Finding the Kentucky Derby winner is getting tougher and tougher, as these three-year-olds prep less and come from all parts of the country seeking to win the historic Run for the Roses.
In years past we looked at each contenders pedigree and Dosage Index, and had plenty of past races to dissect in able to find a horse capable of handling 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday of May.
Now, many of the top contenders only race twice leading up to the Derby, giving us less information to go on.
However, with a twenty horse field and millions in the betting pools, the Kentucky Derby is one of the best betting races of the year.
Where Did They Come From?
The last nine Derby winners used seven different paths in their final prep for the first Saturday of May.
Last year’s Derby winner Super Saver used the Arkansas Derby, a year after Mine That Bird pulled off his shocker, using the Sunland Derby as his final Derby prep.
In previous years, Big Brown prepped in the Florida Derby, Street Sense used the Blue Grass at Keeneland over polytrack, Barbaro prepped in the Florida Derby, Giacomo exited the Santa Anita Derby, Smarty Jones won the Arkansas Derby, Funny Cide used the Wood Memorial, and War Emblem wired the field in the Illinois Derby.
Just four of the last nine Derby winners won their final prep.
Only two of those nine did not produce a top three finish in their final Derby prep, and they both lit up the toteboard on the first Saturday of May.
In 2005, Giacomo paid $102.60 to win and topped a superfecta that returned $864,253.50 after his fourth place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.
Mine That Bird followed up his fourth in the Sunland Derby with the upset in 2008, returning $103.20 and topping a superfecta that paid $557,006.40.
Over the past 19 years, here is where the Derby winner last prepped:
Wood Memorial: 4
Arkansas Derby: 4
Santa Anita Derby: 3
Blue Grass: 3
Florida Derby: 2
Illinois Derby: 1
Sunland Derby: 1
Frequent Flier Miles
One trend I am keeping an eye on is how much the leading contenders travel leading up to Derby Day. If you look at the recent runners, they were homebodies.
Last year Super Saver made just two trips, going to Tampa Bay Downs for the Tampa Bay Derby, then heading to the Arkansas Derby.
Two years ago, Mine That Bird made two starts as a three-year-old before the Derby, both at Sunland Park.
In 2008, Big Brown spent much of his time in Florida, working at Palm Meadows and making both of his starts before the Derby at Gulfstream Park.
Smarty Jones spent his entire spring in Hot Springs before heading to Churchill Downs, making his final three Derby preps at Oaklawn Park. Giacomo spent the entire spring at Hollywood Park, making three starts at Santa Anita. Barbaro was based in Florida at Palm Meadows, making two starts at Gulfstream and one at Calder.
None of these were taxed by making long trips.
In 2007, Street Sense only made two starts, shipping to Tampa Bay Downs. After that however, he was stabled at Churchill Downs, a full month before the Derby.
I am likely going to downgrade any Derby contenders that have earned more Frequent Flyer miles than I have.
If Master of Hounds ships in from overseas and wins this year’s Kentucky Derby, I guess we will have to revisit this angle for next year.
The Next to Last Prep
There are no recent trends as far as the next to last prep goes as well. The last ten Derby winners used nine different races for their next to last preps.
Last year Super Saver raced in the Tampa Bay Derby, checking in third, and two years ago Mine That Bird had his next to last prep in the Borderland Derby, where he finished second.
In 2008, Big Brown’s next to last Derby prep was a first level allowance race, something that would have been unheard of a generation ago.
Going back to 1987 however, and we can find the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita as a key next to last prep. Six runners used that race as a springboard to their final prep, which was usually the Santa Anita Derby.
Four went on to run in the Santa Anita Derby, while Alysheba used the Blue Grass and Fusaichi Pegasus used the Wood Memorial as their final preps.
Another interesting trend involves the Derby runner up. Six of the last 12 runner up finishers in the Derby made their final prep at Keeneland, five in the Blue Grass and one in the Lexington.
What is really amazing are the prices they went off at in the Derby despite the lofty connections:
2006: Bluegrass Cat 30/1 (Pletcher)
2005 Closing Argument 71/1 (McLaughlin)
2004 Lion Heart 5/1 (Biancone)
2002 Proud Citizen 23/1 (Lukas)
2001 Invisible Ink 55/1 (Pletcher)
1999: Menifee 7/1 (Walden)
The bottom line is most rules we used in past years seem to be going by the wayside. The best Derby betting tip I can suggest is to look for value on Derby Day.
Don’t settle for short price and keep an open mind when it comes to longshots. It could help you land the next Mine That Bird or Giacomo.