Bobby Zen

With the assignment of GI Kentucky Derby post positions over the weekend, speculation takes a (slight) shift toward logical assessment. Here are some random takeaways on, well, randomness now that fate has left its gentle impression on the field…

Dornoch getting buried in post one didn’t exactly help the chances of two full-brothers winning the Derby in back-to-back years. This son of Good Magic will have a tough enough task getting out ahead of the field from the rail–which has an 8.5% Derby win rate since the use of a starting gate began in 1930–without being additionally saddled by trying to live up to the family legacy of big brother Mage‘s 15-1 upset in 2023.  The last Derby winner to break from post one was Ferdinand in 1986. You have to go all the way back to Chateaugay in 1963 to find the previous Derby winner to start from the fence.

  The coincidence of two full-brothers making it into the Derby in consecutive seasons isn’t the only bloodstock oddity in this year’s starting gate: The dams of the undefeated Japan-bred contender Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) are half-sisters. Both broodmares were bred by Debby Oxley, out of the Oxley-campaigned Darling My Darling. Forever Young’s dam, the 2013 foal Forever Darling (Congrats), sold for just $8,000 as a Keeneland yearling. Yet she ended up winning the GII Santa Ynez  S. at age three. Sierra Leone’s dam, the 2015 foal Heavenly Love (Malibu Moon), was not offered at auction and raced for Oxley. She won the GI Alcibiades S. in 2017. After dropping their own foals on opposite sides of the globe in 2021, the two colts out of those two sisters are now pegged as the second and fourth choices on the Derby morning line, drawn nine gates apart from one another. That’s a longshot accomplishment in and of itself, regardless of where Forever Young and Sierra Leone end up finishing.

Another odd historical quirk is that when Darling My Darling broke her maiden at first asking at Saratoga in 1999, the filly who ran third behind her was named Endlessly (End Sweep). Now it’s 25 years later, and Darling My Darling’s two grandsons are running in the Derby against a colt who is also named Endlessly (Oscar Performance). The longest active drought for any single Derby post position is gate 14, which has not yielded a winner since Carry Back in 1961 and is 2-for-67 overall. Endlessly has that assignment in 2024.

Among posts one through 20, the only gate assignment never to have produced a Derby winner is post 17, which has been assigned to ‘TDN Rising Star’ and 2-year-old champ Fierceness (City of Light). Post 17 is 0-for-44 in the Derby since the advent of the gate. The last in-the-money finish from that draw was in 1988, when Forty Niner ran second.

Can you guess which Derby post (again just from the starting-gate era onward) actually has the highest win percentage? The answer is extremely unintuitive: Surprisingly, post 20 has produced an 11.1% strike rate.  The sample size is small, however, with just 18 starters yielding two winners. The price on this year’s outermost-drawn Society Man (Good Magic) is likely to be closer to that of the 80-1 Rich Strike, who won from post 20 in 2022, than it will be to the favored mutuel of Big Brown, who was the 2.4-1 choice when he won from way out wide in 2008.   The only other Derby posts to have a win percentage in double-digits are posts five (10-for-94 = 10.6%) and 10 (9-for-87 = 10.3%).

The year 2020, when the pandemic necessitated that the Derby be run in September, was the last time that the number of starters in the Derby dipped to 15. Prior to that, the Derby field size hadn’t been that low since 1998 and 1997, when 15 and 13 horses, respectively, started. There were 13 starters in 1985 and 1980, but the Derby hasn’t edged below that number since 1979, when only 10 started. In general, the Derby’s larger fields during the 21st Century have yielded favorable results for higher-drawn horses. Since 2000, there have been 10 winners from post 15 outward (counting horses awarded wins via disqualification in 2019 and 2021). During that same time frame, there have been no winners from the first three inside posts, and only one winner from post four (Super Saver in 2010).

Trainer Bill Mott might not have had the above-referenced stats handy when Resilience (Into Mischief) landed in post 19, but the Hall-of-Fame trainer’s post-draw comment essentially backed up those numbers. “I’m fine with it. For me, I would have preferred to be in the outside half than the inside half,” Mott said. “We have a certain amount of speed, but not the speed that you would need to get away from the one hole or even the two hole. So you know, I think I’m happy enough being out there. Part of it is the trip and you have a chance from there to have a clean trip at least through the stretch. And hopefully, by the time you get to the turn, something works out in your favor, and you can track in a little bit.”

Trainer Brad Cox had no complaints after his trio of colts drew these Derby assignments: Catching Freedom (Constitution) post four; Just a Touch (Justify) post eight; Encino (Nyquist) post nine. “Post positions are pretty overrated in my opinion,” Cox said. “They all drew fine. If you’re a good enough horse, you can overcome any post position. We can’t control posts, so I like to keep things in perspective of what I can control, which is their training.”

The post The Week in Review: Random Thoughts on Fate’s Gentle Nudge at the Derby Post Draw appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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