Over the last twenty years, colts that have been victorious in the Kentucky Derby have followed a fairly specific training pattern. The majority of the Derby winners from 1990 – 2015 made their initial start as two year olds between June and October and won their maiden between August and September. The exceptions are California Chrome, who debuted in April of his two-year-old year; plus, Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos, who didn’t win their maiden race until the following January, although they did start the previous year. Seven of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners have competed in a stakes race as a two-year-old, seven of them in graded stakes. However, only four won a graded stakes as a juvenile.
Breeders’ Cup Jinx
The winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is normally installed as the future betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Avoid this horse like the plague. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has almost no bearing on the Kentucky Derby. Only two Kentucky Derby winners in twenty years have even raced in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — Street Sense won and Mine That Bird finished an undistinguished twelfth. One year, there will be another exception: perhaps Nyquist, this year’s Breeders’ Cup hero, will break the mold.
All but five of the last twenty Derby champs started their three-year-old season in January or February. Before 2007, our heroes participated in three or four preps before the big race. All of this changed dramatically in 2007 when Street Sense didn’t start his three-year-old season until March and had only two prep races. Seven of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners followed in the hoof-prints of Street Sense, participating in just two races before heading to the winner’s circle in Louisville. Orb and California Chrome are the only Kentucky Derby winners who made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.
All Kentucky Derby winners in the last ten years had a 1 1/8-mile prep as their final start before entering the Derby starting gate. Only two, Street Sense and Mine That Bird, didn’t win that prep. Seven of the last ten Derby champs exited either the Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby or Santa Anita Derby.
Final Prep of Derby Winner
2015 – Arkansas Derby
2014 – Santa Anita Derby
2013 – Florida Derby
2012 – Santa Anita Derby
2011 – Spiral Stakes
2010 – Arkansas Derby
2009 – Sunland Derby
2008 – Florida Derby
2007 – Blue Grass Stakes
2006 – Florida Derby
The playing field changed further in 2013 with the inception of the Kentucky Derby points. Points are awarded to the first four finishers of designated stakes races. Thirty-four races are included in the series, starting in September with the Iroquois Stakes and ending in mid-April with the Lexington Stakes.
It’s too soon to determine how much credence we can give to the juvenile races that are included in the new Kentucky Derby Points System. Nine races for two-year-olds are included in the structure, so 36 colts are awarded points. Here’s how the top four finishers in the 2013 through 2015 Kentucky Derbies fared in the designated two-year-old races:
1st: American Pharoah (10 points)
2nd: Firing Line (4 points)
3rd: Dortmund (10 points)
4th: Frosted (4 points)
1st: California Chrome (0 points)
2nd: Commanding Curve (0 points)
3rd: Danza (0 points)
4th: Wicked Strong (2 points)
1st: Orb (0 points)
2nd: Golden Soul (0 points)
3rd: Revolutionary (0 points)
4th: Normandy Invasion (4 points)
The top two-year-old point holders of 2013 and 2014 were nowhere to be found. The 2015 juvenile points leader Texas Red had to skip the Triple Crown due to injury.
Now we know the parameters for finding a Kentucky Derby winner:
- We’re looking for a colt who won their maiden race between August and November and who may have participated in a stakes race as a two-year-old, but not necessarily one of the designated Derby prep races. Our hero will likely make only two or three starts as a three-year-old. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
|Year||Horse||Broke Maiden||2YO Record||BC||Stakes Races||Graded stakes||1st 3YO Start Date||1st 3YO Race||# of Derby Preps|
|2015||American Pharoah||8/9/14||3-2-0-0||No||2-2-0-0||2-2-0-0||3/14/15||Rebel Stakes||2|
|2014||California Chrome||4/26/13||7-3-1-0||No||5-2-0-0||1-0-0-0||1/25/14||Cal Cup Derby||3|
|2012||I’ll Have Another||7/3/11||3-1-1-0||No||2-0-1-0||2-0-1-0||2/4/12||RB Lewis||2|
|2010||Super Saver||9/11/09||4-2-1-0||No||2-1-0-0||2-1-0-0||3/13/10||Tampa Bay Derby||2|
|2009||Mine That Bird||8/4/08||6-4-0-0||12||4-3-0-0||2-1-0-0||2/28/09||Borderland Derby||2|
|2007||Street Sense||8/19/06||5-2-1-2||1||3-1-0-2||3-1-0-2||3/17/07||Tampa Bay Derby||2|
|2006||Barbaro||10/4/05||2-2-0-0||No||1-0-0-0||0-0-0-0||1/1/06||Tropical Park Derby||3|
|2004||Smarty Jones||11/9/03||2-2-0-0||No||1-1-0-0||0-0-0-0||1/3/04||Count Fleet Stakes||4|
|2003||Funny Cide||9/8/02||3-3-0-0||No||2-2-0-0||0-0-0-0||1/18/03||Holy Bull||3|
|2002||War Emblem||10/4/01||3-2-0-0||No||0-0-0-0||0-0-0-0||1/26/02||Le Comte||4|
|1998||Real Quiet||10/18/97||9-2-0-5||No||3-1-0-2||2-1-0-1||1/18/98||GG Derby||3|
|1997||Silver Charm||8/24/96||3-2-1-0||No||1-1-0-0||1-1-0-0||2/8/97||San Vicente||3|