The higher the BRIS Speed rating the better. And when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, the winner always receives at least a triple-digit number (100 or more).

But the Kentucky Derby isn’t held until the first Saturday in May and it’s fair to ask: how important are early-season BRIS Speed ratings by Kentucky Derby contenders?

The answer depends on the individual.

Lightly-raced horses without stakes experience don’t need to run a big number early in their 3-year-old season. Anything too low can be a negative (I use 85 as a baseline) but as the chart below shows, three Kentucky Derby winners this century opened their sophomore campaigns with a figure in the mid-to-high 80s.

Horses competing in the maiden or allowance ranks are often still in the early stages of development and their BRIS Speed ratings can increase dramatically as they move forward from race-to-race.

Since the turn of the century, 12-of-18 Kentucky Derby winners (66%) had stakes experience at age 2. But regardless of how well they performed as juveniles, they must continue to move forward or else the competition catches up and surpasses them.

That makes early-season Speed numbers more relevant because nobody wants to see a significant drop-off from juvenile stakes attempts. A slight decrease in the 3-year-old debut isn’t a serious concern because plenty of time still remains, but a 10+ point decline can make me wary of an individual.

Only five eventual Kentucky Derby winners opened their sophomore seasons with a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating since 2000.

Early-season BRIS Speed ratings have value, but these performances serve as building blocks toward having a 3-year-old at his (or her) peak on Kentucky Derby Day.

BRIS Speed ratings earned by Kentucky Derby winners in their first start at age 3:

HORSE

 

RACE (FINISH)

 

BRIS SPEED

Always Dreaming (2017)

 

Maiden (1st)

 

89

Nyquist

 

San Vicente (1st)

 

103

American Pharoah

 

Rebel (1st)

 

99

California Chrome

 

Cal Cup Derby (1st)

 

94

Orb

 

Allowance (1st)

 

89

I’ll Have Another

 

Robert Lewis (1st)

 

102

Animal Kingdom

 

Allowance (2nd)

 

92

Super Saver

 

Tampa Bay Derby (3rd)

 

99

Mine That Bird

 

Borderland Derby (2nd)

 

87

Big Brown

 

Allowance

 

102

Street Sense

 

Tampa Bay Derby (1st)

 

105

Barbaro

 

Tropical Park Derby (1st)

 

97

Giacomo

 

Sham (3rd)

 

98

Smarty Jones

 

Count Fleet (1st)

 

103

Funny Cide

 

Holy Bull (5th)

 

97

War Emblem

 

Lecomte (5th)

 

94

Monarchos

 

Maiden (1st)

 

98

Fusaichi Pegasus

 

Maiden (1st)

 

98