2012 Kentucky Derby Handicapping: the Experience Factor
by Trevor Whenham - 4/27/2012
Thanks to the impressive Bodemeister one of the biggest storylines heading into the Kentucky Derby is going to be the so-called “Curse of Apollo”. In 1882 Apollo won the Derby after only making his racing debut earlier in his three-year-old year. In the 130 years since, though, no horse has managed to win the biggest three year old race in the world without racing at two.
At the Arkansas Derby this year Bodemeister won by nine lengths in impossibly easy fashion — the most impressive performance by any horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby field. The Bob Baffert trainee only debuted on Jan. 16 of this year, though, and that win was only his fourth race. If the horse had followed a more typical path to this race — a few races last summer and fall capped by a big two year old stakes like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — he would unquestionably be the big favorite here. He may still be favored as it is, but he is certainly harder to handicap.
The history is certainly not in Bodemeister’s favor. In the past 56 versions of the Derby we have seen 47 horses try for the Roses who didn’t run at two. Seventeen of those 47 have come in the last 20 years. Obviously none have won, and not even that many have come close. The closest was Strodes Creek, who finished second in 1994 as the fourth choice in the 14-horse field. Heavily-favored Holy Bull was an inexplicable 12th in that race. The only other horse to show up in the trifecta was the great Curlin — a future Horse of the Year — in 2007.
People who want to believe in Bodemeister can point to Fusaichi Pegasus, the impressive winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby. Like Bodemeister, he was only lightly-raced — the Derby was just his sixth start, and it was his third stakes appearance. He had run as a two year old, but only once, and only on Dec. 11. That’s only a one month head start over Bodemeister, and it was a second-place finish in an unremarkable maiden special weight race. He’s the closest thing to an inexperienced success story.
So, why is the lack of two year old experience such a big concern? There are several reasons, including these three big ones:
In the Kentucky Derby horses face the biggest field they will ever see in front of the biggest crowd horse racing ever sees over the longest distance many will ever run. The horse that wins the Kentucky Derby most often isn’t the horse that avoids diversity, but rather the horse that best handles the adversity he encounters.
The only way a horse learns to overcome these challenges is by experiencing issues in racing conditions. The fewer races a horse has had, the greater the chance that he will encounter something well out of his comfort zone. If he didn’t run as a two year old then much of what he has encountered has been recent, so he hasn’t had the chance to really internalize what he has learned.
This is a huge concern for a horse as inexperienced as Bodemeister. One thing he has going for him, though, is that he is a front-running horse. In the Arkansas Derby he exploded to the front and ran very fast despite the fact that the track certainly wasn’t favoring front runners on the day.
The easiest way to stay out of trouble is to stay in front of the rest of the horses, so if Bodemeister can run his race this concern would be minimized. There is no shortage of speed in this race, though, so Bodemeister’s lead is far from guaranteed.
For horses the Kentucky Derby is a serious test of endurance. Endurance athletes can’t cut corners in their training. It takes many months of training to build the required stamina base, and the experience of racing helps build that base and strengthen the foundations. A horse that didn’t race as two is inevitably behind in building that base, and it can be hard for him to catch up in time for this test.
Bodemeister had 26 workouts last year starting in June, so he wasn’t inactive. However, without the racing he’s still going to be behind. That means he needs to rely on his talent more than might be ideal.
Reason for the delayed debut
There are two main reasons why a horse doesn’t run as a two year old — he either got hurt, or he’s not mature enough to handle it. Both are major concerns.
If he was hurt than that leaves a hole in the development of his endurance base, and he may not be able to keep up when his deepest reserves are called upon.
Maturity is an even bigger concern.
Horses in the Kentucky Derby are the equivalent of human teenagers. The Derby is by far the biggest physical and mental test they have ever faced. If their maturity was a real concern as a two year old then it’s hard to believe that it shouldn’t be at least somewhat of a concern now.
Doc’s Sports is offering $60 worth of free member’s Kentucky Derby picks absolutely free – no obligation, no sales people – you don’t even have to enter credit card information. You can use this $60 credit any way you please on any of our top horse racing handicappers or for any of the Triple Crown races. Click here for more details and to take advantage of this free $60 picks credit today.
Most Recent Kentucky Derby Handicapping
- 2020 Kentucky Derby Long Shots: Expert Advice and Betting Tips for Finding Value
- 2020 Kentucky Derby Predictions
- 2020 Kentucky Oaks Predictions and Race Analysis
- Kentucky Derby Field - The Lineup and Morning Line Odds
- Best Trifecta Bets for the 2020 Kentucky Derby
- 2020 Kentucky Derby Horse Numbers: Post Positions and Expert Analysis
- 2020 Kentucky Derby Wagering Strategies
- 2020 Kentucky Derby Betting Trends
- Kentucky Derby Odds - Betting the 2020 Kentucky Derby
- 2020 Kentucky Derby Trivia Questions and Answers