Kentucky Derby Pace: 1980 - 2011

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 01: The field leaves the gate at the start of the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Note: it's opening weekend at Belmont and Churchill Downs. I'll have a Churchill opening night thread up a little later this afternoon.

One of the things that makes the Kentucky Derby such a grueling race for still-developing three-year-old horses, is the typically fast pace. The pace of the Derby, with a few exceptions (including 2011), is usually quite fast (see charts below). The opening quarter almost always comes in under 23 seconds. The half-mile average over the last 30+ years is 46.56, with a median of 46.49. Think about that: over half of the last 30 Kentucky Derbies have seen a half-mile fraction of under 46.49 seconds and eight times the half-mile was run in under 46 seconds.

The internal splits tell the same story of a fast beginning and a slower finish. (see more charts below!) While quick opening fractions and slower final splits is a hallmark of racing on dirt, the difference in the Derby from the beginning of the race to the end is quite revealing. The average opening internal fractions at the Kentucky Derby over the last 30+ years are 22.96 and 23.59. (The median opening quarter is 22.99, meaning half of all Derbies since 1980 have seen an opening split under 23 seconds, including all but three since 2000.) The last two internal spits - the fourth and fifth quarter miles - come in at 25.56 and 25.59 (with similar medians), an almost 2.5 second difference from the opening quarter to the final quarter.

What's this all mean? Well, nothing we didn't already know: the Kentucky Derby typically has a fast, grueling pace that cooks all but the fittest horses. Since 1980, only five horses that were leading after six furlongs ended up winning the Derby - War Emblem (2002), Go for Gin (1994), Winning Colors (1988), Spend a Buck (1985), and Sunny's Halo (1983).

Below are charts summarizing the splits, internal splits, winner's running style, pace finish and track condition since 1980. Any and all errors are mine.

Note: I made a small update to the tables after realizing that my spreadsheet wasn't calculating a couple of cells properly. The change is minor in it's impact on the average and median splits.

Kentucky Derby Splits Since 1980


Splits
Year 2f 4f 6f Mile 1 1/4
1980 24.00 48.00 1:12.80 1:37.60 2:02.00
1981 21.80 45.20 1:10.20 1:36.00 2:02.00
1982 23.00 46.20 1:10.80 1:37.20 2:02.40
1983 23.80 47.20 1:11.80 1:36.80 2:02.20
1984 23.40 47.40 1:11.80 1:36.60 2:02.40
1985 23.00 45.80 1:09.60 1:34.80 2:00.20
1986 22.20 45.20 1:10.20 1:37.00 2:02.80
1987 23.80 46.40 1:11.00 1:36.80 2:03.40
1988 23.00 46.80 1:11.40 1:36.00 2:02.20
1989 23.00 46.60 1:11.40 1:37.80 2:05.00
1990 22.60 46.00 1:11.00 1:37.60 2:02.00
1991 23.26 46.58 1:11.35 1:37.51 2:03.08
1992 23.44 47.90 1:12.37 1:37.72 2:03.04
1993 22.80 46.63 1:11.22 1:36.96 2:02.42
1994 22.97 47.21 1:11.98 1:37.73 2:03.72
1995 22.57 45.89 1:10.33 1:35.72 2:01.27
1996 22.34 46.09 1:10.15 1:35.16 2:01.06
1997 23.57 47.55 1:12.23 1:37.31 2:02.44
1998 22.75 45.75 1:10.62 1:35.61 2:02.38
1999 23.52 47.88 1:12.52 1:37.58 2:03.29
2000 22.47 45.99 1:09.99 1:35.74 2:01.12
2001 22.25 44.86 1:09.25 1:35.00 1:59.97
2002 23.25 47.04 1:11.75 1:36.70 2:01.13
2003 22.78 46.23 1:10.48 1:35.75 2:01.19
2004 22.99 46.73 1:11.80 1:37.35 2:04.06
2005 22.28 45.38 1:09.59 1:35.88 2:02.75
2006 22.63 46.07 1:10.88 1:37.02 2:01.36
2007 22.96 46.26 1:11.13 1:37.04 2:02.17
2008 23.30 47.04 1:11.14 1:36.56 2:01.82
2009 22.98 47.23 1:12.09 1:37.49 2:02.66
2010 22.63 46.16 1:10.58 1:37.65 2:04.45
2011 23.74 48.63 1:13.40 1:37.49 2:02.04

Kentucky Derby Internal Splits Since 1980

Internal Splits
Year 2f 4f 6f Mile 1 1/4
1980 24.00 24.00 24.80 24.80 24.40
1981 21.80 23.40 25.00 25.80 26.00
1982 23.00 23.20 24.60 26.40 25.20
1983 23.80 23.40 24.60 25.00 25.40
1984 23.40 24.00 24.40 24.80 25.80
1985 23.00 22.80 23.80 25.20 25.40
1986 22.20 23.00 25.00 26.80 25.80
1987 23.80 22.60 24.60 25.80 26.60
1988 23.00 23.80 24.60 24.60 26.20
1989 23.00 23.60 24.80 26.40 27.20
1990 22.60 23.40 25.00 26.60 24.40
1991 23.26 23.32 24.77 26.16 25.57
1992 23.44 24.46 24.47 25.35 25.32
1993 22.80 23.83 24.59 25.74 25.46
1994 22.97 24.24 24.77 25.75 25.99
1995 22.57 23.32 24.44 25.39 25.55
1996 22.34 23.75 24.06 25.01 25.90
1997 23.57 23.98 24.68 25.08 25.13
1998 22.75 23.00 24.87 24.99 26.77
1999 23.52 24.36 24.64 25.06 25.71
2000 22.47 23.52 24.00 25.75 25.38
2001 22.25 22.61 24.39 25.75 24.97
2002 23.25 23.79 24.71 24.95 24.43
2003 22.78 23.45 24.25 25.27 25.44
2004 22.99 23.74 25.07 25.55 26.71
2005 22.28 23.10 24.21 26.29 26.87
2006 22.63 23.44 24.81 26.14 24.34
2007 22.96 23.30 24.87 25.91 25.13
2008 23.30 23.74 24.10 25.42 25.26
2009 22.98 24.25 24.86 25.40 25.17
2010 22.63 23.53 24.42 27.07 26.80
2011 23.74 24.89 24.77 24.09 24.55

Kentucky Derby Average and Median Splits/Internal Splits Since 1980

Splits
2f 4f 6f Mile 1 1/4
Average 22.97 46.56 71.15 96.72 122.31
Median 22.99 46.49 71.14 96.98 122.29
Internal Splits
2f 4f 6f Mile 1 1/4
Average 22.97 23.59 24.59 25.57 25.59
Median 22.99 23.53 24.62 25.49 25.45

Kentucky Derby Winners, Running Style, Track Condition, and Pace Finish Since 1980

Year Winner Winner @3/4 Pace Finish
Going Type
1980 Genuine Risk 4th 6th Fast Midpack
1981 Pleasant Colony 15th 19th Fast Closer
1982 Gato Del Sol 10th 10th Fast Closer
1983 Sunny's Halo 1st 1st Fast Pace
1984 Swale 2nd 19th Fast Stalker
1985 Spend a Buck 1st 1st Fast Pace
1986 Ferdinand 11th 16th Fast Closer
1987 Alysheba 7th 10th Fast Midpack
1988 Winning Colors 1st 1st Fast Pace
1989 Sunday Silence 4th 8th Muddy Stalker
1990 Unbridled 6th 11th Good Stalker
1991 Strike the Gold 10th 8th Fast Midpack
1992 Lil E. Tee 7th 3rd Fast Stalker
1993 Sea Hero 10th 16th Fast Closer
1994 Go for Gin 1st 1st Sloppy Pace
1995 Thunder Gulch 5th 16th Fast Midpack
1996 Grindstone 13th 18th Fast Closer
1997 Silver Charm 4th 4th Fast Stalker
1998 Real Quiet 6th 10th Fast Midpack
1999 Charismatic 7th 15th Fast Midpack
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 11th 16th Fast Closer
2001 Monarcos 10th 13th Fast Closer
2002 War Emblem 1st 1st Fast Pace
2003 Funny Cide 3rd 16th Fast Stalker
2004 Smarty Jones 2nd 2nd Sloppy Stalker
2005 Giacomo 18th 16th Fast Closer
2006 Barbaro 4th 20th Fast Stalker
2007 Street Sense 17th 2nd Fast Closer
2008 Big Brown 6th 16th Fast Stalker
2009 Mine That Bird 19th 7th Sloppy (Sealed) Closer
2010 Super Saver 4th 15th Sloppy (Sealed) Stalker
2011 Animal Kingdom 10th 4th Fast Midpack
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