All of the normally recognized prep races for the Classic have now been contested and journalists, blogger and fans have all begun to try and sort out all the information and make some determinations about who is the best.
I'd like to offer a bit of a statistical look at the Classic in hopes that it may steer you in the right direction.
The first I'm always going to demand is that the horse run in the money last time out. Classic entrants who ran worse than 3rd in their final prep went 0 for 26 in the Classic over the last 11 years.
One could even go further than that and demand that a Classic entrant finish within at least 3 lengths of the winner in their final prep. Horses who failed to do that went 41-0-2-4.
After determining whether or not the horse had a sharp race I look at whether or not they're fast enough to win the race based on their Beyer Speed Figures. Some use a hard and fast guideline like 110 but I prefer to use an average derived from the horses who are actually running in the classic. I take the winning BSF from each horse for every graded stakes run at 8.5f or more and average it.
If the competition in the race is faster the BSF necessary to win the race should also be faster. The same is true if slower horses populate the field. 1997 looked like the fastest field on paper and it turned out to be the second fastest Classic on record (as measured by Beyer Speed Figures). Only Ghostzapper managed to beat Skip Away's 120 figure. Also 2005 looked like the slowest Classic on paper and low and behold it would up being the slowest Classic speed figure wise.
It is tough to say what the average figure for this years field will be because we don't know exactly who is entered but my estimate is that the figure will be 108 or 109. Don't use horses for failed to achieve those figures. Only Cat Thief managed to defy this guideline.
I would also demand that my Classic selection run the Avg BSF for the field in one of his last 3 races. You don't want a horse who has regressed badly in form. You want one who was recently at his best.
I would also be wary of any horses coming into the Classic off of a 10f prep. It's not a factor that necessarily rules horses out but since 1996, 63 horses have come into the Classic of a 10f race and they compiled a record of 63-2-7-8. The real negative is that the last winner to do so was Awesome Again in 1998. Since Awesome Again they have gone 0 for 48. It could be that trainers aren't putting enough foundation into their horses these days and that two efforts at 10f within a short span of time taxes them unduly.
I would also shy away from any horse who is more than 3 races into a form cycle. It may be a negative sign of the times but the reality is that trainers are getting great results from fresh horses and those who have been campaigned hard are often empty handed in the BC. The statistics for this factor in the Classic are not all that strong. 55-4-5-7 is the record of horses who came into the Classic without having a layoff within the last 3 starts, but I think this is a trend that is going to gain momentum as more and more trainers opt for freshness.
Don't spend your time looking for bombs who were more than 10/1 in their last race. the Classic is a tough race, you don't want your money riding on a horse who outperformed just to get in the gate.
Also don't ignore the elite meet factor. 8 of the last 11 Classics were won by horses who ran at either Saratoga or Del Mar. They are the premier dirt meets and more often than not the premier horses run there.