2016 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.
Links are to replays at YouTube. Post positions and morning line odds are noted.
The “know them early” group
20. Danzing Candy (20-1)
Has attained the lead in each start by the first call, save for his debut, which is worth watching to get an idea of how fast early he is. He totally missed the break, was a good 10 lengths off the leaders at the start and then was rushed up into the leading pack, checking as he was about to run up on their heels–this all into the teeth of a fairly fast opening quarter. His effort in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby could fairly be classified as a suicide mission, where he set outrageously fast fractions before stopping in the stretch to finish fourth. Drawn to the outside in 20, there’s really only one way to go and that’s to the front.
15. Outwork (15-1)
Has shown a fair amount of early speed in all four of his starts. Already looked mature when breaking his maiden in an early season 2-year-old race at Keeneland as the early speed. He was away a step slow in his 3-year-old debut but was happy to stalk and win in a first-level allowance at Tampa Bay. Put away a couple of quality early speed sprinters in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby when staying on to finish second. Engaged with Matt King Coal in a protracted pace battle in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial while posting very fast fractions and staying on to win.
13. Nyquist (3-1) – WINNER
Morning line favorite and champion juvenile, he won debut from 1, going gate to wire. His high natural cruising speed was on display when attending the pace in a pair of graded stakes juvenile sprints at Del Mar last fall. Showed serious class when fending off Swipe’s late run in the Grade 1 Frontrunner when attending a fast early pace. As wide as can be in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when encountering trouble and staying on late to win. Was simply too good when winning the Grade 1 Florida Derby after setting the early pace. Nyquist doesn’t need the lead and he will not be bothered or drawn into a pace duel, having shown in previous efforts, particularly the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, that he is tactical enough to use his early speed as an asset.
14. Mohaymen (15-1) – FOURTH
Showed some early zip and professionalism when turning back a challenge in the stretch to break his maiden in his debut. He was off slow in the Nashua and made an outside middle move to win. Rode the rails when stalking the early pace in the Grade 2 Remsen. Won a pair of graded stakes in similar fashion at Gulfstream to kick off his 3-year-old campaign before tailing off and yielding to Nyquist at the top the stretch in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He’s probably a little faster early than the running lines would suggest. Further, a change of tactics is in order, as he came up short against Nyquist in his last. Expect him to be put into the race earlier this time.
The stalkers, grinders, middle movers
5. Gun Runner (10-1) – SHOW (3rd)
Stalked a slow pace when breaking his maiden on this track last fall in his debut. Rode the rails while unbothered by the early pace in a first-level allowance win in his second start. Gun Runner has a little early speed and is professional. He looked like a winner in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in the stretch after sitting a nice stalking trip before flattening out to fourth. Benefited from good, clean stalking trips when taking a pair of graded stakes preps at Fair Grounds. Gun Runner is happy to stalk and has the tactical speed to create his own good trips.
9. Destin (15-1)
Good early speed in debut when impressively working out an awkward trip maiden win. Good early speed in second start despite some early trouble. Good start in the Grade 3 Lecomte when adding blinkers but then displayed some awkward action entering the stretch and never recovered to get back on track late. Carbon copy efforts when stalking the early pace in a pair of graded stakes victories at Tampa Bay. Destin is a reliable stalker and is tractable enough to keep up with the early pace setters if need be.
17. Mor Spirit (12-1)
Mor Spirit has a quizzical early running style, as it’s clear he can deploy some early speed if needed. Gained the lead in the stretch of his debut, but dawdled and yielded late, still green. Much better second start when breaking his maiden while attending the pace. Faster than Gun Runner early when those two met in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, but again dawdled late after gaining the lead. He was taken back in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity, then stalked and went wide on the far turn before grinding out a win late. Had a perfect stalking trip in the Grade 3 Robert B Lewis before getting up late for the win. His last two efforts are certainly puzzling, though. He was taken back in the Grade 2 San Felipe and had some awkward moments entering the clubhouse turn, then lost focus on the backstretch before grinding out a second-place finish. In the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, he was perhaps too close to the sizzling pace set by Danzing Candy early and had nothing left in stretch despite somehow finishing second. Mor Spirit is the type of horse who needs a target to run at, so expect him to use some of his tactical early speed to clear other horses early and to sit a stalking trip.
10. Whitmore (20-1)
Both wins came in sprints. Whitmore has deceiving running lines versus what watching his replays reveals. He tends to have some issue with the break, but he does possess some early speed when his jockey decides to deploy it. He was held back early in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot and, despite that, attended the pace before stopping late. He missed the break in the Southwest and then was taken back, then made a wide, closing move on the turn, finishing second. It was almost as if Whitmore found a closing running style by missing the break as an accident. He tried the same tactic in the Grade 2 Rebel but couldn’t sustain his late run. Another troubled break in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby where other, better closers got the better of him. Expect him to be more forwardly placed as a change in tactics is in order.
18. Majesto (30-1)
Pure mid-pack stalker doesn’t have enough early speed to keep with the pacesetters in here and not enough late kick to sustain a close. He tends to sit mid-pack and inherit the lead or stick around for a placing, as he did in the Grade 1 Florida Derby when the rail opened up a perfect trip for him to stay on for second and earn enough points to enter this race.
12. Tom’s Ready (30-1)
Lone win in a maiden special weight at 7 furlongs last fall over this track. Tom’s Ready has had his share of trouble lines and wide trips that hide the fact that he does comparatively have some early speed for this group. Expect that to be put to use here and for him to sit mid-pack.
From out of the clouds
1. Trojan Nation (50-1)
Maiden has been devoid of early speed in many of his races. His closing running style is often against the track profile found at tracks in Southern California, particularly at Santa Anita, where Trojan Nation has had four tries in the maiden ranks. He got the fast pace to run at in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial when he was taken well off the pace and almost caught Outwork at the wire.
2. Suddenbreakingnews (20-1)
Stone cold closer has placed or won seven times from eight starts and that’s a tough accomplishment on primarily dirt surfaces where various early pace scenarios can put closers at a disadvantage. He has often taken the wide, overland route with his closing kick, and this has put him at further disadvantage with regard to other closers who are more comfortable working out trips closer to the rail.
3. Creator (10-1)
Another closer who has shown no early speed at all in any of his races and thus took six tries in the maiden ranks before learning how to work out closing trips. That learning helped Creator get the better of fellow closer Suddenbreakingnews in both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby by saving more ground into the stretch.
6. My Man Sam (20-1)
Devoid of early speed in all four of his starts. He is here solely on the closing effort to finish second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, and in that race he had two things go his way. He got a fast pace to run at and a Keeneland track that that afternoon was favorable to closers. While eligible to improve in his fifth start, there are other proven closers here.
19. Brody’s Cause (12-1)
Dual Grade 1 winner, both at Keeneland, in the Breeders’ Futurity and the Blue Grass. In both those wins, he’s had favorable pace scenarios to run at and favorable track profiles to do that running over. Was closing fast in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, also at Keeneland, but proved ultimately no match for Nyquist and settled for third.
4. Mo Tom (20-1)
Had some success as a 2-year-old, winning two of his first three starts, including an overnight stake on this track last November. Another in a cluster of closers, and this one might be slowest early of all. Much has been made about his troubled lines in all three of the Fair Grounds preps, particularly in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. One-run closer has to have everything in front of him go just right and then somehow not find the trouble that he’s found hard to avoid in recent efforts.
7. Oscar Nominated (50-1)
Raced midpack when winning the Grade 3 Spiral at Turfway on a synthetic surface after sitting an ideal trip. Won a listed stake at Fair Grounds on the turf with a similar effort to stalk and pounce. He’s never raced on dirt so there is little to go on, but it’s hard to see him doing anything other than sitting mid-pack in the early stages.
8. Lani (30-1)
Total mystery as there is not much to go on because this will be his first start stateside. Walked out of the gate in the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby in Dubai and settled in last early, then made an ambitious middle move wide on the backstretch and put the field away in the stretch for the win. Based on that effort, one has to think he’s not going to be much of an early pace presence and will probably settle middle of the pack.
11. Exaggerator (8-1) – PLACE (2nd)
Away awkward just after the start and taken back when losing all chance in his debut. Good start in his maiden-breaking second start where he stalked, waited, shifted out and closed with a rather crazy trip. Closed from last to win the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, but showed sneaky early speed and multiple gears. Good start in Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and again showed he has tactical speed for a horse who has morphed into what looks like a closer based on recent races. He was used for some early speed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to work out a manageable trip but was flat in lane. Forced to use early speed when facing a wide trip in the Delta Jackpot entering the clubhouse turn, then proceeded to wire the field. He was again used on the early pace in his 3-year-old debut as the only chance to get the better of Nyquist in the Grade 2 San Vicente and stayed on for second. Change of tactics in San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby, as in both races he was content to be taken off the pace early and showed a sustained closing run. This worked to particularly good effect in the Santa Anita Derby as that race had a very fast early pace to close into. While it’s reasonable to assume he will be a closer type, it’s difficult to ignore that he does possess some early kick, and that can be an asset in a race with 19 other horses.
16. Shagaf (20-1)
Won debut in a workman-like effort where his jockey urged him along well before the stretch. Had a perfect outside stalking trip when winning his second start at Gulfstream in a first-level allowance. Good break in the Grade 3 Gotham, where a fast pace developed in front of him and he rode rails, stalking before shifting out in the stretch to win. This was another workman-like win where the jockey had to get after him on the far turn. He missed the break in the Wood Memorial and thus did not have a chance to attend that race’s very fast early pace. He’s lightly raced and has shown some flashes of early speed, yet is hard to peg from a running style perspective.