Analyzing Speed Rankings: Assessing the Performance of Your Kentucky Derby Horse

Unveiling the Wide-Open Field of the 148th Kentucky Derby

The 148th edition of the Kentucky Derby is upon us, and in keeping with the unpredictable nature of this prestigious horse race, this year’s field is one of the most wide-open in recent memory. With no clear-cut favorite, it becomes crucial to discern between the contenders and the mere pretenders in this thrilling event.

The Importance of Speed in the Kentucky Derby

When analyzing the potential Derby winners and examining recent trends, speed figures emerge as a definitive marker. The perils of maneuvering through a 20-horse field have made front-end speed a proven factor in modern Derbies. However, it is not raw speed alone that matters; tactical speed holds the key to success.

The Tactical Speed Advantage

A brief history lesson shows us why tactical speed has become paramount. Under the old qualifying method based on graded stakes earnings, Derby fields often showcased a mix of sprinters trying to boost their bankrolls. This led to races where these speedsters would burst out of the gate, set insane fractions, and engage in unsustainable speed duels. Eventually, they would tire each other out, paving the way for a late-closing horse to emerge victorious.

The introduction of the points system shifted the focus to stamina and tactical speed, as trainers needed to plan a path leading to specific key points races. Therefore, front-end speed, exhibited by pace-setting and pace-pressing runners, gained premium importance. This tactical speed has proven successful in recent years, paving the way for bettors to cash in on concepts like the Final Fractions Theory.

Cracking the Code: Final Fractions Theory

Designed by former turf writer and current turf publicist Jennie Rees, the Final Fractions Theory offers valuable insights. Rees posits that if a horse covers the final furlong faster than 13 seconds or the final three furlongs faster than 38 seconds in its final Derby prep, it possesses the stamina and speed necessary to win the Kentucky Derby.

The theory has stood the test of time. Since 1990, 27 out of 31 Derby winners met one of these two criteria, highlighting the significance of tactical speed and strong finishes in the lead-up to the big race.

Horses That Pass the Final Fractions Test

Applying the Final Fractions Theory to this year’s Derby candidates, seven horses check all the boxes: Mo Donegal, Epicenter, Zandon, Zozos, Taiba, Tiz the Bomb, and Smile Happy. Barber Road, while missing the final furlong cutoff by a fraction, clocked a notable time of 12.9 seconds in the Arkansas Derby. Furthermore, Tawny Port and Messier just fell short in the three-furlong test, demonstrating their potential with times of 37.2 and 37.8 seconds, respectively. These performances make them horse to watch closely.

Jon White’s Derby Strikes System

Another key factor to assess a horse’s chances is Jon White’s Derby Strikes System. This system assigns strikes when a horse fails to meet specific criteria across eight different categories. The fewer the strikes, the better the horse’s chances of securing victory. One critical criterion in this system is a horse finishing either first or second with a furlong to go in one of its last two starts before the Derby, provided the race was between 1 1/16, 1 1/8, or 1 3/16 miles.

According to White, 53 out of the last 56 Derby winners checked this box. In the current field, 17 out of the 20 horses satisfy this criterion, with Barber Road, Ethereal Road, and Happy Jack being the exceptions.

The Need for Pure Speed

When it comes to Derby contenders, raw speed figures play a pivotal role. Without adequate speed, a horse simply cannot contend in the Run for the Roses. Ron Flatter of Horse Racing Nation emphasizes that 28 out of the last 30 winners possessed Beyer Speed Figures of 95 or better, as they crossed the finish line. These figures act as a strong indicator of a horse’s speed potential and competitiveness in the Derby.

Among this year’s field, several horses meet this benchmark, such as Messier (best Beyer of 103), Taiba (102), Epicenter (102), Zandon (98), Zozos (98), White Abarrio (97), Mo Donegal (96), Pioneer of Medina (96), and Simplification (96). These horses have showcased the necessary burst of speed in their previous races, making them ones to watch closely.

Validating with Brisnet Speed Ratings

Brisnet Speed Ratings also provide insight into a horse’s speed potential. 19 out of the last 22 Derby winners recorded a BRIS Speed Rating of 100 or better. In this year’s field, Taiba (111), Mo Donegal (111), Messier (108), Zandon (103), Simplification (103), and Epicenter (101) have joined this exclusive club, confirming their strong speed credentials.

The Power of Speed in Derby Betting

It is evident that speed is a vital component when it comes to assessing Kentucky Derby contenders. The saying “speed kills” holds true, provided you apply it effectively when making your Derby selections. Being well-versed in speed figures, tactical speed, and impressive finishes can help you make informed bets and potentially cash in on the excitement of the Kentucky Derby.


The 148th Kentucky Derby presents an exciting and wide-open field of contenders. Assessing the candidates’ speed attributes, such as tactical speed, impressive final fractions, speed figures, and BRIS ratings, provides valuable insights into their chances of success. With no clear favorite, the race promises to be a thrilling spectacle, showcasing the power of speed in determining the champion.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is tactical speed in horse racing?

Tactical speed refers to a horse’s ability to maintain a competitive position within a race, allowing it to respond effectively to changes in pace or strategy. Horses with tactical speed can adapt to race dynamics and make strategic moves during a race, enhancing their chances of success.

2. How do speed figures impact handicapping in horse racing?

Speed figures are a numerical representation of a horse’s performance in a race, indicating how fast it ran in comparison to other competitors. Handicappers use speed figures to evaluate a horse’s previous performances, assess its potential for improvement, and compare it to other contenders in upcoming races.

3. What is the significance of the Final Fractions Theory in the Kentucky Derby?

The Final Fractions Theory, devised by turf publicist Jennie Rees, highlights the importance of a horse’s finishing speed in its final Derby prep race. If a horse demonstrates a strong finishing kick, covering the final furlong in under 13 seconds or the final three furlongs in under 38 seconds, it is considered to possess the necessary stamina and speed to excel in the Kentucky Derby.

4. How does Jon White’s Derby Strikes System help assess a horse’s potential in the Kentucky Derby?

Jon White’s Derby Strikes System provides a systematic way to evaluate and compare Derby contenders based on specific criteria. By assigning strikes for failing to meet certain factors, such as prior finishing positions or race distances, the system helps identify horses with a higher likelihood of success in the Kentucky Derby.

5. Why is speed critical in the Kentucky Derby?

In the Kentucky Derby, speed plays a crucial role in determining a horse’s competitiveness. The demanding 1 1/4-mile distance and the crowded field of 20 horses require horses to possess both early speed to secure a good position and the ability to sustain a strong pace. Without adequate speed, a horse is unlikely to contend for victory in the “Run for the Roses.”

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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