Does Derby Performance Factor at Belmont?
by Trevor Whenham - 06/07/2007
Most casual race fans think that a horse's career ends after the Kentucky Derby. Pretty much every horse in the Derby field will go on to run another race, however, and most will run several with possible impressive results. I love following the careers of the Derby horses after the Run for the Roses. On one hand, it only makes sense that it will be interesting to watch 20 of the best three-year-olds in the country as they mature and grow into their obvious early ability. Just as importantly, though, the Derby horses can present some real opportunities for value at the betting window. In some cases, that value is obvious and the approach to betting on them is clear - like Street Sense, Curlin and Hard Spun in the Preakness, for example. The bigger opportunities come from the horses that take some time off after the Derby before regrouping and attacking the summer season. To cash in on these youngsters there are five tips I like to follow:
1. Throw out the Derby - The Kentucky Derby is a totally unique race. The distance is new, the field is ridiculously large and the crowd is gigantic. What a horse does in those circumstances essentially has no bearing on what he will do down the road. The horse that wins the Derby is usually a very good one (though not always - sorry Giacomo), but several very good horses each year have a dismal Derby and then go on to solid careers. Point Given is just one of dozens of examples that come to mind. The best single thing you can do when handicapping any horse that ran in the Derby is to take out a thick pen and cross the race out completely so that you can't even see it anymore. That way you won't be tempted to read more into it than you should. Worry instead about what the horse did before and what he has done since.
2. Don't get turned off by a bad Derby Performance - This is a variation of the first point but it can't be repeated often enough. Just because a horse was terrible in the Derby, you can't assume that it's a terrible horse. Cowtown Cat was a troubled 20th in the Derby, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he is a bad horse. The talent that made him compelling to some coming into the Derby will very likely emerge given the time to grow into himself and find the spots that best suit him. Don't let yourself become biased against a horse based on what he did or didn't do in Kentucky.
3. Public recognition can kill value - I don't want to pick on Cowtown Cat, but he's a good example of the impact the public can have. Though I do think that the horse will likely go on to some level of success, there was certainly reason to be a little cautious about this horse in his first race back. The public didn't think so. He was installed as the heavy favorite in the Ohio Derby on June 2. Though he probably deserved to be favored in the race, there were enough solid horses in the field (Officer Rocket, Forty Grams, Moyer's Pond, Reporting for Duty) that he probably reasonably could have been 3/1 or 4/1, not the 3/5 that he went off at. He ended up finishing fourth and burned a whole lot of money. You need to have a firm idea in your mind of what the price on a horse should be, and you have to be willing to walk away if the public drops the price below your pre-set threshold.
4. Look for a horse's hidden strengths - Barbaro's stablemate, Showing Up, was an ignored horse coming into last year's Derby. He ran a solid race and ended up sixth, but he was obviously completely overshadowed by the winner. Little did anyone know at that point that the horse would go on to become the most dominant American grass horse of the summer. Already this year we have seen trainers indicate that some of their Derby horses will be shortened up to sprint distances, while others will try the grass. Some of the experiments will work better than others. By doing your homework on the horses, though, you can stand a reasonable chance of predicting the success of the experiments, and profiting from them. Look for signs in his past performance that a horse is meant to go shorter distances, or indicators in his breeding that he will succeed on turf.
5. Pay attention to the no-names - Even casual horse players will know when Street Sense or Curlin hit the track. You'll have an edge, though, if you follow the horses like Teuflesberg, Sam P., or Dominican. Those are the horses that the public will quickly forget. Most of the horses in this year's Derby field had at least a reasonable amount of talent, and they will have grown from the Derby experience. Every year there is money to be made from watching these forgotten horses exert their class and experience on unsuspecting fields.