It’s never too early.
Kentucky Derby fever starts minutes after Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Winner crosses the finish line.
Between now and the actual Run For The Roses horseplayers worldwide are looking for the diamond in the rough, which could lead to a life-changing Winning payoff the first Saturday in May.
That said, here are a few ways in which to identify Derby contenders that are flying under the radar.
Pedigree: Does he have a classic pedigree, and more important, is he built like a sprinter/miler or a two-turn horse? Miler sires get either sprinters or stayers, depending on the mare. If your Derby horse is by a miler stallion, make sure there is stamina through his female family. Conversely, if stamina is a little light on the dam’s side, the sire must have a stamina-oriented pedigree or previous winners at 1 1/4 miles.
Athleticism: Is the contender battle-tested and capable of overcoming trouble? Does he have gears, a high cruising speed or a robust late kick? He will need these traits in the rough and tumble of a 20-horse field. Derby candidates should have the will to Win and not be intimidated by other horses.
Professionalism: How professional is your Derby prospect? Can he keep a straight path, and switch leads when he is supposed to? Be wary of a green horse, running on talent or the quirky-minded individual. If they haven’t straightened up by their third start and have developed bad habits, look elsewhere because they won’t handle the Derby chaos. Watch the replays closely to see which traits your Derby prospect displays.
Race progression: Be wary of the impressive debut Winners. Few go on to show that brilliance in later races. A juvenile who showed so-so form returning to win as a 3-year-old is one to watch, especially those with a stamina-laden pedigree. Like teenagers, they can mature in an eye blink. 2013 KD Winner ORB is a good example. After three average starts, ORB Won his final 2-year-old race, then reeled off four straight Victories as a 3-year-old.
Horses showing steady improvement and speed figures are less likely to regress than those with a brilliant last start, especially a race or two before the big event. A Derby candidate could peak early and show a sudden form reversal in later races. A colt whose speed figures jumped 10 or more points in their final prep likely will regress in the Derby.
Potential Kentucky Derby contenders won’t turn 3-years-old until January, so we don’t want to inundate you with information that will fade like New-Years resolutions.
So we’ll keep our Derby info posts coming on a slow and steady progression…just like a Derby contender.