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Here’s why your 2015 Kentucky Derby pick shouldn’t include any of the favorites

Danzig Moon (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs has a field of 20, but oddsmakers are insisting this is a two-horse race between favorite American Pharoah (5-2 odds) and second choice Dortmund (3-1 odds), both trained by the distinguished Bob Baffert. However, Storm Cat in their pedigree suggests not to waste any money on either of them.

[Kentucky Derby field and Andrew Beyer’s analysis of each contender]

Since 1988, Storm Cat’s progeny are 0 for 44 in the Derby. Last year, eight runners had him in their pedigree — three of them finished in the last four spots. In 2013, six horses were descendants of Storm Cat, and four were among the last-place finishers. In 2012, eight Storm Cat runners ran and five finished in the bottom half of the field.

Along with the two favorites, here are the other Storm Cat descendants in the race: Carpe Diem, Tencendur, Firing Line, Mr. Z, Stanford and El Kabeir.

Another knock on the pedigrees of American Pharoah and El Kabeir is the absence of Turn-To, who has appeared in the lineage of 17 of the past 20 Kentucky Derby winners.

A descendant of Tapit has also failed to wear the roses. Sorry Frosted.

Since 1937, 58 horses have run in the Kentucky Derby despite not racing as a 2-year-old. None have ever won. Materiality will likely become No. 59.

A ridgling (male animal with an undescended testicle) like Far Right and Upstart has never won, either.

Since 1970, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby when the Louisiana Derby has been their final prep, so scratch International Star, Keen Ice and War Story off your list and add another demerit to Stanford and Mr. Z.

However, the Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Derby and Florida Derby are all key preps for the eventual winner.

The recent trend towards the Arkansas Derby and away from the Wood and Blue Grass is not a fluke; nor is the continued dominance of the Santa Anita Derby and Florida Derby. Without a feeder meet in the colder months, the centerpiece of Keeneland’s boutique Spring meet has a natural disadvantage against the tracks in warmer locales that can act as their own feeder system. For years, Gulfstream was that feeder meet.

And how a horse finishes is important, especially over the final eighth-mile and final three-eighths of a mile.

It involves looking for horses who in their 1 1/8-mile prep race cover the final eighth-mile in 13.0 seconds or less and final three-eighths of a mile in 38.0 seconds or less. The premise is that this identifies horses who can handle longer distances and are in good form – and at least as importantly, it flags horses who don’t want to run longer distances and/or are in a declining form cycle.
It’s best for a horse to meet both parameters, but you can’t discount horses who meet one of the two. Since 1990, all but three winners met at least one threshold (Animal Kingdom in 2011; 50-1 Mine That Bird in ’09, and Silver Charm, who was very close on both in 1997) and all but six met both, with ’96 winner Grindstone “qualifying” with his final eighth and just over for three-eighths; Sea Hero barely over the final eighth in 1993, and Unbridled well over on the final eighth but well under for the final three-eighths.

Ocho Ocho Ocho wasn’t fast enough in the Blue Grass, but Danzig Moon was.

Bolo was off the necessary pace in the Santa Anita Derby.

So now we are down to three prime candidates for an upset: Danzig Moon, who finished second in the Blue Grass; Itsaknockout, who finished fourth in the Florida Derby; and invader Mubtaahij, who finished first in the UAE Derby.

Itsaknockout finished a distant fourth in the Florida Derby (22 lengths behind the winner) when you would prefer to see at least a third-place finish or the horse at least within three lengths. And Mubtaahij would be the seventh UAE Derby winner to race in the Derby, yet none have finished in the top three.

That leaves Danzig Moon, who may get a nice trip in the race from the fifth post position behind a bunch of speed. His post position has had its fair share of winners since 1999, when the race first attracted more than the 20 entrants that it can accommodate.

Here is what Bob Schless of Regal Bloodlines had to say about the underdog:

If you re-watch his Bluegrass Stakes, you’ll see how he raced wide the entire race and started moving on Carpe Diem at the close of it to finish second. I have heard nothing but good things about this horse coming out of Louisville since he arrived from Lexington. He has the running style that you would like to see after looking at this year’s Derby field, where he’ll sit back (but not too far back), and look to make his run around the turn. And possessing of the strongest pedigrees in the field, expect him to be moving forward throughout the stretch while a good number of other horses will be backing up.

At an early line of 30 to 1, Danzig Moon could make for a big payday on a straight win bet or as a key horse in your exotics.

More Kentucky Derby coverage:

The Washington Post's renowned handicapper, Andrew Beyer, tells you how to bet the Kentucky Derby and why this year's field is the most exciting in a long time. (Video: Jason Aldag and Alice Li/The Washington Post)

Field, odds and Andrew Beyer’s analysis

Beyer’s pick: Skepticism around favorites; take an Upstart

Dortmund is the big star of the Kentucky Derby

Front-runners in the Derby | Pletcher’s Derby failures

Evaluating an enigma: Mubtaahij | No races at 2: Does it matter?

Kaleem Shah and Dortmund are an American success story

Beyer Speed Figures in the DerbyColumns by Beyer

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