by Dick Powell
I live just outside Saratoga Springs, New York, and even up here, we are inundated with rain that just won't stop. No golf, no sunshine and no lawn mowing have pushed spring even farther back than normal. I can't imagine what it must be like to live in the South where severe weather has played havoc with far too many people's lives.
With not much to do outside these days, even I can see the possibility of having another Kentucky Derby (G1) run over a wet track this year. In fact, we're lucky the calendar played out the way it did and the Derby is not this weekend but the following one or we would be looking at a very wet first Saturday in May.
In today's world of lightly-raced horses, the chance of them racing on wet tracks already is lower than ever. Using small sample sizes to draw big conclusions is risky business but at least we have some tools to attack the problem.
The first thing to do is to download the latest version of the "Kentucky Derby Only" past performance file from Brisnet.com. This will give you the Ultimate Past Performances of the 32 most likely horses to contest this year's Derby. Take out The Factor (War Front) and J P's Gusto (Successful Appeal) now that their connections have ruled out their participation. Use the list of the top 20 graded stakes earners to get a better idea of which 20 horses will be competing.
Now, go through the career boxes of each horse to see how they have done on "off" tracks. What I am looking for here is: first; have they ever raced on a track that was rated as anything but fast. This will give me an idea of a horse's experience on wet tracks regardless of how they have run. Even a horse that bombed the first time they raced on a wet track might do better next time on it with that experience under its belt.
Second, I want to see what their record on off tracks is. Have they won on it, finished in the money, or out of the money? A horse that wins on a wet track the first time he tries it is usually a sign of a natural affinity for it. Of the 30 horses remaining after the two above defections, only 14 have ever run on an off track and only four have more than one start on an off track.
Of the 14 Derby contenders that have raced on an off track, only eight have actually won and at least three of these are unlikely to enter. Thus, it is entirely possible that only five horses of the usual 20 that will be in this year's starting gate will have a win on an off track.
Third and last, I want to see how the horse ran on an off track in terms of his BRIS Speed rating that he earned on it. A horse could show a win on an off track like TWICE THE APPEAL (Successful Appeal) when he broke his maiden on a wet-fast track, but he only earned a BRIS Speed rating of 86. STAY THIRSTY (Bernardini) shows a second in his lone off track start, but he earned a BRIS Speed rating of 96 in it. Pay attention to the BRIS Speed ratings that were earned on off tracks and give more consideration to those that earned theirs going two turns.
The happiest Derby trainer at the moment has to be Kiaran McLaughlin who trains SOLDAT (War Front). Not only does Soldat have three starts on off tracks, he has a win and two seconds on it with a career-best BRIS speed rating of 108 earned on it going two turns down at Gulfstream.
Where the Ultimate Past Performances really give you an edge in races run on off tracks is the sire statistics on wet tracks. For each horse that races, they tell you the sire and dam's sire's win percentage in the "mud," which is a track that is listed as anything but fast, and the number of starters that have contested races in the mud. This gives you the ability, at a glance, to see how a sire's offspring are doing on wet tracks and what kind of sample the percentage is drawn from.
Many speedy sires have high win percentages on wet tracks. This makes sense since many wet tracks have been "sealed" and are very kind to speed horses going short. Since the Kentucky Derby is run at 1 1/4 miles, these sires, while attractive if the track comes up wet, might not be worth considering due to their distance limitations.
For example, Wildcat Heir is one of the best wet-track sires with a 30 percent win percentage based on 115 starters in the mud. But the average winning distance of his winners is only 5.8 furlongs, so even if he had a starter in the Derby, and it came up wet, I would still pass. Speightstown sires 26 percent wet-track winners from 159 wet-track starters, but only has an average winning distance of 6.3 furlongs.
The more starts in the mud a sires' offspring has, the more likely it will start to level off some. Distorted Humor has a 21 percent win percentage with his offspring in the mud and has 790 mud starters. He is one of America's top wet-track sires.
What I like to do is add up the percentage of wet-track winners the sire produces and the percentage of wet-track winners the damsire produces. If a horse is going to do well on a wet track, a sum of at least 30 for the two sires' win percentages is desired. Last year's Derby winner, Super Saver, had a sum of 39 which is excellent. You don't see many over 40.
I want to verify that the number is legitimate and here the number of wet-track starts the sire's offspring have has to be meaningful. First-crop sires are at a disadvantage since they have yet to have meaningful numbers of wet-track starters, but usually the percentage is higher than normal and will come down with more wet-track starters.
With these tools at your disposal in BRIS' Ultimate Past Performances, you are armed and dangerous if it comes up wet again for this year's Kentucky Derby.