Squeezing the Lemon Dry: What Speed Figures Can Tell Us About the Kentucky Derby

Horatio Luro (photo via horseracinghalloffame.com).

Horatio Luro (photo via horseracinghalloffame.com).

Horatio Luro, the dashing Argentinian trainer who saddled the great Northern Dancer, is credited with a phrase that has become a Triple Crown mantra over the years.

“Don’t squeeze the lemon dry,” Luro said, referring to the fact that a “fresh” horse is needed to withstand the rigors of competing in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Yet, knowing when a horse is “over the top” (another cute racing phrase) is easier said than done. One quick and easy way that I’ve found to identify stale runners (or horses likely to regress), is by examining their speed figures. In both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, it is a decidedly negative sign to show a vastly improved speed rating last time out. In fact, it is generally a no-no to show much variance at all.

In the last 25 years, no horse has won in Louisville after recording a last-race Brisnet speed figure (BSF) that was more than 10 points better — or worse — than the one preceding it.


Note: Statistics compiled from 1992-2016. 

This year, there are several contenders that history says will bounce in the Bluegrass State, including a couple of highly-rated entrants:

  • Irish War Cry (+26)
  • Always Dreaming (+18)
  • J Boys Echo (-11)
  • Tapwrit (-14)
  • Hence (+17)
  • Royal Mo (+17)