Twelve-second Splits: A Key to Winning the Kentucky Derby

Twelve-second Splits: A Key to Winning the Kentucky Derby
By Dick Downey

What do War Emblem and Fusaichi Pegasus have in common? Yes, they each won the Kentucky Derby. And they each did it in a similar way.

No way, you say? After all, War Emblem led gate to wire, while FuPeg was thirteenth after a half mile, eleventh after six furlongs, and sixth after a mile.

The similarity lies in their fractional times--a pattern that recurs Derby after Derby in the past 10 years. War Emblem ran the first half mile in :47.04; FuPeg in :47.64. War Emblem went the first six furlongs in 1:11.75; FuPeg in 1:11.24. And War Emblem got a mile in 1:36.70. FuPeg? 1:36.19.

Yes, it's all in the splits. Whether the running style is come-from-behind--which is the preferred running style we've documented in our 31-year study at front running style, splits close to 12 seconds per furlong are usually required to win the Kentucky Derby.

An analysis of fractional times in the past 10 runnings of the Kentucky Derby shows that in 22 of 30 calls we studied--at four furlongs, six furlongs and eight furlongs--the eventual winner ran the race with measured, consistent speed. Regardless of placement during the race, splits at those calls that are within a second of averaging 12 seconds per furlong have yielded Kentucky Derby winners.

The average splits in those 10 years were :47.58 at four furlongs, 1:11.75 at six furlongs, and 1:36.48 at one mile.

Only two winners ran sub-:47 half miles--Funny Cide and Thunder Gulch (:46.63 and :46.69). Two winners ran six furlongs in less than 1:11--Funny Cide and Monarchos (1:10.78 and 1:10.75), and three winners went the mile in more than 1:37--Charismatic, who had the second slowest final time in the last 10 years, Go For Gin, who took the lead on a sloppy track and recorded the slowest time in the past 10 runnings, and Silver Charm. Only Charismatic exceeded the 1:13 mark for six furlongs, going in 1:13.07.

The lesson to be learned? Pick a fast horse. Pick a horse with stamina. But pick one that knows how to reserve speed, because patience is the key to the winner's circle on the first Saturday in May.

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