2018 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.
Post positions and morning line odds are noted.
The “know them early” group
7. Justify (3-1) – WINNER
Went wire-to-wire when winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in just his third start, this on an uncontested lead through thoroughly average early fractions. His win two races back in a first-level allowance saw him rate off the lead comfortably. This is a horse with a high cruising speed and he doesn’t necessarily have to have the early lead, very much in the mold of recent Derby winners like Big Brown, American Pharoah and Nyquist.
3. Promises Fulfilled (30-1)
Has made the lead at the first call in each of his five starts and it would seem he will do so for a sixth time come Saturday. Promises Fulfilled was sent on a suicide mission in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and engaged in a protracted, fast, early duel with rival Strike Power that led to a pace collapse. Two races back, he took the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in wire-to-wire fashion, so this is a horse of some quality, not just an ordinary pacesetter.
4. Flameaway (30-1)
Multiple graded stakes winner has the distinction, along with Mendelssohn, of having a win on all three surfaces, and he’s done it while attending or setting the pace. It must be said however, that in many of his races, he’s been a pacesetter by default and not purely because he’s a speed ball like Promises Fulfilled. That said, he won the Sam F. Davis in wire-to-wire fashion after having won a listed stakes on turf also in wire-to-wire fashion. Would expect another forwardly placed trip here.
19. Noble Indy (30-1)
He’s always been a length or two off the lead by the first call of each his four starts, and while he isn’t quite as fast early as Promises Fulfilled, his effort in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, when attending the fast early pace, is in the same ballpark. What’s more, he won that race after having a troubled trip in the Grade 2 Risen Star while attempting to rate. While purely on pace figures he doesn’t appear to be part of the early vanguard, have a feeling Noble Indy will be forwardly placed on Saturday.
The stalkers, grinders, middle movers
5. Audible (8-1) – SHOW (3rd)
He was something of a grinder as a juvenile, having to be ridden along from off the pace to sustain his closing kick. A hint of his quality was on display when closing inside of horses to finish third on debut in a state-bred sprint at at Belmont. Audible’s two races this year show a more polished horse that was comfortable settling off the pace, particularly in the Florida Derby, where the pace was very fast early and he was the beneficiary of making the first move into that pace.
11. Bolt d’Oro (8-1)
Despite showing some speed in winning his debut last August at Del Mar, he’s settled into a mid-pack type of running style. The comment line for his effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could very much be applied to both his starts this year: “loomed a danger, flattened.” In both the Grade 2 San Felipe and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, he had to be ridden into a position to try to win from off the pace, only to be flat in the lane. He’s the kind of horse that gives the feeling that the harder he is ridden to keep up with the early pace, the less he will have left in lane.
12. Enticed (30-1)
Multiple graded stakes winner has always been a stalking type that prefers to do his running outside of his rivals as seen to great effect when winning the Kentucky Jockey Club as a juvenile over this track. His form this year has been a mixed bag. He never seemed comfortable when inside of horses in the Grade 2 Holy Bull when fading in the stretch. He stalked and pounced late to win the Grade 3 Gotham and then could not hang on in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, yielding late to Vino Rosso.
6. Good Magic (12-1) – PLACE (2nd)
Not often a horse breaks his maiden in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, as Good Magic did when his stalking run enabled him to out-finish odds-on favorite Bolt d’Oro. His seasonal debut in the Fountain of Youth found him stalking two horses in Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled, neither of which he could catch on the typically speed-favoring surface of Gulfstream. The same trip in the Blue Grass, on the much fairer Keeneland main track, yielded a win. He’s firmly a mid-pack horse that likes to grind his way toward the lead at the top of the stretch.
15. Instilled Regard (50-1)
He won the Lecomte winner in January from a stalking, wide position just off the pace. Since then it’s been a mostly mixed bag when plying the same stalking trip. He was no match for Justify and Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby when attempting to close from off the pace. Two back, his stalking did him no good when settling for fourth in the slow paced Risen Star.
17. Solomini (30-1)
Has been something of a disappointment in his two starts this spring after showing some promise as a juvenile, when he tussled with the best of the two-year-olds in Good Magic, Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie. His tracking, mid-pack running style has yielded only the maiden win; despite crossing the wire first in the Grade 1 Los Al Futurity, he was disqualified.
From out of the clouds
20. Combatant (50-1)
He’s often been last or near last in each of his four starts this year on the Oaklawn prep circuit. He settled for minor awards in all of them while closing wide, which only takes the sting out of his closing kick. However, he’s yet to catch a hot pace in front of him; that would enhance his closing kick and the Derby is usually an honest pace.
1. Firenze Fire (50-1)
He’s a proven closer who tends to settle in the back half of the field while trying to grind his way forward for position while preferring to be wide. This multiple graded stakes winning juvenile has been mostly exposed as he has not moved forward off his juvenile form as the distances have increased throughout this spring.
2. Free Drop Billy (30-1)
Another proven closer who has had a couple of excuses in his three starts this year, particularly in his last, the Blue Grass, when Sporting Chance veered into his path and disrupted his closing run. Still, he’s another closer, like Combatant, who hasn’t had a hot pace to run at this year, so assessing his chances is tricky.
8. Lone Sailor (50-1)
Deep closer has been a cut below many of these in previous tries at this level despite almost pulling off the upset in the Louisiana Derby when having the lead in deep stretch, only to see Noble Indy inch forward again at the wire. Another who likes to be wide when closing.
10. My Boy Jack (30-1)
Another stone-cold closer that has danced a lot of dances in top company and still managed to win some races, which is atypical of deep closers, particularly in this group of Derby closers. Of particular note was his Grade 3 Southwest win when closing inside of horses, which is also an atypical ability of most closers and a particularly good asset to have in a crowded Derby field.
18. Vino Rosso (12-1)
Seemed to finally figure things out in winning the Wood Memorial by coming from well off the pace. Like Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso had been victimized by participating in several slow-paced races like the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and Grade 3 Sam F. Davis; the type of early race shapes in those races made it difficult to assess the quality of a pace-dependent type like Vino Rosso. Have to think he will be in the back quarter of the field and will try to make one run late.
13. Bravazo (50-1)
Is sort of a jack-of-all trades type horse. Closed into a moderate pace when winning a first-level allowance at Oaklawn in January, then contested the early lead when winning the Risen Star by a nose. Tried the same trick again in the Louisiana Derby only to get caught up in the hot early pace and not stay on late. It’s hard to forecast what type of running style Bravazo will be tasked with here.
9. Hofburg (20-1)
Could be said that he’s a confirmed closer, but he has only the three starts to go on in assessing his running style. His maiden-breaking win was pretty impressive, considering that he was drawn to an disadvantageous outside post in a two-turn, short-stretch race at Gulfstream. His Florida Derby effort for second place, when closing from way, way back into the fast early pace, is the reason he’s able to draw into this race. Not a lot of winning form to go on in this corner.
14. Mendelssohn (5-1)
Just the one dirt race to go on in the UAE Derby seven weeks back, but it sure was visually impressive – a pacesetting, wire-to-wire tour de force. As visually impressive as that race was, it’s difficult to assess his running style here. One the one hand, American dirt racing is a distinctly different kind of speed than the European or even American turf racing for which Mendelssohn has made most of his starts. On the other hand, being a half-brother to American dirt champion Beholder gives him the right to be able to keep up with the likes of Justify and Promises Fulfilled early. All that said, would imagine he will be forwardly placed come Saturday.
16. Magnum Moon (6-1)
Here’s another who is difficult to assess where he will fit early. On the one hand, he’s undefeated while attending or setting the pace in each of his four races. On the other hand, all of his four races have been slow early-paced affairs, particularly the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, in which he strolled along, uncontested early, and made quick work of the field. That’s just not the type of race he will face here, and the suspicion is he will be placed mid-pack in an unfamiliar scenario.