Over the years heading into the Kentucky Derby, I formulate a plan on finding the winner, and part of that plan is finding a contender that fits a winning profile that matches prior winners.
However, in the last decade or so we have seen some winners buck history. It is no coincidence we don’t have to look up what year Apollo won his Kentucky Derby.
Apollo won the 1882 Kentucky Derby without having made a start as a two-year-old and remained the only one to do so for over a century. Justify finally bucked history by winning the 2018 Kentucky Derby without a start as a juvenile.
The Bob Baffert trainee did not make his debut until Feb. 18, and less than four months later was not only a Derby winner but a Triple Crown winner.
The Derby winner profile has shifted in the past few decades, with horses making less starts as a juvenile and less starts leading up to the Run for the Roses. From 2007 to 2012 and in 2015 and 2016 the Derby winner made just two starts in their three-year-old season leading up to the Derby.
You would think that would make it tougher to come up with the winner, but the betting public has fared pretty well in that regard. Since 2000, 10 Derby favorites have adorned the roses including six in a row from 2013 to 2018.
Could we see this year’s Derby winner buck history?
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Essential Quality Looks to Be Third Juvenile Winner to Adorn Roses
Let’ start with the betting favorite Essential Quality, currently listed at 3-1 in early Kentucky Derby wagering at 5-2 at BUSR.
Remember the “Juvenile Jinx?” The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) was first run in 1984 but it was not until 2006 when Street Sense that a Juvenile winner won the Kentucky Derby. We had to wait another nine years for it to happen again when Nyquist accomplished the feat.
Let’s face it, Juvenile winners have nor fared well on the first Saturday of May overall.
While Justify finally ended the “Apollo Curse” in 2018, let’s not forget that the record of Derby starters that did not have a race as a juvenile since 1937 stands at 64-1-3-5.
While I once held this rule as important, can we hold it against a colt with the talent of Rock Your World? The John Sadler trainee is the current second choice in early Kentucky Derby wagering at BUSR at 5-1.
The $650,000 son of Candy Ride did not make his debut until Jan. 1 where he broke his maiden going six furlongs on turf. He then won the Pasadena on turf going a mile before winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Rock Your World Wins Santa Anita Derby
Can a horse win the Derby off just one dirt route in his career? I went back 25 years and no Derby winner had just one dirt route and took home the roses, although one came close.
Maximum Security crossed the wire first in 2019 but was disqualified for interference. He made his first three starts at 6 ½, 6 and 7 furlongs and then won the nine furlong Florida Derby (G1).
Helium has just one dirt route under his belt. The Mark Casse trainee won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his last outing. His first two starts came on the Tapeta at Woodbine, both trips at seven furlongs as a juvenile.
Helium is bucking another trend. No horse since at least 1937 has won the Kentucky Derby with just one start as a three-year-old.
The Todd Pletcher trained Sainthood also did not start as a juvenile and has just one route on conventional dirt, his maiden breaker at Fair Grounds. He earned his ticket to Louisville with a runner up finish on Tapeta at Turfway Park in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3).
The Casse trained Soup and Sandwich has made a good appearance this week at Churchill Downs but also did not race as a juvenile. He made his debut on Jan. 28, then beat Alw-1 optional claimers before running second in the Florida Derby.
Justify and Big Brown are the only recent Derby winners to have just three starts heading into the race. Regret in 1915 was the only other Derby winner with three starts since 1900.
Louisiana Derby Alum Looking to Buck History
If we toss Authentic last year who won off a 49-day break (the race as run in September), it is important to have a recent race to be successful on the first Saturday of May.
Ideally a 28 to 35-day break from their last prep to Derby Day is ideal. Since 1929 just two Derby winners have come off longer breaks, Needles in 1956 and Animal Kingdom in 2011 coming in off a 42-day window.
Animal Kingdom paid $43.80 and was making his first start on continental dirt. I had the Graham Motion trainee as my top pick, and we were rewarded with a $43.80 payoff. It was one of the rare times in the last couple of decades I veered away from a typical winning Derby profile to find the winner.
We have four horses coming in off a 42 day break this year—Mandaloun, Midnight Bourbon, Hot Rod Charlie and O Besos. Helium comes in off a 56-day break.
The four off a 42-day break all exit the Louisiana Derby (G2) which was won by Hot Rod Charlie with Mandaloun the beaten favorite in a sixth-place finish.
The Louisiana Derby has produced just four Kentucky Derby winners, the most recent being Country House in 2019 who was put up thanks to a disqualification. The others were Funny Cide in 2003, Grindstone in 1996 and Black Gold in 1924.
2021 Louisiana Derby Replay
Mandaloun is trained by Brad Cox who also saddles the favorite Essential Quality. Mandaloun would be bucking another trend as nine of the last 10 Derby winners won their final prep and we have to go back to Iron Leige in 1957 to find the last Derby winner that did not finish in the top four in their final prep race.
The colt has been one of the “buzz” horses at Churchill Downs this week, is going to be a decent price, but has a couple of strikes we would need to overlook.
That’s just a few things to ponder as we wait for the post position draw on Tuesday. And just a reminder that if we are going to look at a Derby hopeful looking to buck history, let’s make sure we have the right price.