2011 Kentucky Derby Running StylesHow the race is likely to unfold
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 put in the context of a particular field. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each running style and attempt to place this year’s Derby entrants in their respective running style groups.
The”know them early” group
6. Comma to the Top
When he wins, and he has done that more than any other Derby starter, he usually does so wire to wire. The only problem is, he’s never won on dirt despite running well in his two tries. He picks up a rider who knows how to steal a race in Patrick Valenzuela, and his form says he knows how to win only one way, and that’s to the lead as soon as the gate opens.
7. Pants On Fire
Has been a pace presence in the six races in which he’s hit the board,and that shouldn’t change here as he figures to be in the first flight. Louisiana Derby win showed he can rate if need be, but question his ability to win with any other trip than near the pace.
Both wins on dirt were wire-to-wire at Gulfstream this winter. Didn’t get the lead in the Florida Derby and didn’t factor, in a puzzling performance. Must be noted that both of those wire-to-wire performances may have been aided by softer paces than could probably be expected for the Derby.
5. Decisive Moment
Has a knack for getting involved in very fast early paces in his career, and his past performance lines sort of hide that. Lone win this year came in wire-to-wire fashion. Figure him to be the speed of the speed early along with Comma to the Top.
Has only run well when involved early in races, and he almost ran the entire Florida Derby field off their feet before being collared late by Dialed In. Have got to figure that any plan for success will see him involved early on.
The stalkers, the grinders, the middle movers
15. Midnight Interlude
From maiden winner to Santa Anita Derby winner to the Kentucky Derby, all in the matter of seven weeks for this rapidly improving colt. Have to think his Santa Anita Derby win is the blueprint for how he wants to run, and that would be stalking just off the first flight of speedsters.
3. Twice the Appeal
All three career wins came when stalking fast early paces. Sunland Derby win was prototypical of the type of pace normally seen in a race like the Kentucky Derby, and Twice the Appeal was seen sweeping five wide and pouncing late.
13. Mucho Macho Man
Has done his best work when stalking slow early paces in his two wins. Grinder just seems to run 24 second quarter after 24 second quarter without minding what’s happening around him pace wise. If he does that here, the only question is the trip.
4. Stay Thirsty
Sort of a pace puzzle in this corner. He showed a little bit of speed as a flashy 2-year-old, but his two efforts this year have seen him stalk paces with mixed success. Didn’t fire in the Florida Derby, but the exact same trip resulted in a win in the Gotham.
20. Watch Me Go
Grinder has been a mixed bag,but has capitalized on nice set-ups in his two wins this year. Only knows how to win from out of the pack and off the pace.
From out of the clouds
8. Dialed In
Florida Derby winner has done little wrong in brief four-race career. All three wins came from way out of the clouds. His final quarter times don’t correlate visually with his masterful wins, though. His lone loss when coming a half length short in an allowance suggests what can happen to a confirmed closer when the pace up front is just not there.
2. Brilliant Speed
Won the Blue Grass from dead last and have to think that’s the plan here as his other starts didn’t see him near what were slow paced turf races. The big “if” is the surface of course, as he never ran particularly well on dirt as a juvenile. If he can duplicate his closing kick from synthetics to dirt, he could factor.
Maybe not quite as pace dependent as Dialed In or Brilliant Speed, Nehro is tractable enough to adapt to about any pace. Both of his fast-closing efforts in the Arkansas Derby and Louisiana Derby were the product of two very different race shapes. Either way, he will come from off the pace.
Does his best running when not caught up in the early running. All three wins were from off the pace, and as the distances have gotten longer, the further back he’s pulled off the pace and the more successful he’s been. Signature Arkansas Derby win was eerily like most Kentucky Derbies – pace came in wave after wave and Archarcharch was the winner at the wire.
The wild cards
11. Master of Hounds
Total wild card in this corner. Master of Hounds has never been on dirt and has a lone win in a maiden breaker in Ireland last July. His turf form suggests he’ll be well off the pace.
16. Animal Kingdom
Has never run on dirt but has shown some versatility in his two victories. In the Spiral he came from last and blew by the field to draw off by three lengths. His maiden breaker at Keeneland saw him attend a fast early pace and still do his better running late. Big mystery is the surface.
Curiously campaigned colt has had some success on a variety of surfaces, and he’s never been hooked in a fast-paced race. Has done best work when stalking slow paces with perfect trips.
Was unable to factor in lone dirt start, but has adapted to a variety of pace scenarios on synthetics with a preferred style of stalking or making a decisive middle move.
9. Derby Kitten
Another who was unable to factor in lone dirt start, he’s done his best running while passing horses late on turf. Derby Kitten caught a short field, inside out perfect trip while winning the Lexington.