2012 Kentucky Derby Running Styles
How the race is likely to unfold
Level: Intermediate
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

6. Bodemeister – PLACE (2nd)
Ran them off their feet in the Arkansas Derby to go wire-to-wire and didn’t look like he broke a sweat while doing so. The early pace he set in the Arkansas Derby was fast but achieved effortlessly. Bodemeister is still somewhat of a wildcard with his limited four race history. His San Felipe effort two back did come while rating off a moderate early pace before being caught late by Creative Cause. History says he gets into the race early, but there’s no history for Bodemeister if he’s not on or near the pace.

14. Hansen
Three of Hansen’s four lifetime wins came in wire-to-wire fashion. His lone rating effort came in the Gotham when taking the blinkers off for first time. The early pace he set in the Blue Grass was well faster than par and perhaps the fastest early pace of all Derby preps this year. That juxtaposition of his last two starts – rating off a slow pace in winning the Gotham, running out of gas while setting a hot pace in the Bluegrass – makes for an intriguing puzzle considering the other early speed here.

15. Gemologist
Undefeated Gemologist may not be a pure speed horse, but three of his five wins have come in wire-to-wire fashion. Curiously, his two graded stakes wins in the Kentucky Jockey Club and Wood Memorial came while tracking a strong early pace.

9. Trinniberg
Prototypical pure speed horse. All three wins have come in wire-to-wire fashion. When not holding sway by second call of a race, he’s thrown in the towel and yielded badly. That said, he’s shown much improvement as a 3-year-old, with wins in the Bay Shore and Swale that were never in doubt from the bell. Trinniberg has never been beyond seven furlongs and considering his running style, it would be shock if he’s not leading the field into the first turn.

The stalkers, the grinders, the middle movers

8. Creative Cause
Never off the board in eight tries, seven of those in graded stakes, Creative Cause usually puts in grinding efforts from just off the pace. Fell much further back in the Santa Anita Derby when shedding blinkers for the first time and looked like a winner at the top of the stretch before flattening out. His lifetime line of 8:4-2-2 runs counter to his reputation as a horse who’s happy to settle for a minor award.

16. El Padrino
Bred to run ten miles, El Padrino doesn’t lack much early lick either. Draw a line through the odd effort in the Florida Derby and you find a horse that’s usually within a length or two at first call. Faster than that still, if the going below his feet is wet.

19. I’ll Have Another – WINNER
Showed speed as a 2-year-old on synthetics before an odd effort in the sloppy going of the Hopeful while never factoring. I’ll Have Another’s 3-year-old form has found him stalking slow early paces while winning the Lewis and the Santa Anita Derby.

4. Union Rags
Has run best when having some pace to run at from mid-pack. Union Rags’ 3-year-old form has been a mixed bag from two starts at Gulfstream. His Fountain of Youth win was dazzling when he was closer up to the pace than he’s ever been, but that race has certainly not come back to flatter. His Florida Derby effort didn’t reveal much as the chart suggests that it was a merry-go-round type of race where stalkers were compromised by pace. Shouldn’t have that pace problem here.

12. Prospective
The first- time blinkers put him into the race earlier when winning the Tampa Bay Derby whilealso keeping him out of the trouble that has plagued him. Prospective showed a tiny sliver of early speed as a 2-year-old, but that seems to have disappeared as the distances have increased this year. Figures to be mid-pack again as he was when outclassed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

From out of the clouds

10. Daddy Nose Best
Buzz horse has got the money on all three surfaces in closing fashion. He’s reeled off two wins in a row to begin his 3-year-old campaign, helped most recently by a hot pace to run at in his stubborn victory in the Sunland Derby.

17. Done Talking
Not much in the way of early lick for Done Talking as both starts this year have seen him in the rear with mixed results at the wire, as he was distanced on class to Hansen in the Gotham and the recipient of a race that fell apart in the last eighth of the Illinois Derby.

5. Dullahan – SHOW (3rd)
Only two wins but both were Grade 1’s for this deepest of closers. Dullahan had plenty to run at in winning the Blue Grass, inhaling Hansen in the stretch. The extra furlong and a half shouldn’t hurt when getting started too late for fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

2. Optimizer
Hasn’t seen the winner’s circle since his debut at Saratoga last August. Optimizer has no early speed and has been picking up the pieces as a closer with mixed effect in an ambitious campaign that has had him in stakes company since the debut maiden breaker.

7. Rousing Sermon
Cal-bred has not improved much since his 2-year-old season, only becoming more of a pronounced closer this year. Rousing Sermon has never won in open company, but recent efforts in the Louisiana Derby and San Felipe confirm he needs everything to be perfect in front of him to factor.

18. Sabercat
Went wire-to-wire for his maiden breaker at Monmouth last year, then was taken back to last in winning the Delta Jackpot, in which he saw a hot pace evaporate before him. That’s been the playbook ever since for Sabercat when left with too much to do in the Arkansas Derby and Rebel.

The wild cards

11. Alpha
Hard luck horse has found more than his fair share of trouble while doing his best running from off the pace. Chart comments from an adventurous six lifetime starts include: steadied 1st turn, bobble break, fractious at gate, wide and altered course. Shouldn’t have much bother finding trouble in a 20-horse field if history is any indication. His running style is a confirmed find trouble.

1. Daddy Long Legs
World traveler has been seen on the track on three different continents. No factor in lone dirt start last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Daddy Long Legs punched his ticket when winning the UAE Derby in Dubai close to the pace in his only start this year.

20. Liaison
His form has been messy, if not downright disastrous, this year after putting together two stakes victories at two turns as a 2-year-old. The blinkers go back on Liaison, and it can’t hurt if that puts him closer to the pace, as his style of taking back off the pace since shedding blinkers hasn’t done the trick.

3. Take Charge Indy
Both victories came on or near the pace, but it’s hard to think of him as a speed-early horse as he doesn’t seem to need the lead based on his past performances. Take Charge Indy lulled them to sleep on the front end in the Florida Derby, and yet he’s one of the few in this race who’ve demonstrated significant improvement as a 3-year-old. Excuse trouble line when steadied in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and staying on for fifth place money.

13. Went The Day Well
Stepped forward in development when moving to a synthetic surface winning the Spiral. Went the Day Well curiously adds blinkers for the first time here in a race that’s not devoid of speed and he’s shown that stalking is his game. Another potential pace threat on the equipment change?

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