Horse Racing: 2012 Kentucky Derby….So Who is the “Fastest” Horse?

If you ask that question to 100 random Horse Racing fans, you’d probably get –I don’t know– 10 or 12 different answers. If you ask that same question to the 20 trainers who are putting the finishing touches on their horses in preparation for Saturday’s 2012 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Down in Louisville, Kentucky, you would think you would get 20 different answers, each voting for their own. But you may not. In fact you would probably get 17…if not less. I know for sure trainer Bob Baffert would say Bodemeister is the fastest three year old in the land but there are actually other rival trainers who might agree, which is a rarity in this sport.

When Mike Harrington, who trains highly regarded Creative Cause, was asked on Tuesday about his chances of winning this Saturday Harrington replied “if Bodemeister isn’t a freak, we should be ok”

Several weeks ago Doug O’Neil, who trains the very impressive Santa Anita Derby winner I’ll Have Another, was watching the Arkansas Derby and when the race was over O’Neil said “Ut oh…the (Kentucky Derby) race is wide open but if Bodemeister were to repeat that performance…everyone else is running for second place”.

“That was Big Brown-like,” Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin, who has Dullahan ripped and ready to go, said of Bodemeister’s Arkansas Derby performance. “From a pure talent point of view, he looks like he’s the one.”

After hearing those three comments, I started wondering what the other 16 trainers are thinking. That, in turn, got me looking at the speed figures of all the contenders a little earlier than usual. (I usually use the speed figure tool on race day).

In case you don’t know, The Speed Figure is a system for rating the performance of a racehorse designed in the early 1970s by Andrew Beyer, a horse racing columnist for The Washington Post.

By 1992 the Daily Racing Form began using Beyer Speed Figures in a horse’s past performances and the system has evolved over the years to where each performance by every horse is given a Beyer number which reflects a “score” or “grade” by using the time of the race and the inherent speed of the track over which it was run.

Simply put, horses are “graded” like a test from 0 to 100. That being said, it doesn’t stop at 100. In fact, it generally takes a 115 BSF to win the Kentucky Derby and over my 32 years of watching and working in the sport I’ve seen some amazing “grades”. Like say the wickedly fast Ghostzapper ran a 128 in 2004, back in 1987 Sprint Champion Groovy ran a 134 and, in case you are curious, Secretariat’s tour de force Belmont Stakes was the highest rated speed figure ever recorded with an eye popping 139.

I listed the (as of Tuesday night) 20 horses heading to the starting gate on Saturday afternoon with their top speed figure next to it…..and, after looking at it for a while, I realized Harrington, O’Neil and Irwin were right.

 

1) Bodemeister -108 and actually has three straight “triple digit” speed figures. No one in the Kentucky Derby field has more than one. Want more? How about the winners of the four biggest Kentucky Derby prep races Dullahan (the Blue Grass-98), Gemologist (Wood Memorial- 98), Take Charge Indy (Florida Derby -95) and I’ll Have Another (Santa Anita Derby-94) were not even close

2) Creative Cause- 102 in the San Felipe Stakes in February but dropped eight points (to a 94) in his next start the Santa Anita Derby.

3) Tie: Daddy Nose Best- El Padrino- 100. El Padrino dropped twice since while running a 94 in his next start after that 100 and a 90 after the 94.

Daddy Nose Best, on the other hand, has been climbing as he scored a 78 and a 93 before his 100. Obviously, you have to like the rising figures as opposed the falling figures.

4) Trinniberg-99- albeit his 99 is an excellent score, he did it in a sprint race. Can he do it in a distance race?

5) Tie: Mark Valeski—Alpha—Dullahan—Gemologist— 98- I’ve been saying all along that this years crop of three year old is deep and closely matched. The statistic of four top flight horses scoring exactly four 98’s only strengthens the argument.

6) Tie: Take Charge Indy—I’ll Have Another—Hansen—96- make that seven top flight horses within two points of one another, which equates to approximately two lengths of each other. So seven horses all within about two lengths of one another according to the scale? Wow…that’s close

7) Union Rags- 95- ok, for such a talented, good looking animal…..what the hell is he doing so far down the list? Moreover, in his last five starts (dating back to August 2011) he’s been no higher that 95 but no lower than 92. So does that mean he is just consistent, a notch below several others or both?

8 ) Tie: Went the Day Well—Sabercat—Liaison 92- I was surprised to see the first horse this far down too..and don’t forget, his 92 was over the synthetics. So does he go up or down when he runs at Churchill…Which is a traditional dirt durface?

9) Rousing Sermon- 91

10) Prospective- 90

11) Done Talking- 85

12) Daddy Long Legs-60- But in all fairness, he’s only run one race in theUS and that was the Breeders Cup Juvenile last fall.

So the answer to the question in the title of this piece is Bodemeister by a long way. That being said it doesn’t mean you should run out and bet your money Bodemeister (although I wouldn’t argue with you if you did) because remember, horse racing is like many other sports where the best team or, in this case, the fastest horse doesn’t always win.

Thanks for reading…