Stats & Info: Horse Racing

Tonalist wins; California Chrome denied

June, 7, 2014
There has still not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

California Chrome was denied by Tonalist, a horse that did not run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.

Tonalist became the 15th horse to win the Belmont Stakes without running in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes since the last Triple Crown was won.

California Chrome finished in a dead-heat with Wicked Strong for fourth.

This was the seventh time a horse trying for the Triple Crown finished out of the money in the Belmont Stakes, and only four have finished fourth or worst since Affirmed last won.

California Chrome lost a race for the first time since last November. It had won its previous six races prior to Saturday.

The No. 2 post position was denied again. Every other post position from 1 to 12 has won the Belmont in the last 20 years other than the No. 2 post.

Jockey Joel Rosario earned his second Triple Crown victory (he rode Orb in the 2013 Kentucky Derby); in his last seven Triple Crown mounts, he's finished first, second or third five times.

Tonalist is 2-for-2 lifetime at Belmont Park (won the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes in his last race in May).

Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesCalifornia Chrome is the 12th horse to run in the Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown since 1978.
Saturday at Belmont Park, California Chrome will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978. The 35-year drought is the longest since the first Triple Crown winner in 1919.

Here are some things to keep in mind while watching his quest for history.

Big field means big trouble
No Triple Crown winner has beaten more than seven horses in the Belmont to win the Triple Crown. In 1977 Seattle Slew beat seven horses, as did Citation in 1948.

On average, the 11 prior Triple Crown winners have beaten 4.4 horses in the Belmont. The average Belmont field size in Triple Crown wins is 5.4 starters, while the average Belmont field size in Triple Crown Belmont losses is 9.2 starters.

A field of 11 is expected for Saturday, which is the same field size War Emblem, Real Quiet, Pleasant Colony and Kauai King each faced in their failed Triple Crown attempts.

Odds-on no sure thing
There have been seven odds-on favorites since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown as an odds-on favorite. None of those seven odds-on favorites (less than 1-to-1) have won.

If California Chrome wins the Belmont, it will mark the first time since Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977 that the favorite won all three legs of the Triple Crown. It would also be the first time since 2007 the winners of the three Triple Crown races were single-digit odds. All winners in 2007 were less than 5-1.

Expect the unexpected?
Should California Chrome lose, odds are a longshot will beat him. Of the last five Belmont winners that thwarted a Triple Crown, four were at least 30-1. Overall, five of the last six Belmont winners have been at least 12-1.

Interestingly, the last time California Chrome lost a race, it was to a 47-1 shot named Better Bet in the Golden State Juvenile at Santa Anita on November 1, 2013.

History to repeat itself?
The last Belmont Stakes favorite to break from post position No. 2 was Silver Charm in 1997, who like California Chrome, was going for a Triple Crown. Silver Charm finished 2nd to Touch Gold.

Of the 11 post positions which will be occupied Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, post 2 has the longest drought for a winner. The last winner to break from post 2 was Tabasco Cat in 1994.

Best chance to win is gate-to-wire
The last four Triple Crown winners have all led gate-to-wire and been an odds-on favorite. Since 2000, 11 of 14 Belmont Stakes winners were first or second at the mile and a quarter pole. The furthest position for a winning horse at this point - fifth place, and that has happened just twice (1998 - Victory Gallop; 1954 - High Gun).

Another chance to become the first
Victor Espinoza, born in Veracruz, Mexico, can become the first Latino jockey to win the Triple Crown. Espinoza is the fifth jockey to have multiple attempts at a Triple Crown. Of the previous four jockeys to have two attempts at the Triple Crown, only Eddie Arcaro was able to win at least one.

California Chrome and the nasal strips

May, 20, 2014

Brett Moist/ESW/CSM/AP ImagesCalifornia Chrome won the Preakness Stakes to keep its Triple Crown hopes alive.
With the news that California Chrome was approved to wear nasal strips for the Belmont Stakes on June 7, it's worth examining just how much of an impact wearing these strips has meant to this horse's success.

California Chrome has won his last six races, including the first two legs of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby & Preakness Stakes). Throughout this six-race winning streak, the horse has worn a nasal strip, which his handlers have said has assisted in his breathing during a race.

There is no questioning the difference in California Chrome's success over his last six races compared to his first six races.

Not only has California Chrome won more races and winnings, it has improved its Beyer Speed Figure, which is a formula for rating horses designed by Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer.

A horse with Beyer figures in the 100s is considered an outstanding horse. The Daily Racing Form has been incorporating these figures into their past performances since 1992.

There are some other factors, some of which may or may not be connected to "Nasal-Gate", that could equally define the reasons for California Chrome's ascension to the top of the three-year-old class of horses.

Jockey Change
Alberto Delgado was the jockey for five of California Chrome's first six races. Although he produced two wins in that time, in his last two rides on the horse Delgado produced just a pair of sixth-place finishes, never being in contention in either.

Enter veteran Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome for the first time in a December race at Hollywood Park. The results? Six straight wins by a combined 27½ lengths.

The betting public seemed to notice the change in jockey as well, making California Chrome the favorite in five of the six races under Espinoza. In his six races without Espinoza, California Chrome was the favorite just once.

Change in Racing Style
Whether because of the jockey change or not, it's pretty clear looking at California Chrome's past performances that under Espinoza this horse has undergone a transformation in racing style.

In his final two races under Alberto Delgado, California Chrome was never near the front of the pack at any point. But the move to Espinoza meant a change in the horse's approach to a race, putting him at or near the top of the lead early.

In his last six races, California Chrome was in first at the top of the stretch call in each race. In his first six races, the horse was first at the top of the stretch just twice.

Espinoza put California Chrome out in front early and kept him away from trouble, giving the horse more freedom to run his race and hold off challengers at the end.

While "Nasal-Gate" made for a nice story to follow over the last two days, it's more likely a jockey change and a change in racing style were bigger factors to California Chrome's success.

Top stats to know: 139th Preakness Stakes

May, 16, 2014
The 139th Preakness Stakes takes place on Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Here are some trends to know before you watch the race.

One down, two to go
If Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome wins the Preakness, he would become the 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978, when Affirmed became the last horse to win the Triple Crown.

Yet winning the first two legs has been somewhat of a bad omen recently.

The last two horses to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness -- I’ll Have Another in 2012 and Big Brown in 2008 – either didn’t start the Belmont (I’ll Have Another) or didn’t finish (Big Brown).

The 36 years since Affirmed is the longest drought ever for a Triple Crown winner.

In fact, it’s as long as the combined droughts ended by Secretariat (25 years) and Gallant Fox (11) combined.

Favorites fare well
The post-time favorite in the Preakness has finished first or second in 13 of the last 16 years. Last year, 3-5 favorite Orb finished fourth, the second time in four years that the favorite completed the race and finished out of the money (Super Saver in 2010 finished 8th). Before that, it hadn't happened since 1996.

California Chrome will likely be the odds-on favorite (less than 1-1). He would be just the ninth horse since 1980 to go off at such low odds. Only two of the other seven horses in this stretch won the race: Smarty Jones in 2004 and Big Brown in 2008.

Girls rule
For the first time in the history of this race, the Preakness will feature a filly (Ria Antonia), a female jockey (Rosie Napravnik on Bayern) and a female trainer (Linda Rice, Kid Cruz).

Speaking of fillies, Ria Antonia will be the first filly to race in the Preakness since Rachel Alexandra won the race in 2009.

The winning jockey that day was Calvin Borel, who also is riding Ria Antonia. Before Rachel Alexandra won in 2009, a filly had not won the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924.

Lucky May 17
This year’s race will be held on May 17. For those that like favorite California Chrome, here’s more reason to pick him. The last three times the Preakness was held on May 17 – 1997, 2003, 2008 -- the horse that won had also won the Kentucky Derby. However, none of those three horses obviously completed the Triple Crown.

Baffert goes for history
Trainer Bob Baffert will be trying to become just the fifth trainer ever to reach double figures in Triple Crown victories. With his victory in last year’s Preakness Stakes, D. Wayne Lukas broke Jim Fitzsimmons’ record for Triple Crown race wins by a trainer, claiming his 14th win.

Baffert is also trying for his sixth career Preakness win, which would move him into a tie with Lukas for second place all-time by a trainer. The record of seven is held by Robert W. Walden.

Examining Kentucky Derby trends

May, 2, 2014
The 140th Run for the Roses takes place Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs. Here are a few trends to keep an eye on:

Odds are California Chrome will not win
While 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman winning the Derby with the Cal-bred California Chrome would be a great human interest story, recent history says backing short-priced favorites is not the way to go. Since 1980, there have been 23 favorites made 5-2 or shorter on the morning line, with California Chrome being the 24th. Of the previous 23, only Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 won the race. The last time a horse was made 5-2 on the morning line was 2005, when Bellamy Road was favored and finished seventh behind 50-1 shot Giacomo.

Tough to back Todd too
Todd Pletcher is one of the best trainers around, but for whatever reason his horses rarely seem to fire on Derby Day. Pletcher is 1-for-36, winning in 2010 with Super Saver. Since 2007, Pletcher has started 22 horses in the Derby and just two have finished better than sixth -- Super Saver in 2010 and Revolutionary (third last year). Both of those horses were ridden by Calvin Borel, who is not riding any of Pletcher's four entrants Saturday. Pletcher has two of the top four betting choices in the race in Danza and Intense Holiday. He has had nine horses sent off as a top-four wagering choice, with seven of the nine finishing 10th or worse. The only two which ran well (you guessed it) were the two Borel rode -- Super Saver and Revolutionary.

Steve Asmussen overdue to win
Steve Asmussen has started 12 horses in the Derby without winning one. That's the most Derby starters for a trainer who does not have a Derby win. He's come close twice though, finishing second with Nehro in 2011 and third with Curlin in 2007. That drought is seemingly nothing compared to Todd Pletcher's, as he entered 2010 0-24 before winning with Super Saver.

And so is Corey Nakatani
Dance with Fate will be Corey Nakatani's 17th Derby mount. He's never won the Derby, as his 16 mounts without a Derby win are the most for any jockey without a win. Nakatani’s best finish was second in 2011 with the Steve Asmussen-trained Nehro.

Avoid the inside
Since Alysheba won in 1987, only one horse has won from post 1, 2 or 3 -- that being Real Quiet in 1998 from post 3. Those 78 runners combined for one win, four runner-ups and six third-place finishes. Last year, the late-running Golden Soul finished second from post 3 and stretch runner Revolutionary finished third from post 2. If you limit the study to posts 1 and 2, those 52 horses have combined for two seconds and five third-place finishes. Eleven of those 52 horses were bet down to single digits. Only three of those 11 -- Risen Star in 1988, Curlin in 2007 and Revolutionary last year -- managed even a third-place finish. All three horses on the inside are 20-1 or longer, so it appears the true contenders avoided the trouble here.

Far outside? No problem
Each of the past three and seven of the past 15 winners have started from the auxiliary gate -- posts 15 and out. So don’t discredit anyone’s chances because of posts 15-20. The past three winners from the main gate were all rail-skimming rides by Calvin Borel (Super Saver, Mine That Bird and Street Sense).

Borel and Stevens shooting for fourth win
Calvin Borel and Gary Stevens will be looking to join Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack and Bill Shoemaker as jockeys to win the Derby four times. Borel has won the Derby three times in the past seven years, while Stevens' last Derby win came in 1997 aboard Silver Charm. With the scratch of Hoppertunity, Stevens' horse Candy Boy will now break from post 17. Stevens is all too familiar with that spot, as he broke from post 17 in 2001 with favorite Point Given and in 1996 with Editor’s Note, having little success each time.

Experience not needed
In the past 11 editions of the Derby, 10 were won by a trainer who had never previously won the Derby -- that includes each of the past six. Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert are the only trainers in the race who have previously won the Derby, so this trend is likely to continue.
For the eighth time in the last nine years, the Belmont Stakes will be run without a Triple Crown at stake. Last year I’ll Have Another won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but was scratched the day prior to the race.

But even without a Triple Crown at stake, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the Belmont, on this the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s 31-length win.

2 out of 3 ain’t bad
Orb is attempting to do what Thunder Gulch last did in 1995 -– win the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby with a defeat in the Preakness Stakes sandwiched in between.

Eleven horses have won the Derby, lost the Preakness and then rebounded to win the Belmont Stakes.

However only six Derby winners have finished off the board in the Preakness (outside of top-3) and then won the Belmont, with the last being Swale in 1984. Oxbow (6th in the Kentucky Derby) can become the 19th horse to lose the Derby, and then win the Preakness and Belmont.

Since 1950 it has happened nine times, and four times it was by a beaten Derby favorite (which Oxbow was not).

Advantage, Oxbow?
In the last 25 years, the Derby and Preakness winner have gone head-to-head in the Belmont Stakes seven times. And all six times the Preakness winner finished the Belmont, he finished in front of the Derby winner, winning the Belmont five of those instances. In 1993, Preakness winner Prairie Bayou did not finish the race. Derby winner Sea Hero finished seventh.

Rosie rides the filly
Rosie Napravnik will ride Todd Pletcher’s filly Unlimited Budget 20 years after Julie Krone became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race (aboard Colonial Affair in the 1993 Belmont Stakes). Coincidentally, Pletcher’s first Triple Crown win came in the 2007 Belmont Stakes with the filly Rags to Riches. Twenty three fillies have run in the Belmont and they have a record of three wins, one second and six third-place finishes.

Favorite Flops
Being the favorite hardly means a guaranteed victory. Only three times in the last 18 years has the favorite won the Belmont, with Afleet Alex being the last in 2005. In that same span, the Belmont favorite has finished eighth or worse six times. In the last three years, the favorite has been completely off the board, finishing seventh, sixth, and ninth in that span. Four of the last five Belmont winners have been at least 11-1. In fact, since 2004, only two winners have been shorter than 4-1.

Nine different horses?
In the Derby, Orb, Golden Soul and Revolutionary completed the trifecta. In the Preakness, Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday and Mylute ran 1-2-3. If none of Orb, Oxbow, Golden Soul and Revolutionary finish in the top-3, nine different horses will have finished in the money in this year's Triple Crown. The last time all nine “in-the-money” spots went to different horses was 1926.

Orb looks to take next step at Preakness

May, 17, 2013
Five storylines to watch going into Saturday’s 138th Preakness Stakes.

1. One down, two to go
If Kentucky Derby winner Orb wins the Preakness, he would become the 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978, when Affirmed became the last horse to win the Triple Crown.

Last year, I’ll Have Another was scratched prior to the Belmont, while Big Brown did not finish in 2008.

You have to go back to Smarty Jones in 2004 (finished second) to find the last horse to finish the Belmont after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

The 35 years since Affirmed is the longest drought ever for a Triple Crown winner. In fact, it’s nearly as long as the combined droughts ended by Secretariat (25 years) and Gallant Fox (11) combined.

2. Favorites fare well
Orb’s favored status doesn’t necessarily mean victory. But if recent history is a guide, a top-two finish is likely.

The post-time favorite in the Preakness has finished first or second in 13 of the past 15 years. Barbaro did not finish the race as the post-time favorite in 2006. Four years later, Super Saver became the first favorite to complete the race and run out of the money since Cavonnier in 1996. Only seven Derby winners since 1973 have run out of the money

The last post-time favorite to actually win was Rachel Alexandra in 2009.

3. Lukas chases record
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas brings three horses to the Preakness: Oxbow, Titletown Five and Will Take Charge.
That improves his chances, as he looks to break Jim Fitzsimmons’ record of 13 Triple Crown race wins.

Five of Lukas’ 13 Triple Crown wins have come at the Preakness.

A sixth would place him in sole possession of second place all-time by a trainer behind Robert Walden’s seven.

4. Orb alone among top Derby finishers
Neither Derby runner-up Golden Soul, nor third place finisher Revolutionary run in the Preakness, marking just the 10th time since the Preakness has been regularly run after the Derby (since 1933) that neither the horse which crossed the finish line second or third in the Derby ran back in the Preakness.

Of the eight Derby winners to run back in those editions of the Preakness, five won.

5. No Derby usually means no win
Only eight horses since 1952 have won the Preakness without starting the Derby, most recently Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Bernardini in 2006. This year, three horses could join that list: Titletown Five, Departing and Govenor Charlie.

What are trends among Derby winners?

May, 4, 2013
Getting ready to make your pick for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby? Here are a few things to keep in mind before making your prediction.

It’s hard to back Todd Pletcher at the Kentucky Derby
Pletcher again brings a seemingly strong hand to the Derby. His five horses are led by undefeated Verrazano, who will be no worse than the second choice Saturday evening. But with Pletcher’s history at the Derby, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in him winning.

He has had one winner from 31 starters, and, if you examine things more closely, some striking numbers are revealed. He has had seven individual horses sent off as a top-four choice in the wagering. Only Super Saver - who won in 2010 - finished better than 10th.

Historically speaking
If Goldencents or Mylute wins Saturday, the win will have quite a bit of historical significance. Kevin Krigger, the rider of Goldencents, could become the first African-American jockey to win the Derby since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902. Rosie Napravnik, who won the Kentucky Oaks last year, would become the first female jockey to win the Derby, should Mylute emerge victorious.

Running well from the inside is tough
Since Alysheba won the Derby in 1987, only one horse was won from post position 1, 2 or 3 – that being Real Quiet in 1998 from post 3.

Those 75 runners have combined for one win, three seconds and five-third place finishes since.

Although nobody is expecting much from long shots Black Onyx and Oxbow in posts 1 and 2, it does bring a little doubt as to whether Revolutionary can find a traffic-free trip from post 3.

Overall, post positions 1 and 5 have the most Kentucky Derby wins, with a dozen, though post position 1 last won in 1986.

Favorites from the outside also not a good investment
Assuming Verrazano or Orb goes favored, there have been 18 Derby favorites who started in 14th position and out.

Those 18 horses combined for three wins (Big Brown, 2008; Fusaichi Pegasus, 2000; Carry Back, 1961) and one third-place finish (Timber Country, 1995). However, outside is typically where you want to be, as nine of the past 19 winners have started in post 14 and out.

Don’t bet on D. Wayne
D. Wayne Lukas sends two long shots to the gate Saturday in Oxbow and Will Take Charge. You shouldn’t expect much from either of those horses. Since 2003, Lukas has sent 20 runners to the gate in a Triple Crown race and has managed only one top-three finish: Scrimshaw was third in the 2003 Preakness.

Rosario ready to break through?
Joel Rosario has finished fifth, seventh and fourth with his three Derby mounts, all of which were at least 11-1. That is quite similar to Willie Shoemaker, who finished fifth, third and sixth with his first three Derby mounts before getting his first Derby win in 1955 on Swaps.

Angel Cordero Jr. also won his first Derby with his fourth mount, in 1974 on favored Cannonade. Gary Stevens won his first Derby on his fourth try aboard favored Winning Colors in 1988. It would surprise no one if Rosario found the winner's circle Saturday on morning-line favorite Orb.

Every Kentucky Derby margin of victory

May, 3, 2013
Saturday’s running of the 139th Kentucky Derby marks 40 years since Secretariat began a legendary run to the Triple Crown. Secretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby in a record time of 1:59 2/5, but did not set the record for margin of victory. Sham placed second, only 2.5 lengths behind Secretariat.

Four horses share the record for the largest victory margin in the race’s history -- eight lengths, or approximately 64 feet. Two of them, Whirlaway in 1941 and Assault in 1946, went on to win the Triple Crown.

The 11 Triple Crown winners won the Kentucky Derby by an average of 3.5 lengths; none won the race by less than 1.5 lengths.

In the graphic below, you can look at every Kentucky Derby champion, listed by year (2012 champion I’ll Have Another is on top) and sorted by margin of victory.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
I'll Have Another won't cross the finish line at Saturday's Belmont Stakes after being scratched with a tendon injury
A swollen left front tendon will prevent I’ll Have Another a chance at being the Triple Crown winner since 1978. The horse will be retired and won’t run in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, according to trainer Doug O’Neill.

Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown 34 years ago, I’ll Have Another is now the 12th horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes have come up empty at Belmont.

This won’t be the first time that a horse was deprived at a chance at completing the Triple Crown. I’ll Have Another will be the third horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but not run in the Belmont.

In 1936, Bold Venture bowed a tendon before the race and was subsequently retired. Four years earlier, Burgoo King also did not start in the Belmont, but for less clear reasons. Some reports say there was an ankle or tendon injury, while others point to paperwork issues.

Other sports have also seen chances at history dashed by circumstance.

Just ask the 1994 Montreal Expos, who had the best record in the majors when the remainder of the season was canceled due to a strike. The following year, Pedro Martinez had his own near miss. He’d thrown a perfect game through nine innings, but the Expos didn’t give him any run support. Martinez lost the perfect game in the 10th inning.

In 1953 golfer Ben Hogan won three of the four tournaments that now constitute the Grand Slam. However, he was unable to compete in the PGA Championship due to its proximity to the Open Championship.

Tennis is littered with examples of lost Grand Slam opportunities, though never coming in the final tournament. Just 10 years ago, Serena Williams was unable to compete in the Australian Open and then went on to win the next three majors. Steffi Graf suffered that same fate in both 1995 and 1996. Billie Jean King opted not to play in the 1972 Australian Open, and went on to win the next three.

Perhaps the most controversial tennis near miss belongs to Jimmy Connors. In 1974, he was banned from French Open because of a contract he’d signed with World Team Tennis. Connors won the other three grand slams that year.

Bodemeister battling history on Saturday

May, 17, 2012
On Saturday, Bob Baffert will send morning-line favorite and Kentucky Derby runner-up, Bodemeister, to post. But don’t think that means Bodemeister is a cinch to win the Preakness.

In the last 50 years, only two Kentucky Derby runners-up have won the Preakness: Summer Squall in 1990 and Prairie Bayou in 1993. Since Prairie Bayou in 1993, of the 10 Derby runners-up to start in the Preakness, only two managed a second-place finish. In 2009, Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat brought the Kentucky Derby runner-up, Pionnerof the Nile, to the Preakness and finished 11th as the second choice in the race.

As was the case in the Derby, Bodemeister’s front-end speed should put him on the lead. Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, there have been only three wire-to-wire Preakness winners, the last being Rachel Alexandra in 2009.

Since 1978, 22 horses have led at the ¼, ½ and ¾ mile pole. Three have won, four have finished second and two third. Nine out of 22 certainly is not a bad “In-The-Money” percentage, but clearly the shorter distance of the Preakness hasn’t helped speed horses win at a greater percentage. Look no further than last year when pacesetter Flashpoint finished last.

Baffert has won nine Triple Crown race wins, which is tied for fifth all-time. Five of Baffert’s nine wins have come at Pimlico. But in his last 17 Triple Crown starters, he has just one win (Lookin at Lucky in the 2010 Preakness). This is a far cry from 1994-2002, when the Triple Crown was dominated by Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, who won 18 of 25 Triple Crown races.

So while Bodemeister looks good on paper, history suggests looking elsewhere for the winner.