2015 Kentucky Derby Running Styles
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.

Links are to Brisnet.com charts. Post positions and morning line odds are noted.

The “know them early” group

8. Dortmund (3-1) – SHOW (3rd)
A fascinating study in early speed. Effortlessly stalked a hopeless pacesetter in the Robert B. Lewis and came on again in the stretch, having hooked Firing Line. Made the lead in both the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby and made quick work of both fields. It’s not the fact that Dortmund possesses perhaps the quickest early foot of any other horse in the field; it’s that he’s made the pace in these races so easily while his foes often look like different horses when trying to keep up with him. He doesn’t need the lead, but he naturally finds himself there.

18. American Pharoah (5-2) – WINNER
Got his first true pace test in the Arkansas Derby when tracking a very fast pace. However, it’s tough to gauge the early pace he set when winning the Rebel and FrontRunner, as he took advantage of particularly slow early paces in both races. The Arkansas Derby effort does show that he has the early foot to make the lead here if those tactics need to be deployed.

3. Materiality (12-1)
All of his three wins have been virtually carbon copies of each other, going by the early pace. In each, he’s attended a slow-to-average pace while wide, and that makes it tough to gauge exactly how much early speed he possesses. If Materiality doesn’t have the early speed his running lines suggest, he could find himself mid-pack and in a position he’s unfamiliar with.

11. Stanford (30-1) – SCRATCHED
Stanford has always had the look of a sprinter, and, indeed as the distances have increased, his early speed has been more pronounced and his ability to finish has left him short. He was run down by International Star after setting a slow pace in the Louisiana Derby. His effort two back in an overnight stakes at Gulfstream, when setting a very slow pace against stablemate Materiality, was perhaps as perfect a pace setup as he will see, and yet he still couldn’t finish the job, settling for second. As of yet, Stanford is an early-speed type who has not displayed the same level of early speed as the rest of this bunch.

17. Mr. Z (50-1)
Has danced many a dance, having made 11 straight starts in graded company and coming up short in all of them, yet the only thing those starts have in common is a willingness to be part of the early vanguard. Mr. Z is the X factor early in this year’s Derby. While he may not have the look of a runner who will factor late, he for sure has shown a proclivity to prompt the pace and press. He can make things very uncomfortable for the other horses in this group, including American Pharoah.

The stalkers, grinders, middle movers

12. International Star (20-1) – SCRATCHED
Doesn’t mind some dirt in his face, taking the Lecomte when shifting off the rail late. He was again off the pace when running the rails to victory in the Risen Star. Perhaps his best effort to date came in his last when running down Stanford, who set a slow pace in the Louisiana Derby. International Star has the type of grinding style that should fit the profile of a 20-horse field, and his ability to run horses down late no matter what type of early pace is in front of him is something of value in this race, which can often fall apart.

15. Frosted (15-1) – 4th
In behind Upstart mid-pack when second in the Holy Bull, he then reversed pace roles with that rival when adding blinkers in the Fountain of Youth and still finished behind him. Frosted was never really asked for much early when winning the Wood Memorial, content to sit mid-pack behind an average early pace. He has the look of a horse who could find himself further back early in the Derby than his running lines suggest.

19. Upstart (15-1)
Wide stalking trip in the Holy Bull, then let a hot pace develop in front of him in the Fountain of Youth and was able to cross the line first before being disqualified for a late stretch bump with Itsaknockout. Upstart seems more of a stalker than Frosted and probably has more natural early speed, though having drawn wide in each of his last four races may have forced his jockey’s hand in securing early position.

13. Itsaknockout (30-1)
Something of a mystery from a running style standpoint, as his four starts to date have shown him to be one who will settle in mid-pack no matter what the race shape may be. Tough to look past Itsaknockout’s no-show effort in the Florida Derby, when he was basically run off his feet by Materiality and Upstart. Seems a cut below the rest of the runners in this group.

9. Bolo (30-1)
Has a pair of wins on turf where he set some very fast early paces. When switched to dirt for his last two starts, Bolo proved no match for Dortmund both early and late. In the San Felipe, he sat a perfect stalking trip behind Dortmund and was able to get on even terms entering the stretch before yielding late. Again in the Santa Anita Derby, Bolo stalked early and was no match late.

From out of the clouds

20. Far Right (30-1)
Is as pure a deep closer as any in this year’s Derby. Far Right has benefited from vacated rails in taking both the Smarty Jones and the Southwest, and particularly in the Southwest, he had both the advantage of a fast pace to run at and a track profile that day that favored those coming from off the pace. Though he’s never run particularly fast overall and American Pharoah trounced him by 8 lengths in the Arkansas Derby, he could be a factor if the Derby totally falls apart on the front end.

5. Danzig Moon (30-1)
More of plodder than a deep closer, Danzig Moon didn’t threaten Carpe Diem in either the Blue Grass or the Tampa Bay Derby. In both races, he was toward the back of the field and was kept busy entering the far turn. In each case, he passed some tiring horses, and he has the look of a horse that wouldn’t mind the extra furlong the Derby provides.

16. War Story (50-1)
Similar to International Star in running style and wasn’t able to turn the tables on that one in three tries at Fair Grounds. The main difference here is that War Story has a penchant for trouble at the start. A troubled start in the Kentucky Derby would surely put him in an early pace position of deep closer.

4. Tencendur (30-1)
One-paced run in both the Withers and Gotham when never threatening either El Kabeir or Frosted. Tencendur found himself in the odd spot of attending the pace in the Wood Memorial when a sluggish early pace materialized, and he was able to stay on and parlay that into a second-place finish. While that’s ultimately what landed him a spot in the Derby, it seems unlikely that he will be anywhere other than the last half of the field in the early going.

14. Keen Ice (50-1)
Has kept company with eight other Derby entrants in his last five starts and every single one of those foes has finished in front of Keen Ice. Total plodder has been devoid of any early speed and hasn’t yet found the trip and pace in front of him to have everything go just right.

21. Frammento (50-1)
Keen observers noticed Frammento closing very swiftly for third in the Fountain of Youth, which did have a hot early pace to run at. He didn’t quite get the same setup in the Blue Grass, which had him lose contact early and never really get back on track. Like Keen Ice, he’s another who just needs everything in front of him to go just right.

Wild cards

2. Carpe Diem (8-1)
He has enough early kick to be a pace presence early, and he’s displayed that in both starts this year when stalking above-average early paces in the Blue Grass and Tampa Bay Derby. The interesting example of unwinding the early pace of Carpe Diem is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In a race that was loaded with early speed, he was taken back off the pace and then looked like a winner at the top of the stretch before settling for second. He’s a pace wild card in that he can be fast early, but perhaps in a race this loaded with early speed, different tactics may be in order.

6. Mubtaahij (IRE) (20-1)
Mostly stalked in taking four of his last five, all at Meydan in Dubai, and that’s the crux of the matter, as he’s been running against horses in isolation on the other side of planet compared to these. His trainer, Michael De Kock, has indicated that he understands that American dirt racing has different race shapes than those he’s probably been running in Dubai. This probably places him more in the back half of the field.

7. El Kabeir (30-1) – SCRATCHED
Forced to stalk in the Jerome when drawn outside of speed, and got another stalking, wide trip in the Withers when corralled late by a deep closer. He then changed tactics in the Gotham win when coming from well off a hot pace in front of him, then tried closing again in the Wood Memorial, but there was no serious pace in front of him and Frosted got first run. Now a change in jockey to Calvin Borel signals an intent to try once again to deploy closing tactics.

10. Firing Line (12-1) – PLACE (2nd)
Looked like he had Dortmund beat on the square in a pair of races. He had the lead in the stretch in the Robert B. Lewis and Los Alamitos Futurity, only to be run down late; he then flattered those efforts and Dortmund by stalking a hot pace and crushing the Sunland Derby by 14 lengths. Firing Line has some serious early foot, but the question is whether he’ll try to show that early foot again, or perhaps take back and try to beat Dortmund by trying something different tactically.

1. Ocho Ocho Ocho (50-1)
Disappointed in the San Felipe after having shown himself to be a speedy 2-year-old. Shipped East to Keeneland and was the pacesetter in the Blue Grass while never really a threat to Carpe Diem despite finishing third beaten five lengths. Has some early foot if his jockey decides to use it, but another, like Firing Line, where doing something different may produce a different result.

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