TimeformUS’s reasonably in-depth Kentucky Derby Figure Review

By the first Monday in May,  the Internet was abuzz with Kentucky Derby 140 speed figure chatter, an annual ritual with its share of twists. This time, seemingly every horseplayer had an opinion on the effects of wind and watering on the final time of the race.

First, the number: We gave this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, California Chrome, a TimeformUS Speed Figure of 110, which leaves him about five points slower than the average Derby winner, but still faster than many others have him.

And now let’s get into the process. Here’s a quick explanation of our charts, followed by the chart of this year’s Derby results:

  • The TimeformUS Speed figure for each horse is directly below the “Reset” button, and to the right are the horses’ numbers in their recent preps. Remember, TimeformUS speed figures are final-time figures adjusted for pace. To learn more about how they’re made, click here.
  • Also, directly under each horse’s finish position is the final-time figure for each horse, unadjusted for pace.
  • In the case of this year’s Derby, there was very little adjustment of the TimeformUS Speed Figures for pace. Samraat and Chitu received slight bump-ups to their Speed Figures for attending the pace, but most other numbers remained virtually constant between the final-time figure and the TFUS Speed Figure.
  • Finally, note we had 11 horses–including the winner–running something less than their top prior Speed Figure in the Derby. We had 6 horses moving forward, though only the runner-up significantly improved. And we had two horses–We Miss Artie and General A Rod–pairing up their most recent start.


photo (6)Let’s back up for a moment for a broader perspective.

On the value of raw times:

Like virtually all other figure makers, we know the limits of raw/”official” times for races. Every race, of course, needs to be adjusted based on the speed of the surface on that day, and in certain scenarios, track speed can even change over the course of a day, as well as from day to day. Further, different tracks yield different times at the same distance for a multitude of reasons.

On common factors that impact raw time and track surfaces:

On the whole, we agree with those who think US track maintenance has gotten better over the years. The improvements that come with decades of experience mean horseplayers are somewhat less likely to see a wildly biased track…unless weather comes into play. Weather has messed with racetracks for as long as the game has existed, and it’s always been the track superintendent’s nemesis. Precipitation has a tremendous impact on track speed; so does freezing temperatures, and so does wind.

Wind can be at least a double-whammy. Depending on the configuration of a track and the distances run over it, a harsh-enough wind can impact both the speed of the horses AND the speed of the track, as it gets “looser” because of blowing wind.

A lot of this–especially the wind–was very much in play in Kentucky Derby 140.

Factors specific to this Derby Day:

1) In short, the track surface was “maintained” (dirt racetracks, with sand typically prominent in their composition, are harrowed and sprayed with water, partially for its “tightening” effect) long before the Derby. The Derby Day schedule is expanded in such a way–there’s so much activity on the track–that the main track was left alone far longer between acts of maintenance than it usually would be. (There was 1 hour and 45 minutes between the Wise Dan race and the Derby, while there was only 31 minutes between the 12th-race sprint and the final race of the day, a route, the 13th.)

2) Add the stiff wind blowing at Churchill (gusty wind that declined somewhat after the Derby and through the rest of the card) and voilà, we feel confident the track got slow before the big race. Crucially, throw in the two full runs through the stretch–against the wind–at the Derby 10-furlong distance on the Churchill track configuration, and you’ve got PART of the makings of a slow “raw” final time. Again, on a windy day, those two full runs through the stretch are quite different than what horses face running a mile and a sixteenth at Churchill. Comparisons between the 11th and 13th races are near-folly; they neglect both the impact of wind and the impact of maintenance.

Let’s pause here and count the ways the Derby is an outlier–both on that very card and in U.S. racing in general:

1) There was no other race at this distance on the card.

2) It’s the only field size this large in U.S. Thoroughbred racing.

2a) This typically contributes to a quick opening quarter mile. Note none of the horses who made up the superfecta were anywhere near the lead at the opening quarter–except for the winner.

2b) The field size also contributes to much more trip trouble for the field than in a typical field in our country: ~7 horses running ~6 furlongs. For those who are quick to judge Danza’s performance as “slow,” compare his trip in the Arkansas Derby to his trip in the Kentucky Derby. Day and night. Further, though many horses in the Derby are distanced by the end of the race, virtually all horses–whether closers or speed or anywhere in between–spend much of the race in company rather than with any sort of breathing room.

3) It’s the first time any of these horses has run this far in a race. As you know.

4) The aforementioned wind and maintenance scenarios.

The other factor, of course, was the quality of the horses:

As mentioned, we have the winner regressing slightly from his Santa Anita Derby win. And why not? Please note that in the Kentucky Derby, he ran as fast early as in his Santa Anita Derby win, but did it while shipping to a new environment, and going farther than ever before–good reasons to not quite equal recent wins in which he laughed off smaller fields going shorter.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 10.19.23 AMBut the bigger story here is we believe the wind and maintenance and distance (more impact from the wind at that time of day) combined to make the final time seem even slower than it really was. California Chrome may not have broken any records, but his TimeformUS Speed Figure suggests his Derby was stronger than some may think. As for what that means for his Preakness chances, we’ll not jump to any conclusions just yet. We’ll save it for another post.

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10 Responses to TimeformUS’s reasonably in-depth Kentucky Derby Figure Review

  1. BruceF says:

    Since you are making such an issue of the wind and, since you compare Chrome’s time with the average Derby winner’s time, can we assume that you went back and checked the wind condition for each of the last 40 Derbys and adjusted their times accordingly? Also, was the time between races significantly different from prior Derbys? I hope your not just rationalizing the result without doing an apples/apples comparison with prior Derbys.


    • bkelley35 says:

      I think this years crop in the derby were strictly bred as milers. The distance was the problem. Have no idea about the winner as that breeding is very strange. Certainly the sires top and bottom progeny are mostly sprinters. My assessment is all the horse simply stop in the last quarter except one horse the winner. To me the 2nd place horse is the same as the horse last year Golden Soul who hasn’t won again. Visually Commanding Curve can make the same move in every race and will never get there. Great underneath but not win.


  2. Mike D NYC says:

    Now I see it. Thank you, TimeformUS.


  3. William Kelley says:

    Excellent article! Regarding the maintenance on the dirt track, it was a longer than 1 hour 45 minutes between the last dirt race and the Derby. Wise Dan’s race was on turf. There was no racing on dirt between race 9 and 11.


    • Priscilla T says:

      Actually, this was also the first time CC ran on dirt! I realized this concerned some of you, no work on dirt or this Track, he won’t like dirt in his face, things like that…but, none of that concerned me at all! And he never gets anything on his face, cause they can’t and haven’t passed him yet! And people saying he has a so so pedigree are just plain full of it! His Dam is by the Full Brother to Rhythm, Classic Winner of 1.5 Million out of a Classic Black-type Female Tail line…Lucky Pulpit is well bred too, out of another top Female Tail line! I’m more worried California will lose Lucky Pulpit to Kentucky, for Stud Duty. CC IS WELL BRED AND DESERVES A LOT MORE RESPECT!


      • bkelley35 says:

        Not sure that you realize all his races at Santa Anita were on dirt. While he didn’t have and recorded works at CD he did galloped and his works at Los Alamitos were on their new mile dirt track.


      • Priscilla T says:

        Ouu some article mentioned Churchill Down Dirt…which is a deeper track and tiring, and CC didn’t really work out on…Me? I was worried more about the wind!


  4. Priscilla T says:

    It just proves my point…California Chrome has NEVER BEEN PRESSED FOR AN ALL OUT DRIVING BACK AND FORTH WIN! He has a huge engine and he’ll always go as fast as he has too!!! Even Victor pulling him up or easing him before the wire, tells you NO HORSE TODAY, CAN KEEP UP TO PRESS HIM…IM SAYING WE HAVE A TRIPLE CROWN WINNER!


  5. Hi Mike, in this case, the final time figure and the speed figures are fairly constant, though if the pace had been more extreme it would be different. As an example of a difference between the pace and final time figure, look at Chitu in the chart. He ran a 100 final time figure (underneath 9th by a neck) and a 102 Speed Figure–dirt brown big box just to the right of the 100.


  6. Mike D NYC says:

    Re: “Also, directly under each horse’s finish position is the final-time figure for each horse, unadjusted for pace.”…
    I don’t see that. What I see directly under each horse’s finish position is it’s TimeforeUS Speed Figure. Where am I going wrong?



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