Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Importance Of The Second Last Prep

Since the high profile washout of War Pass fans and Derby prognosticators have been searching around to try and find some context. What does this do to his Derby chances? Can a horse run that badly in their second last prep and still be at their best on Derby day?

I looked to isolate every Derby starter since 1996 who finished out of the frame in their second last prep race but I decided to exclude those who bombed once again in their last prep. The idea is to find quality horses who simply underperformed not horses like Built For Pleasure or Nationalore who were legitimately bad horses who were being thrown in over their heads.

So here is the cumulative Derby record for horses who finished out of the frame in their second last Derby prep but rebounded to run in the frame in their last prep: 33-1-2-2. Charismatic, Hard Spun, Proud Citizen, Afleet Alex and Prince Of Thieves all managed to overcome a poor second last prep race.

But in order to be truly accurate one does have to look inside the numbers a bit. For instance I'm not sure Charismatic really qualifies. Yes he did finish 4th in the Santa Anita Derby before coming back to score in the Lexington. But the SA Derby 4th place finish was not exactly an under performance, in fact it was right on par with his best lifetime effort to date. He was a horse that Lukas still had not figured out at the time. So perhaps the record looks more like 32-0-2-2.

Another subset of this statistic is looking at the horses who ran badly in their second last prep but came back to win their final prep. These horses compiled a record of 17-1-2-1, again Charismatic is included in this figure. It's worth noting that the majority of the horses who did well in the Derby after running out of the frame in their second last prep did actually win their final prep. Of those who only managed to come back and run in the money their record is a much worse 16-0-0-1. Prince Of Thieves is the only outlier and he very nearly did win his final prep. He had a lot of trouble in the Lexington and missed by a scant nose.

Another way of judging the importance of the second last prep is to look at the speed figures of Derby winners. Grindstone, Monarchos, Smarty Jones and Real Quiet all earned their lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure in their second to last start. A good many more earned theirs in their final prep race but it seems that it is quite a negative factor if a horse does not earn their highest career Beyer Speed Figure within their last two starts. The cumulative record of those that did not is 49-2-1-1. Street Sense and Giacomo both earned their highest lifetime BSF three starts back. So perhaps the figure is becoming less relevant or maybe those two were simply outliers. Given the fact that Street Sense and Giacomo actually went against a good number of trends it's possible that they are simply exceptions to the rule.

Statistics seem to indicate that running poorly in your second last prep is never a great thing, but in order to truly get back on track a horse should win their final prep and hopefully also earn a lifetime best Beyer Figure.

That will be a tall order for War Pass as he may be facing Denis Of Cork and Court Vision and his lifetime best Beyer is a lofty 113. That is not to say he can't do it but I suspect it'll be a tough road back for him and that he won't manage it. The Derby Trail is a very tough road, slip ups are costly especially when they come in your last two preps.

No comments: