There is not a horse race in North America — or perhaps the world — that receives more annual scrutiny than the renowned Kentucky Derby.
Referred to as The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports, the Kentucky Derby has 20 lightly raced 3-year-old Thoroughbreds battling against each other for horse-racing supremacy on the first Saturday in May.
More often than not, history does repeat itself in this annual contest. Betting novices as well as railbirds can benefit when knowing and recognizing certain tendencies in this iconic race.
So here are a half-dozen of the most basic trends to look for when choosing your Derby Winner.
1. Favor California shippers and the Florida Derby Winner: Horses based in California have outperformed all others in recent renewals of the Kentucky Derby. Six of the last 10 Derby Winners spent the winter in California and completed the majority of their training at Santa Anita Park.
The single most productive prep race on the Road To The Kentucky Derby has undoubtedly been the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Over the last 15 years, BARBARO (2006), BIG BROWN (2008), ORB (2013), NYQUIST (2016), and ALWAYS DREAMING (2017) all completed the Florida Derby–Kentucky Derby double, and MAXIMUM SECURITY (2019) would have done the same if not for his disqualification at Churchill Downs.
2. Downgrade horses breaking from Post Positions #1 and #2: Due to the abnormally large field, the Kentucky Derby can be a challenging race for horses starting from inside Post Positions. Unless they break quickly, or drop back to rally from behind, it’s difficult for the horses drawn in Posts #1 and #2 to secure clean and unencumbered trips.
The rail post is a famously tricky spot and hasn’t produced a Derby Winner since FERDINAND in 1986. While Post #2 hasn’t seen a Winner since AFFIRMED in 1978, which suggests that both slots can be bad news. Outside Posts are generally preferable, with seven of the last 10 Derby Winners starting from Post 13 or wider.
3. Favor last-out Winners: Horses who prevailed in their final prep race have dominated recent editions of the Kentucky Derby. If you count the disqualified MAXIMUM SECURITY, the last 10 horses to hit the wire first at Churchill Downs entered off a Victory. Additionally, eight of those 10 entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated for the season, so it pays to arrive at Churchill Downs in Winning form.
4. Freshness Counts: A fresh horse in peak form has the best chance to Win the Kentucky Derby, and horses who race too frequently during the winter and spring tend to be at a disadvantage. Between 2005 and 2018, every KD Winner competed in just two or three races between January and April of their 3-year-old season.
5. Beware horses who went unraced as juveniles: Since 1882, only one horse (2018 Triple Crown Winner JUSTIFY) has Won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. It’s hard to claim the roses without building foundation as a juvenile.
6. Long layoffs haven’t been a strategy for success: Since 1956, only two Kentucky Derby Winners — ANIMAL KINGDOM in 2011 and AUTHENTIC in 2020—have Won the Run For The Roses off a layoff of six weeks or more. A strong race within five weeks of the Derby is the usual recipe for success.
The Derby is a week away. Be sure to stop back at the Daily Racing Blog next week for more tips, and of course our KD picks.