On Saturday a Florida Derby field of 11 took aim at victory and Kentucky Derby qualifying points. But it was the betting public that emerged as the sharpest beast on the premises, with the top three wagering choices filling the trifecta. The horses, themselves? Not so impressive.
White Abarrio crossed the finish line first as the second choice in the betting. He held off third choice Charge It by a length and a quarter, with favored Simplification holding third. The winning time ranks as the fifth slowest since 2000.
Even less impressive than the final time was the final eighth of a mile turned in by the winner. White Abarrio, despite a perfect stalking trip behind three dueling rivals, finished his final furlong in a dead-slow 14 seconds. In the final sixteenth, he drifted out and then back in, usually a sign of fatigue.
Charge It, placed even further off the pace, failed to close ground on the staggering White Abarrio and passed only the hard-used early runner Simplification in late stretch.
The mediocre stretch performance by the top two finishers suggests neither one will prevail in the longer and more challenging Kentucky Derby, the next start for each.
The only somewhat impressive performance was turned in by Simplification. After pressing Classic Causeway through honest fractions in the early stages, Simplification withstood a bold midrace challenge by Breeders Cup Juvenile runner-up Pappacap. He put away that runner through grueling midrace fractions only to be passed at the top of the stretch by the well-reserved White Abarrio. Instead of calling it quits like Classic Causeway and Pappacap, Simplification battled to the wire and finished just a length short of second place.
Some analysts might rate this race highly, given the prior graded stakes wins of the entrants. Some might blame the slow final time on the track surface. Two counterpoints handicappers might want to consider:
- A racing surface that allows for a blazing 6-furlong split of 1:10.3 is unlikely to cause a slow final time.
- A quick perusal of the combined past performances of White Abarrio, Charge It and Simplification turns up not a single race finished in above-average time for stakes-placed 3-year-olds.
Since 1990, 12 horses have won the Florida Derby in a time of 1:50.0 or slower. Only one, Orb, emerged victorious in the Kentucky Derby. He completed his final furlong in the Florida Derby in 13 seconds and had previously won a very fast edition of the Fountain of Youth Stakes.
In contrast, 10 horses have won the Florida Derby in a time of 1:49.01 or faster, and four went on to victory in the Kentucky Derby. As I mention in my book The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby, you can often teach a fast horse to slow down, but you seldom can teach a slow horse to speed up. That’s a simplification that usually yields dividends on the first Saturday in May.