Triple Crown season is in full swing again with the Derby now behind us. The field for this year is still taking shape, but will have 9 Derby runners, including the top three finishers. Due to late scratches, there still may be some errors in the article, but I’ve gone through as best I can to remove them.
This article is way longer than the others. Go to the bottom if you want the good stuff without technical numbers.
Typically, a frontrunner will win on a slower pace whereas a closer will win on a faster pace. I split this race and last year’s edition, also won by a frontrunner, to see differences and similarities.
Man in Motion had no one go with him early, which i thought was surprising considering how many horses liked to run up front. When Dave Matthews Band came roaring at him, he held on by a nose. While holding off a horse who came running like that is impressive, what’s more impressive is the time.
The 1:56.65 that the Derby was run in is tied for the second fastest in the SIM’s history, 0.01 seconds off being tied for the record entirely. The time is tied with Conquerer’s year 48 victory, and the fastest Derby was year 50 and Owl Let You Know. In terms of frontrunners, Man in Motion was the 2nd fastest frontrunner to win the Louisville Derby in the SIM’s history.
Fair to say, this horse is fast.
YEAR 53 FIELD
Achievement (Blue Bayou out of Aspirational [by Just Victory]) saw horses finish ahead of him for the first time in his career in Louisville. He had a clean trip, but he just wasn’t fast enough to catch Man in Motion. I’m not wholly confident in his breeding to like this distance, especially with other speed horses better bred for this distance. He did reserve last out, but I think he’s a horse who wants the lead and will not stand for anyone else trying to take it from him.
Avatar (Allonsy out of Jolly holiday [by Rambling]) didn’t have much of a response in Louisville, simply getting outrun. He broke well and had to settle for last, finishing an even 13th. It’s tough to say what exactly he didn’t like, but I’m assuming that a dry track wasn’t his preference, as he’s now 0 for 2 on fast tracks,. I liked him coming into the Derby and has him as the winner in my exacta, but he starts today still in search of that elusive grade 1.
Avenger (Blue Bayou out of Penguin [by Man of Mystery]) had a rough trip in the Derby and still managed to finish 6th, which I think was a great run considering his bad start and being forced wide for most of the race. He had an unfavourable post, and I think if he gets a bit closer, he’ll be able to save his energy for a closing stretch run.
Dave Matthews Band (You Never Know out of Viola [by Warehouse]) got about as close as you can, but didn’t have an answer for Man in Motion. That said, he posted a 99 (a well-earned one, as I have huge doubts about the “99” he posted in the Sunshine Park Derby) and I think was done a disservice with his post position. Does he catch Man in Motion if he isn’t forced to settle behind 10 others? Still, it was a ridiculously fast pace (the fastest mile and a quarter for a three year-old since the year 50 Queen’s Derby) so he should’ve been able to catch this horse easily with the pace.
Kingslayer (James Dean out of Square Angel [by Man of Mystery]) was my Derby pick, but a bad break and a terrible post did him no favours. I think he’s more suited to the Long Island Classic than this race with his breeding, but I still like him and I’m not going to discount him out of my exotics.
Man in Motion (Man of Mystery out of St. Elmo’s Fire [by]). The paddock show host once called one of my real-life racehorses an “absolute speedball,” and I think this horse fits that bill rather nicely. He’s the Derby winner, and was one of the subjects in the Steward’s crazy call of the stretch run. Since breaking his maiden in his last start as a two year-old, he’s been undefeated as a three year-old. If there was one knock against him in this field, I’d say that his breeding leans more toward the longer distances, but who knows. Fast frontrunners are favoured in the Crown.
Royal Look (Prince Louder out of Looks Possible [by Man of Mystery]) was outfinished in the Derby, finishing 10th of 19. I think he was caught in traffic, having to veer out from post 3 and run down the middle. Unfortunately, he got another bad luck draw, drawing post 2 in the Crown, but will have much more speed relative to field size, than in the Derby.
Storm in My Heart (Heart of the Storm out of Soulmate [by Together]) is the lone filly in this field, and arguably the one who can hang with this field the best. She posted a 99 in the grade 2 Dance stakes over Purple Brain, and is coming off a win in the grade 1 Lexington Oaks. She’s won both her stakes this year by a combined 2 lengths, including the grade 3 Rising Star Stakes against the boys. None of the horses she beat in that field are here today, but she does have the highest points % of the field, which will be explained more later.
The People’s Hero (Happy this Way out of Bare Necessities [by Doctor]) was hung in the Derby and could never really get his feet under him. Since his jockey change, he hasn’t won at all, with his best finish a second in the Owlpha Stakes. Pedigree-wise he might like this distance, but if we look at his full brother, the classic distance seems better suited. Still, he’ll look to right his sophomore campaign in this race.
Wolfgard (Tahoe out of Things We Do [by James Dean]) rounded out the Derby trifecta after trying to stay with Man in Motion. He was passed by Dave Matthews Band but still finished well, and ensured his record of finishing on the board remained at 100%. He should like this distance, with his sire being a former Crown winner.
Wonderful Image (Heart of the Storm out of Wonderful Dream [by Paramount]) bypassed the Derby, and earned his first win as a three year-old last out in the grade 3 Lexington Race Course Stakes. This horse is a bonafide closer, sits way back, and moves quickly. Outside of his career debut in the American Pharoah, he has posted four very consistent speed figures – two 90s, a 91, and an 89.
Even with his first loss of his career in the Derby, Dave Matthews Band still sports the highest average speed figure of 95.67. The next highest is Achievement at an average of 91, then Avenger. Man in Motion’s average is dragged down by the two maiden races where he failed to rally. Even with somewhat inconsistent performances, there are six horses in this field who have put up 99s in their lifetime – Dave Matthews Band doing so in two consecutive races (though I’ve made it clear I think the 99 in his final prep was very generous, and isn’t on the same level as the Derby 2nd). The other five are Achievement, Avenger, Avatar, Man in Motion, and Storm in My Heart, who received her 99 in her final juvenile start where she beat Need to Breathe by a combined 5 and ¼ lengths, who’s likely going to be one of the Baltimore Oaks favourites.
Field sizes are now reaching that point where they’re usually going to be forever skewed by the Derby. The average and adjusted (stakes fields only) are getting closer to each other, and those who had been facing smaller fields in stakes were exposed. The biggest example this year was Avatar. He’d faced an adjusted average of 5 in stakes, and had only ever faced 8 as his biggest field in his maiden. His style is very much a “close huge” type, going to the back and making a move late. He tried this in the Derby, breaking well, but had nothing. Even with a blazing pace, he could only beat six others. I’d imagine the track condition was not his preference, but reading his line, he didn’t really have much of an excuse. His break was not bad, he just wasn’t fast enough. Not to say he isn’t a good horse, because he clearly has talent over mud, but after he screwed up my exotics, I started thinking that he was probably benefiting off of smaller fields. Two others in the Derby field are likely part of this group, but considering they aren’t here, it’s not worth mentioning. On the flip side, the horse that had the second-lowest adjusted field score was the Derby winner. Man in Motion had only faced an average of 5.33 horses in stakes, but there’s a big difference between the two. In non-adjusted, he’d faced 7.83, second-most in the Derby field, only behind Wolfgard who had himself a race as well. Man in Motion had seen double digit fields before twice in two of his maidens, one of which he won. Adjusted field size also favoured Dave Matthews Band, who came in with a 6.33 adjusted average and left with a 9.5, and shifted the balance so that he now faces bigger fields in stakes. This is to be expected of horses who break their maidens first time out then go to the biggest field in the SIM, though. Considering he only lost by a nose, he definitely showed well.
The “magic number” for the Crown is not as cut-and-dry as the Derby. Horses with perfect records are 8 for 52, but it’s tied with horses with a 66.67% win record. The records here range, with the most common being 6: 4-1-0 (or at the very least, 4 wins and 1 place – the other placing was usually an off the board finish in the Derby). There are three horses that fit this bill – Avatar, Kingslayer, and Storm in My Heart. Until Avatar shows me that he can put up a decent run on a dry track, I’m not picking him. Kingslayer was my Derby pick, and I thought he ran a pretty decent race, all things considered. I think his post position wasn’t great for him considering he was forced wide and had nothing left for the drive. Storm in My Heart will be slightly handicapped in this field considering she is a filly, though she has beaten the boys before in the Rising Star Stakes. Of course, it’s not going to matter if Man in Motion can dictate the speed without being pressured like he did for much of the Derby.
Points percentage took a huge hit for a lot of horses. If you’re new to my articles, points percentage is just the current number of points divided by the maximum points available. Achievement saw a drop of over 33%, The only horse who saw their percentage increase was Man in Motion, who increased 6.4%. To the surprise of no one, he’s sitting with the highest percentage, but only just ahead of Storm in My Heart, who has a 90.63%. Both horses have seen similar career paths – both had a two year old career that started a bit behind, followed it up with a decent speed figure, but then dropped back again. They then posted their biggest speed figures in their final starts at two year-olds, and have run their sophomore careers undefeated. This could also be me trying to stir up drama where there isn’t any.
FINISHES AND TIMES
Another thing I decided to look at is positions at points of call and times per distance. I did two versions of this: one for the entire career, and one for just year 53. The numbers may look confusing, but they are essentially the average of position in the field at points of call. This can help determine a frontrunner or a closer if the form is all over the place. For example, since turning 3, Man in Motion has never had another horse in front of him, but when sorted through his career, he ranks 7th of 14 in finishing position. The horses ahead of him are Dave Matthews Band (and average of 1.17, the Storm in My Heart with 1.50, the Wolfgard with 1.60. The most consistent is Storm in My Heart, who has an average of 1.5 for her career, and 1.00 for her three year-old career. I put both sets of data on a scatter plot to see who comes running and who’s a bonafide pacesetter.
Man in Motion, The People’s Hero, and Wolfgard want the lead and have come the closest. Man in Motion was too fast on Derby day for them to get close, but more often than not, they have the lead at the first call. Avatar wants to sit very far back, as well as Dave Matthews Band and Avenger who want to be a bit closer, but still make a huge move to take the lead. The rest like to sit mid-pack. The other speed horse in this race, Achievement, dealt with a wide post in the Derby which skews his results slightly, but those four will be pressing the pace.
Next, I looked at times and which style they favoured. I’ve gone on about how Man in Motion had every reason to come back after the pace he set. You don’t come within 0.02 seconds of setting the all-time SIM Derby record without running the race of your life. It’s possible that he is just that fast, or that he simply had the favourable trip and will be hard-pressed to repeat it.
When looking at this, the fastest time set by this field where the frontrunner won was Wolfgard at 8.5 furlongs. The fastest at 9 furlongs was Achievement. In fact, Man in Motion ran the slowest 9 furlongs of all stakes runners in this field in the Pacific Coast Highway Stakes with a 1:49.14. Every other time he’d set the pace after the first call, they’d come at him and pass him. So the question stands, can he repeat a blazing time? You know that Dave Matthews Band is going to want revenge.
DERBY RECORD & FIELD SIZE
There have been six triple crown winners in the SIM’s history. Outside of those six, there have been eight others who have completed the Derby-Crown double; Tahoe, Heart of the Storm, Castle Keep, Persevere, Believe the Hype, Tremendous, and Tilt A Whirl.
I also decided to validate my own idea which was that field size is correlated to the result. The Crown is a way nicer race to test this with because there is a ton of variation, where as the Derby has almost always been around 15-20 horses and is usually the biggest field these horses ever face. Outside of a few years, Derby winners who face another large field in the Crown do not tend to repeat that same success. The few exceptions to this rule are Year 46 and Dragonfly (who won in a 14 horse field after beating 16 others in the Derby), Year 28 and Persevere (who beat a field of 14 in the Crown and 20 in the Derby), and to a certain extent, Year 36 and Bronze Horseman (2nd in a field of 13 after beating 18 others in the Derby).
I did the same with the entire field of Year 53’s Crown to see how field size-dependant they are. Before I explain this, I just want to give the disclaimer that the Derby is not the be-all end-all for field sizes – some horses have bad luck which just happens to correlate. The Derby ends up skewing things slightly because of the field size, so I’m only mentioning horses that have a very close correlation across all of their races.
There are three horses who have a close correlation: Avatar, Avenger, The People’s Hero. Even more interesting is that the fillies in this race seem to be the mirror opposite – they run better against larger fields. Man in Motion, Dave Matthews Band, and Wolfgard did not have any significant correlation.
HEAD TO HEAD
With eight Derby runners in this field, most of them have met each other before. Man in Motion swept them all but one (Royal Look in the American Pharoah, and Avatar finished behind them all. Outside of the Derby, Man in Motion also finished a length ahead of Wonderful Image in the American Pharoah as a two year-old. The only horse in this field that no one has seen is the filly, but she has run against the boys before in the Rising Star Stakes, which she won. None of those horses are here, but she did put them away nicely.
The draw happened as I finished this article:
#1: The People’s Hero
#2: Royal Look
#8: Storm in My Heart
#9: Man in Motion
#10: Dave Matthews Band
#11: Wonderful Image
Certain horses got post positions that will favour them. Some got post positions that will inhibit them. Man in Motion will have to deal with all of the speed to his inside, and will need to hope that a few of the speed horses stumble at the gate and he gets away quickly in order to grab the lead. The People’s Hero drew post 1, and he much prefers a close rail spot judging by his past performances. Dave Matthews Band also drew a position that will help him stay back from the speed and chase for the first half.
While it seems like I’m making a big deal about post position, the truth is, it’s not too big of a deal. Last year, I would’ve said the same about Story Unchanged. After getting a very favourable post in the Derby (#4), he finished third to The King who was on the far outside. He came back to draw the far outside, kicked clear, and was first under the wire, taking the Crown by 2 lengths. That said, it will also depend on the break – Story Unchanged broke very quickly and was able to grab the rail whereas some of the other speed horses broke slightly slower.
Frontrunners are heavily favoured in this race. They’ve won 4 straight Crowns, and seven of the last nine runnings. That automatically puts Man in Motion, Achievement, Wolfgard, and The People’s Hero in a favourable light. If the horse is fast enough, post position would be a problem (see: Story Unchanged winning wire to wire from post 16 in the biggest Crown field ever). They do tend to want the rail though, so if one is stuck wide, it’s not the greatest thing for them. Also, the fastest one will usually escape the duel. Last year, The King and Courage battled for much of the stretch before The King eventually faded to 7th and Courage finished a length ahead in 6th. Last year, there were 5 horses who were separated by just a little bit over a length and a quarter at the first call just over two and a half at the 2nd call before they began to spread and drop out of it. Story Unchanged simply widened his lead with each call. Whoever can get ahead and let the others fight for second will be best served.
- Man in Motion was fast. Like, F A S T. He was 0.01 seconds slower than Owl Let You Know’s Derby, which is the fastest in SIM history. He had every reason to give way to Dave Matthews Band, but he didn’t. Did he run the race of his life or is he really this good and peaking at the right time? You decide!
- Outside of the 6 triple crown winners, 8 others have won the Derby and the Crown. That’s around a 29% success rate.
- Frontrunners own this race.
- Field size is correlated to how the Derby winner finishes. Generally, Derby winners have issues against a large Crown field, and only two horses have broken through to complete the double – Dragonfly and Are Lions Real. Another interesting thing is that closers and stalkers in this field typically have issues with larger fields. Fillies are the exact opposite and tend to win in bigger fields, as Storm in My Heart’s graph looks like a mirror image (and the other fillies did too before they scratched)
- I really like Man in Motion, but unfortunately, he’s not bred to go short. That said, his sire did produce a Triple Crown winner not too long ago, so if he can overcome his breeding and run as fast as he can for as long as he can I think he’ll be tough to beat.