Thursday, April 04, 2013
Shanghai Bobby: Why the Juvenile Champion Never Deserves an Automatic Derby Berth
A funny thing happened on the way to the Florida Derby: the juvenile winner, the one ridden by Red Rosie, Shanghai Robert (let’s be proper) threw in the clunker of all clunkers. Well, not as bad as War Pass’s 2008 Tampa Bay Derby, but close, no less.
In his defense, he has been in training for over a year. Says Jack Wolf, managing partner for Starlight Racing, “Shanghai Bobby has been at the track for 13 months and his energy level and level of performance has never suggested he needed any time off until now. It's time to freshen him up and, if all goes well, point for a late summer, early fall campaign."
Perhaps the King’s Bishop? Uncle Mo nearly won that race off a long, long lay off. But back to Robert.
Much, much, much as been made about the juvenile champion being allowed a guaranteed spot in the gates come Kentucky Derby time. I was happy to see the exclusion off all 2-year-old racing from the points system. All 2-year-old racing does is prove how fast a horse hits puberty.
Shanghai Robert is just the latest in a line of hundreds of horses who have no business running in the Kentucky Derby. Since 1984 337 horses ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Only 65 of those started in the Derby the next year. That’s 19 percent. Or, to view it through a more shocking lens, 81 of those horses fail to reach the Derby.
Of that 19 percent, only five juvenile fields harbored the next year’s Derby winner. For clarity, I’ll use the Derby year here: 1985, Spend A Buck, 1987, Alysheba, 1993, Sea Hero, 2007, Street Sense, 2009, Mine That Bird.
So, only five horses out of 337 juvenile starters—1.5 percent—won he Kentucky Derby in 28 years, the length of time the BC Juvenile has been run. Or, to inflate that number just a touch, only five out of 65 went on to win the Derby, 7.7 percent. And, as we know from 2007, only one juvenile winner has ever won the Kentucky Derby, Street Sense. Go 1-for-28 in any other sport and you’re in the minor leagues.
Given that we’ve all been harking on the fragility of the breed, we’d expect those fields of the 80s and 90s to have proportionally more—by percentage—horses carrying over from the Juvenile to the Derby. What I found surprised me.
The year that carried over the most was 2011, the year Hansen beat Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, Take Charge Indy, Optimizer, Alpha, and Daddy Long Legs. The average Derby finish for this class was 10.75, with Dullahan coming out on top with his third-place finish. (His career is probably the most bizarre. He’s like a much, much less accomplished Animal Kingdom. But that’s neither here nor there.)
The 2006 juvenile class graduated five Derby starters—Street Sense, Circular Quay, Scat Daddy, Stormello, and Teuflesberg. The 1986 juvenile class also graduate five—Capote (the juvenile winner), Alysheba, Bet Twice, Gulch, and Demon’s Begone.
Four times over the course of now 28 years had a juvenile class graduate zero horses to the following Derby: 1985, 1989, 1996, and 2002. Mediocrity is spread out over the era, it seems. On average, 2.32 juvenile starters get to the Derby. This year, obviously, is TBD.
But more troubling, or more telling, is how few (depending on your point of view) juvenile winners make it to the starting gate of 20. Including this year, since Shanghai Robert is playing “It’s Five o’clock Somewhere” on a loop, the juvenile winner has appeared in only 13 of 29 runnings of the Kentucky Derby (I find that low). Just 45 percent of the time.
And this is the spot turf writers and handicappers are clamoring for an automatic bid? The average finish of the 13 juvenile winners is not totally abhorrent, but it is only 6.7 (one winner, two thirds, one fourth, two fifths, two sixths, two eighths, a ninth, a thirteenth, and a sixteenth).
Of the 65 juvenile horses who stayed sound and who were lucky enough to make it to the Derby—they marked just 65 of 491 Derby starters over 28 years—comprising just 13 percent of all entrants for an average finishing position of 8.35.
So, should the juvenile winner deserve a spot in the gates come Kentucky? I’ve always said no and the numbers say he doesn’t deserve to be there either.
However, as a handicapper, you should be begging for his automatic berth. He’ll be a known commodity and take a ton of money. And, as the numbers show, he’ll finish way off the board.
So get well, Shanghai Robert, and don’t feel too bad. You’re not alone. And, to quote Robin Williams, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
It should be noted that some horses who ran in the juvenile turned in poor Derbys, but did run well in later Triple Crown or even summer campaigns. But we’re stickin’ with the Derby here.