We’re handing out roses and thorns representing the winners and losers from Kentucky Derby 142:
Coming up roses: Favorites. With undefeated Nyquist’s impressive victory Saturday, the morning-line favorite has now won the past four Kentucky Derbys — American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014) and Orb (2013).
It is an amazing turn for an event that had long been the graveyard of the expected. From Spectacular Bid’s victory in 1979 through the 2000 win by Fusaichi Pegasus, no favorite ever won the Kentucky Derby. From 1979 through 2012, only three morning-line faves wore the garland of roses (Big Brown in 2008 being the third).
The emerging theory to explain the new form-following trend is that the current points system — now in its fourth year of determining who gets into the field — is weighted toward horses that do well in the prep races closest to the Derby and has therefore made for a more “honest” race.
Coming up thorns: Bettors. If you loved the potential big payoff back in the days when the Kentucky Derby was kryptonite to favorites, you likely are not enjoying the current era. The top three betting choices Saturday — Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner — were also the top three finishers in Derby 142.
Coming up thorns: Todd Pletcher. When Destin finished sixth and Outwork 14th, it reinforced again that Pletcher is the best trainer of this era — except for on the first Saturday in May.
The “Todd squad” has now accounted for 45 Kentucky Derby starters with a meager one victory (Super Saver in 2010) to show for it.
Coming up roses: Kentucky. Nyquist joined Street Sense (2007) as the only Kentucky Derby winners who had won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile the year before.
Both horses to complete that double ran in a Breeders’ Cup held in our state — Street Sense at Churchill Downs in 2006, Nyquist at Keeneland last year.
Coming up thorns: Advanced metrics. For the most part, the explosion in statistical analysis that has occurred across all sports has been a positive. Numbers that can help you understand value in a sport is an unmitigated plus across all constituencies of sports.
However, sometimes you can get so bogged down in advanced metrics that you look past the obvious. While many of horse racing’s “wise guys” were obsessing over Nyquist’s rather mundane Beyer Speed Figure (94) from the Florida Derby, they missed the significance of a far more traditional metric:
The horse was 7-for-7 in winning races.
As it turned out, Nyquist’s win/loss record was the most meaningful predictive stat that was out there.
Coming up roses: Mario Gutierrez. The baby-faced Mexican jockey must wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to winning the Kentucky Derby. When super Mario is in it, he wins it, having turned his two Derby mounts into victories aboard I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist.
Coming up thorns: Javier Castellano. On his biography page on the Jockey Guild website, the Venezuelan lists his career goal as “winning the Kentucky Derby.”
Like his patron Pletcher, Castellano is the most successful in North America at what he does pretty much every day — except for Derby Day.
The 38-year-old has led North American jockeys in earnings the past three years. He won a Breeders’ Cup Classic on Ghostzapper (2004). Heck, he won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday on Cathryn Sophia.
However, with Destin’s sixth-place finish Saturday in the Derby, Castellano has now ridden in 10 Kentucky Derbys with a best finish of fourth (Normandy Invasion, 2013). Of his 10 Derby rides, Castellano has finished 10th or lower six times.
Coming up roses: Triple Crown dreamers. Nyquist looks like he will be very tough to beat in Baltimore in the 1 3/16 -mile Preakness Stakes. Whether the son of Uncle Mo is bred to go a mile-and-a-half in the Belmont is debatable. But Nyquist trainer Doug O’Neill says he doesn’t believe “we’ve ever gotten to the bottom of this horse.”
So we’ll see.
Now, maybe it’s coincidence, but Triple Crown winners have always come in bunches. There have only been 12 horses win all three of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont with Sir Barton in 1919 being the first.
After Sir Barton, three Triple Crowns came in the 1930s (1930, ’35, ’37), four in the 1940s (1941, ’43, ’46, ’48) and three in the 1970s (1973, ’77, ’78).
Having ended the 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015, American Pharoah — if the historical trends hold — will soon have company in the club.