The name Phil Thomas does not appear in current past performances. The last race of his training record was over three years ago. His last winner was in late summer 2013. But something he said resonates with horse players handicapping the Kentucky Derby to this day.
“I bet if you look at it,” he said, “the horses that won the Derby came quickly the last quarter mile of their last preparation.”
This is how Jennie Rees recalled a pivotal conversation years ago with Thomas. Now a reporter for racetracks and a riders association, Rees was at the time a respected writer for The Courier-Journal. She was a field writer. She is still respected, more than ever.
Thomas’ words were the proverbial bug that entered Rees ear, and it culminated in his creation of Final Fractions Theory, a proven prism to separate potential Derby winners from flashy contenders. It was not without some tweaking of Thomas’ original theorem on the last quarter of the final preparation of a nine-stage horse.
“The problem is, I couldn’t calculate that because of the way the fractions are posted for a 1½ mile run,” Rees said when she explained the theory in 2017. “But I could calculate the last one. eighth and the last three eighths, and I found there was a pattern, definitely.
Diagram? It’s almost a requirement. Of the last 31 Derby winners, 27 met one of the following conditions in their final preparation race:
* Complete the last furlong in 13.0 seconds or less.
* Complete the last three stages in 38.0 seconds or less.
This is another way to answer the biggest question that arises in a typical Kentucky Derby. Can a 3 year old horse that has never traveled more than 1 mile be efficient by adding 220 yards? One way to predict this is final fraction theory. If a horse had a quick finish at the end of its last preparation, there’s a good chance they’ll carry that momentum for an extra yard in the Derby.
Last year the theory didn’t work out, but that was because the 3-year-olds were actually 3.5-year-olds, and there wasn’t much of a mystery about that last eighth of thousand. The Kentucky Derby was a September anomaly, with horses having already covered 1¼ miles before they even got to Churchill Downs. Against Tiz the Law, proven winner of the Derby, Authentic was not supposed to be able to go through 10 stadiums. Oops.
So rewrite that to say 27 of the last 30 Derby spring renewals in which the final fraction theory worked.
Among the horses expected to be entered in Tuesday’s draw, there are 13 that meet at least one of the FFT criteria. Best priced at 3-1 in Las Vegas futures, Essential Quality is among the nine that meet both. He clocked a blazing 12.0 seconds in the last furlong and 36.3 in the last three of his narrow victory this month in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Medina Spirit, coach Bob Baffert’s best prospect for a record seventh Kentucky Derby victory, posted 13.3 and 39.0 to finish second in the Santa Anita Derby. Cross it out.
Reducing the list of potential Derby winners to 13 is only the first step. Since VSiN took over the task of tracking data in Rees’ FFT, some steps have been added.
Take the figs. Please. Set the bar for the Daily race formBeyer’s speed numbers at 95 and Churchill Downs’ BRIS speed ratings at 100. These also turned out to be winning baselines. Of the last 29 Derby winners, 26 entered the race with a career best Beyer of at least 95. Eighteen of the last 21 had a BRIS of at least 100. Country House in 2019, asterisks and all , was the last exception to both.
Apply the Beyers and BRIS minimum, and that list of 13 horses is reduced to four – Essential Quality (12.0 last furlong, 36.3 last three, 97 Beyer, 102 BRIS), winner of the Louisiana Derby Hot Rod Charlie (* 12 , 5, * 37.5, 99, 100), the undefeated winner of the Santa Anita Derby Rock Your World (12.9, 38.5, 100, 102) and the highly motivated Blue Grass finalist (12.5, 36 , 7, 97, 102).
Whoa. How did Rock Your World’s 38.5 get in there? And what’s the deal with the asterisks on Hot Rod Charlie?
First of all. The key word in the FFT is “or”. Did a horse stay below 13.0 for the last furlong – “or” – 38.0 for the last three? Either one is great, and that’s why Rock Your World makes the cut. Only 23 of the last 31 Derby winners have reached both thresholds, so the FFT double is not historically so successful.
Then the asterisks. Hot Rod Charlie gets them because the Louisiana Derby was extended last year to 9½ stadiums. This was to try and make the race fairer for the hauled horses facing a fast race to the first corner at Fair Grounds. For FFT, this required extrapolation of chart times – and a sliding statistical slope. Once math is used to concoct new numbers, the disabled enter at their own risk.
The same thing happens when trying to note Helium’s latest unbeaten preparation, the 8½-furlong Tampa Bay Derby. Are we really sure he would have run that last furlong in 12.9 seconds if the time for those last 110 meters hadn’t just doubled? Of course not.
And what about Like The King’s 12.7 and 37.8 at the end of Jeff Ruby Steaks? How do the times on a synthetic track translate? Animal Kingdom was an exception to the final fraction theory when it finished first on the plastic of Turfway Park 10 years ago, on its way to winning the roses. This sample size is far too small to be reliable, especially on a race track that has not been a testing ground for the Derby.
Critics claim that the FFT does not take into account horses that are wound up late in some wins. But history evaluated him. Again, 27 for 31. This goes back to when Bush was president. The first Bush. It was so long ago that the Twin Spiers were perhaps still the tallest structures in Churchill Downs.
Oh, one more thing. It is set to be the ninth Kentucky Derby to use a points system to qualify horses in designated preparation races. Of the first eight tournaments, Orb in 2013 and Country House in 2019 were the only close to have won. This is quantified by their Quirin speed points or, quite simply, an E or E / P designation for the placed forward. The small sample indicates that horses are best served racing close to the front all around the track rather than waiting late for clouds to come. Eleven of the 20 starting candidates have E or E / P designations, and again, they include Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, Rock Your World, and Highly Motivated.
That’s it. If the formula Thomas inspired, Rees wrote, and VSiN refined contains water, one of those four horses will win next Saturday in the Kentucky Derby.
If you think that’s a sure thing, I happen to have a subdivision under the Big Four Bridge available for a good price.
Race Notes and Opinions
As if the Kentucky Derby pitch weren’t already diluted by no-shows, practices in Southern California on Saturday could indicate whether Dream Shake and Get Her Number begin next Saturday in the Kentucky Derby. Coach Peter Eurton said the alternative to Dream Shake was the Pat Day Mile on the Derby under-map. Peter Miller will pass his number to San Luis Rey Downs before making a decision. If either horse is targeted elsewhere, Hozier could take the place of Baffert, who restored inaugural winner status to “possible” for the Derby. If two openings are created, Kentucky Jockey Club winner Keepmeinmind on the silver in his two starts at age 3 would be next.
What a difference a single week can make. Next weekend, the most prestigious race in the United States. The main feature of this weekend by class is in Santa Anita. The 2nd year Saturday Santa Margarita is for fillies and older mares – all five. They include likely favorite As Time Goes By, who returns after finishing second behind Swiss Skydiver in the Beholder Mile.
The most interesting race for me on Saturday is the nine stadium Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, a “win and you are” for next month’s Preakness Stakes. With so much speed in the race, my choice is the closer Tiz Mandate. He gets blinkers after finishing second in a mile in February at Laurel Park. Considered the traditional preparation for Preakness, Tesio is returning to Pimlico for the first time in five years. He was moved from Laurel last week due to the poor track conditions there. Deputy Testamony in 1983 was the last horse to achieve the Tesio-Preakness double.
Correcting what a Las Vegas casino boss said in last week’s column on the Churchill Downs-Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association’s Imbroglio: Track announcer Bill Downes pointed out that Indiana Grand belongs in made at Caesars, not Boyd Gaming. And rechecking the recent past, Delta Downs has been available for betting in Nevada, so it is not a prohibited run.
It snowed here on Wednesday when Muhammad Ali Airport received 1.8 inches of fresh powder. April 21, nothing less. My wife and I miss winter, craving for the four years we have lived in Las Vegas. But we would limit cold weather just as early to that period between the December solstice and the March equinox.
Ron Flatter’s Running Column is available every Friday morning on VSiN.com and more frequently when covering major events. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday morning on VSiN.com/podcasts. Now based in Louisville, Ky., The RFRP this week features trainer Steve Asmussen, who discusses his horses Kentucky Derby and Oaks, and Los Angeles Times Special Envoy John Cherwa, who explains how racing coverage has changed for him in recent years. There are also comments on Twitter about the dispute that prevents Nevada from betting on racetracks controlled by Churchill Downs. RFRP is now available on iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, and VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1 / ST BET.