Return of the Dual Qualifiers--Will the Pendulum Swing Back This Year?

By Dick Downey

Things have been tough all over for the Dual Qualifier (DQ) method of picking a Kentucky Derby winner, but this year could be different.

As things appear on Thursday, April 22, five DQ's stand to enter the starting gate in Kentucky Derby 130, marking a substantial swing of the pendulum. Last year's Derby had no DQ's in the field.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a DQ is a horse within 10 pounds of the highweight in the Experimental Free Handicap (EFH) that has a dosage index of 4.00 or less. Most simply put, the EFH is a measure of two-year-old performance in stakes races.

DQ's dominated the Kentucky Derby for decades until 1988, when the filly Winning Colors broke the angle's winning streak. Since then, five DQ's have won the race, the last being Silver Charm in 1997, when he was one of only two DQ's entered in the 13-horse field.

In 1998, no DQ's were entered. In 1999, there were six in the 19-horse field; Cat Thief came closest to winning with a third-place finish. In 2000, More Than Ready ran fourth, better than the other five DQ's.

The 127th Run for the Roses figured to have DQ Point Given in the winner's circle, but, alas, he was fifth. And 2002 had three of them in the field, but the best they could do was Came Home's sixth place finish.

This year, there are five Dual Qualifiers ready to enter the fray--or so it appears nine days out. Two or three of them would appear to have a shot at winning, and one of them is a big shot at this point. Let's take a look at all five.

Action This Day was the EFH highweight at 126 pounds after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has had no impact on the Derby Trail, finishing fourth, seventh and sixth in his three races this year.

Birdstone was weighted at 124 pounds. This year he has an allowance race win and a fifth-place finish in a Grade II race.

Weighing in at 123, Lion Heart will get support at the windows on Derby Day. Yet the front-runner has been the beaten favorite in each of his two races this year, finishing second each time. His two-year-old form has not fallen off the table at age three, but he appears vulnerable in the Derby due to possible distance limitations.

Read The Footnotes was assigned an EFH weight of 118 pounds. Initially, he carried his juvenile form forward by winning the Grade II Fountain Of Youth Stakes in his February three-year-old debut. However, that off-a-layoff effort knocked him out and was followed by a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Florida Derby on March 13. He hasn't raced since, but has been training well up to the Kentucky Derby.

That leaves the late-running The Cliff's Edge, weighted at 117 pounds. He is, of course, highly regarded off his impressive run in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. He appears to be peaking and has carried his two-year-old form into his sophomore season better than any of the other four DQ's. He'll probably be the Derby morning line favorite, if not the first betting choice as well. He appears to be this year's best hope to revive the Dual Qualifier method of handicapping the Kentucky Derby.

Other probable Kentucky Derby starters' assigned weight in the EFH:

115: Limehouse, St Averil.
114: Tapit.
112: Castledale.
110: Master David.
103: Imperialism, Pro Prado.

Footnote: Only two starters from the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile appear poised to enter the 2004 Kentucky Derby: first- and second-place finishers Action This Day and Minister Eric. Ironically, both will be sent off at high odds by the Derby bettors.