By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
During the last ten days, we have had the good fortune to witness two highly impressive performances from a pair of up-and-coming Kentucky Derby contenders, Khozan and Prospect Park. The first-mentioned colt broke his maiden in dominating fashion at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO), while the latter overcame a bit of a troubled trip to win an allowance race at Santa Anita (VIDEO) with a powerful run in the homestretch. In the aftermath of their victories, they have risen to the forefront of the Kentucky Derby picture, with their fans eagerly anticipating their next starts and wondering if maybe—just maybe—they have what it takes to win the roses on the first Saturday in May.
But of course, whenever two promising Derby contenders emerge, the question "which horse is better?" naturally arises. And so, at the suggestion of an Unlocking Winners reader (thanks, Betty S!), I have prepared a comparison of the two colts, analyzing their strengths and potential weaknesses across four categories: pedigree, experience, running style, and speed figures. After examining the evidence, I’ll share my thoughts on which colt I think has the better chance of winning the Derby. So without further ado, let’s begin!
|March 13th, 2012
||March 20th, 2012|
|Dark bay or brown
In terms of pedigrees for classic distances, there’s little to dislike about either colt. Khozan’s sire is Distorted Humor, whose top progeny include Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Funny Cide and Belmont Stakes/Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer. Furthermore, Khozan’s dam is Delta Princess, making him a half-brother to three-time Eclipse champion Royal Delta, grade I winner Crown Queen, and the graded stakes-placed route runners Carnival Court and Empire Way. And of course, Khozan’s broodmare sire is A.P. Indy, an excellent source of stamina. For those who like to consider dosage, Khozan’s Dosage Profile is a strong 8-7-18-0-1 with a 2.40 Dosage Index and a +0.62 Center of Distribution.
Prospect Park’s pedigree is also strong. He is a son of Tapit, whose progeny as a whole have garnered a reputation for being better at eight or nine furlongs than ten and beyond, but he is also the sire of Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, so we know he can sire a top-class stayer when paired with the right mare. And from all appearances, Prospect Park’s dam, Quiet Romance, appears to be a suitable mate. An unraced daughter of Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Bertrando, Quiet Romance’s best foals include Proposed, a two-time grade II winner at a mile and a sixteenth, as well as Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) winner Silent Sighs. From a dosage perspective, Prospect Park has a Dosage Profile of 5-10-10-1-0 with a Dosage Index of 3.33 and a +0.73 Center of Distribution.
I believe both Khozan and Prospect Park have the ability to successful handle ten furlongs on the first Saturday in May, but if I have to choose one over the other, I will give the edge to Khozan thanks to the phenomenal success of his half-siblings in route races, including several at ten furlongs.
When it comes to experience, there can be little denying that one colt has a major advantage. Prospect Park has made five starts thus far, at distances ranging from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth, and has also run on both dirt and Polytrack. He has raced on the rail, in between horses, on the outside, and behind horses, where he has experienced having dirt kicked in his face. He’s raced around two turns on four occasions. He’s handled all this and more with aplomb, especially in his most recent start, in which he was blocked on the far turn before shifting out in the homestretch and powering away to win by 5 ¼ lengths. In my opinion, Prospect Park has thoroughly demonstrated that he is capable of handling the tough trips and traffic that are frequently encountered in the Kentucky Derby.
In contrast, Khozan has run just once, breaking his maiden sprinting seven furlongs around one turn at Gulfstream Park. There no doubt that this was a very strong performance, but it also came with a very easy trip—he broke from the far outside post position and stayed outside throughout the race, pressing the pace before taking command to win by nearly four lengths. Thus, we don’t yet know how he handles racing inside horses, or in between horses, or behind horses, as he might have to do in the Kentucky Derby. Furthermore, since Khozan did not run as a two-year-old, winning the Derby would make him the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Run for the Roses without having started as a juvenile—and that’s a lot of history to overcome! So in the experience category, I believe ProspectPark is a clear-cut winner.
Advantage: Prospect Park
This is an interesting category to consider. In his debut, Khozan flashed plenty of early speed, racing about a length behind fractions of :22.99 and :46.18 before taking over the lead to win convincingly. Time will tell exactly what Khozan’s best running style proves to be, because one start is a very small sample size, and for all we know, he might be better coming from a few lengths off the lead, or even going straight to the front and never looking back. But at this point, we have to assume that he is a pace presser/stalker.
On the other hand, Prospect Park—with five starts under his belt—has had an opportunity to demonstrate more variety in running style. In his allowance victory, Prospect Park settled a couple of lengths off the early pace before rallying to claim the lead in the homestretch, while in his maiden win (VIDEO), he was never more than a half-length back at any call and actually led for much of the race. This versatility is a valuable asset, enabling him to adapt to different pace scenarios, but given the fashion in which Prospect Park won his allowance race, I believe he will prove best when rallying from a few lengths off the lead.
Now, this is not to say that one running style is superior to another, but when it comes to the Kentucky Derby—where the large field and often unpredictable pace scenario can have a huge impact on the outcome—the ability to change running styles and settle into different parts of the field can be very important, and in this respect, I believe Prospect Park has an edge over Khozan.
Advantage: Prospect Park
In the speed figure department, much like the experience department, one colt has a notable advantage over the other. In his debut, Khozan stopped the clock for seven furlongs in 1:23.63, a very quick time over a track that was playing slowly. To put it in perspective, the talented stakes winner Barbados required 1:24.39 second to win the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream on the same afternoon. For his effort, Khozan was awarded a large Beyer speed figure of 102 and an equally impressive 103 BRIS Speed Rating. These numbers were both considerably larger than the figures of 92 (Beyer) and 95 (BRIS) earned by Prospect Park for his allowance victory.
Naturally, a lot can change as the months pass and these young horses continue to mature. Prospect Park has improved a great deal in his last few starts, and could certainly continue improving and earn higher speed figures in the future. So too could Khozan, although until we see how he fares in his next start, there’s always the chance that he could wind up a one-race sensation. But looking at the numbers as they stand right now, Khozan is a hands-down winner in this category.
Now it’s time to draw conclusions: After examining the evidence, which colt has a better chance of winning the Derby? While I believe that both colts are very talented and will win their fair share of stakes races, I have to side with Prospect Park as the better Derby contender. His pedigree is strong enough to suggest that ten furlongs is well within his range, and his racing experience and versatility of running style are definite advantages over Khozan. In the speed figure department, he will have to keep improving, but he has done so in leaps and bounds during the past couple of months, and I see no reason why he can’t continue to progress.
Now it’s your turn! Which colt do you think has the better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby?
In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!