So much is put into the Derby. Months of lists, charts, anticipation and analysis. It's kind of sad that it's all over in a matter of two minutes. A lot transpires on Derby day and in many cases it causes us to forget the path we took to get there. In this post I'm going to try and bring up a few interesting points of review, perhaps draw some conclusions and also evaluate my own performance with the Derby Top 10, final analysis and use of statistics with the 20-20 system.
What we learned
Big Brown is definitely the superior animal some suspected he was. When a horse really is that good he tends to be able to overcome the unconventional. Convention is for mortals.
The Derby was an easy race for Big Brown after all.
The record of rookie trainers in the Derby gets better and better.
Statistics based on arbitrary lines took yet another hit demonstrating how limited they actually are. The actual number of starts does not and has never mattered. What matters is the experience a horse gets from the starts he or she has.
The Californian's weren't that great after all. Despite the great Cushion to dirt results we saw from Zenyatta, Tiago, Gayego and Sierra Sunset it did to change the fact that the horses simply weren't as good as the bet of those running in the Derby.
Despite the fact that no horse who had their last prep on an artificial surface hit the frame I don't think it's been exposed as a bad way to go. There is a difference between what is true and the truth. What is true is that 6 of the 9 horses who had their last prep on a surface other than dirt finished in the bottom half of the field. Including 5 of the last 6. But the truth is that just one year prior the exacta was filled with horses who had their last prep on Polytrack. The truth is that it's horse specific. Running on an all weather surface doesn't make your good horse bad, but what it does do is make it harder to see a horses real merit on dirt.
Other than Big Brown, Eight Belles and perhaps Tale of Ekati we didn't learn how good any of these horses really are. We learned how good some of them aren't but the Derby rarely reflects the actual upper level of a horse's ability.
All along we've been saying that the crop is slow and the derby did little to change that perception. Big Brown is definitely an exception but the rest of the colts are not very fast as this stage.
Once again we see that tactical speed has an enormous advantage in the Derby. Big Brown and Eight Belles both had the speed to put themselves right where they needed to be while Denis of Cork and Colonel John needed a pace setup and luck with weaving through the field. We mention this every year
Derby Top 10 accountability
You can read the entire Derby Top 10 here (Derby Top 10). The final list was definitely better than the first list. Big Brown was ranked second and Eight Belles was ranked fourth. Denis of Cork nor Tale Of Ekati were included. At one time or another Tale of Ekati and Denis of Cork were ranked as high as third and second respectively but poor results saw them dropped altogether.
My first Top 10 of 2008 had Tale of Ekati ranked third but none of the top three finishers were included. Only five of the those Top 10 even ran in the Derby. For the most accurate listing I should have stopped on April 1st. At that time I had Denis of Cork in second, Big Brown in fifth and Eight Belles in tenth. That was the only week that all three of them were listed in my Top 10.
Overall I'd say my Derby Top 10 performance was poor. I'm a skeptic by nature so I'm not quick to jump on horses like Big Brown and I'm also quick to give up on horses that I perceive as failures. Denis of Cork and Tale of Ekati were both highly thought of at one point in the spring and both were eliminated after single poor performances.
Derby 20-20 Roundup
The top ranked horse didn't win so was the 20-20 a failure? My estimation is no it was not and here a few reasons why.
There were no perfect qualifiers so right off the top one had to assume that the Derby was not going to be as easy as betting on the top ranked qualifier. The 548.89% ROI gleaned from betting only the perfect qualifiers stayed in tact. (By the way you can view the updated results of the 20-20 system here)
Big Brown was the second ranked contender and Eight Belles was co-third ranked. An exacta box on the top 5 contenders according to the 20-20 system paid off for the second year in a row, and had you followed that system since 1996 you would have made a 60.51% profit.
Much of the media are going to hold up Big Brown as yet another "rule breaker". Proof that statistics don't work and yet I don't see that at all. All the supposed "rules" he broke had to do with experience yet the 20-20 system claimed that his experience was sufficient. What he lacked was fitness. He failed to have two preps around two turns and his closing fractions in the Florida Derby were just a bit too slow.
What Big Brown did show is that good horses in weak fields can overcome these aspects. I think his lack of preps at two turns was still a negative but for a horse that good compared to his competition it doesn't matter.
Going forward I see few if any changes needed to the 20-20 system. I think it performed quite well. I may work on refining the average closing fraction calculations. Big Brown apparently didn't close his last race fast enough but that was based on an average that included preps on All Weather surfaces which were significantly faster because of the pace scenarios. Perhaps fractions earned on All Weather surfaces will have to be calculated separately.
I'm also interested in incorporating Thoro-Graph Sheet Figures as another speed calculation. I have back data and it looks very good but the problem is that they don't provide any of these figures for free and I'm not sold on paying their prices for a hobby system.
In the end I still very much believe that statistics are a useful tool in determining the Derby outcome.
Personal Derby Handicapping
After all the analysis and statistics did I actually come up with the right horse? No, unfortunately I went for Colonel John and Eight Belles on top. But overall I did think that I was on the right track. I did not use Big Brown in the straight win pool but I did use him in the exotics over my keys and other contenders. I went against Big Brown for the win but I still respected him greatly. I also liked Denis of Cork among a few others to hit the frame and my overall projection of the pace turned out to be correct. I feel like I was on the right track but just missed because I wanted to get fancy and drop the favorite. My overall handicapping performance was good but not great.