2023 Kentucky Derby Pace Scenario Handicapping and Analysis
The Kentucky Derby is responsible for the introduction of horse racing to a vast audience. As such, a lot of "would-be" handicappers are lost in a sea of terms and strategies that can quickly become lost and confused. Here at Doc’s, we not only try to catch the fish for you but also try and show you how to catch your own.
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The concept of pace is one of the basic tenets of handicapping horse races. While speed and stamina are obvious to just about anyone, pace, or how the race is run, can be a little more challenging to understand. But those who ignore this part of handicapping are doomed to failure.
One of the fundamental principles to understand about the Kentucky Derby is the fact that most of the entries have never run the 1 1/4 mile before. This makes pace handicapping even more important, because certain styles are better suited for route races than sprints.
Running Styles: A horse is either a pace-setter (races out in front), a stalker (in the middle), or a deep closer (comes from behind). A race with only a few pace-setters makes one of them an attractive pick. Choose a stalker if there are too many pace-setters and no closers. If there are a lot of pace-setters, they might spend all their energy trying to outrace each other. This makes a stalker or a deep closer potentially a profitable play.
Front runners: One of the horses that should be leading the charge is the Japanese-bred Derma Sotogake, starting from the 20th-post position. He has raced exclusively in the Middle East, winning the (G2) UAE Derby in his last race out. When no one pushed the pace in that race, he was easily able to maintain his lead and then fight off the closers. I don't expect that to happen at Churchill Downs. Kingsbarn had a very similar trip in winning the Louisiana Derby, setting a pace without a significant challenge, and has an excellent chance to do that from the 6th post position. Reincarnate, positioned in the 7th post right next to Kingsbarn, is also a front-runner. And with jockey John Velazquez aboard, he is certain to establish a presence at the front of the pack.
Stalkers: You have to be careful doing research here, because typing in "stalkers" in Google will return something vastly different than horse racing. The consensus favorite Forte, who starts in the 15th post position, is a beautiful example of a "stalker". In the Florida Derby, he stayed about 8 lengths off of the lead and made his move on the far turn, running down Mage and Cyclone Mischief. He highlights a group of runners that include Practical Move, Tapit Trice, Two Phil's, Rocket Can, and others. There is a reason that all of the favorites run this style of race.
Deep Closer: The epitome of a deep closer was Rich Strike's run last year in the 2022 Derby. He started out in the 20th post position, stayed back while the front runners ran very sharp quarters, and then wove in and out amongst his competitors before coming along the rail to over take the dueling front-runners. Angel of Empire won the Arkansas Derby his last time out, making his strong move with Rocket Can going into the final turn and then simply blowing by the field to win going away. If he gets a solid pace to run in the Derby, with some tactical maneuvering out of the 14th post to navigate the field, he could very well repeat his Arkansas performance. Lord Miles, while not in the 20th-post, is in the 19th and could run a similar race. Raise Cain in the 16th, and Sun Thunder in the 13th, also look to make up ground late and be hard-chargers at the finish.
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