There are a ton of ‘closers’ in the Kentucky Derby field this year but ironically it might not be a good race for their skill set. That’s the opinion of experienced horse race handicapper Mike Watchmaker of the Daily Racing Form. Most of the Kentucky Derby prep races were won by ‘closers’. In fact, most of the top finishers in these races were closers and they all had a similar situation–the race would ‘fall apart’ after a fast pace at the outset and the closers would take the top spots.
Watchmaker is of the opinion that this won’t necessarily happen in the Kentucky Derby for a fairly obvious reason–all of the speed horses failed to qualify for the Derby: “One of the ironies of this Derby prep season is almost all of the speed horses who conspired to put such a similar, and strong, pace stamp on the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, Wood, and Arkansas Derby, have fallen out of the Kentucky Derby picture, just like they fell back in the late running of their corresponding preps. What that has left is a Kentucky Derby field largely populated with closers; closers, I might add, who built their credentials in races with the sort of pace they might not come close to seeing in Louisville.”
Watchmaker suggests that the only three horses in the field that could be considered ‘speed horses’ by any metric are Nyquist, Danzing Candy and Outwork. The rest of the field? Closers. Closers need a fast pace to have their best competitive opportunity to win the race. They stay just off the pace and when the faster horses begin to tire they kick it into high gear. The Kentucky Derby now has a field full of these horses and even the first two horses out of the qualification picture at #21 and #22 in the points standings are closers.
Watchmaker does offer the caveat that all you need is two horses for a ‘speed duel’ and a horse doesn’t necessarily need to *be* a speed horse to act like one. Still, the lack of apparent speed in the field does make this a particularly challenging race to handicap.