As we approach the First Saturday in May, it’s time to look back. Let’s review the Kentucky Derby Prep Races through the lens of ThoroPACE.
Before we jump in, a quick reminder on our pace scale. ThoroPACE Pace Forecasts range from -35 (favors speed) to +35 (favors stretch runners).
With that in mind, the table below lays out the ThoroPACE Pace Figure assigned to each of the 2023 Kentucky Derby Prep Races. We will mostly focus on the latest round of preps.
FORTE – Florida Derby
Let’s start at the top. FORTE is the likely Kentucky Derby favorite and exits a winning effort in the Florida Derby – a race with a Pace Figure of +22. This is a race that should have favored stretch runners.
Forte was seventh early, nearly six lengths from the leader at the first call. The pace dynamics favored his style, and he took advantage. MAGE was further back early and, despite making an eye-catching move, could not capitalize fully.
Looking back at Forte’s other races, nothing is overly positive or negative. The Fountain of Youth Stakes was assigned a Pace Figure of -6, but Forte adjusted accordingly, racing closer to the front.
TAPIT TRICE – Blue Grass Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby
From a pace perspective, TAPIT TRICE, might be more impressive than his stablemate. The Blue Grass Stakes was assigned a Pace Figure of -14, which skews toward being slightly speed-favoring. Although Tapit Trice broke more alertly, he was still more than eight lengths off the lead at the point of first call. This was an impressive performance.
VERIFYING was game in defeat; however, he was much closer to a pace that should have given him a relative advantage. Factoring in ground loss, Tapit Trice was the better horse that day, but I don’t want to be overly dismissive of Verifying.
One reason to consider Verifying in the Derby would be his tactical speed. Last year was an anomaly, pace-wise. This year looks much more tepid, though, with 20 horses in the gate, a fast/honest pace is certainly assured. So then it becomes a matter of trips. And theoretically, a horse that is more forward should encounter less traffic in the stretch.
PRACTICAL MOVE – Santa Anita Derby
Assigned a Pace Figure of +1, the Santa Anita Derby was run under neutral pace conditions. The race was won by PRACTICAL MOVE, who sat just behind a pair of long-shot leaders. His ground-saving trip was clearly the difference here.
Arguably, his San Felipe was more impressive from a pace-dynamic standpoint. He has some questions to answer, including his desire to go longer, but he’s solid nonetheless.
MANDARIN HERO deserves mention as he was disrespected at the windows but showed up and ran a winning race. SKINNER is the horse who projects best at the Kentucky Derby distance, from what I’ve seen. He was wide around both turns and much further back than his rivals. Perhaps that was by design (to avoid kickback), but Skinner could be a very live long shot, assuming he makes the gate.
ANGEL OF EMPIRE – Arkansas Derby
Most people would probably describe ANGEL OF EMPIRE as a stretch runner. He was nearly five lengths from the leader in the Arkansas Derby which received a +6 Pace Figure. That neutral rating was similar to the Risen Star Stakes, where he was further back in a race assigned a +4 Pace Figure.
Angel of Empire secures the services of Flavien Prat, who has a history of good rides in the Kentucky Derby. He comes in fast and should get more pace to run at than he has in his prior two efforts. He’s very live but also trip dependent.
Speaking of the Risen Star, now is a good time to mention SUN THUNDER as a horse with potential upside based on pace dynamics. He was further back relative to Angel of Empire in the Risen Star. Additionally, we already discussed the Blue Grass Stakes where he was several lengths behind Tapit Trice.
At this point, I’m not willing to back Sun Thunder on the win end, but with more pace to chase he could definitely hit the board at a huge number. And that leads us to the Louisiana Derby.
KINGSBARNS – Lousiana Derby
Even novice horseplayers are aware that the Lousiana Derby was a slow paced race. Indeed, KINGSBARNS got the job done on the lead, in a race with a Pace Figure of -26 (very speed favoring).
On the surface, it makes sense to downgrade his effort as the pace dynamics and overall race shape aren’t going to be as favorable next time. But Kingsbarns is relatively unexposed and should still have upside, especially as the distances increase. So, ThoroPACE numbers are telling me to dismiss but I’m struggling to toss him completely because he might improve and should be able to work out a favorable trip, even if not on the lead.
Revisiting Sun Thunder, he was certainly up against it in this race as only he and Instant Coffee made up ground in the final stages of the race. DISARM finished a solid second under less than ideal circumstances but appeared to have little excuse in The Lexington Stakes – unless you have the opinion that was simply a necessary prep to secure points.
LORD MILES – Wood Memorial
LORD MILES was a surprise winner of the Wood Memorial, a race that received a +1 Pace Figure. Given his early position, it’s an unremarkable result as it relates to pace dynamics.
The runner-up, HIT SHOW was just behind the eventual winner throughout. So little excuse for him. Separating these two likely comes down to connections, training, price, etc.
TWO PHIL’S – Jeff Ruby Steaks
TWO PHIL’S looked a winner every step of the way in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. The race was assigned a Pace Figure of -13 (slightly speed-favoring).
He was in seventh position early, but only a few lengths back. This was a promising effort, given how he won (5+ Lengths).
A horse that likes Churchill Downs and comes to the Derby via the Turfway Park route – Sound familiar?
The Jeff Ruby Steaks was fast on all figures, and while there are some remaining questions, Two Phil’s looks like a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender.
DERMA SOTOGAKE – UAE DERBY
We don’t have the necessary information to make pace figures for international races. In a race lacking a clear front-runner, one should expect DERMA SOTOGAKE to be prominent.
We are working on a way to account for the Japanese runners so we can confidently assign a ThoroPACE Forecast for the Kentucky Derby.
Final Thoughts on The Kentucky Derby
The intent here, roughly two weeks out, is not to pick a winner per se. I wanted to walk through some of the Derby preps with the idea of highlighting horses that might offer value and others that might be vulnerable.
At this point, I think I can confidently say that Two Phil’s, Tapit Trice and Angel of Empire will be prominent on most tickets.
Derma Sotogake is a bit of an enigma, but he’s worth considering in a race that lacks 2022 Derby speed. On the surface, it seems he will inherit the lead if he so chooses. Others who objectively figure to forward early include Verifying, Practical Move, and Kingsbarns.
One of the more intriguing runners is Disarm. He had a pace-related excuse in the Lousiana Derby but little excuse in The Lexington Stakes. Considering Steve Asmussen’s struggles at Keeneland, maybe that’s worth forgiving? I assume he will have a single work leading into the Derby – it will be very important.
Finally, Sun Thunder and Skinner are horses I will watch closely leading into the race. They project to offer some potential value.
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