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DERBY PREP CIRCUIT RUNNING STYLES...HOW THEY TRANSFER TO CHURCHILL DOWNS AND THE KENTUCKY DERBY

With the Kentucky Derby just 6 days away the intricate fine-tuning that serves MORE AS ELIMINATION OF CERTAIN HORSES than it does inclusion, becomes a major factor in creating a SHORT LIST from the large number of contenders which have proven they belong in any conversation virtue of the promise they have shown in their Kentucky Derby Preps.

The question becomes, how does one evaluate the different Derby Prep Series and final races based on the circuits they are run at?

The obvious answer is to simply catalog which circuits have produced the most winning and on the board Kentucky Derby results in recent years.

Doing it that way the Southern California horses would lead the pack by a considerable margin.

Last year, despite dominating the Arkansas Derby in his final prep before winning the Triple Crown. Americans Pharoah was a product of the Southern California Circuit, as were Firing Line (despite a final prep in the Sunland Derby) and Dortmund, who finished second and third in the Run for the Roses.

In 2014 California Chrome was the Kentucky Derby champ and in 2012 I'll Have Another parlayed his longshot Santa Anita Derby win into another longshot win in the Kentucky Derby and was joined by SoCal developed Bodemeister, whose final prep was in the Arkansas Derby when he won that test on the front end and fellow southern California based runners Creative Cause (3 lengths back) and Liaison finished fifth and sixth.

On the other side of the performance ledger it can easily be ascertained that the New York prep circuit and in particular the Wood Memorial runners have found Louisville to be a graveyard in recent years. In fact, you have to go back to 2003 and Funny Cide to find the last Derby winner to have exited the Wood Memorial.

There are of course other circuits that run crucial Derby Prep Races, including Florida (Gulfstream Park) and the concluding Florida Derby, Kentucky (Keeneland) and the concluding Blue Grass Stakes, Arkansas (Oaklawn Park) and the concluding Arkansas Derby and Louisiana (Fair Grounds) and the concluding Louisiana Derby.

Would it surprise you to know that while the Louisiana Derby has not come close to producing a Kentucky Derby winner in recent memory, when it comes to filling out the high paying exotics, the race has had a significant impact?

For instance, in 2014 Commanding Curve, after rallying to finish third in the Louisiana Derby rallied to get second behind California Chrome and at 38-1 completed a $340.00 Exacta. In 2013 it was Golden Soul who rallied for fourth in the Louisiana Derby despite a bad trip and unfurled the same rally in the Kentucky Derby to finish second behind Orb and at 36-1 completed a $981.60 exacta. The Louisiana Derby also sent the winner Revolutionary to a third place finish for the $6,925.60 Trifecta while second place LAD finisher Mylute was a head short of completing the Superfecta.

In 2011 Mucho Macho Man ran on for third in the Louisiana Derby and duplicated that performance in the Kentucky Derby to complete that year's $3,952.40 Run for the Roses Trifecta.
Certainly one can look at those results and even with the seeming consensus that the Southern California horses such as likely Kentucky Derby favorite Nyquist, Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator and runner up Mor Spirit will be among the leading sought after contenders by bettors, the likes of Gun Runner, Tom's Ready, Dazzling Gem and Mo Tom, the one through four finishers in this year's Louisiana Derby would be difficult to automatically dismiss.

These sort of circuit matchups and breakdowns are what make the Derby the difficult challenge that it is and also are the reason, American Pharoah's dominance last year aside, that the payoffs are always a bettor's dream scenario.

That being said, are there any ways that these circuits and the successful runners who exit their premier prep races can be analytically fine-tuned any further? The answer seems to be yes.
Let's stay with the Louisiana Derby. While overall the race has a recent impact on the Kentucky Derby, that influence has been accomplished not by the winners of the LAD but by the late running supporting role closers. In 2014, when longshot Commanding Curve duplicated his late rally at Fair Grounds at Churchill Downs he did so at the expense of the LAD winner Vicars In Trouble and second place runner Intense Holiday, each of who were front running or pressing types who were well up the track in Louisville. And in 2013, although stalking type Revolutionary did finish third in the Derby after winning at Fair grounds it was well off the pace Golden Soul who ran the exact same race in both races.

More in support if this trend is the 2011 Kentucky Derby when deep closer Mucho Macho Man ran third in both the LAD and the Kentucky Derby while the Fair Grounds winner Pants On Fire, another front running type was well up the track in the Kentucky Derby. So that begs the question. Are deep closers such as second place finisher Tom's Ready (incidentally, trained by Dallas Stewart, who conditioned both Commanding Curve and Golden Soul) and troubled trip fourth place finisher Mo Tom better opportunities in Louisville than pressing and stalking types Gun Runner and Dazzling Gem, who finished first and third respectively in the Louisiana Derby?

Remember, these kind of observations are not iron-clad rules for including or eliminating runners but point to one of any number of edges or suspicions when paring down the short list. However, just because such an analysis might be one of many doesn't mean it doesn't bare consideration. For such an angle also exists at Oaklawn Park and those horses exiting the Arkansas Derby.

At Oaklawn the running style results are just the opposite. Whereas speed hasn't always held up in the Arkansas Derby, speed exiting that race and running in Louisville has drastically eclipsed the performances of horses that have rallied for Arkansas Derby wins and then moved on to the Kentucky Derby.

In 2015 American Pharoah ran away from an overmatched Arkansas Derby field and repeated that in Louisville. Of course AP was the freak of last year but that tendency has held up for a number of years.

In 2014 Danza broke close to the early pace at Oaklawn, went on to capture the Arkansas Derby at a big price and then used his tactical speed to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. Confirmed closers Ride On Curlin (2nd at Oaklawn) and Tapiture (4th at Oaklawn) never made up any ground in Louisville and finished 7th and 15th respectively.

In 2013 Overanalyze made a strong late stretch run to win the Arkansas Derby but was unable to come close to duplicating that run in Louisville and finished 11th. A year earlier (2012) Bodemeister went wire-to-wire to dominate the Arkansas Derby then unleashed an amazing front running effort in the Kentucky Derby and was caught by I'll have Another late after running perhaps the best second ever in the Kentucky Derby.

You can go back further. In 2011 Archarcharch came from out of the clouds for the upset win in the Arkansas Derby but after breaking in his usual rear position in Louisville never fired, running at the back of the pack throughout and finishing 15th. In 2010 Super Saver pressed Line Of David all the way around the oval in Arkansas before settling for second and then stalked the early pace in Louisville before moving clear just inside the quarter pole to win the Kentucky Derby.

So the question becomes...what do you do with Creator, Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, who finished first, second and third in this year's Arkansas Derby after rallying from 11th, 10th and 9th respectively at the 3/8ths marker?

Those are just some of the running style tendencies when matching up how horses run to success at certain final prep race tracks and how it plays out in the Kentucky Derby. Again, these are not stand-alone angles, but they do give you an idea of what you have to measure and digest if you want to separate the live contenders from the difficult to endorse runners when constructing your Kentucky Derby combos.

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