We looked for a three-year-old that had a solid foundation as a juvenile, had three or four starts as a three-year-old including the last prep a mere three weeks before the first Saturday in May, had the right dosage index, came out of a major prep race like the Florida Derby (G1), Wood Memorial (G1) or Santa Anita Derby (G1), and we headed to the betting windows pretty confident.
Slowly and surely the rules we used to follow have fallen by the wayside.
We have seen horses refute the dosage index, win the race off a five or six week break, use polytrack for their final prep, and even come into the Derby off a race at Sunland Park.
One of the last rules still standing is that no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without racing at age two.
Bodemeister could put a kibosh on that rule this year as one of the top three likely betting choices in the twenty horse field.
Several of the traditional key Derby preps have not produced a winner in quite some time.
The last winner to exit the Santa Anita Derby was Giacomo in 2005. We have to go back to 2003 (Funny Cide) to find that last Derby winner that used the Wood Memorial as their final prep.
What is the preferred path to get to the winners circle on the first Saturday of May?
Could it be paved with polytrack for Dullahan (Blue Grass winner), Hansen (Blue Grass runner up) or Went the Day Well (Spiral winner)?
Or perhaps the more fashionable path from Hot Springs (Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister)?
Maybe the Santa Anita Derby (I’ll Have Another, Creative Cause) or the Wood Memorial (Gemologist, Alpha) could find their way back onto the Derby Trail map.
If the rules are truly made to be broken, maybe this is finally the year a colt comes over from Dubai and wins, as Daddy Long Legs will try to do off his victory in the UAE Derby (G2).
They don’t call this race the two most exciting minutes in sports for no reason.
Here is a quick look at recent paths to the winners circle in Louisville:
Animal Kingdom: The Graham Motion trainee became the first Derby winner to make his conventional dirt debut on the first Saturday of May. The colt had two starts on poly as a juvenile, and then made just two starts as a sophomore. He was second in a first level optional claimer on turf, and then won the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park. He was the first Derby winner to use the Spiral since Lil E Tee in 1992. In addition, it was six weeks between his Spiral win and the Derby victory. Thankfully I ignored all the rules and we were rewarded with a $43.80 payoff last year as the colt was my top pick. Looking back I am not sure if I was really smart or just really lucky.
Super Saver: Todd Pletcher came into the Derby at 0 for 24 and Super Saver came into the race off back to back losses. The colt was third in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) followed by a neck loss in the Arkansas Derby (G1). The colt did have a solid foundation as a two-year-old, making four starts including two in stakes company. He became the second Derby winner to use the Tampa Bay Derby, following in the hoofsteps of Street Sense in 2007.
Mine That Bird: On the plus side this guy did have a solid foundation as a two-year-old, starting six times, although he was 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He started off his three-year-old campaign with a runner up finish in the Borderland Derby, and then was fourth in the Sunland Derby, both at Sunland Park. His $103.20 upset win put the Sunland Derby on the map as a prep and it is now a Grade 3 race. Daddy Nose Best comes into this year’s Run for the roses off a win in the Sunland Derby (G3).
Big Brown: The 2008 Derby winner made just one start as a two-year-old, a 11 ¼ length maiden score on the turf at Saratoga. He then landed with Rick Dutrow and made just two starts as a three-year-old leading into the Derby. He won a first level allowance race at Gulfstream Park in a race washed off the turf, and then won the Florida Derby (G1), sending him to Louisville as the betting favorite. Remember when they said you could not win the Derby off a five week break?
Street Sense: This colt broke a couple of rules. He ended the “Juvenile Jinx” and also became the first Derby winner to use polytrack as his final prep, losing the Blue Grass (G1) by a nose to Dominican. The colt made five starts as a two-year-old, capped off by his 10 length win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), which was held at Churchill Downs that year.
The best advice I can give this year is don’t try to eliminate horses based on “old” rules, and don’t ask yourself who will win this year’s Kentucky Derby, ask yourself who can win it.
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For the third time in the past five years Turf ‘n’ Sport subscribers scored big on Kentucky Derby Day! Michael Dempsey nailed Animal Kingdom on top in last year’s Derby, returning $43.80 for a $2 wager. In 2010, Mike nailed Super Saver with his top pick, returning $18.00! In 2007 Mike scored with his top pick Street Sense, paying $11.80!