2014 Kentucky Derby Pace Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 5/1/2014
When it comes to handicapping the Kentucky Derby, looking at the way the pace of the race is likely to set up is second in importance only to the pedigrees of the horses in my eyes. The race is so long and the field is so crowded that what separates the contenders from pretenders on race day is almost always their ability to stay out of trouble and get the trip they need. Handicappers, then, are smart to spend the time to look at how they think the race will play out and whether that gives each horse an advantage or a disadvantage.
Horses that need to be on the lead could be in trouble if there are a lot of similar horses because they could have to run faster than preferred, or they will have to run a style of race they don't like. If there is an absence of early speed then that would be a problem for the deep closers because they need the horses in front of them to get tired out before they make their move. The winner of the race won't necessarily be the best one, but instead it will be the horse who is able to be best in the conditions he faces that day.
As is often the case in the Derby, this race is very front-heavy. If Pablo Del Monte is indeed entered after the scratch of Hoppertunity on Thursday morning then there are as many as eight horses that would ideally like to have the lead and five more that would like to be stalking that pace from close range. It's quite likely, then, that we will see some rough action early in the race as horses fight to get up front. We're also likely to see some fast early fractions - perhaps very fast. If that happens then it will be the defining characteristic of the race.
Here's how the field shapes up:
The list of horses that prefer to either set the pace or push it - run right with the leader and force the early pace - is long here. In alphabetical order we have California Chrome, Chitu, Harry's Holiday, Pablo Del Monte, Ride On Curlin, Uncle Sigh, Vicar's In Trouble and Wildcat Red.
Chitu is an interesting one here. He is trained by Bob Baffert, as is Hoppertunity who was scratched on Thursday. If Chitu wasn't ready to win that day - which I don't expect him to be - then I suspected that Baffert would have him ready to ensure a good pace for Hoppertunity to take advantage of. With Hoppertunity gone, though, Chitu is on his own. That means he should take fewer risks and will be less aggressive.
Harry's Holiday, Pablo Del Monte and Uncle Sigh have little chance to win the race, so they could be looking to get out front and try to run away with it. It may be their only chance. If one of them can get loose early then it could get crazy.
California Chrome is the heavy favorite in the race, so he obviously has a target on his back. He has been a dramatically better horse when leading or pushing the pace than he has when he has been off the pace. Other owners will know that and will be looking to neutralize him early by forcing him to decide between running too fast or sitting too far back. This will be a tremendous test of the quality of this horse. A perfect trip is far from likely, so you really need to be confident in the comparative quality of this horse over the field to come out on top.
Because there is so much speed, handicappers will need to look at which horses are going to be in trouble if they can't lead and which have shown the ability to run from further back when needed to. In general, though, the speed does not set up as well for front runners as it could.
Stalking the pace
Candy Boy, Danza, General A Rod, Samraat and Tapiture are most likely to be in the second flight of horses - between the speed and the closers. This could be a good place to be, but it isn't without risks. The biggest concern is not to get boxed in on the rail when the speed horses are falling back in front of you and the closers are looking to move up from behind you. That being said, the value of all these horses in my eyes is boosted in this race because of the way they run.
There are seven horses likely to be nearer to the back than the front at the early calls. In alphabetical order they are Commanding Curve, Dance With Fate,
Intense Holiday, Medal Count, Vinceremos, We Miss Artie and Wicked Strong. The faster the early pace the better for these guys - though traffic is always a
concern as these horses have to pass a lot of other runners to get to the front. I am really not impressed with Commanding Curve, Vinceremos or We Miss
Artie in this group. The other four, though, will warrant real consideration if the race plays out like it should.
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