Kentucky Derby by the Numbers
by Greg Melikov - 04/23/2009
Numbers often play a part of horse racing from odds and post positions to speed and pace figures. It's no different in America's Race.
Did you know that since 1992, only two winners of the Kentucky Derby posted a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or less in their final prep: Sea Hero in ''93 and Giacomo in '05.
Nine of the past 14 Derby winners ran at least two triple digit Beyers in their final three preps. And five either ran the same number at Churchill Downs or regressed slightly.
One thing is certain: Hitting the board in the final prep is paramount. All but three winners in the past 47 years triumphed at Louisville after finishing out of the money in their last prep, but they ran fourth.
In '05, Giacomo scored the second biggest upset in history after finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and returned $102.60. The last SA Derby winner to score at Louisville was Sunday Silence in '89.
Two horses that ran fourth a couple years apart in the Blue Grass won the Derby and paid very well: Sea Hero, $27.80 in '93, and Thunder Gulch, $24.50 in '95.
During the past 47 years, 16 Kentucky Derby champs chose the Blue Grass as the final prep. Ten ran in the Wood and six raced in the SA Derby.
Eight three-year-olds that scored in their final outing during the 1970s triumphed on the first Saturday in May. Two others finished third, including '73 Triple Crown champ Secretariat.
In the Wood Memorial, Secretariat's stablemate Angle Light went straight to the front and never looked back. A new challenger to the supremacy of Secretariat named Sham finished second. Ah, but in the 99th Derby Sham was the runner-up and Angle Light was a distant 10th.
The post position that produced the greatest number of winners the past 47 years is No. 10 - 7. Next with five each are posts two and eight followed by four from posts two, three and five.
During the past 14 years, seven winners broke from post 13 all the way out to 20. Two posts are winless: 17 and 19. Three horses scored from post 16 while a pair won from 15.
The largest margin of victory in America's Race is eight lengths, shared by four: Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, '41, and Assault, '46; as well as Old Rosebud, '14, and Johnstown, '39.
But there have been nine derbies in which the winner was only a nose better than the runner-up: Spokane, 1889; Azra, 1892; Ben Brush, 1896; Plaudit, 1898; Ala-a-Dale, 1902; Brokers Tip, 1933; Iron Liege, 1957; Tomy Lee, 1959; and Grindstone, 1996.
I especially remember the 122nd Derby. It was so close many people thought Cavonnier had edged Grindstone. Here are the chart caller's observations:
"GRINDSTONE commenced to rally approaching the end of the backstretch, worked his way between horses along the inside around the far turn, angled out five wide entering the stretch and finished strongly to wear down CAVONNIER in the final stride while drifting out.
"The latter moved within easy striking distance between horses entering the backstretch, came out five wide to make a run on the far turn, was struck across the face by the whip of (fourth-place finisher) HALO SUNSHINE's rider nearing the stretch and, after gaining a clear advantage leaving the furlong grounds, just failed to last."