With the chance of rain in the forecast for Louisville over the weekend, it's time to start thinking about those horses that can handle a muddy or sloppy track. The current long range forecast for Derby day is a high of 61 degrees, with a 70 percent chance of rain. Friday’s Oaks day looks even worse, with a high of 53 and an 80 percent chance of rain.
Out of 142 previous editions of the Kentucky Derby, 14 have been run on a muddy (7) or sloppy (7) track. The last time we had a Derby on an off track was 2013. That year Orb splashed home as the Derby winner on the outside to win at odds of 6-1.
In 2009, Mine That Bird pulled one of the biggest upsets in Derby history, when Calvin Borel steered him up the rail to win the race at 50-1 sliding past Pioneerof the Nile in the stretch. Pioneerof the Nile was American Pharoah’s sire, who proved he could get it done in the rain in the 2015 Preakness. He’s also the sire of this year’s likely favorite, Classic Empire.
Some of the areas that horseplayers should read up on include wet Tomlinson figures included in the Daily Racing Form's past performances. In addition, pedigree statistics can be found in the Brisnet past performances. A look at the field's bloodlines can also provide clues as to a colt's chances in the Derby. Finally, the most important angle may be how the actual horse has performed on an off track
Wet Tomlinson Figures
This measure of a horse's ability on a wet track was the brainchild of Lee Tomlinson who studied past performances of a sample of horses based on how they performed on wet tracks and their pedigrees. A wet Tomlinson score ranges from 0 to 480 (a perfect score). Experts have noted that a score of 320 warrants consideration of a horse that should perform well on an off-track. Based on my annual Derby spreadsheet, the following horses have the top wet Tomlinson figures heading into the Derby:
|17||Irish War Cry||443||6-1|
|11||Battle of Midway||417||30-1|
|6||State of Honor||400||30-1|
Two of the projected top five horses have wet Tomlinson figures that would suggest they will run well on an off track (Irish War Cry and McCraken). Two of Todd Pletcher's three entries also find themselves in the top 10 (Tapwrit and Patch).
Some of the bloodlines that are part of the current field can be traced back to horses that have solid wet track influences can be traced to sires such as Curlin, Malibu Moon and A.P. Indy.
The horses that are part of said bloodlines include Irish War Cry, Gormley, Hence and Patch. Sonneteer's sire Midnight Lute won a Breeders' Cup Sprint championship in the slop at Monmouth Park in 2007. Irish War Cry’s sire Curlin, won the Breeders' Cup Classic at a mile-and-a-quarter that same year in the slop by open lengths. Gormley’s sire Malibu Moon produced 2015 winner Orb.
Brisnet Sire and Dam sire Win Percentages
The colts that have the highest sire win percentages on a wet track (noted as" mud stats") as listed in Brisnet past performances in the Derby include (with more than 100 starts): McCraken (19%), Battle of Midway (19%), Irish War Cry (18%), Tapwrit (18%), Royal Mo (18%), Gormley (17%), Practical Joke (17%) and Irap (17%). The horses on the dam sire side with the highest percentages based on the same criteria include: Practical Joke (20%), Tapwrit (19%), Gunnevera (19%), Irap (19%), Hence (19%), Patch (19%) Irish War Cry (18%), and Battle of Midway (18%). Several horses show up on both sides of the pedigree which are also can be found high in the Tomlinson rankings.
Actual Off-Track Performances
Of the horses in the field, six horses have wins on an off-track: Classic Empire (maiden at 4.5F), Gormley (G3 Sham), Tapwrit ($75K stake), Hence (maiden at 8.5F), Battle of Midway (wet fast, maiden at 6F), and Royal Mo (good, maiden at 1m). Three horses have placed on off-tracks, Untrapped, Lookin at Lee and Sonneteer. Only Gormley accomplished the feat in a stakes race and Hence and Gormley at a distance greater than a mile.
Should the track come up sloppy or muddy on Saturday afternoon under the Twin Spires, these should offer some clues to consider when handicapping the big race.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.