How to pick a Derby winner

Based on the “scientific” methods discussed below, I predict that Bodemeister will win the Derby on Saturday. His name and post position are not mitigated by any factors that might slow him down.

Maybe you don’t have time to study the stats, stand on the rail and evaluate the morning gallops. Maybe you don’t care the Hansen was rank during his first workout at Churchill Downs this morning . . . or that Daddy Long Legs won’t even work on the track until Friday . . . or that Take Charge Indy is being ridden by Calven Borel (who has ridden three out of the past five Derby winners).

After all, there are plenty of other ways to pick a Derby winner!

It’s all in the name

Nearly a quarter (23%) of Derby winners have had names based on real names, including George Smith (1913), Paul Jones (1920) and Giacomo (2005). Bodemeister is named in honor of trainer Bob Baffert’s 7-year-old son Bode, who was named after skier Bode Miller. Other contenders this year are Hansen and Trinniberg.

Horses names that are verbs or adjectives have won 14% of the time — like Charismatic (1999) and Affirmed (1978). This year that would include Done Talking, Optimizer and Prospective.

I predict that Dullahan will come in second (based on his post position, his name and the fact that his dam is also the mother of Mine That Bird)

Horses with historical or fictional names have won 12% of the time. This year that group includes Union Rags, Dullahan, Creative Cause and I’ll Have Another.

Horses with names that are word plays have won 10% of the time. This year that might be Daddy Nose Best or Went the Day Well.

Horses with animal related names have won only 3% of the time. This raises the odds for Daddy Long Legs and Sabercat (but don’t tell Animal Kingdom!).

Gemologist starts with a handicap as horses with names based on occupations have won only 2% of Derbys.

But Rousing Sermon needs more than just prayers as horses with religious names have won only 1% of Derbys.

Reading the tea leaves and other random stats

If the name game doesn’t do it for you, there are all kinds of statistics that can give you the insight you might need to either place your bet or cross a horse off your list.

No mare has ever produced two Derby winners. So that crosses Dullahan off your list, since his dam is also the mother of Mine That Bird.

No horse has ever won a Derby if they had blinkers either added or taken off for its last prep. That eliminated Creative Cause.

Only two horses won the Derby after breaking their maiden at Turfway Park (or predecessor Latonia), the last being Alysheba in 1987. So if Gemologist isn’t cursed by his name, he might lose based on his first win.

Only one horse (Smarty Jones 2004) has won the Derby after racing over Aqueduct’s inner track. That, along with the fact that he has starting gate issues, puts Alpha at a disadvantange.

Beware the ides of March? No Derby winner since at least 1929 broke his maiden in March (either at 2 or 3) like Went the Day Well. His first victory was March 3, 2012. Also, the only time an owner, trainer and jockey teamed for back-to-back Derby wins was 1972-73 with Riva Ridge and Secretariat.

Read more about Kentucky Derby 2012 Horses: Cases for and against at the Courier Journal

Post Positions

Union Rags
Union Rags should come in third, based on his post position and his name. However, since he’s trained by Michael Matz (Barbaro) I suspect that a lot of people will be cheering him on.

More scientific than the above ways to chose a winner are the stats associates with post positions. In a race with 20 runners, where a horse starts the race can have a big impact on how it finishes. Below are the post positions drawn by each horse in this year’s field along with the number of wins from each post from 1900 – 2009. Keep in mind that the very large Derby fields are a relatively recent phenomenon. In the early years, a field of seven was more usual but since 2004, the field has been limited to 20.

2012 Post Positions

1. Daddy Long Legs (12)
2. Optimizer (9)
3. Take Charge Indy (8)
4. Union Rags (10)
5. Dullahan (12)
6. Bodemeister (6)
7. Rousing Sermon (8)
8. Creative Cause (10)
9. Trinniberg (4)
10. Daddy Nose Best (10)
11. Alpha (3)
12. Prospective (3)
13. Went The Day Well (4)
14. Hansen (2)
15. Gemologist (3)
16. El Padrino (3)
17. Done Talking (0)
18. Sabercat (1)
19. I’ll Have Another (0)
20. Liaison (2)

So, which horse will win?

Based on the three systems outlined above, I’d have to say that Bodemeister will likely win the Derby, Dullahan will be second and Union Rags will come in third. Off to bet the Trifecta!

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