Simon Says: What to Make of the Kentucky Derby Preps

Kentucky Derby Preps That Are Safe to Ignore

Starting in about two weeks, the real Kentucky Derby preps begin — the 170-point affairs that not only assure the winners a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May, but also serve (in most cases) as the horses’ final tune-up.

Yet, over the years, some of those prep races have been — what is the word I’m looking for? — oh yeah, atrocious.

Take, for example, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, which is slated to be run on April 7. Since 1997, Blue Grass entrants making their final pre-Derby starts are 1-for-81 in the Run for the Roses — and zip-for-52 when the race has been run on real dirt, as will be the case again this year. Worse (or better, depending on one’s perspective), the Blue Grass has produced more Derby starters (18) over the past five years than any other final prep race.


Another prep race that has been worse than woeful is the Louisiana Derby, which has never seen a Kentucky Derby champ use it as a final prep, although three LA Derby entrants did go on to win in Louisville after making their final prep elsewhere, including Funny Cide (2003) Grindstone (1996) and Black Magic (1924).

How Good Is Promises Fulfilled? 

I have long lamented that the days of the “jock with the clock” in his/her head is a thing of the past and nowhere was that more evident than in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 3. Give trainer Dale Romans all the credit in the world — it was his idea to send eventual winner Promises Fulfilled right to the front — but how in the world do the connections of Strike Power, who was stretching out from seven furlongs, let him (Promises Fulfilled, not Romans) waltz through an opening half-mile in 48.39 seconds?

I know Joel Rosario got criticized for his ride aboard Storm Runner, but he appeared to be the only rider that even sniffed the ridiculously slow pace when he tried to squeeze through a non-existent opening on the rail, only to get rebuffed — twice.


As for what this race says about the Kentucky Derby picture in Florida? I fear it says very little. Promises Fulfilled did show some nice pep down the lane — the -4 late speed ration he earned was tied for the best of the day on what seemed to be a tiring GP main track — but he still has to prove that he can handle Kentucky Derby splits or come from off the pace. Because, right now, I wouldn’t bet him with monopoly money if he’s in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

And Good Magic, last year’s juvenile champ? Frankly, he got his preferred trip and he simply had no answer down the lane. Trainer Chad Brown said he got tired and it was his first start of the year, but it didn’t exactly get the pulse racing, did it?

Speed Rations Explained

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.