Final Fraction Theory: Jennie Rees breaks down every contender's last Derby prep splits

Published: May. 5, 2016 at 9:45 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 9:45 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Some years ago, veteran Churchill Downs trainer Phil Thomas asked if I could find out the final quarter-mile times of all the Kentucky Derby contenders in their final prep race. His theory was that they all came home in 25 seconds or faster.

Why your horse will -- and won't -- win the Derby

Equibase charts for 1 1/8-mile races — the distance of the final Derby prep for the vast majority of Kentucky Derby starters — do not break it down by a final quarter-mile, but one can do the math for the final eighth-mile and three-eighths of a mile because the charts give fractional times for the horse in front with an eighth-mile and three-eighths of a mile to go. I did the research and found there was indeed a pattern among the horses who won the Kentucky Derby.

And so was born the Final Fractions Theory, which I wrote about extensively while working for The Courier-Journal and which now has become a fairly prominent Kentucky Derby handicapping angle, including being championed by the Twitter feed @DerbyContenders.

The theory identifies which horses finish their final eighth-mile in that final prep in 13.0 seconds or less and the final three-eighths in 38.0 seconds or less. The premise is that horses who meet those parameters are more likely to be able to handle the extra eighth-mile they'll face in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. It also suggests that those horses are in good form and not regressing.

In recent years, I've relied on @DerbyContenders for its calculations in order to provide consistency and more accuracy than my manually-calculated times. While @DerbyContenders wants to see horses who went under 13.0 and 38.0, I "count" it as qualifying if a horse is right on the number, which was the case in 2008 with Big Brown.

If math makes your head hurt -- why do you think I use @DerbyContenders? -- all you need to know is that of the 26 Derbys going back to 1990, 19 winners met both thresholds. Two "qualified" on the final eighth-mile but not the final three-eighths (Charismatic in 1999 and Grindstone in 1996), and two others qualified only on the final three-eighths (Sea Hero in 1993 and Unbridled in 1990). Note: Charismatic ran in the Santa Anita Derby, for which the fractions were calculated, then two weeks later won Keeneland's Lexington Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, for which fractions couldn't be calculated.

If a horse is to meet one or the other standard, I prefer it be the three-eighths. That's because jockeys might ease up considerably if they are well in front the final sixteenth-mile. For example, Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby.

The three horses who failed to qualify on either threshold are Animal Kingdom in 2011; Mine That Bird, who blew every Derby handicapping theory in 2009 and Silver Charm, who was barely over in 1997 after pressing a wickedly fast pace.

The key to the theory is that it doesn't simply do the math using the horse who was in front at a particular "point of call" (the various distances within a race in which the official chart caller determines the order of horses and margins between them). Rather, FFT looks at how far back a horse was from the leader at the time (unless the horse was in front) and computes how that correlates into additional time. The adjusted formula is based on a length being a fifth-second.

The theory assumes that the chart-caller is very accurate, though only the final margins of a race as determined by computerized equipment.

@DerbyContenders also calculates a final quarter-mile, but don't ask me how it's done. Its cutoff is under 25.2 seconds for the final quarter-mile.

The final time of the race doesn't matter under FFT. So it's not that Outwork finished 1 1/8 miles in a pokey 1:52.9 to win the Wood. Rather, it's that he came home the last eighth-mile in 14.0 seconds and last three-eighths in 40.6.

Who looks good this year? Favored Nyquist, Arkansas Derby 1-2 finishers Creator and Suddenbreakingnews (note: locals say Arkansas Derby horses always tend to finish fast because of a slight slope in the stretch), 1-2 Blue Grass finishers Brody's Cause and My Man Sam.

But the fastest of all was $200,000 supplemental-entry Oscar Nominated, who came home in 12.4 and 37.2 in Turfway's Spiral Stakes. Of course, that was run over the Polytrack and Oscar Nominated closed like a grass horse, probably because that's what he is. Still, Oscar Nominated had a very good work at Churchill Downs and if he's in the superfecta at 50-1, don't be shocked. (Of course, don't be shocked if he only beats one or two speed horses who wind up eased.)

Who is eliminated on this theory? Notably Mor Spirit and Mohaymen, and of course everything in the Wood Memorial.

Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator offers mixed signals and Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner is right on the bubble.

You can make exceptions, and I have over the years, kicking myself afterward for making an excuse for a horse who didn't qualify. Of course, it cost me in 2011 when people I really respected raved over Animal Kingdom's final pre-Derby workout. They all bet, but I went in a different direction because I felt committed to my theory. FFT has been pooh-pahed as not taking into account how fast a horse is running early and track condition and being overly simplistic. Fair enough. You don't like it, make up your own theory. To me, only three in 26 years not meeting one or the other parameters is definitely a pattern.

Here's how these Kentucky Derby horses fared in their final 1 1/8-mile preps:

Florida Derby
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)

1st - Nyquist (12.7, 37.7, 25.1, 1:49.1)
2nd - Majesto (12.9, 38.0, 25.3, 1:49.8)
4th - Mohaymen (13.7, 39.2, 26.1, 1:50.8)

Santa Anita Derby
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)
1st - Exaggerator (13.4, 37.6, 25.1, 1:49.7)
2nd - Mor Spirit (13.3, 39.9, 26.6, 1:50.9)
4th - Danzing Candy (14.8, 42.2, 28.1, 1:52.3)
Arkansas Derby
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)
1st - Creator (12.7, 37.6, 25.1, 1:50.1)
2nd - Suddenbreakingnews (12.9, 37.9, 25.3, 1:50.4)
3rd - Whitmore (13.2, 38.2, 25.4, 1:50.7)

Toyota Blue Grass
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)
1st - Brody's Cause (12.9, 37.5, 25, 1:50.2)
2nd - My Man Sam (12.6, 37.4, 24.9, 1:50.6)
3rd - Cherry Wine (12.9, 37.8, 25.2, 1:50.6)
4th - Laoban (13.9, 39.9, 26.5, 1:51.2)

Louisiana Derby                     
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)
1st - Gun Runner (12.9, 38.0, 25.3, 1:51.0)            
2nd - Tom's Ready (13.3, 38.4, 25.6, 1:51.9)
4th - Mo Tom (13.0, 38.3, 25.5, 1:52.2)

Wood Memorial
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)
1st - Outwork (14.0, 40.6, 27.1, 1:52.9)
2nd - Trojan Nation (13.7, 38.7, 25.8, 1:52.9)
5th -  Shagaf (14.1, 40.7, 27.1, 1:53.7)

Spiral Stakes
Finish - Horse (last 1/8, last 3/8, last 1/4, final time)
1st - Oscar Nominated (12.4, 37.2, 24.8, 1:51.1)

Note: Lani and Destin aren't calculated because they did not run at 1 1/8 miles.

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