With less than a week to go before the Kentucky Derby there seems to be an added buzz with this year’s crop of three-year-olds. The excitement may have something to do with the depth of this year’s field. The Triple Crown races are the most publicized part of horse racing and one thing racing fans want to see is a strong field going into the Kentucky Derby. This is something that hasn’t existed in the last couple of years
In recent years the run up to the Kentucky Derby has consisted mostly of sub par competition trying make the cut for the ‘Run for the Roses’. This year an outstanding racehorse won almost every final Derby prep race and they will all meet this Saturday.
Setting aside the desire for fans to see a Triple Crown winner, what they really want to see are top quality showdowns (Affirmed/Alydar, Sunday Silence/Easy Goer).
These big match ups are what draw people to sports in the first place. This is a fact that will be proven on the night of the Derby when a long awaited boxing match that sports fans have wanted to see for over five years will take place and is expected to draw record revenue
As far as the Derby is concerned, in the last couple of years putting together a field like the one scheduled to run Saturday has not been such an easy task. For the most part fans have been lucky to have three maybe four top quality horses going into the gate and the rest simply hopefuls trying to catch lightening in a bottle.
Of course lightening does strike occasionally with horses like Giacomo and Mine that Bird striking at odds greater than 50-1. There have also been very mediocre horses that benefited from weak fields. Take 2010 winner Super Savor who caught a series of breaks to win the Derby. The first break came a week before when Derby favorite (and very possible Triple Crown winner) Eskenderaya was scratched due to a swollen leg.
The second break had everything to do with Calvin Borel in the irons guiding Super Savor to a signature ground saving trip while riding the rail. After that Derby Eskenderaya would never race again and Super Savior would never win again.
The flip side of the coin regarding a weak Derby field is that the winner of the Derby will have a greater chance of winning the Preakness thus giving racing fans the buzz of a possible Triple Crown. Which only begs the question; would the public want to see a Triple Crown winner at the expense of knowing it ran against a weak class?
The model example of that is Big Brown, the super freak who made a weak field in the 08’ Derby look weaker and pathetic field in the Preakness look all the more pathetic.
Which brings us to 2007, probably the last year that a really good quality field was put into the gate. The trifecta for that race was Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin. The results were no fluke and the proof was in how the rest of the Triple Crown races played out. Instead of a Triple Crown winner, there were three separate winners. However all three winners were talented and all three races were exciting. Curlin catches Street Sense at the wire in the Preakness and then Oaks winner Rags to Riches beats Curlin to win the Belmont.
So how strong is this years Derby field?
Just to give an idea of how much stronger this field is than in previous years let’s look at the Beyer Speed Figures (a numerical value of how fast the horse ran) and compare them with recent fields. The Beyer par for the Kentucky Derby is a 109, given that number the strength of the Derby field is gauged on how many horses have run greater than a 100 going into the Derby. This is a rough estimate of how fast the race may turn out to be. Of course there is no guarantee. The perfect example would be last year’s winner California Chrome went into the Derby running a 107, 108 and only got a 97 in the Derby.
The field in 2009 featured five horses that ran a figure of over 100. The next year only had three horses each running only one 100 or greater.
2011 was the bottom of the barrel for gaudy speed figures. Only one horse, Soldat went into the race with a 101.
The following year stepped up a bit featuring five horses with Bodiemiester running three consecutive 100+’s, including a 108 in the Arkansas Derby.
2013 again put five horses in the gate with Beyer’s over 100. Two horses Itsmyluckyday, and Verrazano had multiple 100’s.
Of the six entered in 2014 with triple digit figures only California Chrome ran multiple 100’s. He also was the winner that day.
As things stand now, this year’s field will feature nine horses that have already ran 100 or greater and four who have run multiple races in the 100’s. In addition Bluegrass winner Carpe Diem who’s best race is a 95 hasn’t really been asked to go all out yet, and Mubtaahij the winner of the UAE Derby was assigned an unofficial speed figure of 95 for that race, although he won it easily and was geared down almost to a complete stop when crossing the finish line.
So hopefully from this strong field will emerge a couple of superstars who can stay with each other for all three Triple Crown races. And if one horse happens to win all three of those and we have a Triple Crown winner then so be it.
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