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Kentucky Derby 138: On "Brilliancy," And Who Might Have It In This Year's Field

My real job dictates that I drive quite a bit to see customers of my business, and thankfully, XM Radio came along a few years and shortened how long those trips feel. Among the many great channels available, channel 209, for those of you who don't subscribe, is one dedicated to horse racing, for which, Steve Byk and Dave Johnson both do shows. Last Saturday, Johnson had Bob Baffert on as I drove back after attending Keenland's closing the day before, and as Baffert spoke he mentioned the word "brilliancy." It jogged my memory. I recalled reading, a few years back, an article that Dean Arnold had written for that spoke to the same issue. What is "brilliancy" in a horse? Well, it is the ability to crush a field as a youngster that points toward success in the big 3-year old races. And it turns out, that it has quite often proved itself in the recent history of the Kentucky Derby.

We would all agree, I think, that horses are not trained the same way they used to be (one of the reasons I have so longed for a re-ordering of the Triple Crown races, placing each on the first Saturday of May, June, and July....but that is a whole other post....). In the old days, horses ran. And they ran alot. It wasn't unusual for a horse to have 12 to 15 starts under its belt by the time it got to the First Saturday in May. But that is no longer the case, and as Baffert mentioned in his interview, and Arnold in his blog post, one modern indicator of Derby success might be the mere fact that a horse has won a race (any race, at any distance, against any level of competition) by 5 lengths or more.

I went back and got all the PP's of Derby winners I could...the furthest I could reach was 1993. Check this out:

Derby Winner: "Brilliancy" Win(s):

1993: Sea Hero - won Champagne by 5

1994: Go For Gin - won Chief's Crown by 9 3/4, won Remsen by 8 1/2

1995: Thunder Gulch - none

1996: Grindstone - won MdSpwt 30k by 5

1997: Silver Charm - none

1998: Real Quiet - none

1999: Charismatic - won Md 62.5k by 5

2000: Fusaichi Pegasus - none (although 4 1/4 Wood Memorial win almost fits)

2001: Monarchos - won MdSpwt 31k by 6

2002: War Emblem - won Illinois Derby by 6 1/4, won Alw 48.6k by 10 3/4

2003: Funny Cide - won BFbogard83k by 9, won debut Mdspwt 43k by 14 3/4

2004: Smarty Jones - won Count Fleet, by 5, won Penna Nurse 56k by 15

2005: Giacomo - won Mdspwet 41k by 10

2006: Barbaro: won Laurel Futurity by 8, won Mdspwt 41k by 8 1/2

2007: Street Sense- won BC Juvenile by 10

2008: Big Brown - won Florida Derby by 5, won Alw 41.5k by 12 3/4

2009: Mine That Bird - none

2010: Super Saver - Kentucky Jockey Club, won by 5, Mdn44k won by 7

2011: Animal Kingdom - none 13 of the last 19 years, the winning Derby horse has some brilliancy in his Past Performance lines somewhere. And, actually, consider that in the last 10 years, brilliancy has been in the fine print 8 times.

Who fits from this Derby?

Take Charge Indy - won Mdn 24k by 6 1/2

Union Rags - won Champagne by 5 1/4, won Saratoga Special by 7 1/4

Bodemeister - won Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2, won Mdn 56k by 9 1/4

Creative Cause - (almost fits with 4 3/4 length win in Mdn 55k)

Trinniberg - won Swale by 6, won Mdn 40k by 5 3/4

Alpha - Mdn 55k, won by 6

Hansen - won Kentucky Juvenile Cup by 13 1/4, won Mdn 22k by 12 1/4

Gemologist - won Alw80000 by 7, won Mdn22k by 5

El Padrino - won Mdn51k by 12 3/4

Sabercat - won Garden State by 6

My Adonis - won Jean Laffitt by 5 1/4

I was hoping that the list generated from this year's field would be brief, and thus, instructive in that matter. We might not be gaining much to know that more than half of the field has brilliancy, unless you are looking for which half of the field to eliminate in a horizontal exotic wager. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if the winner is somewhere listed above, and I am very intrigued by horses that have accomplished the feat more than once, which tightens the list somewhat: Union Rags, Bodemeister, Trinniberg (!), Hansen, and Gemologist.