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1882 & Post Ones

Imagine you have a Derby starter who looks lights out the best. Although you did not win the Juvy (your horse didn't race at two), you're undefeated, ran a couple of 118 Beyers, with 22.4 last quarters. Your colt even ran that in the Wood while 6 wide the whole way around.

It may be a coronation the first Saturday in May, you're that good.

The gates spring open for the Derby. Your colt, leaving from the rail, gets a nice run into the first turn. Sitting 11th, he moves out and circles the field running a 23 flat, making a comfortable lead in 47.4 (easy for him, because he's that good). Then the impossible happened. Calvin Borel is trying to scoot up the rail with a 142-1 shot (who is on the board at 8-1), veers out into a Pletcher horse who runs right into your colt and puts him into the outer rail. You've lost about 30 lengths, but, he is so good, that he picks himself up, catches the field, circles it again, and loses by a head.

Amazing performance.

However.....

Someone somewhere will say your horse lost the race because he didn't race as a two year old.

Someone somewhere will say you lost the race because post one in the Derby is a death post.

It's like clockwork.

For the latter, well, Derek Simon is doing better work than I could on that. He's doing what our post on Supercrunchers says to do. People likely still won't believe him, because of a world-view. However, it's as plain as day. Post one is not a death post. It's probably not exactly wonderful (what inside post is in a 20 horse field?), but if you are "chucking" a horse out from there, or if you are being Mr. Hyperbole like Baffert was a few years ago when he drew it, you should reevaluate what you're doing.

For the former - that no non-starting two year old has ever won a Derby -  it is equally frustrating for stats folks, I guess. But, like Derek's post on post one, it's simple statistics, that Gary West talked about on Friday.

Bodemeister didn't race as a 2-year-old. Not since Apollo in 1882 has there been a Derby winner who didn't race as a juvenile. But of all those who tried, how many were contenders? Well, not many, as it turns out. 

Of the last 47 Derby starters who didn't race as 2-year-olds, only Air Forbes Won (5-2 in 1982) was the betting favorite, and he probably shouldn't have been. Of the 47, 24 had odds higher than 20-1, 10 were included in the mutuel field and another, Trippi, would have been a long shot if he hadn't been part of an entry. 

He goes on to say that decent looking colts, like Pulpit, fractured a knee.

When you subset things in racing as a handicapper, you have to be pretty crafty, and act like a statistician or you'll get your head handed to you. With the "1882 Curse" we are subsetting bad data. And it's fairly logical.


If a horse does not race at two, it's because he or she is not ready, had a setback of some sort, and needs time. The colts who do race at two are on schedule and have very few physical issues. As West shows with the odds, these horses may have been rushed to the Derby, and weren't very good to begin with. The others, like Curlin? Well, it's not a Derby curse, it's the Derby itself. If you have ten capable-of-winning horses that fit the subset, who get into the gate over 130 years, and all of them lose, it's not a statistical anomaly, it's statistically expected.

Each Derby is a unique event; in fact, each race is a unique event. Just like you don't bet a favorite because they win 33% of the time and in race 6 of the day no favorite has won, you don't use rules like the above two to guide you.

If you are betting the Derby like so many of us will be in a week, look at the horse, look at his works, look at the rider and the pace and the 10,000 factors that go into handicapping a race. But don't look to media driven rules. They might be right this year or next or the next, but if they are, it's a normal distribution of events that's making them right, not statistical evidence.



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