Derby Dreams - Fastest Closing Speeds in Final Kentucky Derby Prep

Jay dives deep into racing trends, speed figures and prep races for the field at this years' Kentucky Derby as part of an overall betting strategy.

Tracking Closing Speeds of Derby Horses in Final Prep

There are many angles and factors used when handicapping the Kentucky Derby, but identifying closing speed is a proven profile when picking a potential Derby winner. The Derby prep schedule is completed, and the final races were the biggest Derby points races in the Championship Series with the winners receiving 100 points and the runner-up 40 points to secure their spots in the starting gate for the 144th running of the 2018 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Bet the Kentucky Derby at leading online sports books.

Here were the winners and 2nd place finishers of the 100 point races:

Louisiana Derby – 1st Noble Indy, 2nd Lone Sailor
UAE Derby – 1st Mendelssohn, 2nd Rayya
Florida Derby – 1st Audible, 2nd Hofburg
Wood Memorial – 1st Vino Rosso, 2nd Enticed
Blue Grass – 1st Good Magic, 2nd Flameway
Santa Anita Derby – 1st Justify, 2nd Bold d' Oro
Arkansas Derby – 1st Magnum Moon, 2nd Quip

In the last 12 years since 2006, the winner of the Kentucky Derby won their final Derby prep race 9 times and was runner-up twice.

Year Winner Final Prep Race Finish
2017 Always Dreaming Florida Derby 1st
2016 Nyquist Florida Derby 1st
2015 American Pharoah Arkansas Derby 1st
2014 California Chrome Santa Anita Derby 1st
2013 Orb Florida Derby 1st
2012 I'll Have Another Santa Anita Derby 1st
2011 Animal Kingdom Spiral Stakes 1st
2010 Super Saver Arkansas Derby 2nd
2009 Mine That Bird Sunland Derby 4th
2008 Big Brown Florida Derby 1st
2007 Street Sense Blue Grass 2nd
2006 Barbaro Florida Derby 1st

Determining which horses can run best and get the 1 ¼ mile distance (10 furlongs) for the first time is part of the process, pedigree profile and projection of the race. So digging deeper into final closing time speeds can assist you in identifying horse that may have the ability to close in the stretch or show enough speed to combine with the necessary stamina to get the distance.

Kentucky Derby betting strategy trendsThe 20 horse field in the Kentucky Derby can present many challenges and we've seen many horses suffer troubled trips. So the racing luck factor is always in play, but these final 3/8 mile speed figures below can also help you eliminate horses from consideration to not only win, but perhaps remove from your exacta, trifecta and superfecta wagering. Likewise, the speed data from races and final 3/8 and 1/8 mile closing times combined with other factors like pedigree, current form, track experience or past race competition may also assist you in including longer shots into your wagers.

Last year we identified the winner Always Dreaming well in advance of the race before he ultimately went off as the slight favorite. But even at 9-2 odds, Always Dreaming paid $11.40 to win. However, it was our ability to identify long shots that had us cash in on the exacta multiply times, hitting the $1 exacta for $168 with Always Dreaming on top of 11 others ($11 ticket). The runner up was Lookin at Lee (33-1), who finished 5 lengths clear of 3rd place finisher Battle of Midway (40-1) to trigger some huge trifecta and superfecta scores. We incredibly just missed the 50 cent trifecta with a $40 ticket, which paid more than $4,000. That's another story and one of miscommunication, but the point is that the Derby can have some strong payouts, even when the favorites win or get in the money.

We take the betting strategy of keying 1-3 horses to win, and then adding more horses underneath, rather than boxing 5-7 horses for example. The strategy worked nearly perfect last year with just the winner on top, but the 2018 Kentucky Derby looks like a very competitive and deep field with many talented 3-year-olds.

We'll likely be trying to beat some of the favorites on top like Justify, but as you see with the speed chart below, you may be able to narrow your choices and eliminate others by playing the percentages.

Horses that are finishing strongly at the end of their prep races are more likely to handle the distance of the Kentucky Derby (1 ¼ miles) than horses that are tiring at the end of their prep races. Each of the last six Kentucky Derby winners – and 16 of the last 21 – ran the last three-eighths of a mile in their final Derby prep race in less than 38 seconds.

Data in chart below from Trakus, advanced race-timing technology. However, estimates used from Oaklawn (Arkansas Derby) and Fair Grounds (Louisiana Derby), as Trakus is not installed at those tracks.

Horse Finish Position & Race Final 3/8 Time Beyer (BSF)
Combatant 4th Arkansas Derby :36.30 91x
Magnum Moon 1st Arkansas Derby :36.47 98
Solomini 3rd Arkansas Derby :36.80 92
Justify 1st Santa Anita Derby :37.11 107
My Boy Jack 3rd Louisiana Derby :37.14  90 (Lexington)
Quip 2nd Arkansas Derby :37.16 92
Bolt d' Oro 2nd Santa Anita Derby :37.40 102
Audible 1st Florida Derby :37.51 99
Mendelssohn 1st UAE Derby :37.59 106
Vino Rosso 1st Wood Memorial :37.66 98
Hofburg 2nd Florida Derby :37.80 94
Lone Sailor 2nd Louisiana Derby :38.19 95
Good Magic 1st Blue Grass :38.27 95
Enticed 2nd Wood Memorial :38.30 93
Flameaway 2nd Blue Grass :38.62 93
Noble Indy 1st Louisiana Derby :38.81 95
Firenze Fire 4th Wood Memorial :39.36 81
Bravazo 8th Louisiana Derby :41.85 64
Promises Fulfilled 9th Florida Derby :43.78 47

However, understanding track bias and which surfaces were really favoring speed horses (like Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby), will also assist you in determining whether the speed figures are a true barometer for accuracy in comparing to other races and horses. This racing flow figures chart may help you better understand these comparisons. Also, when using final fractions, you must also consider the early pace of a race. For example, the Arkansas Derby was slow early and fast late, and the three fastest final 3/8 mile times were by horses that ran in the Arkansas Derby, including the fastest by Combatant (36.30 seconds), who is not yet in the Derby field of 20 and sits on the 'bubble' in the Derby points standings hoping to get in if another horse gets injured or is scratched.

If pace makes the race, the 2018 Kentucky Derby projects to be fast on the front end. If you're using Beyer Speed Figures (BSF), the statistic and speed numbers which Andrew Beyer developed 26 years ago, know that 24 of the last 26 Kentucky Derby winners posted at least a 95 BSF in their final Derby prep race.

Here is the list of Kentucky Derby contenders that meet the 95 Beyer Speed Figure criteria:

Justify Vino Rosso
Magnum Moon Enticed
Good Magic Noble Indy
Mendelssohn Lone Sailor
Bolt d’ Oro Promises Fulfilled

Whoever you bet or support in your Derby Dreams, enjoy 'the most exciting two minutes in sports' and the Run for the Roses, and don't get caught up in the 'Gronk' hype unless you want to fumble on your way to the finish line and tear up your tickets. You can bet on it.

Bet on Horses at USRacing Today!

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

Sign-up for the OSGA Newsletter!

Every week get news and updates, exclusive offers and betting tips delivered right to you email inbox.