ITM Plus - Kentucky Derby Figure Heat Map
We are kicking off our ITM Plus Kentucky Derby content today! There will be several emails between now and Saturday and you can always access the archives by visiting our Substack Homepage.
Best of luck this week!
Kentucky Derby Figure Heat Map - Tyler Whisman
The first article I ever published with ITM was the 2019 Kentucky Derby Speed Figure Heat Map. It’s worth reading for some historical perspective and how I’ve used these heat maps in the past.
TL;DR - I take a look at four popular speed figure products and create a visual that provides a way to quickly see which horses are fastest among the different methodologies. Typically, I chart the best figure and last figure. Often, those are the same, but not always (See Mandaloun).
With the help of some conditional formatting, the basic gist is that green (80th percentile) is good and red (20th percentile) is bad or in this case faster and slower, respectively. White, as you might have guessed, is in the middle (50th percentile).
This year, I decided to add a couple of pace elements because I’ve been increasingly using pace in my own handicapping and a couple of weeks ago, it looked like the Kentucky Derby pace would be blazing.
So how do I plan on using this as I’m analyzing the 2021 Kentucky Derby?
The easiest place to start is identifying horses that are essentially all red. These are the first horses I typically toss (from the win end for sure) - unless there is a valid excuse, as there was in 2019 with Code of Honor. Very few horses run a lifetime top in the Kentucky Derby so they’re certainly up against it. Sainthood and Hidden Stash are slow on all figures and it’s hard to see them making an impact - though Sainthood does appear to be training very well and had a bit of a trip. Like the King is probably in that group as well.
Most of the “green” horses are no surprise. Rock Your World is fast on all figures but he’s yet to take kickback and doesn’t figure to take the lead. Meanwhile, Essential Quality and Known Agenda are more versatile and have fewer questions to answer (save the rail draw - which I don’t believe is that big of a deal).
Another utility with the heat map is identifying potential value horses. Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon are ones to consider. Obviously, Medina Spirit might get some support given the connections so I’m inclined to use Midnight Bourbon as my value play in the race. Highly Motivated is another horse that fits this description but might take more money than expected.
I also like to take a closer look at horses that have variability among the figures. Because of methodology, BRIS and Beyers typically align while TimeFormUS and Thoro-Graph can result in some differences in races with pace extremes and ground loss, respectively. The best example, from this year, is Dynamic One. Simply put, The Wood was a slow race. That said, Dynamic One was wide and earned a competitive Thoro-Graph figure as a result. He’s training very well (though he usually does) and I think he offers significant value after drawing an ideal post.
Speaking of post positions - the draw was somewhat uneventful as it relates to the impact on pace. That said, Soup and Sandwich has been aggressive in his gallops and draws far outside - he may be rank early. The defection of several speed horses is notable but I’ll still assume the winner is going to have superior late pace ratings. Still, late pace ratings must be considered in the context of the overall ability of the horse. Put differently, I don’t think Keepmeinmind or Hidden Stash are likely winners.
I’ll share more of my thoughts in the wagering strategy article. For now, I’ll say that Essential Quality reminds me a lot of Game Winner. He’s the most likely to run his race but there’s a chance he runs the best Thoro-Graph figure and still loses the race due to ground loss - something I accurately predicted in 2019 with Game Winner.
Despite putting a lot of faith in the aforementioned Thoro-Graph figures, I like Hot Rod Charlie on Saturday. Doug O’Neill is no stranger to the Derby Roses and is one of a few trainers that I trust to deliver a top in the Kentucky Derby. I’ll key him and Essential Quality heavily in vertical and horizontal wagers.