old champ awaits coronation.

To that I say, “Whoa! Don’t dump logic from the saddle and run off with nothing but a faulty premise as your guide.” Although this class of 3-year-olds is faster than average, no member of the class qualifies for the Gold Standard I describe in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby.

(See Stat Blast Chart #1 for the nitty-gritty details of final times and historical comparisons.)

Experienced handicappers know not to rave about superb final times earned on turf or synthetic surfaces. They’re well aware that the easy early fractions horses run on these surfaces often produce outsized rallying efforts and artificially inflated final times.

Dirt races, conversely, extract more early energy from contestants, produce slower final furlongs, and result in slower final times on average. But here’s the crazy part: experienced handicappers DO rave about outsized final times earned by horses who win turf-style races on dirt. And that describes nearly every 9-furlong prep winner this year, including the likely Derby favorite California Chrome.

In The Lazy Bettor’s Guide, I apply 22 years of Derby prep race results to define the pace scenario that Derby prospects must prove capable of handling. Only Bob Baffert’s lightly raced Chitu hit that mark in a 9-furlong prep race (the Sunland Derby). However, Chitu’s final-furlong time of :13.30 registers as painfully slow. My research suggests that his well-farriered hooves will turn to equine anchors and Chitu will clumsily clank through the final furlong of the Kentucky Derby.

These pace-related realities shove all the top 2014 horses out of my Gold Standard. My last remaining hope for a Gold Standard qualifier, Bobby’s Kitten, stubbornly fought the well-intentioned restraint of Javier Castellano early in the Blue Grass Stakes and faded badly through the stretch.

A few of this year’s prep-season stars earned admission into the less reliable (but still highly profitable) Silver Standard, though. And one horse who falls short of all these parameters fits the spirit of my approaches and offers a better return than the letter-of-the-law qualifiers.

I wrote The Lazy Bettor’s Guide for beginners as well as experienced handicappers. You still have plenty of time to read the breezy text and determine quickly and easily who this year’s standouts really are. I think you’ll find the book enlightening and enriching. And it will steer you away from betting on the strong-but-wrong contenders on the first Saturday in May.

—Roger LeBlanc



  • Krudler
    Posted at 17:11h, 27 April Reply


    I purchased your book after hearing you on Derek Simon’s horse racing podcast. After reading it, I crunched the numbers for this year’s Kentucky Derby.

    I found just over a handful of KTL throw outs and, as you note in this bog entry, no Gold Standard qualifiers. We differ on the number of Silver Standard qualifiers, however, I found just one. I came up with only two others that are even close to meeting the Silver Standard criteria.

    I’m wondering what you suggest to do with 1 m 70 yard races, if anything. Are these preps worth considering and, if so, by which standards should they be rated?


  • Roger LeBlanc
    Posted at 17:44h, 27 April Reply

    Thank you for purchasing the book. You’re correct that there’s only one Silver Standard qualifier: California Chrome. When I wrote this blog piece 2 weeks ago, Cairo Prince and Constitution were still in.
    As for races at 1 mile 70 yards….good question! When researching and writing the book, I went back and forth on whether to include those races. In the end , I decided they’re too much like 1-mile races, where you often get weak horses charging through that quick first turn and putting up fast fractions. So my advice is to ignore those races. Also, they tend to be run either at winter meets (when the best horses are resting) or minor tracks. Not the places where Derby winners typically start their campaigns.

  • Krudler
    Posted at 18:58h, 27 April Reply

    Yep, I came up with California Chrome as my single Silver Qualifier as well.

    I have two others who might be the “spirit of the law” qualifiers you allude to in your post. One who ran a qualifying final time and final segment time but fell short in terms of 4F pace. Another who ran a qualifying final segment but came up (just) short in terms of final time and a bit further off for 4F pace.

    I’m keen to discuss the possible merits of these two “spirit of the law” qualifiers but realize that doing so in a public forum might keep some from buying your book. Any thoughts?


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