How to pick an Epsom Derby winner: controversial new research

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  • Want to pick a sure-fire Epsom Derby winner? Then choose a horse that is short in the odds, is Irish-bred, has been ridden by only one jockey, has won at least twice as a two-year old — and pay no attention to breeding.

    Controversial? Yes. But that’s the recipe for success according to researchers Dr David Marlin, Jane Williams and Dr Tim Parkin. The team have carried out a study that they claim will enable racegoers to predict which horse will romp to victory at the 231st Derby at Epsom on Saturday.

    Marlin, Williams and Parkin used epidemiological (study of disease) techniques, normally used to predict injury and illness risks in horses, to come up with their winning formula. This is the first time these techniques have been used in this way.

    The results revealed that horses starting the race as favourite were 4.8 times more likely to win than those that did not. For every win as a two-year old, the likelihood of the horse winning the Epsom Derby was multiplied by 1.5. Horses foaled in Ireland were 2.8 times more likely to win the race than horses foaled elsewhere. While horses that had been ridden by the same jockey throughout their career were 2.5 times more likely to win the race than horses ridden by multiple jockeys.

    Breeding is not important

    In a startling conclusion, Marlin, Williams and Parkin concluded that: “breeding was not found to be significantly associated with the likelihood of winning the Epsom Derby.”

    The authors promise that their findings do improve the odds of choosing a winner and “represent a significant improvement on the approximately 6% chance of picking a winner at random.”

    The trio, all specialists in animal health, examined data on all 344 horses competing in the Derby between 1988 and 2009, paying particular attention to the winners. Information was collected from The Racing Post website, trainer and stud websites. The range of data included: sire, dam, and ‘grand-parents’; date and location of foaling; date and age at first race; racing career performance preceding the Derby; number of jockeys in career; number and type of trainers in career; and even the distance travelled to Epsom!

    Who will win the Derby?

    So which horse or horses running in the 2010 Derby fulfill Marlin, Williams and Parkin’s criteria most closely?

    “Our model supported St Nicolas Abbey’s position at the head of the betting prior to being withdrawn from the race [on Tuesday due to a muscle injury]. He fulfilled the criteria associated with an increased chance of success.

    “The current favourite Jan Vermeer (2-1) now has the best chance in the race according to our model. He is four times more likely to win than the next horse in our prediction and six times more likely to win than Sir Michael Stoute’s Workforce (currently second favourite at 5-1).

    “Our model has Midas Touch with only a very slim chance, despite being currently third in the betting. If Jan Vermeer does not run a good race, then a surprise winner according to our model could be At First Sight, currently an outsider at 150-1.”

    Twelve runners are expected to line up on Saturday after the final declaration stage today when Bright Horizon and Cape Blanco were also ruled out. On Monday (31 May) Godolphin added £150,000 to the £1.25m prize fund by supplementing both Rewilding and Buzzword £75,000 each to run in the race.

    The Derby runners at Epsom

    1. Al Zir, ridden by K Fallon, trained by S Bin Suroor
    2. At First Sight, S Heffernen, A O’Brien
    3. Azmeel, W Buick, J Gosden
    4. Bullet Train, T Queally, H Cecil
    5. Buzzword, A Ajtebi, M Al Zarooni
    6. Coordinated Cut, J Spencer, M Bell
    7. Hot Prospect, P Robinson, M Jarvis
    8. Jan Vermeer, J Murtagh, A O’Brien
    9. Midas Touch, C O’Donghue, A O’Brien
    10. Rewilding, F Dettori, M Al Zarooni
    11. Ted Spread, M Hills, M Tompkins
    12. Workforce, R Moore, Sir M Stoute

    • Follow the highs and lows of the Derby meeting at Epsom on Horseandhound.co.uk with reports and blog from H&H’s racing editor Catherine Austen

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