Bodemeister and the Curse of Apollo

EDIT: Update for 2014 here

With Bodemeister on the scene, there has been a lot of talk focusing on the lack of success horses unraced at two years old have had in the Kentucky Derby. I decided to compile some data in an attempt to see if there are any common threads that could account for the lack of success of these horses in the Derby.

All of my research is based on the list provided by the DRF earlier this week (see here) from 1937 to the present, noting the 56 horses (beginning with Comenow in 1944) who entered the Derby starting gate without a start the year prior.

As the list only goes back to 1937, it’s not a complete picture all the way back to Apollo in 1882; however,  racing in this day is such a world apart from where it was in 1970, let alone 1944 or 1882, this time span is more than enough.

My personal belief is that there is no curse, or jinx, or whatever you want to call it.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the “in retrospect” factor. Looking back on it now and taking the horses post-Derby records, etc. into account, you can see how some of these horses were going to falter. Unfortunately, aside from the horses where it should have been glaringly apparent to people even back then that the horse shouldn’t have been entered, none of this aids in any attempts to determine Bodemeister’s potential in the here and now.

There’s no problem obtaining the Derby charts all for all of the horses, but when you’re looking to delve into the period of time between when the horse broke its maiden and ran in the Derby, detailed information of their career following the Derby, so on and so forth, it all starts to fall apart unless you’re willing to pay for the information (which I am not) – and even then, who knows how complete the records are.

Data is pretty good (and free – free is a key point here) until about 1991. Then there is a drastic drop off in content from 1976 to 1990 with the information prior to 1976 proving to be borderline useless.

To the greatest extent possible, I tried to look at the following items for the 56 contenders:

  • Foaling date
  • Date of first race
  • Date/distance maiden was broken
  • Number of tries it took to break maiden
  • How many races the horse had prior to the KD
  • Longest distance the horse ran prior to the KD
  • Best performance the horse had prior to the KD
  • If the horse was a stakes winner prior to the KD
  • KD field size
  • KD post position
  • KD placing at 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1M, stretch, and finish.
  • Lengths horse lost by in KD
  • If the horse ran in the Preakness, where did they finish?
  • If the horse ran in the Belmont, where did they finish?
  • Number of races the horse ran following the KD
  • If the horse was a stakes winner following the KD
  • Total races at 3
  • Did horse race after 3?

This is not an all-encompassing list. I didn’t look at workout data (for the few horses I would have been able to obtain this for), times of prior races, particular reasons why the horse may not have performed well in a previous race (mud, bad trip, etc.), pedigree, and a couple of other things.

Also when looking at the Derby charts, I didn’t factor in how any internal factors in the race may have affected the horse’s chances in the Derby itself. This endeavour is a bit ridiculous anyways and you have to cut off the insanity at some point. They either won or they didn’t.

Basically, from looking at the data, there are zero consistencies – at least nothing that supports the unraced at two/lack of seasoning premise. Things are all over the place, and it really does appear to come back to the “in retrospect” factor.

From 1944 to the present (56 horses):

  • A total of 56 horses who were unraced at two competed in 37 runnings of the Derby against 929 horses.
  • Their average placing was 9.55. (I assigned Majestic Shore, who was eased in 1984, 20th/last place.)
  • In these 37 runnings, the average field size was 16.6.
  • The 1974 field was the largest at 23.
  • The 1948 field was the shortest at 6.
  • Assuming an average field size of 16.6 in these 37 runnings, any entrant would have a 6% chance of winning.
  • When looking at it in general terms, horses unraced at two have comprised a total of 6% of the Derby fields in these 37 runnings. (Note that some runnings had multiple horses entered which met these conditions, so it’s not an exact figure.)
  • If expanded to all runnings of the Derby since 1944, the total number of horses who ran increases to 1,046 – giving you a 5% chance of a horse entered being one who was unraced at the age of two.
  • Out of 56 horses, 10 have finished in the top 4 (17.8%):
        • 2nd: Coaltown (1948); Strodes Creek (1994)
        • 3rd: Hampden (1946); Agitate (1974); Reinvested (1982); Curlin (2007)
        • 4th: Forego (1973); Amano (1976); Pulpit (1997); Atswhatimtalknbout (2003)
  • Three horses went off as the favorite:
        • 1946: Perfect Bahram (1.10) – coupled with Lord Boswell and Knockdown. Finished 9th.
        • 1948: Coaltown (0.40) – coupled with Citation
        • 1982: Air Forbes Won (2.70). Finished 7th.
  • The longest odds belong to Chief of Dixieland (9th-1978) at 121.70.

From 1976 to the present (34 horses):

  • Most starts prior to the Derby: On the Sly (5th-1976) with 10 starts.
  • Fewest starts prior to the Derby: Disposal (18th/last-1992) with 2 starts.
  • 15 horses (44%) won a stakes prior to the Derby (including Valhol).
  • Three maidens ran in the Derby: Fourulla (19th-1971); Great Redeemer (10th/last-1979); Pendleton Ridge (13th-1990). Great Redeemer would not break his maiden until 06/07/1980 – over a year later.
  • Wavering Monarch (12th-1982) went from unraced to running for the roses in 30 days. Debuting at Keeneland on 04/02/1982, he would run twice more in the month of April (winning an allowance and finishing 3rd in the Blue Grass) before running in the Derby on 05/01/1982.

A few examples of retrospective throw outs (not a comprehensive list, just some examples):

  • Turf horses: Showing Up (10th-2006); Midnight Interlude (16th-2011); possibly Kentuckian (10th-1972)
  • Possibly over raced in the months preceding the Derby: Wavering Monarch (12th-1982); Alydavid (14th-1991); Devil His Due (12th-1992)
  • Sprinter/Miler: Affiliate (9th-1977); Zabaleta (12th-1986); Trippi (11th-2000)
  • Ultimately became a steeplechaser: Disposal (18th/last-1992)
  • Calumet also had Citation: Coaltown (2nd-1948)
  • Wintered in Dubai: Curule (7th-2000)
  • The maidens: Fourulla (19th-1971); Great Redeemer (10th/last-1979); Pendleton Ridge (13th-1990)

Just from that half-assed list above, you could potentially eliminate 15 out of the 56 (27%) from contention – and it’s not because they were unraced at two. Well, in cases like that of Wavering Monarch, perhaps the mad dash to the Derby starting gate could have been alleviated if he’d started racing in you know… March or something.

There is no curse; the right horse just hasn’t come along yet. And if these horses have historically had a 6% chance of winning, comprised a total of 6% of the fields they competed in, and comprised a paltry 5% of all fields since 1944, the results insofar have pretty much been what you would expect.

I think Bode is a Fusaichi Pegasus type in regards to the scheduling of races prior to the Derby. While Fu Peg did race in December of his two-year-old year, Bodemeister has been working out since June 2011 (first under the name Bradelberry, then under Graham N Spike).

With the exception of a month break from 08/31/2011 to 09/30/2011, Bodemeister has been working consistently since 06/09/2011 – recording a total of 33 works (8 as Bradelberry, 3 as Graham N Spike, and 22 as Bodemeister) at Hollywood and Santa Anita. While it’s not race experience, he’s been doing something for a pretty long time.

His pedigree should present no problems getting the distance of any of the Triple Crown races should he be entered. But enter the caveat of Honest Lady. Who would have thought that a Seattle Slew half-sister to Belmont winner Empire Maker (admittedly she came several years before he did) would have found her niche as a sprinter/miler type? While Empire Maker’s pedigree does demonstrate a bit more stamina potential at DP = 18-15-13-0-6 (52) / DI = 3.16 than Honest Lady’s at DP = 14-2-16-2-0 (34) / DI = 2.40, I don’t think when the mating between Seattle Slew and Toussaud was planned, anyone at Juddmonte anticipated the resulting foal would ultimately finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

I’m not insinuating Bode is going to be a sprinter (clearly he’s not), it’s just while one would think based on pedigree he should be able to handle classic distances, especially 12f – you just never know. There might be some limitations there at 10f+. As much as I think that many people underutilize pedigree charts, they certainly aren’t everything.

TL;DR: If you have multiple reasons to bet against Bodemeister in the Derby, by all means go with your gut. But if you’re going against him solely due to the unraced at two angle, I strongly urge you to reconsider.

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