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Kentucky Derby: What the Beyer Figures say about this year’s field

John Clay and Ben Roberts handicap Kentucky Derby 145

Herald-Leader sports writers John Clay and Ben Roberts give their picks on the 2019 Kentucky Derby field from Churchill Downs.
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Herald-Leader sports writers John Clay and Ben Roberts give their picks on the 2019 Kentucky Derby field from Churchill Downs.

Three years ago, I wrote that if you go by the Beyer Speed Firgures, that 2016 group, in which Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, was slow.

So how do the Beyers look for this year’s group.

Slower, still.

With Omaha Beach’s scratch, Maximum Security is the only horse in the field who has run a triple-digit Beyer. The Jason Servis-trained colt posted a 102 Beyer while winning an Optional Claiming race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20. He then posted a 101 Beyer when winning the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 30.

Compare that to last year’s Kentucky Derby field, which included two colts who had run three 100-or-better Beyers. Bolt d’Oro was one. Justify was the other, including an eye-popping 107 in his Santa Anita Derby. And, as we all know, Justify went on to win not just the Kentucky Derby but also the Triple Crown.

Justify ran a 103 in winning the Derby. That was slightly slower than Bob Baffert’s first Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who ran a 105 in his 2015 Kentucky Derby win. Pharoah had also run a 100-plus Beyer in his final prep race, the Arkansas Derby.

Since the Daily Racing Form started printing the great Andy Beyer’s speed figures in 1991, only two colts have won the Kentucky Derby without a running at least a 95 before the Derby. One was Mine That Bird in 2009. The other was Animal Kingdom in 2011.

(By the way, check out former Herald-Leader columnist Chuck Culpepper’s story on where Mine That Bird is now in the Washington Post.)

To be sure, colts can take Beyer leaps from their last prep to the Derby. That 2016 winner Nyquist went from a 94 in his Florida Derby win to a 103 at Churchill Downs on the hallowed first Saturday in May. The 2017 winner, Todd Pletcher’s Always Dreaming, went from a 97 in the Florida Derby to a 102 in the Kentucky Derby.

And horses can take a Beyer plunge in front of the throng at Churchill, as well. Remember Nick Zito’s Bellamy Road? He earned a ridiculous 120 Beyer in winning the 205 Wood Memorial. Unfortunately for Zito, he cratered to a 90 in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished seventh. Giacomo won that year with a 100 Beyer, which at the time was considered very slow for a Derby winner.

Back to this year’s field, where there are plenty of Beyer figures in the 90s among the field. For example:

War of Will ran a 94 in the Lecomte, but fell to a 78 when he stumbled at the start and strained a patellar ligament in the Louisiana Derby.

Tax has been very consistent, running 93, 95 and 96 his last three races. I wrote on Tax’s story earlier this week. A gelding previously bred and owned by Claiborne Farm, he was claimed by trainer Danny Gargan.

By My Standards jumped from a 73 to an 86 to a 97 when he won the Louisiana Derby.

Gray Magicican has never run better than an 80.

Vekoma has run Beyers of 90 and 94 his last two races, the latter being his number for his Toyota Blue Grass Stakes win at Keeneland.

Improbable ran a 95 in the Rebel and a 99 when finishing second to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby. (Omaha Beach ran a 101.)

Maximum Security has his two 100-plus Beyers. (See above.)

Tacitus has run a 93 and a 97 this year, the latter in his Wood Memorial win.

Plus Que Parfait has never run better than an 84.

Cutting Humor jumped from a 76 to a 95 in winning the Sunland Derby. And now he has Mike Smith along for the ride.

Code of Honor ran a 95 in winning the Fountain of Youth, then dropped back to a 91 in his third-place Florida Derby finish.

Win Win Win did run a 99 in winning the Pasco Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint in January. He ran an 88 in the Blue Grass Stakes last time out when he finished second.

Master Fencer is the first Japanese-bred horse in the race, so who knows.

Game Winner ran a 96 in the Rebel and a 97 in the Santa Anita Derby, where he finished second to Roadster.

Roadster ran a 93 in his 2019 debut, then posted a 98 to win the Santa Anita Derby.

Long Range Toddy dropped a long way, from 95 in his win of one Rebel Division all the way back to a 78 in the Arkansas Derby.

Spinoff went from an 84 to a 95 in his second-place Louisiana Derby finish.

Country House has been on the uptick, going from 86 to 87 to 91 in the Arkansas Derby, where he finished third.

And Bodexpress, who drew in when Omaha Beach scratched, has run a 91 and a 96 this year.

With Omaha Beach scratching, trainer Bob Baffert has the top three Kentucky Derby contenders in Game Winner, Roadster and Improbable. Baffert will be trying for his sixth Derby win on Saturday, May 4, 2019 at Churchill Downs.

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