The Kentucky Derby will be held Saturday, and there could be a wrinkle thrown at handicappers when the field of 20 line up at the gate: The National Weather Service says there is a 60 percent chance of rain in Louisville on Saturday, “mainly between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” creating the possibility of a wet track during the 143rd Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
The Derby has been run over a sloppy or muddy track 14 times, most recently in 2013, when Orb hit the board at 5-1 odds with Joel Rosario as the jockey. Rosario is set to ride Practical Joke, who is listed at 20-1 according to the track odds in this year’s Derby.
Predicting who will handle the 1 1/4-mile distance for the first time is tough enough, but there’s only a limited amount of wet-track data for lightly raced 3-year-old colts. Tomlinson figures, particularly for sloppy tracks, can also help point us in the right direction, and they are available in the Daily Racing Form’s past performances. The figures range from 0 to 480, with a score of 320 or indicating “a horse who could run particularly well over a wet track.” Irish War Cry (443 wet Tomlinson figure), Tapwrit (441) and McCraken (435) are among the best bets if the track is indeed sloppy or wet Saturday.
Irish War Cry is also among the colts with the highest sire win percentages on a wet track (18 percent), per Brisnet, which also includes McCraken (19 percent), Battle of Midway (19 percent), Tapwrit (18 percent) and Royal Mo (18 percent) in the top five of the field.
Irish War Cry was already one of the best bets in the Derby, and his pedigree over a wet track makes him more formidable if the track conditions are muddy. But he isn’t the only one who could be successful on a rainy Saturday.
Horses with real-life experience over a wet track include Classic Empire, the favorite, who broke his maiden on sloppy track at Churchill Downs last May.
Lookin At Lee placed second by 8 3/4 lengths behind Not This Time in the Grade 3 Iroquois held at Churchill Downs last September, producing a Beyer speed figure of 72, his lowest mark in the six races since.
Gormley won by a head on a sloppy Santa Anita track in January at a mile, but muddy tracks can vary from one track to another, so it doesn’t mean he will have success in the slop under the spires.
Gunnevera’s first race, last June, also was sloppy, and the race notes indicate he had “good kick” toward the end in his second-place finish.
Tapwrit won the one-mile Pulpit Stakes in December at Gulfstream Park over a track rated sloppy, but the race was originally scheduled for a mile on turf.
Thunder Snow has two races on “soft” turf, finishing sixth in June in the Grade 2 Coventry Stakes in Great Britain and winning October’s Grade 1 Critérium International over a distance of 1,400 meters (about 7 furlongs) in France.
One horse who should be looked at with caution is Louisiana Derby winner Girvin, who has been dealing with a quarter crack in his hoof, which becomes more troublesome on a sloppy track.