There is no question that Pyro and his fantastic stretch run in the Risen Star generated the biggest buzz of the week. He passed every horse within the last 3/16th's of a mile and some pace professionals are reporting that he covered the final quarter in :22.60. Closing fractions like that are virtually unprecedented in any dirt race let alone a Derby prep but for our statistical look this week I wanted to see how one run closers have done in the Derby.
The problem with statistics in this area is that it is notoriously difficult to define closers from stalkers who were maybe just a bit further back. Closers may also make their run from the back at very different points in the race. For instance Street Sense was nearly last early in the Derby but by the time they passed the mile pole he was 3rd and he was a length in front at the 1/8th pole. He certainly came from off the pace but his running line only lists him far back for two calls while he was either close or in front for 3 calls.
The biggest danger for late runners always seems to be that for any variety of reasons they run out of ground. Their challenge comes too late and the speedier horses that were tactically better placed get to the wire first. So in order to try and quantify late runners I am going to define them by their placement at the 1/8th pole.
The first interesting note is that in the last 12 years no horse has won the Derby after winning a two turn stakes prep race from well off the pace. By off the pace I mean that they were worse than second at the 1/8th pole. Horses who have won a prep after being third or more at the 1/8th pole are 0 for 28 and 28-0-2-3 overall. Horses like Fifty Stars, Crypto Star, Desert Hero, Greater Good and Tapit make up the bulk of the list. But there are also a good deal of classy talented horses like Captain Bodgit, Menifee, Imperialism and Tiago. Those horses managed to sweep past the competition in their prep races but all of them ran out of time in the Derby. Some missed narrowly like Captain Bodgit and Menifee while others like Imperialism never really threatened the winner despite closing stoutly. The Derby is simply a tough race to close in, you have to be in a good position turning for home and quicker stalkers are usually the ones in those positions.
An absolute essential in my mind is that a horses demonstrate the ability to put themselves in a good position. It won't necessarily work out in every race for a closer but the most consistent closers will be the ones who have caught up to the leaders by the 1/8th pole. Horses who failed to be in the top 2 places in either of their last two Derby preps are 61-0-3-3 over the last 12 years. Horses who never seem to get there almost never do, even Giacomo qualified with this factor.
What all this means for Pyro I'm not sure. He came from further back than any horse I've seen in a prep and he also did it against a slow pace whereas most closers have success into a fast pace. However the stats suggest that one run closers are disadvantaged in the Derby and that it will be nearly impossible to repeat that trick in the big dance. Pyro has not always come from that far back though, and this statistic will surely be relevant for a few other horses in this years Derby.