This is a number that defines middle age to some, when you wake up and something else hurts. It is also the number of days and nights that it rained after Noah built his ark or, if you live in New Jersey, the number of days in a row it will rain this spring.
40 is also the number of fillies that have started in the Kentucky Derby.
And that’s a number that isn’t likely to change for a long time. Of the 40 fillies to start in the Kentucky Derby, three have won, two have placed and five managed to show.
Up through 1959 it wasn’t that uncommon to find a filly in the Kentucky Derby. From 1875 through 1959, there were 30 fillies who went to post. While underwhelming given the total number of starters, one or two appeared every couple of years.
After 1959, the next filly to start was 21 years later. In 1980, Genuine Risk became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby since Regret in 1915. Once again, every couple of years, a filly would be entered, including the 1988 winner, Winning Colors, with the last being Devil May Care, who finished tenth in 2010.
In 2013, a point-qualifying system was introduced to determine the runners in the Kentucky Derby. This point system will likely be the end of a precocious filly not only winning, but entering, the Kentucky Derby. Under the current system, fillies would need to run with the boys earlier, either late in their two-year-old campaign or early in their three-year-old campaign.
Conceivably, a filly would not be ready to run against the boys at two years old. She would need to be precocious enough to win a prep season race early in her three-year-old campaign with a solid showing in either or both legs of the Championship Series if she doesn’t win one to lock up 50 or more points in one shot. While the points would also carryover towards qualifying for the Kentucky Oaks, it is a risky proposition that would take the filly off their path to the Kentucky Oaks.
This is a risk many horsemen don’t want to take.
Even locking up early points during the prep season would be a gamble since some Kentucky Derby winners don’t earn points until the final prep. In four of the last 19 Kentucky Derbies, there have been four winners that prepared for their final prep in an entry level allowance race (N1X). A filly may find herself on the outside looking in with a prep season win for 10 points and two respectable finishes in the two legs of the Championship Series.
Given the number of points that the last qualifying entrant has earned recently, before considering also-eligible entries, a filly would likely need to earn at least 30 points to be in consideration.
Since 2013, only one filly has amassed enough qualifying points to be considered for a guaranteed post in the Kentucky Derby. Rayya finished second in the UAE Derby in 2018 which earned her 40 points. She bypassed the race and ran in the Kentucky Oaks.
In 2018, Paved won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate, earning her 10 points towards the Kentucky Derby and did not run in the Kentucky Oaks.
Even the great Rachel Alexandra was not under consideration to run against the boys until after she dominated with a 20-1/4 length victory in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and was sold to Stonestreet Stables.
While not impossible, it is becoming less probable that we’ll see another filly run in the Kentucky Derby. Horses of this caliber are running less leading up to the first Friday/Saturday in May, regardless of sex. Fillies also risk losing out on the Kentucky Oaks payday, which is a huge financial gamble that many horsemen don’t seem to want to take.
What do you think?