Believe it or not, we are just NINE weeks away from The 2017 Kentucky Derby®! With the Road to the Derby in full flow, punters are beginning to form opinions on where their hard-earned money should be wagered come May 6th.
At present, Girvin, winner of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, tops the leaderboard, with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire a close second. At the top of the betting, Holy Bull Stakes winner Irish War Cry is presently the 11/4 favorite for the Derby.
Ahead of the first leg of the Triple Crown™ at Churchill Downs®, we dissect the last 25 years of prep races to see if there is a trend in recognizing a potential winner for America’s biggest race.
Like everything, trends and methods have changed over the years. When taking in the past 10 winners of the race, eight of the ten made just two starts prior to the Derby, where previously every winner from 1990 to 2005 had three starts or more, with half that number making four.
The most influential prep race has been the Florida Derby (April 1 this year). The race has produced seven Kentucky Derby® winners in the last 25 years, including Nyquist in 2016 and Orb in 2013. The 2017 edition seems as if it will procure another strong contingent of Kentucky Derby® hopefuls, with market leaders Irish War Cry, Gunnevera, and Classic Empire all possible.
California has been a hotbed in producing Bluegrass winners of late (the last three), so their prep races should not be discounted. The Santa Anita Derby (April 8) was won by the mercurial California Chrome (2014) and I’ll Have Another (2012), both of whom fell at the final hurdle in their quest of a Triple Crown™. With the Golden State strongly represented this year in Gormley and Mastery among others, the San Felipe (March 11) has also proven it can catapult its winners into stardom (Chrome won here, along with Giacomo in 2005).
While Florida and California have long been a touted route for success before the Derby, the Arkansas Derby (April 15 this year) has sent five runners on to win the Kentucky Derby®, including 2015 Triple Crown™ hero American Pharoah. Smarty Jones, who was a length short of winning the 2004 Triple Crown™, took the same route. Both horses won the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby before winning the Derby. This year’s second-favorite for the Derby, Uncontested, who won the Smarty Jones, is expected to be take part in the Arkansas Derby.
The Road Less Taken
The last Kentucky Derby winner to come out of a New York prep race was Funny Cide in 2003. El Areeb, currently fourth in the Road to the Derby standings following wins at both the Jerome Stakes and the Withers Stakes (both took place at Aqueduct,) represents hope to improve that record, though he may not compete in the Wood Memorial (April 8).
The Tampa Bay Derby (March 11) has also produced two Kentucky Derby® winners, Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver in 2010. Highly-touted McCraken may remain at Tampa Bay Downs for his Derby prep this year, so the race may add a third horse to that list.
Though there are exceptions to the rule, such as Mine That Bird who won the 2009 Sunland Derby, the tried and tested (Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby) have a lineage of producing Derby winners, and will give race fans the best indication of who will prevail in the Run of the Roses.
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