Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2009 Kentucky Derby

Yes, I know it's early to be thinking about the Derby, but I am anyway. Like breeding and owning horses, handicapping can offer some nice opportunities based on people's inability to correctly take sample size into account in their analysis. The top two two year old colts in training in the US (Vineyard Haven and Midshipman) are being sent to Dubai to prepare for the 2009 Derby. The common thinking is that because this "has never been successful", it can't work. On the surface, this makes sense. The two year olds that have followed this path before have always either missed the Derby entirely or not performed well. My instinct upon hearing that two more top colts were being shipped out was something along the lines of "shoot, there go two more horses we'll never heard from again". On the other hand, when everybody has the same strong emotional reaction, it's worth thinking about logically to see if their may be an opportunity. Here are a few reasons to think that the trip to Dubai may not be the kiss of death that most people think:

1. Limited sample size. How many horses have actually followed this path? Ten? Fifteen? In any case, the number is small enough that on average, we'd expect maybe one Derby winner out of the group and one or two other good performances. Godolphin may just be suffering a run of bad luck.

2. Vineyard Haven and Midshipman are far more accomplished than most of the other two year olds that were sent to Dubai. Most (such as Etched and Numaany last year) have simply been impressive maiden winners. The two colts this year are both multiple Grade 1 winners.

3. Conditions have changed. The first colt I remember following this path was Worldly Manners. When he won the UAE Derby, I'm fairly certain I remember hearing that the entire field was owned by the ruling family of Dubai. That's got to make you wonder how tough a prep race it was back then. Now it's a world class race against Southern Hemisphere three year olds (four year olds by US standards). So it's likely that horses following the Dubai route to the Derby now are getting much better preparation than ten years ago, and the sample of valid comparisons is even smaller.

Based on all this, I'd suggest keeping an eye on Vineyard Haven and Midshipman for an opportunity to get good value betting on them. If they're part of the 'pool' for Derby futures, that could be your chance. Of if they make it to the starting gate after performing well in the Dubai prep races, they may go off at higher odds than they deserve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that you have a point this year in particular. I was at Saratoga when Vineyard Haven won the Hopeful and at the BC for Midshipman's win and they both looked head and withers above the competition. But one of the problems that I see with Sheikh Mohammed's "plan" is that the horses that he picks to go back to Dubai are usually the ones that are peaking as two-year olds and not necessarily will be peaking in May of their 3-year-old season. Another example of this coming into play is BC Juvenile winners. The reason that we don't see more Juvenile winners win the Derby is that is very difficult for a horse to maintain his peek for that length of time. His plan doesn't take into consideration horses like Curlin that hadn't even raced yet as a two-year-old bad enough started to peek (although it took Curlin two additional weeks...and I believe that if his wins were reversed (winning the Derby and finishing third in the Preakness) and then went on to have the same career, even non-diehard racing fans would know about him and he would be a national hero. But that is for a different posting. Anyway, if not this year...when? I like Sheikhs Mo and Hamdin and all of the $$$ that they pump into the sport, but will it be better for them to win or will it be better for them to still be chasing the dream. - Paul Pierson