2013 Kentucky Derby Running Styles
By Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
They say pace makes the race, and if there’s any race on the calendar that’s guaranteed to have an honest pace, the Kentucky Derby is it. It’s always instructive to take a look at what events have led to each horse getting to the winner’s circle previously, to see if anything can be gleaned when those events are put in the context of a particular field. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the running style of each horse and attempt to place this year’s Derby entrants in their respective running style groups.
The “know them early” group
Has shown a propensity for some early foot in staying undefeated in four starts. Verrazano matured nicely in winning the Wood Memorial, calmly sitting off a tepid pace to his inside, which was an improvement off his keener effort when stumbling out of the gate in the Tampa Bay Derby and getting caught up in a slightly hotter early pace. Decided lack of early speed should have him in the first flight of horses entering the first turn.
Along with Falling Sky, Goldencents is likely the speed of the early speed, and the shape of the race is in jockey Kevin Krigger’s hands. Goldencents has never been more than a length off of the early pace in his six starts.
Oxbow’s messy form becomes a bit clearer when you isolate his two victories from nine starts. Both the maiden breaker at Churchill last fall and 11-length romp in the Lecomte Stakes came in front-running fashion, when he had secured an early lead and didn’t look back. Possibly a true need-the-lead type, he needs to get involved early to have any sort of say.
13. Falling Sky
Since being stretched out to two turns this year, Falling Sky has been within a length of the early lead in all three starts. He’s probably not quite as fast early as Goldencents, but Falling Sky should have a say in how the early pace shapes up.
Probably wouldn’t normally associate Itsmyluckday as an early pace horse, but there’s very little pronounced early pace in this edition of the Kentucky Derby. His two standout performances in the Holy Bull and Gulfstream Park Derby earlier this year were fast enough early paces, of which he was a part, that one would think he’d need to be near or in the first flight of horses to factor.
The stalkers, grinders, middle movers
16. Orb – WINNER
Orb is a true grinder that isn’t going to get caught up in any early pace pressure. He doesn’t seem to mind if the pace in front of him is hot, as it was when he won the Fountain of Youth, or if it’s slow, as it was when he won the Florida Derby. He’s shown a consistent sustained running style that usually starts cranking before the three-eighths pole, which would explain his propensity to circle the field wide–he needs the space to get moving and stay moving.
Sort of a mysterious runner whose reputation has taken a hit this year, yet he won the Arkansas Derby last out. He’s a classic mid-pack grinder who doesn’t seem to mind the pace development around him. Overanalyze did, however, get run off his feet in the Iroquois at Churchill last fall in the lone fast early pace he’s been involved in., and he was no match for Vyjack in a one-paced effort off the bench in the Gotham. He was the last horse standing in what many feel was a sub-ordinary Arkansas Derby.
17. Will Take Charge
Attempting the Derby off a seven-week layoff, Will Take Charge has done his best work when sitting off of hot paces in both the Rebel and Smarty Jones at Oaklawn. Both of those wins had him wide and navigating some traffic. Hard to overlook the no-show effort last fall at Churchill in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
10. Palace Malice
One-paced horse has lacked the killer instinct when having opportunities to put away competition in both the Blue Grass and Risen Star. Palace Malice has also had his share of troubled trips, particularly when shut off in deep stretch of the Louisiana Derby when it appeared he was making a move. He has enough tactical speed to be just off the first vanguard of the early pace.
18. Frac Daddy
Has danced a lot of high-class dances but only has the maiden score to show for it. In Frac Daddy’s corner is an affinity for the Churchill Downs surface, where he won the two-turn maiden breaker last fall and came just a neck shy in the Kentucky Jockey Club. In both races, he stalked slow paces and he could get a similar set-up here.
From out of the clouds
19. Java’s War
A confirmed slow starter out of the gate, Java’s War is certainly the favorite to be in last place as the field enters the first turn. The strange thing about Java’s War is that in seven career starts, he’s never had an exceedingly hot pace to run at, which sometimes nullifies a deep closer’s kick. Another, like Orb and Golden Soul, who prefers to do his running when wide, circling the field.
5. Normandy Invasion – 4th Place
Confirmed closer has yet to have that breakthrough performance that many think he’s capable of displaying. Normandy Invasion has seen a fair share of different pace set-ups in his five previous starts, from the mild early paced Risen Star to the slow-paced Wood Memorial, yet he hasn’t worked out a winning trip. Mostly all he’s found are troubled trips that have resulted in some nice-looking placings.
4. Golden Soul – 2nd Place
Lone maiden breaking win came sitting and pouncing off of a slow pace. Golden Soul doesn’t have much in the way of early kick, and he’s found faster early pace races as he’s climbed the class ladder, which has resulted in wide bids that have him picking up some late placings. Last effort in the Louisiana Derby had him sitting last with a very fast pace in front of him; his late run netted only a fourth-place finish.
3. Revolutionary – 3rd Place
Took him a little while to figure things out on the track, breaking his maiden in his fourth appearance. He’s performed better as the distances have increased, culminating in an out-of-the-clouds winning move in the Louisiana Derby that confirmed his status as an off-the-pace closer, one that the public likes as he’s been the favorite in all six starts. Popular Withers score is worth watching again to see him overcoming some serious adversity turning for home and splitting horses late.
Taken well off the pace in the Louisiana Derby when shedding the blinkers for the first time, and it yielded a career-best effort. He’s sort of a mixed bag pace-wise, as he’s shown some flashes of speed both in sprints and in routes, but the key here is that the blinkers are staying off so he can settle off the pace and make a late closing run.
11. Lines of Battle
Though he’s never started on dirt, this world traveler has started on three different continents, winning on two of them. Never factored in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last fall, racing wide while attending a fast early pace. That effort alone would suggest he could be an early pace presence. Couple that with his effort last time in Dubai when winning the UAE Derby after controlling the early pace, and Lines of Battle makes for an intriguing pace wild card.
Total wild card both on the track and in the paddock before the race, as he’s known for acting up. His Jerome score had him attending a modest early pace, yet his Gotham win came sitting off of a slow early pace. His third in the paceless Wood Memorial revealed no clues as to his true running style. Perhaps he’s just a wild card.
Black Onyx – SCRATCHED
Mysterious mid-pack mover has started to put it all together this year in winning a first-level allowance and the Spiral. The only problem? The first-level allowance was on turf at Gulfstream, and the Spiral was on Polytrack at Turfway. Sure, he’s got the maiden-breaking win in an off-the-turf affair at Aqueduct last November, but his dirt form is otherwise uninspiring. The question, then: Is Black Onyx a turf horse or a rapidly improving horse?
15. Charming Kitten
Has never raced on dirt, and, save for a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall, has never run a bad race. Mid-pack stalker is tractable enough to stalk a slow pace as in his second in the Palm Beach at Gulfstream. He’s also quick enough to reel in a quick pace, as he did in taking the Kitten’s Joy also at Gulfstream. The question for Charming Kitten is the surface.
7. Giant Finish
A late entry, Giant Finish has yet to win an open company race, having won a pair of NY-bred events at Aqueduct over the winter. Was able to wire a field while setting a slow pace and stretching out to two turns for the first time in one of those aforementioned Aqueduct scores. Has the look of a horse who could be here just for the thrill of a workout, and that alone could be enough for him to be an early pace factor.