This is the last week that I'll be introducing a new stat. Next week I'll do a round up of all the stats we've covered in the months leading up to the Derby.
For this week we'll look at equipment and medication changes and how they might affect a Derby hopeful.
Trainers are always looking for ways to improve their charges. Many horses have quirks and those quirks have to be worked out. There is one school of thought that suggests that Derby hopefuls should not get any equipment or medication changes as 3yo's. The feeling is that horses are disadvantaged if their trainer is focusing his energies on trying to straighten them out rather than just on having them 100% fit for the big day.
The change that trainers usually make for a horse who fools around is adding blinkers, or sometimes a trainer wants to see something different from his horse so he takes away blinkers that the horse had been used to using. Since 1996 here are the numbers for blinker changes.
Added blinkers as a 3yo: 16-0-1-1
Took off blinkers as a 3yo: 7-0-0-1
Made any blinker changes as a 3yo: 23-0-1-2
As you can see no horse who made blinkers changes managed to win the derby. Empire Maker and Prince of Thieves did add blinkers and run well in the Derby. Although Prince of Thieves also added Lasix, I'll address that in a second. Free House was the only horse to hit the frame after having blinkers removed as a 3yo. Make of this stat what you will but among those who were disqualified by this angle were Skip Away, Harlan's Holiday, General Challenge, Prime Timber, High Yield and Ten Most Wanted. All of those horses were well thought of on Derby day.
Many also believe that finding out your horse is a bleeder in a 3yo prep is a huge negative, basically I just think its a poor thing because generally when a horse bleeds in a race he doesn't perform well in that race and on the Triple Crown trail you can't really afford to waste races. Most trainers have moved to eliminate this variable by simply starting out every single horse on Lasix. But believe it or not in the last 11 years 11 horses went post-ward in the Derby without having Lasix at all. Unfortunately for the med-free advocates their record is 11-0-2-0. Captain Bodgit and Lion Heart performing the best of those.
Horses who added Lasix in a 3yo prep race were a cumulative 7-0-0-1 in the Derby. Those who simply added Lasix for the first time in the Derby itself were 6-1-0-0. Smarty Jones was the only notable horse to attempt that.
Basically I don't think anything can be determined from changes in medication. Basically because trainers give it across the board these days so you never have a chance to see if anything might have changed. The sample size is pretty small and the stats are shaky at best.
As for blinkers I'm undecided as to whether it's really a negative. On one hand there is the thought that a trainer needs to have his horse figured out during the prep races. But then to contrast that how could argue that it's a negative to add or remove something that makes a horse better. Empire Maker was surely a better horse with blinkers, I don't know why I'd call it a negative that he added them. But to each his own, as with many Derby stats we will all place differing portions of importance on every angle depending on our style and beliefs.