Using Speed Figures to Narrow Kentucky Derby Contenders

Beyer Speed Figures for the Kentucky Derby Contenders

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues this Saturday with a pair of top qualifying races with the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and The UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. Following those two races, there are just five more major prep races over the next three weeks awarding 100 points to the top finisher with the winners going to the Kentucky Derby starting gate March 7 at Churchill Downs.

As handicappers and race fans narrow their choices among the expected 20 entries on Derby Day, I thought some additional insight on speed figures might help you with your Derby selections. While it may prove more difficult to nail down this year’s winner with the contenders showing various running styles, the speed figures and anticipated improvement over the next month is something to monitor and measure.

Kentucky_Derby RoseHigh speed figures often are overemphasized in races such as the Derby, in which identifying the most likely winner requires more than identifying the horse with the top figure. Generally, the Derby is won by a horse on his way up, rather than one who is simply the fastest of the crop. One obvious exception in the last decade was 2008 winner Big Brown. But seeking out favorable patterns of recent improvement should be on your radar leading up to Derby Day.

With some of the anticipated contenders and favorites are already established, let’s narrow the list down to 10 or less horses by using a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 or better. The Kentucky Derby can be a bit tricky with its huge field and potential traffic troubles, but isolating top speed is one way of narrowing Kentucky Derby contenders. Many horses can’t reproduce their best speed figures from middle-distance races when asked to go 1 1/4 miles, especially relatively immature 3-year-olds in early spring. Thus, other handicapping factors, such as who will or won’t benefit from the likely pace scenario, and who projects to be in line for a good trip will also separate potential win candidates from the others.

American Pharoh VictoryCurrently, three horses have hit triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures – Nyquist (101), Danzing Candy (100) and Destin (100). The Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin has also hit 98 in that race. Exaggerator hit 98 when runner-up to Nyquist in the San Vicente Stakes and also posted a 96 speed rating when third in the San Felipe.

Outwork also had a 98 speed figure when running second in the Tampa Bay Derby. Mor Spirit posted a 97 when second in the San Felipe and Matt King Coal had a 97 in a Aqueduct Allowance win. Cupid had a 95 in the Rebel Stakes showing tons of heart and grit in the late stretch, which is something you can’t measure. Current Derby favorite Mohaymen scored a pair of 95s in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth wins.

How do the speed figures transfer to the Derby? Recent winners and top contenders American Pharoah, California Chrome and Dortmund had all separated themselves from the field using top Beyer Speed Figures. While the Beyer’s don’t tell the entire story, it’s certainly something to track in the final Derby prep races as you narrow your Derby contender card. Anticipating improvement and seeing a stronger Beyer Speed Figure in some of the final prep races is what you should be following more than the hype and over-valued favorites from the initial Derby contenders.

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