Handicapping Kentucky Derby for an Off Track

Kentucky Derby

There is a good chance there will be an off track on Saturday for the Kentucky Derby (G1). (photo credit: © Cheryl Quigley | Dreamstime.com)

The prospect for an off track on Saturday for the 145th Kentucky Derby (G1) is likely if you believe the weather forecast, which would make it three years in a row Mother Nature has had a hand in the outcome.

Always Dreaming won the 2017 Kentucky Derby over a surface labeled “wet fast” and last year Justify rolled to victory over a “sloppy” and sealed racing surface.

As of Friday morning, the forecast calls for “Showers early, becoming a steady rain later in the day. Thunder possible. High 67F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%.”

Over the past few days the forecast for Saturday has ranged from an 80% chance of rain to 100%. The forecast for 6:00 ET on Saturday calls for a 55% chance of rain.

Right now, the forecast calls for rain to start at 9:00am ET and from noon to 5:00 at least a 60% chance of rain falling.

If you follow the weather forecast as closely as I do on a regular basis, you know the forecast is rarely correct. If weatherman had to wager on their forecasts like I do with my selections, most of them would be living in a van down by the river.

So, if we do have a muddy or sloppy track for this year’s Derby, who might it benefit?

Let’s start with the three favorites, all trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.

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Game Winner is the 9-2 morning line favorite and in his six career starts he has not encountered an off track. However, he has one of the strongest off-track pedigrees in the field.

The colt is by the sire Candy Ride out of an unraced A.P. Indy mare. Both Candy Ride and A.P. Indy are influential off-track sires and the colt’s Tomlinson rating for wet tracks is 461, the second highest in the field. (Any rating above 380 is considered a good off-track pedigree).

Roadster is the co-second choice on the morning line at 5-1 and he has not faced an off track in his four career starts. His Tomlinson rating is 386.

The $5250,000 Keeneland purchase is by Quality Road, considered a good off-track sire and is out of the Silver Ghost mare Ghost Dancing, who won in her lone start on a wet track. Her offspring include stakes winner Ascend, who has a 1 for 3 record on wet tracks.

Improbable is Baffert’s third runner, the co-second choice at 5-1. The colt caught a sloppy track in his last outing in the Arkansas Derby (G1) where he ran a good second and earned a career top speed figure. He was beaten a length by Omaha Beach, who would have been sent off as the betting favorite if his throat problem would not have knocked him out of the race on Wednesday.

This colt has one of the highest Tomlinson ratings in the field at 443. He has an off track pedigree on the top and bottom, by the sire City Zip out of an A.P. Indy mare.

If you are on one of the Baffert runners, there is no need to sweat out Mother Nature’s role on Saturday.

For those looking to beat the Baffert trio, which horses could move up on a wet track?

Four in the field have won on wet tracks:

War of Will broke his maiden over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs last November. He has a solid off-track pedigree. He has a Tomlinson Racing of 385.

Maximum Security beat $50,000 starter optional claimers in his second career start over a muddy track at Gulfstream Park. His Tomlinson is 310.

Tacitus broke his maiden over a track labeled as good at Aqueduct in his second career start. By Tapit out of a First Defence mare, he has a rock solid off track pedigree and a Tomlinson of 432.

The Japan based Master Fencer won over a track landed as good at Hanshin Racecourse, but he just overmatched in this field.

Vekoma Owns Top Tomlinson

The top Tomlinson rating in the field belongs to Vekoma at 469. The Blue Grass Stakes (G2) winner has only raced on fast tracks. With his odd running style where his front legs point outward, your guess is as good as mine as to whether he would perform well on a wet track.

The bottom line is a sloppy or muddy racetrack likely will not have a major effect on the outcome of the race but there are couple of things to keep in mind.

One, watch how the track is playing. If there is a lot of moisture in the racetrack, watch the earlier traces and see if there is any track bias. Do frontrunners seem to have an advantage? Does it look like there is more moisture on the inner paths, which might make it deeper and slower?

The other thing to keep in mind is post time is not until 6:50ET. The previous race run over the main track at Churchill Downs is the 10th race, the Pat Day Mile (G3) which has a scheduled post time of 4:28ET.

That means there is a 2 ½ hour gap between the Pat Day Mile and the Derby. Conditions can change throughout the day and if the rains do slow down later in the day the track condition can change during that 2 ½ gap in the action on the main track.

And if you are heading to Churchill Downs on Saturday, bring an umbrella.

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