Dick Downey: Handicapper

[image url="http://cdn.bloodhorse.com/images/content/ddowney_large.jpg"]Dick Downey[/image]

Dick Downey, owner and publisher of TheDowneyProfile.com, is a native Kentuckian and a lawyer who still actively practices in south-Central Kentucky. At the close of 2005, he retired from private practice after 28 years. He now represents the indigent in civil cases--no criminal cases--at Kentucky Legal Aid. He was introduced to Thoroughbred racing in the 1960’s by his parents, Doug and Betty, who took him and their other children to the races at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

In the 1990‘s, he became interested in Jennie Rees’ writings in the Louisville Courier-Journal about Kentucky Derby winner trends--factors, as he now calls them. In 1997, he first formed the idea to rank Kentucky Derby contenders by assigning a single point for each of a few factors that were present to a greater or lesser degree in that year’s group of starters.

Curious as to whether these factors were statistically significant, he began an in-depth research project that consumed several hundred hours over the next few years. As time passed, he discovered that some of the factors he had first used could be validated and that others could not be--and he found several more factors. The end result is The Downey Profile, a qualitative analysis of the Kentucky Derby that has a positive application to the reality of the world‘s most difficult race to handicap.

John Cameron is a Louisville businessman who believed that Downey was onto something. In 2002, he encouraged Downey to start up a web site focused on the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Downey’s studies. In its first season of operation it was known as kyderbypicks.com. The web site, now called TheDowneyProfile.com, is currently its fifth season of operation.

The connection of TheDowneyProfile.com to Bloodhorse.com is the brainchild of Ron Mitchell, BloodHorse.com online editor. Mitchell provided Downey with a blend of support and healthy skepticism during the developmental years of the Downey Profile.

Downey has been involved in racing partnerships. The first was with Team Valor and the ill-fated Rodman. Since then, he's focused on more local ventures, the most successful one involving Techno Vision, a filly who was outstanding in the claiming ranks in Kentucky, and who was retired with a pulled suspensory ligament after winning five of 16 career starts and paying her own way.

Downey has become completely hooked and attends the Kentucky Derby and Preakness annually, the Breeders' Cup regularly, and along with his wife, the ever-patient Cindy, he regularly attends racing meets at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Ellis Park, Gulfstream Park, Calder, Tampa Bay Downs, Saratoga, and, last but not least, the fall meet at Kentucky Downs, where he was bestowed the "Prestigious Perfect Attendance Award" by track manager Ryan Driscoll. He and Cindy have ventured overseas to attend the Budweiser Irish Derby and the Arc d'Triomphe.

Downey earned his undergraduate degree at Davidson College and attended the University of Kentucky College of Law, graduating from there in 1977. He has continuously practiced law since then. As for The Downey Profile, he’s self-taught.

Winooski, VT:
Hi Dick, thanks for taking the time in answering our questions. When handicapping the Derby, what should we look for in finding that longshot that will hit the board? Last year Bluegrass Cat killed my exotics...and he had some disappointing preps, so betting him made no sense to me. Was that a fluke? How can I spot a Bluegrass Cat this year? Also, should morning workouts the two weeks before be taken under to serious consideration? Last year Barbaro was running lights out in his morning workouts. Thanks and good luck.

Bluegrass Cat followed a pattern that two other notable Kentucky Derby runners have followed in the last 12 runnings.

1995, Thunder Gulch: Won the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby. Shipped north, ran a bad fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes. Won the Kentucky Derby at 24-1 odds.

2001, Monarchos: Won the Florida Derby. Shjpped north, finished second in the Wood Memorial to Congaree. My friend said, “Stick a fork in him, he’s done.” Won the Kentucky Derby at 10-1 odds.

2005: Florida Derby moved from mid-March to five weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

2006, Bluegrass Cat: Won the Sam F. Davis Stakes, second in the Tampa Bay Derby. Shipped north, finished a bad fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Second in the Kentucky Derby at 30-1 odds.

Thunder Gulch ranked first in both categories of the Downey Profile. Monarchos ranked second in the Total Points category, first in the Performance Points Only category. Bluegrass Cat ranked poorly in both categories. I didn’t have him, either, but I should have. I didn’t recognize the importance of the races in Tampa, didn’t see that he met the pattern until it was too late.

Regarding your question about morning workouts, the answer is yes.

Revere, MA:
Hi Dick, What would you suggest as a start to someone just learning the handicapping game? There are so many angles and systems and books, making it more confusing. Is there one solid foundation you would recommend? Thank for your time. Chris

I could recommend a certain product for the Kentucky Derby.

Also, watch, listen and learn. And read a lot.

If you are just now beginning, watch as many races as you can. Write down mythical bets. Don’t use real money yet. After the race is over, look back at the PP’s and see if what happened makes any sense. Sometimes results make sense, sometimes they don’t. Go to the track with experienced horse players who don’t mind talking about what they are thinking.

Watertown, MN:
Given Ravel's anticipated two 2007 preps and four career starts going into the Kentucky Derby, below average pace figures and Todd Pletcher's somewhat disappointing record in the Triple Crown, why does anyone take this horse seriously as one of the favorites for the first Saturday in May?

Because he was impressive winning the Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 mile; because he was sired by Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus; because he’s owned by solid horsemen Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith; because Pletcher wins a lot of races; and I’m sure there are other reasons.

Not only would Ravel have only four career starts in your scenario, he’d have only two at age three. In the 1940’s, this must have been vogue. Shut Out (1942), Count Fleet (1943), Hoop, Jr. (1945) and Jet Pilot (1947) all won the Derby off two 3-year-old starts. The next such horse, and the last one to do it, was Sunny’s Halo (1983).

Of course, you probably already know the last horse to win the Derby off four career starts was Exterminator (1918).

Leesburg, VA:
Do you think Smarty cares?

Smarty don’t care. Source: Handicapper Mike “Cheap Speed” Pearson.

Seattle, WA:
Love the profile, but isn't it time to jettison dosage as a factor as well as a concept?

I don’t think so. But for those who agree with you, the Performance Points Only category of the Downey Profile jettisons all dosage factors.

Actually, I discarded “Dosage Index of 3.00 or less” as a factor in the Total Points category before last year’s Derby. Horses in my 34-year study with an index over 3.00 had become just as likely to win as those at 3.00 or less.

Ft. Pierce, FL:
What are your thoughts on how different "man made" track surfaces will alter the Road to the Roses in upcoming years?

For now, I think it will alter trainers’ decisions on where to run preps. In the future, most of the preps will probably occur on synthetic surfaces. Whether the Kentucky Derby will ever be run on a synthetic track is anyone’s guess. Time changes things.

Louisville, KY:
As a 1L at U of L it’s great to have you as an example of someone that can enjoy racing and being a lawyer. I was wondering if you've made any "tweaks" to your system due to the sudden prevalence of synthetic racing surfaces?

I haven’t. My Profile is a qualitative analysis based on history.

However, let me say this. Before this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, I did a short study covering two days of racing at Churchill Downs: Day 1 (Sunday before the Cup) and Day 3 (Thursday). On Day 2 (Wednesday), the Churchill track was sloppy. There was no racing on Monday or Tuesday.

On those two days, 67 horses raced at Churchill Downs that had last competed on Polytrack at Keeneland. Considering conditions of the races, and applying my own subjective view, I found six horses that significantly improved going from Polytrack to dirt. Eleven regressed. But 50 of 67 ran fairly formfully.

Anecdotally, the top three finishers in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile were the same horses, just in a little different order. Spun Sugar ran relatively poorly on Polytrack in her Breeders’ Cup prep at Keeneland, and that didn’t change in the Distaff at Churchill.

Atlanta, GA:
One of the treats for so many people over the years, while visiting Churchill Downs and Keeneland, was always watching Pat Day ride. Do you see any jockey who you would consider likely to take over his crown? What is Pat doing these days? Haven't seen much coverage of him on the Breeders' Cup or Triple Crown TV coverage. Thanks for answering.

Looking at young riders, I’m a fan of Rafael Bejarano and Julien Leparoux.

Freehold, NJ:
Loved reading your bio -- especially the "self-taught" part! Is there any talk of adding a new stat to handicapping information -- whether a colt has been gelded since his last race? I've been burned several times recently by an unlikely winner that moved up dramatically. When the trainer or owner was interviewed, they said "I guess cutting him made a huge difference. He's a totally focused horse now." That would be tremendously helpful to the betting public. Thanks

They don’t do that to Kentucky Derby runners just before the Derby, and we all knew that Funny Cide had been gelded an appreciable time before the Derby. But for general handicapping purposes, I agree with you. It would be good handicapping info to have. A great example of your issue was U D Ghetto’s win last year in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park.

Eastpointe, MI:
Dick, love The Profile, great info. I was wondering your thoughts on a McGee horse named Dubious Miss. He won only at six furlongs, but from 13 lengths back to first was impressive. Think he may stretch out? Also, your take on Hard Spun. Thanks, VL.

Dubious Miss, a colt with an odd name, has raced only that one time, and it happened in late October. He’s been working well lately, but a Derby run appears unlikely at this point, at least to me. He looks like he could go a mile no problem. I note that Dubious Miss is entered Saturday at Turfway in a $25,000 allowance race going one mile.

Hard Spun was literally hung out to dry in the Southwest. I’m not sure I buy the theory he didn’t like the track that day. He’d loved that track during two previous workouts. I think he lost the race when he didn’t get clear early. Frankly, I was surprised that didn’t happen. He’d shown great early speed in previous races, and this race was only a mile, albeit at two turns. Teuflesberg was allowed to set moderate fractions out front.

Peabody, MA:
Dick, First I want to thank you for the invaluable insight you provide with your web site. You are the best. My question is, do you sometimes feel pressure to give the public something other than the obvious favorite in your picks?

Nope. I just try to call ‘em as I see ‘em. I picked Imawildandcrazyguy in the Risen Star off a 15-1 morning line, and he ran a good second. I explicitly picked against Teuflesberg in the Southwest, and he won at 23-1, so go figure.

Glendale, AZ:
Hi Dick. Simple question. Do you think that the trainers who are using the "2 races prior to the Derby" pattern are shortchanging their horses’ chances in terms of laying a solid foundation for the race, and how many of these trainers are really focusing on the Triple Crown and not just the Derby?? Love your column, this is my 3rd year with you.

I don’t second-guess experienced horse trainers. I’ll just say that it’s my observation that sometimes, not always, this route to the Kentucky Derby is taken by necessity, not choice. I believe that sometimes such horses have issues about which we, the public, are not made aware. And there’s no law that says we are entitled to that information. However, I would prefer it if the info were given out.

Marco Island, FL:
Aside from class, past performance, post and track bias (among others) I've always found the trainer and his or her form are the most important factors on selection in the Derby (or anywhere else). Any thoughts?

My gut reaction is to say that the last eight runnings of the Kentucky Derby have been won by eight different trainers. But they are all quality trainers. And there’s nothing like having a good horse.

Chapel Hill, NC:
Do you put your money where your picks are? Have you been successful with Downey Profile picks?

I had the Funny Cide/Empire maker exacta several times. I loaded up on Smarty Jones. Overall, Afleet Alex made me money. I had Giacomo all over my exotics tickets but didn’t have Closing Argument at 71-1. Last year, I messed up and didn’t pick Barbaro. I got on this Bob and John kick that I still can’t fully explain, except to say he was a Top Four in the Profile and was trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. Barbaro was also a Top Four horse in the Profile.

But to answer your question: Yes. The best hit was staying with Medaglia d’Oro, ranked number one in the Downey Profile for the Derby, in the Belmont. After he busted in the Preakness, he was 16-1 in the Belmont, and I was lucky enough to have seen a visually impressive Sarava in the Sir Barton. I had that Belmont exacta, a $2,400+ exacta, twice. This is the Holy Grail we all seek.

Chicago, IL:
First, thank you for some great work. You've provided some additional enjoyment and insight to Derby mania. What types of speed figures do your formulate into your overall assessment of the horses (Beyer, BRIS, Equibase) And, as a follow-up, how are you accounting for the all-weather surface and the figures currently being derived for those races by the above mentioned speed figure sources. Thank you very much

I use one factor in the Downey Profile that incorporates Beyer Speed Figures. The factor says that the horse has run a triple-digit Beyer in each of its final two preps.

Beyers have been published for the last 15 runnings of the Derby. Eight winners have come from 64 starters with the factor. Seven winners have come from 200 starters without the factor.

I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a reason to modify Beyer ratings that come from synthetic surfaces.

Orange, CA:
Why was it decided that a horse would be ready at 3 years of age to enter the Kentucky Derby; why not 4 when the physical attributes would be more complete and perhaps stronger resulting in less injuries?

The decision was made before the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, based on long-standing English tradition.

Fargo, ND:
Thanks for giving us your time today. I was recently in Vegas and had the opportunity to do some future betting for the '07 Derby. I will keep my picks a secret, however a buddy had me place a $50 wager on The Green Monkey at 75-1. Is there any chance this big money horse is going to run? I haven't heard anything about it other than its $16M price tag and an injury. What are your thoughts?

Barring a miracle of epic proportions, The Green Monkey will not race in the 2007 Kentucky Derby!

Grove City, OH:
What are your thoughts on a couple of horses I am following? Adore the Gold and Hard Spun. I can't figure out the latter. Did he have a excuse in the Southwest?

Hard Spun’s excuses for his fourth-place finish in the Southwest are: (1) He broke from post 9 and got hung wide, (2) he didn’t like the track, and (3) it was the first time he was behind horses. That’s a whole lot of excuses. Smarty Jones broke from post 11 and won the Arkansas Derby. Hard Spun worked very well at Oaklawn before the Southwest. It was the first time he’d raced behind horses. I think he lost that race in the first 100 yards.

Adore the Gold is a May 30 foal, and so his performances to date show good maturity. Derby-winning foal date information only goes back to 1954, and there is no data for six of those 53 years, but the data for the remaining 47 years reveals six winners foaled in May.

San Francisco, CA:
What are trainers thinking when they run a good horse only twice before the Derby? Don't young horses need the work?

I don’t think this is always a matter of choice for trainers. There’s more about this in another answer.

Little Rock, AK:
Which horse (of the bigger horses in the country) do you believe is being pointed toward the Arkansas Derby?

Other than the ones already based at Oaklawn or that raced in the Southwest Stakes…. Notional might go there; plans are up in the air. By process of elimination, and without talking about every possible scenario, Nobiz Like Shobiz won’t be there unless there’s a major change of plan. Anything is possible with Bill Currin and Stormello. Great Hunter is probably pointing to the Blue Grass. Birdbirdistheword was said earlier to be going there, too. Circular Quay is back in California and can be sent wherever connections want. Ravel looks to be in the Santa Anita Derby. Street Sense is unlikely in Arkansas. Any Given Saturday doesn’t appear to be going there. Zanjero is trained by Steve Asmussen, who has plenty of Arkansas experience. He could show up there.

Villa Hills, KY:
Dick, As of Wednesday (2/28), Any Given Saturday hasn't worked out yet. Any concern, or is this normal? Also any concern that he is running his last prep on Polytrack at Keeneland in the Blue Grass? Or will this help him?

Well, he raced on the 17th of February, so the fact he’s not worked 11 days later isn’t of concern to me. Polytrack seems to be helping horses, so that’s not a concern to me.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
I believe this year’s 3-year-olds are a very good bunch...Your thoughts? Even though it's winter time at the Big A, I was very impressed with Summer Doldrums’ race. Can he rate and can he get the Derby distance?

Summer Doldrums ran a great race. Yes, I think he can rate. By Street Cry, he has a shot at the distance. He’s the second foal out of Dance for Dixie, whose first foal didn’t start a race.

It looks like we’ll see him next in the Gotham. Before I get too excited about him for the Kentucky Derby, though, he has to make some graded earnings! He’ll get his chance soon.

Fort Worth, TX:
Street Senses latest workout for 6F was recorded at 1:11:07 on 2/27. His gallop out to 7f gave him a final SMOKING 34.47 (sic). WOW!!! Is it too early to compare him to Captain Bodgit?

I think it is. The Captain had won the Florida Derby by mid-March, 1997.

Ewa Beach, HI:
What's your take on Visa pulling the $5 million bonus on the Triple Crown? Also, what are the effects of Pimlico and NYRA not raising the purses of the last two legs of the Crown to match the Derby? Basically ... is the Triple Crown in trouble?

Visa must have decided that it was going to take too long to award the $5 million, so they moved their marketing in another direction.

The Triple Crown isn’t in trouble. Pimlico, and Maryland racing, is. I don’t think we’ll lose the Preakness, I’m concerned, from a tradition standpoint, that it’ll be moved to another track where shipping between legs of the Triple Crown would become more difficult.

Encinitas, CA:
If Ravel needs a lot of time between races, why does Pletcher have eight weeks between his last and next start and then only four weeks before the Derby, when he could pick the Lanes End or Florida Derby and give the horse one or two extra weeks before the Derby?

I can’t speak for trainer Pletcher. I’ve had a nagging feeling on a related matter, and that’s Barbaro. Last year, he raced on Jan. 1, five weeks later on Feb. 4, eight weeks later on April 1, and five weeks later in the Kentucky Derby. Then, two weeks later, he was in the Preakness. Just an observation.

Mandeville, LA:
Please update me on two 3-year olds. EZ Warrior had a 'minor foot problem'. Any chance we will see him on the work tab and/or race soon? Shermanesque showed some promise as a 2-year old, but then changed hands to Bill Mott and was never heard from since. Any word on him? Tom S.

I don’t know E Z Warrior’s day-to-day status, but since it’s been a month since his last workout, his chances of going in the Kentucky Derby have diminished.

Shermanesque hasn’t worked or raced since a second-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile on Sept. 30.

Harrodsburg, KY:
I really enjoy your website. Do you have any news on the status of Belgravia? Is he officially off the Derby Trail? Thanks

Thanks, I appreciate it. Upon working out on Feb. 15, Belgravia was reported to have bled badly with a lung infection. Trainer Biancone downplayed the incident, but in my opinion, there is only a small chance Belgravia will be in the 2007 Derby. There is no official word out on that.

Louisville, KY:
Have you quantified every factor you need to go strictly by your numbers, or are there times, especially if it's a close call, where you utilize intangibles? If so, what are some examples?

All factors are weighted by completely objective means. I think this is what makes the Downey Profile unique. The ultimate objective is to narrow down the Derby field to a Top Four, thus eliminating 80% of the field from the winner’s circle. In the last 34 years, application of the Profile yields the winner coming from the Top Four 26 times.

The subjective part comes in selecting the winner from the Top Four. So, to answer your question, an example is Smarty Jones, who vaulted to fourth in the Profile when he won the Arkansas Derby. He was my explicit pick to win because he had a will to win and the means to do it, no matter the circumstances.

A horse in this year’s crop that has a winning attitude is Nobiz Like Shobiz. He is a dude. So, let’s see how he does Saturday. The matchup with Stormello looks pretty exciting.

Decatur, Il:
What information do you have on Mandurah and St. Paul? Love your web site.

Thank you.

Saint Paul has been working scary fast for trainer Baffert. He looks to be the horse to which trainer O’Neill recently referred when he said Great Hunter might be at the mercy of the pace in the Robert B. Lewis this Saturday.

Mandurah isn’t really on my radar, but broke his maiden in his debut, at Gulfstream on Jan. 13. He was made 5-2 in a follow-up allowance on Feb. 11, but finished seventh, beaten 9 3/4 lengths by Delightful Kiss. Mandurah has worked twice since then, most recently a breeze yesterday, five in 1:03.

Teaneck, NJ:
What do you think of Forefathers?

I think he is one tough cookie, but I have doubts about whether he can get 1 1/4 mile.

Cincinnati, OH:
Hi Dick, I enjoy reading your column. Just wondered what is going on with Nick Zito? I haven't heard about any Derby prospects for him. Thanks

He has Forefathers, but Triple Crown-wise, it’s been a slow year for him, especially compared to 2005.

Scottsdale, AZ:
Dick: Love your stuff. How much time to you spend on the road looking at Derby contenders? What races do you try to attend?

I go to the Holy Bull each year and am going to the Fountain of Youth Saturday. In recent years, I’ve seen several Swale’s and Hutcheson’s. I love going to Tampa Bay Downs for the Sam F. Davis. I usually attend the Lane’s End and I’m always at Keeneland for the Blue Grass, except in 2004, I went to Oaklawn with Cheap Speed and a couple of other guys to see Smarty. I’ve been to several Louisiana Derbies in recent years, and I usually get up to Keeneland for the Last-Chance-at-the-Derby, the Coolmore Lexington.

Franklin, KY:
Dick, more of a comment than a question. Thanks for being one of my best friends, advisors and supporters since I arrived at Kentucky Downs over six years ago. I get a kick out of your enthusiasm for doing the website and contributing to the Blood-Horse. I know you don't bet often, and I know the hundreds of hours that you put into the website, so it must be an absolute love of the sport that keeps you going. Explain what it takes to keep the Downey Profile current and how you motivate yourself to do it.

Hello, Ryan Driscoll. It takes a lot of work, a love of the sport, and the patience of my wife, Cindy. I love the mystery of the Kentucky Derby. Aside from that, I keep doing this to see where it will lead next, which is fun.

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