Late-Running Longshots Key to Derby Superfecta

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

Question: What do Commanding Curve, Golden Soul, Went the Day Well, Make Music for Me, Mine That Bird, Denis of Cork, Imawildandcrazyguy, Jazil, Giacomo, and Don’t Get Mad all have in common?

If you answered "They all finished in the Kentucky Derby superfecta at gigantic odds," you are correct—each of the above-mentioned runners hit the board in the Derby superfecta, and all did so at odds of 27-1 or higher. But even more important is the fact that they all achieved this feat by settling at the back of the pack and making up ground late in the race.

Believe it or not, nine of the last ten Kentucky Derbies have seen a surprising longshot (or two!) rally at gigantic odds for a spot in the superfecta. And if you leave out the "longshot" caveat, almost every Derby since 1993 has seen at least one deep closer finish in the superfecta.

This bears repeating—since 1993, all but two renewals of the Kentucky Derby (2011 and 2002) have had a deep closer finish in the top four. Exactly why this has been the case is open to some debate, but the result is clear—if you want to win the Derby superfecta, you had better have some deep closing colts (preferably of the longshot variety) on your ticket.

With this in mind, here are four late-running longshots to consider in this year’s Kentucky Derby. They may not have the flashy credentials of their more favored counterparts, but history suggests that at least one of these colts will be in the mix at the end of the Run for the Roses.

El Kabeir

Since transforming himself from a front runner/pace presser into a deep closer, El Kabeir has been looking more and more like a Derby contender. From a Beyer speed figure perspective, he seems to have reached his peak—in four of his last five starts he’s earned figures in the 93-95 range. But he’s also got some major positives that warrant attention. We saw in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) that he has no trouble handling a sloppy track and isn’t bothered by kick-back or running in between horses. And in the Wood Memorial, we saw that he can finish well at the end of a race—he ran the final three furlongs in about :37.10, a respectable time, albeit with the aid of a tailwind in the homestretch.

On a fast track, El Kabeir probably isn’t fast enough to secure a spot in the Derby superfecta, but that could change over a sloppy surface. When the track is wet at Churchill, the rail tends to be the best part of the track, and with three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin "Bo-Rail" Borel scheduled to ride El Kabeir, I can envision the colt getting a perfect ground-saving trip and rallying up the rail to finish in the superfecta.

Far Right

If you’re thinking "Far Right shouldn’t be considered a Derby longshot!" you’re right—the late-running colt has compiled an admirable record this year, winning the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes (gr. III) before finishing second behind Derby favorite American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). But in a Derby as contentious as this one, I won’t be surprised at all if Far Right goes off at 20-1 or higher, and at that price, he’s definitely worth considering as a longshot for the superfecta.

In some respects, Far Right reminds me of Denis of Cork, who finished third in the 2008 Kentucky Derby at odds of 27-1. The colt did nothing wrong in the first three starts of his career, winning a maiden race and an allowance race in narrow fashion before rallying from 18 lengths back to win the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park. But after finishing fifth in the Illinois Derby (gr. II), Denis of Cork was overlooked in the Kentucky Derby, where he received a great ground-saving trip from Calvin Borel to finish third.

In the Derby, Far Right will retain the services of jockey Mike Smith, who didn't ride the colt aggressively in the Arkansas Derby once second place had been secured. With this fairly easy prep race under his belt, Far Right should have something left in the tank for the Kentucky Derby, and can definitely make an impact from off-the-pace at a solid price.

Keen Ice

He’s not quite in the Derby yet (he’s currently 21st on the list of point standings), but Keen Ice is a colt that you won’t want to count out if he makes the starting gate. Although he finished fourth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) after previously running third in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II), I actually think this colt is on an upward trajectory heading into the Derby. In the Risen Star, he took advantage of a fast pace to rally for third, but in the Louisiana Derby, the pace was much slower—he was in last place after a half-mile in :48.59 and had only one horse beaten after six furlongs in 1:13.27. As a result of the slow pace, the leaders finished strongly in the homestretch, running the final three furlongs in about :37 2/5. During this timeframe, Keen Ice was rallying on the extreme outside and losing ground on the final turn, yet despite this obstacle, he still finished well to grab fourth place while losing only a length through the final three furlongs. As a son of Curlin out of an Awesome Again mare, he should relish the added distance of the Derby, and the expected fast pace should be to his liking as well. Also, the lone victory of his career thus far came at Churchill Downs, so at least we know he likes the track. If the race falls apart in the final half-mile, expect to see him charging at the finish with an eye on the superfecta.


Here’s another colt that’s not officially in the Derby yet (currently ranked 22nd), but if he draws into the race, I think he has a terrific chance. In the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), Frammento raced far behind a modest early pace and spent the entire race running along the rail, which was not the best part of the track. Despite these obstacles, Frammento did rally well to finish fourth, beaten just 7 ¼ lengths by Carpe Diem. Just like Keen Ice, he should appreciate the extra distance and fast pace of the Derby, and trainer Nick Zito thinks very highly of him. Under the right circumstances, I think he’ll be in the mix at a big price, and I would even consider playing him for second in exactas if he trains well during the coming days.

Are there any late-running longshots that you are considering in the Kentucky Derby?


In order to aid in handicapping the Derby, here is a current list of the top 22 Derby contenders, along with the replays of their last three races. Also, here are links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

Horse Points Last race
International Star 171

1st Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)

Dortmund 170 1st Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Carpe Diem 164 1st Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
American Pharoah 160 1st Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
Frosted 113 1st Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4th Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Mubtaahij 100 1st UAE Derby (UAE-II) (VIDEO)
1st Al Bastakiya Stakes (replay posted below)
2nd UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) (replay posted below)
Materiality 100 1st Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Islamorada Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
El Kabeir 95 3rd Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Upstart 76 2nd Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd (DQ'd from 1st) Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Far Right 62 2nd Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)
Itsaknockout 60 4th Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st (via DQ) Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
Firing Line 58

1st Sunland Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)

Danzig Moon 45 2nd Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4th Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
War Story 44 3rd Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Tencendur 41 2nd Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5th Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4th Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Stanford 40 2nd Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Islamorada Handicap (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
Mr. Z 34 3rd Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
9th Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
3rd Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Ocho Ocho Ocho 30 3rd Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
8th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Bolo 30 3rd Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3rd San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Eddie Logan Stakes (VIDEO)
Madefromlucky 30 4th Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
Keen Ice 22 4th Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
4th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
5th Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Frammento 20 4th Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3rd Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
6th Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)

Al Bastakiya Stakes

UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III)

Recent Posts

More Blogs