Kentucky Derby

Derby Trail Tracker: 2018 Kentucky Derby Field Projection

The gates open for the 2016 Kentucky Downs (Credit: Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

With the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby complete following a win by the Todd Pletcher-trained Noble Indy, the first 100-point race in the Kentucky Derby Championship Series is in the books.

The points standings are beginning to solidify and the final Derby field is starting to come into focus. The Derby picture was muddy for most of the winter, but now we have at least a blurry depiction of what the starting gate might look like as the points pile up.

In the first edition of this two-part series, I analyzed trends over the first five years of the Derby Points Era to discern how many points it takes to make the Derby gate.

In this installment, we’ll dive into the current 2018 Derby points standings and use our Derby Trail Tracker to align how many points the top runners need to earn in order to guarantee themselves a spot in the Derby gate.

At the end of this article, we’ll make a projection on what the Derby gate may look like while incorporating variables from the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby (to be run this Saturday) and the European and Japanese Roads to the Derby.

Let’s start with the horses that have already clinched a spot in the Derby gate and build from there.

The Derby Clinchers

Based on historical data, 10 horses have stamped their place in the gate on the first Saturday of May. Listed below all have earned 40 points or more, which has been more than enough to make the gate recently:

Even though these horses already have enough points to make the gate, six of them will run again in the final set of Derby preps over the next three weekends. One of the factors affecting how many points it’ll take to get in the gate will be if these horses win or place second.

For example, Bravazo already had 54 points from his Grade 2 Risen Star win in February when he entered the gate in last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. When Bravazo faltered on the far turn in the race and finished eighth, he opened up the door to horses with less points (like Noble Indy) to get the coveted 100 points for winning or 40 points for finishing second (Lone Sailor). If Bravazo had finished in the top two, then gaining more points would’ve had no positive effect on others.

We’ll play this game five more times over the next three weeks. We’ll discuss the impact of the U.A.E. Derby later in this article, so for now, let’s focus on the six horses that will run in either the Florida Derby (Promises Fulfilled), the Santa Anita Derby (McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro), the Wood Memorial (Enticed), the Blue Grass Stakes (Quip), and the Arkansas Derby (Magnum Moon).

If Promises Fulfilled can run in the top two this Saturday, then he’ll take important points away from horses looking to be “party crashers,” such as the likely favorites Audible (10 points) and Catholic Boy (14 points). We’ll discuss projections for each of these races later in this article.

Show Up to the Derby

The next group in the current standings need to just “Show” up at their last preps in order to make the Derby gate. If these horses hit the board (meaning finish in the top three), then they will likely clinch a spot. The final preps in the Championship series awards 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers, so the 20 points awarded for finishing third should clinch it for these horses:

Of the 13 horses above, 10 will definitely run in a final prep. Top colts Good Magic and Solomini need just a bit more to guarantee themselves a spot in the Derby gate; each has 34 points to date.

The Party Crashers

Top horses that need to win or place second to make the Derby are listed in the table below. These horses have no room for error in their final preps, or else they won’t make the Derby:

Notably, the aforementioned Audible and Catholic Boy will be the likely top two betting favorites in this Saturday’s Florida Derby, but they still need to finish in the top two in order to make it to Kentucky. Also very notable on the list is the last horse listed, Justify, who was bet down to the 6/1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool #3 held a few weeks back. The impressive Bob Baffert trainee seems to be getting more hype than any horse in Derby history and will be the likely favorite in the Arkansas Derby. With zero Derby points to his name, though, he’ll need to finish in the top two in the Arkansas Derby if he wants to make a Run for the Roses.

The Effect of the U.A.E. Derby & Foreign Roads to Derby

There are many variables in projecting the Kentucky Derby field, a few of which will be aligned this Friday and Saturday.

The points up for grabs on Saturday in the U.A.E. Derby at Meydan count towards the main United States points system, and this year’s race features three major threats with designs to make it to Churchill Downs. The connections of Mendelssohn, Gold Town, and Reride (based in the U.S.) have each said that they would bring their charges to run under the twin spires of Churchill Downs if they get enough points in the U.A.E. Derby.

For the scenario projected at the end of this article, we’ll look at a “maximum point” assumption that two of these three will make up the exacta at Meydan. The winner of the U.A.E. Derby has shipped to Kentucky in each of the last three years, including Mubtaahij (2015), Lani (2016), and Thunder Snow (2017). This is another factor that’s raised the floor in the past three years on how many points are needed to qualify, in addition to the factors discussed in Part 1 of this analysis.

In each of those years, though, the second-place finisher in the U.A.E. Derby bypassed the race, even though the 40 points gained would’ve been enough to make the gate. That may change this year, so we’ll assume that the U.A.E. Derby will produce two Kentucky Derby runners in our “maximum points” projection below.

On the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, Gronkowski (named after the New England Patriots tight end) will contest the final race in that series this Friday when he runs in the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle, which distributes points on a 30-12-6-3 basis. Gronkowski is currently tied with Mendelssohn for the lead on the European Road with 20 points, so if he wins the Burradon, then he’ll have clinched a spot in the Derby. Gronkowski’s trainer Jeremy Noseda has said that the main target is Kentucky. If Gronkowski doesn’t finish first on Friday, then the winner (and his newly-earned 30 points) would have first choice at a slot in the Derby gate. If the winner passes on entering, and Gronkowski finishes off of the board, then either he or Mendelssohn would be the next choice to go to the Derby. If Gronkowski runs second on Friday, then he’ll have a total of 32 points on the European Trail, which would be enough – if the winner of the Burradon hasn’t already earned more than two points. You got all that?

The Japanese Road to the Derby is complete, and Ruggero (with 16 points) may ship to Kentucky. He runs in the U.A.E. Derby on Saturday, so his connections should make an announcement soon based on how he runs there. We’ll assume for our maximum points assessment below that he fills the slot for the Japanese runner in the Derby gate this year.

The Chalk-Out Scenario

If you’re confused by all of this, then don’t worry, you’re not alone! Even Noseda was recently confused about the European Road to the Derby and if his horse’s points counted towards the races in the United States. He initially intended to ship over for a shot in the Blue Grass, but after hearing that his 20 points only counted towards the European Road, he decided to run at Newcastle.

To put some clarity to any confusion, we’ll project the Derby field here to summarize one scenario for filling out the gate. The Derby field has been projected below using a maximum points projection, which assumes the following:

1. No defections (see my first edition for more info about defections)
2. Two total Derby gate spots are taken from the European and Japan Roads to the Derby
3. Both first- and second-place finishers from the U.A.E. Derby will ship to Kentucky
4. The projected betting favorites win or place second in the upcoming U.S. Derby preps

This is the “chalk-out” maximum points projection for the 2018 Kentucky Derby:

 

Before you flip out, please understand that this is only one projection of what might happen. There is a litany of variables that will affect the final outcome of which horses make the Derby gate. In this projection, it will take 42 points to make the Derby gate, before defections. Additionally, in this projection, the previous top points earners chew up most of the points in the final round of Derby preps, except for Audible and Catholic Boy, “chalking out” as likely favorites in the Florida Derby exacta, and Justify winning the Arkansas Derby as a “party crasher.”

To project what horse would be on the outside looking in before defections, here’s a list of the projected points standings from 21 to 35:

In this scenario, Combatant would be tied with Lone Sailor with 42 points each and the final spot would go to the horse  with more graded stakes earnings (the first tiebreaker). The U.A.E. Derby runner-up (whether it be Reride or Gold Town, with Mendelssohn as the projected chalk favorite) would be the next one to make the gate if two defections occurred.

Even with projecting Instilled Regard to hit the board finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby, he would have only 39 points, which would require three defections in this scenario.

Once again, the above projection is only for illustrative purposes in order to determine the minimum amount of qualifying points it’ll take to make the Derby gate. I could make more projections to give a range, but for the sake of not confusing everyone, let’s work with the numbers above and see how this all unfolds over the next three weekends.

For all of my crazy Derby thoughts and projections, follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim and keep up-to-date on the probables for all the final Derby preps by visiting the Derby Trail Tracker.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Robert Healy

    March 27, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Yes, I was thinking this year would be the highest bottom rung total, 39-41, to qualify. Some horses will give maximum effort to qualify which could bounce them come Derby Day. Horses already assured of a spot may not want to put the pedal to the metal.6 weeks to go.

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