Kentucky Derby Prep School: could BC runner-up be vulnerable this time?

Moral winner? Anneau d'Or (nearside) is just held by Storm The Court in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Photo: Kaz Ishida/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM/Breeders' Cup

Prep School is our attempt to harness the predictive power of TRC Global Rankings on the road to the Kentucky Derby each year. We use a combination of ranking points and each horse’s form to assign a probability of victory to each runner.

The horse earning the highest probability appears as the TOP CHOICE but our de facto selection is VALUE PICK, which is the horse with the highest residual probability of victory once we discount the Morning Line odds. (If we believe the Morning Line odds are unrealistic for a particular race, we will use a different method to gauge the betting public’s likely opinion.)

The 2019 Kentucky Derby trail saw us analyse 13 races, including the Big One itself. You can review the selections and results here. The series raised a +3.60 unit profit at final odds, which is a 128 percent ROI (return on investment). 

This year we have made three selections in the Value Pick section so far, as follows:

Max Player (G3 Withers Stakes) WON, 5.4/1
Toledo (G3 Holy Bull Stakes) 3rd, 1.8/1
Ajaweed (G3 Sam F Davis Stakes) 3rd 3.3/1

These selections result in a +3.40 unit profit at final odds, so the total return is +7.00 units from 16 races, which is a 144 percent ROI. However, positive returns are hard to sustain as the sample size approaches significance, due to track take outs.



Fair Grounds, 9f

The $400,000 Risen Star Stakes is the first of the Kentucky Derby Trials in 2020 that carries 50 qualifying points to the winner. As a result, it marks the day when the intensity ramps up on the road to Churchill Downs.

Making this race even more intriguing is the fact it has been split into two divisions. We will deal with each in the usual format.

Division 1

TOP CHOICE Enforceable

Enforceable showed improved form yet again when winning the G3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on his seventh lifetime start. The son of Tapit managed to overcome the trip of a mile and a 16th, which certainly looked a little sharp for him, running on strongly despite losing a lot of ground wide.

The early pace did not seem ridiculously fast (23.46 - 23.95) but the leaders found it too much at the end of the back straight and the race seemed to set up for the closers. This might be a little misleading, however, and could lead to giving Enforceable less credit than he deserves.

This division seems the stronger, but a case can be made that the Mark Casse-trained colt deserves to be regarded as the most likely winner and, indeed, is likely to head to post as the favourite. The trainer won the race last year with subsequent Preakness winner War Of Will

VALUE PICK Silver State

A form reversal could be on the cards here if the Steve Asmussen-trained Silver State makes the necessary improvement off his defeat by Enforceable in the Lecomte. Shorter on experience than the winner - the son of Hard Spun was seeing the track for only the third time - he had the rougher trip and ran on strongly in the stretch.

The winner went outside on the turn and missed trouble while Silver State had to wait for a run towards the inside and was three lengths down before he got rolling.

Here, the combination of an inside draw, plenty of pace to run at and an extra half-furlong should see him highly competitive. He signalled a lot of promise when dead-heating on his Churchill Downs debut before running really well to be second in an allowance race there. On both occasions, he looked like a horse who would get a lot better with seasoning and conditioning.

Division 2

TOP CHOICE Anneau d'Or

There is little doubt that Anneau d’Or has the best form here. He was narrowly beaten in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita and the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity. Connections have had a raft of options and thought about going for the G3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate, and it shows confidence that they have pitched him into a higher grade of race here off the layoff.

The son of Medaglia d’Oro might have been the moral winner of the Juvenile. Winner Storm The Court got a great ride in front and the way that Anneau d’Or pressed him in the closing stages suggested he could have won had there been a stronger early pace. This is a stoutly bred colt who will relish the step up to nine furlongs, but, if we are ever to take him on, it will be off the layoff.


Ny Traffic exits a strong allowance contest at Gulfstream Park and is the value to make an immediate splash in black-type company here. He has no chance whatsoever on his previous form, but he was having his first race for Saffie Joseph last time and could be a new horse. 

On the face of it, the son of Cross Traffic produced a remarkable show. He duelled hard early, turned away the challenge then actually widened in the stretch to win by nearly seven lengths. As a result of the uneven tempo (24.04, 23.35 first two quarters) it was hard for him to post a time representing the optimal he can achieve and it will be interesting to see what happens when he does get to gallop along more evenly.

We have to take a bit of a chance that the longer trip will suit him as well as the mile and a 16th in Florida, but he does look very talented for his new stable and is a decent prospect at likely odds.

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