Jennie Rees makes her Kentucky Derby pick


When Omaha Beach came out with an entrapped epiglottis, I suddenly had no real conviction as to who is most likely to win the Kentucky Derby. It’s not just a matter of moving up the horse you pick second, though I wound up doing that with By My Standards.

I started off with a pool of horses I think have the talent, class and pedigree to win, which admittedly is more than half the horses: War of Will, Tax, By My Standards, Improbable, Vekoma, Maximum Security, Tacitus, Cutting Humor, Code of Honor, Win Win Win, Game Winner, Roadster, Spinoff.

Jennie Rees
Jennie Rees makes her final Derby pick, and of course she put all kinds of analysis behind it!

To cut down that first list, I looked at parameters. First off, my top pick had to “qualify” under my Final Fractions Theory; otherwise, why have a theory? FFT suggests the winner will be a horse who ran the last eighth-mile of its final 1 1/8-mile prep in 13.0 seconds or faster and the last three-eighths in 38.0 or faster. Twenty-two of the past 29 Derby winners met both criteria; and 26 of 29 met one of the two measures. That’s a pattern.

It also eliminates War of Will, Tax, Vekoma and Tacitus, with Game Winner, Roadster and Win Win Win qualifying on one of two FFT standards. Of those eliminated, Tacitus has the best chance to join Silver Charm, Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom as FFT busters, I believe. Tacitus was just barely “over” in winning the Wood Memorial, has looked great training and has an outstanding pedigree. He’s my No. 2 pick.

Making the FFT cut are: By My Standards, Improbable, Maximum Security, Cutting Humor and Code of Honor, with Win Win Win, Game Winner and Roadster also to be considered.

Cutting Humor came home extremely fast in the Sunland Derby, making him an FFT standout, and now he picks up the best money-rider in the game in Mike Smith.

My suspicion is that Win Win Win and probably Cutting Humor are just a little below the very best. I don’t know what to do with the Bob Baffert triumvirate of Arkansas Derby runner-up Improbable, 2-year-old champion and Santa Anita Derby runner-up Game Winner and Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster. It sticks in my mind that Smith, who took off Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster to ride Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach in the Kentucky Derby, only to have that horse scratch, mentioned Game Winner as the horse he feared most.

But then I get to my second parameter.

I love TwinSpires’ Ed DeRosa’s stat that in the six years that Churchill Downs has employed a qualifying system based on tiered points in a series of races, the Derby winner was unbeaten in every points race in which he ran, both a 2 and 3. Six years seems a large enough sample to call it a pattern.

That knocks out Improbable (second in Rebel and Arkansas Derby), Tax (third in Remsen, second in Wood), Code of Honor (second in Champagne, third in Florida Derby), Win Win Win (third Tampa Bay Derby, second Blue Grass) and Game Winner (second Rebel and Santa Anita Derby), Cutting Humor (seventh in Southwest) and Spinoff (second in Louisiana Derby).

Winning all their points races were Maximum Security (Florida Derby), By My Standards (Louisiana Derby), Tacitus (Tampa Bay Derby, Wood Memorial), and Roadster (Santa Anita Derby). Interestingly, none of them ran in a points race at 2.

Also, during the points era, every winner was unbeaten during his 3-year-old year heading into the Derby. That actually would have been a demerit against Omaha Beach because he finished a close second in a maiden race on Jan. 4 before embarking on his three-race victory streak.

It also knocks out By My Standards, who was third in a Jan. 14 maiden race.

I really don’t know what to make of Maximum Security, who is 4 for 4 in a streak that started in a $16,000 maiden-claiming race and most recently won the Florida Derby. I’m throwing him out of my top four in selections, thinking maybe the 1 1/4 miles, racing at a different track for the first time and a faster pace leave him vulnerable.

However, Maximum Security clearly is what ESPN-680 early morning sports-talk host Drew Deener would call the “kick me” horse, the horse you will be kicking yourself if you don’t bet and he wins. A horse who is unbeaten by a combined 37 3/4 lengths would certainly seem to qualify. I’m certainly going to use him in multi-horse bets and a “saver” win bet.

1. I finally landed on By My Standards, who had been my second pick behind Omaha Beach. He’s a horse who suddenly came into his own, made the quantum leap from maiden race to winning the Louisiana Derby, splitting horses and winning in good time.

2. Tacitus might have been my pick had he met the Final Fraction Theory standards.

3. Code of Honor appears to be a real mile and a quarter horse and had a strong workout and will be steam-rolling through the stretch.

4. Spinoff is an improving horse who will be completely overlooked in the betting. I’m putting him in the top four over the Baffert horses just simply looking for a price.

It’s hard for me to imagine that Baffert won’t have a horse in the top four. I’ll be using a combination of all of his horses in multi-horse bets, and will box the trio in the trifecta. That gets back to the “Kick Me” theory. How silly would we feel if we didn’t spend $3 to box them for 50-cents in the trifecta, and Baffert not only ties Ben Jones with a sixth Derby win, but does it in style by finishing 1-2-3. That could surely happen, and he does have the top three horses in Mike Battaglia’s revised morning line.

If you missed it, here’s the link to my annual “Why each horse can win – and why they won’t.”