On Friday's I usually offer my thoughts on a few of the weekends stakes races but a few factors have caused me to change it up just a bit. First of all most of the racing is low key this weekend I like mostly favorites. People don't need me to point out why a favorite is solid. Secondly I think I've given out enough losers over the last few weeks to fill up my quota for the month and of course another big reason is that the Derby is what is on everyones mind. Unless you own Harlem Rocker (best of luck Patrick!) you're unlikely to find the 4 horse Withers stakes more compelling than the slew of Derby preparations that will take place over the weekend.
One of the most important factors in picking a Derby winner is the workouts. Workouts can be tough to gauge because trainers all have different ideas and methods. Some like short fast works and some like long slow works but the one constant is that the horse needs to be thriving. Hopefully that horse is also in the best form it's been all spring.
Here are some statistics to give you a bit of a barometer with the workouts.
A bullet work for those who might not know is the fastest recorded work of the day on that track for that specific distance. Given the fact that many of the Derby contenders these days are working the same distance (5f) it makes it a bit easier to compare.
Working a bullet since their last race seems to be quite an important factor. The last horse to win the Derby without a bullet work since their last race was Monarchos.
In the last 12 years horses who failed to work a bullet since their last race were 130-3-6-8 in the Derby. Obviously it's not impossible for a horse to win without fast works. But now consider that horses who did have a bullet since their last race went 74-9-6-4.
If you key on only the horses who worked a bullet in their final derby workout you have 46 qualifiers who compiled a record of 8-3-2.
Keep a close eye on horses who have worked two bullets since their last prep race. In the 12 years only 13 horses have done so and 4 of them were winners and one more hit the exacta
It is not absolutely essential that the bullet work come over the Churchill Downs strip. Funny Cide and Giacomo were flying in the mornings but both at their regular homes bases and not at CD itself. The record of horses with a bullet at CD is very solid (56-7-6-3) but it's not essential. The horses form is more important than familiarity with the track.
One subset I'd keep a very close eye on are those horses who work a bullet in their final Derby tune-up if a bullet is out of the ordinary for them. A lot of horses work fast, and many good horses work fast regularly. But over the last 12 years there has been only 4 horses who fired a bullet in their last Derby workout without having worked a bullet in any of their previous 6 works. Barbaro and Grindstone were two of them. A horse who suddenly finds themselves turning in the best works of their lives often outperform.
All in all a bullet work is not necessarily something I would take a horse because of, but I may drop a horse because of the lack of one. Bullets don't give hope to the hopeless. Going Wild, Ten Cents A Shine, Supah Blitz and Hal's Hope all worked bullets at Churchill. But if a horse is fast and in seemingly good form in his races like Brother Derek. It is a bit of a worry when they fail to work quickly following their last prep.