Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics and the Kentucky Derby

Derby Start

Every day the news reports different ways to pick your Derby winner. To a large degree past performance predicts future performance.

According to an article by Neil Greenberg in the Washington Post, the past seven winners of the Kentucky Derby won their prep race, and 41 of the past 42 winners were either in the top three finishers or within four lengths of the winner. Each of the past six winners — and 16 of the last 20 — ran the last three-eights of its final Derby prep race in less than 38 seconds.

A8 second how a horse finishes in its final prep is important, especially over the last three-eighths of a mile. Each of the past six Kentucky Derby winners — and 16 of the last 20 — ran the last three-eighths of its final Derby prep race in less than 38 seconds.

Age Matters

My Boy Jack
My Boy Jack is the oldest horse in the Derby field, born January 26th.

But there’s another metric that comes into play: age. Technically, all horses running in the Kentucky Derby are 3, but that’s a loose definition. Thoroughbreds “age up” on January 1st, which is why breeders aim to have foals born as close to — but after — the first of the year. Why? Because the difference of a few months can be a huge advantage in terms of maturity, speed and endurance.

Mendelssohn is the youngest horse in the Kentucky Derby. He won’t actually turn three until May 17th.

In the 2018 Kentucky Derby, the range in age is four months  — My Boy Jack, born 1/26 is the oldest, and Mendelssohn, born 5/17 is the youngest. In the physical development of three year old horses, four months can make a big difference. In the last 20 years only one winner was born in May, which puts Mendelssohn and Magnum Moon, both favorites, at a disadvantage. In fact, four of the past five Derby winners were born in February and the fifth was born in early March.

Will that stop Mendelssohn? The colt has impressed many people by his versatility, winning on all surfaces and several countries. Most recently he won the UAE Derby by 19 lengths. It’s a shame that the statistics tell us that no UAE Derby winner has gone on to win in Kentucky. Maybe no one should tell Mendelssohn.



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