Sunday morning saw a paradigm shift in the focus of race fans. We moved from being focused on the afternoons to the mornings.
For the next two weeks race results mean little to nothing with respect to the Derby. What matters is how the Derby contenders look in the morning.
As always I have a small collection of stats to help me monitor the progress of the Derby field. Workouts are a very tricky thing to read into because training methods vary so greatly. For Bob "The Bullet" Baffert trainees fast works are less meaningful only because they're ordinary but a sudden slow work could be a big negative.
For those wondering how to interpret the morning form of Pioneerof the Nile it is worth noting that Baffert has had 3 winners and 3 more horses hit the frame in the Derby and all of them had a bullet work at Churchill Downs after their last prep. 11 of his 16 Derby entrants had this angle going for them. The 5 horses that did not have a Churchill bullet ran out of the frame.
Bullets, which are simply the fastest work of the morning at that particular distance, can be a good indicator of race readiness. Although it's not something I'd absolutely require 10 of the last 13 winners did have a bullet work after their final prep race. Here are some quick stats for you (1996 to the present)
Worked a bullet since last prep race: 79-10-6-5
Worked a bullet at CD since last prep race: 61-8-6-4
Worked a bullet in their last pre-Derby workout: 49-9-3-2
Worked two bullets since their last prep race: 13-4-1-0
Did not have any bullet works since last prep race: 143-3-7-8
This isn't something you could solely hang your hat on but I think these numbers do show that horses who are working fast in the last few weeks leading up to the Derby are generally outperforming those who work slowly.
Another subset to keep and eye on is those horses that suddenly work a bullet before the Derby when they're not normally great workhorses. Barbaro and Grindstone both worked a bullet right before the Derby without having earned one in any of their last 6 workouts. In other words they weren't usually that fast in the morning but leading up to the Derby they were in great form.
To me the biggest negatives of morning workouts is when a horse works too quickly before a race and after their last prep race. Training methods are changing and from the year 2000 to the present day there has been a real trend towards freshness. Horses have longer spaces between races and even now they tend to have longer spaces between works.
I'm not a trainer but my thought is that the times when a workout could have the greatest impact on a horses fitness is right after a race and right before a race. After a race the horse is probably tired and could use a few days off. Trainers that coaxed a timed workout from their Derby starters less than 10 days after their final prep went 36-0-1-2 in the Derby since 2000. Papa Clem and Chocolate Candy have both been put back to work after just 8 days rest so it'll be interesting to see how that pair does.
Working too close to the race has also been a bit of a negative for Derby starters. Horses with a timed workout 3 days or less before the Derby have gone 15-1-1-0 in the Derby since 1996. Big Brown was the lone exception to this rule last year as he drilled a 3f bullet 2 days before the Derby. Among the group of those defeated was the 96' favorite Unbridled's Song.
Just a few things to keep an eye on over the next fortnight.