Where The Winners Prep

There are no Derby prep races this weekend.

But, the 100-40-20-10 point preps are at hand- eight races compressed into 15 days, beginning next Saturday (03/26).

As long as they are eligible (aka not Baffert horses), the Winners are mathematically assured of berths in the starting gate in the Run For The Roses. The 2nd-place horses have a good shot at getting there as well.

Most of the horses at this point in the season are at the top level on their own merit. But as springboards to America’s biggest race, which preps are the most influential in producing Winners at Churchill Downs

Louisiana Derby (G2), March 26, Fair Grounds.  Before last year, only four 3-year-olds – BLACK GOLD in 1924, GRINDSTONE in 1996, FUNNY CIDE in 2003 and COUNTRY HOUSE (by DQ) in 2019 – had parlayed this New Orleans race into the ultimate Victory in Louisville. Only 12 graduates from this feature had hit the board at Kentucky since 1980. Then came 2021 – and eventually February 2022, when Kentucky stewards disqualified the late MEDINA SPIRIT from his triumph because of his failure of a post-race drug test. Which resulted in the Louisiana Derby producing four of the top five Kentucky Derby finishers – MANDALOUN 1st, HOT ROD CHARLIE 2nd, O BESOS 4th and MIDNIGHT BOURBON 5th. If the asterisks still warrant skepticism, it comes from the fact that Fair Grounds has been kind to closers, something that cannot be said lately in the Derby. At least not without the stewards intervention.

Florida Derby (G1), April 2, Gulfstream Park. This spring marks the 70th anniversary of the first running of this 1 1/8-mile race, which has produced 24 Winners on the first Saturday in May, more than any other Derby prep. ALWAYS DREAMING in 2017 was the most recent horse to Win both races. The current five-year dry spell between Kentucky Derby Winners is the longest for this race in more than 20 years.

Arkansas Derby (G1), April 2, Oaklawn.  It’s very rare these days that a Kentucky Derby Winner will have raced in two of these 100-point preps during a normal year. COUNTRY HOUSE did just that in 2019, when the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbies were three weeks apart. Only a week apart now, you won’t see that happen again. Since the 1 1/8-mile race began in 1936, it produced seven Kentucky Derby Winners, none before SUNNY’S HALO in 1983. SMARTY JONES put the race on the map in 2004 when he Won it before his Triumphs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The race’s most prolific era was the 2010s, when SUPER SAVER in 2010, AMERICAN PHAROAH in 2015 and then COUNTRY HOUSE used it as a springboard to Win the roses.

Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), April 2, Turfway Park. This could be known as the race to be named later. It began 50 years ago as the Latonia Spiral, a one-mile dirt race. It has been branded and rebranded by corporate sponsors, and it has gone from a mile on dirt to 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic track. Since Turfway was sold to Churchill Downs Inc., the Jeff Ruby has become a major points prep for the Kentucky Derby. Before that, two horses – LIL E. TEE in 1992 and ANIMAL KINGDOM in 2011 – Won both races. Since 2013, none of the eight horses coming out of what is now the Jeff Ruby finished better than 10th in the Derby.

Wood Memorial (G2), April 9, Aqueduct.  History was once kind to this 97-year-old race, which has been run at 1 1/8 miles since 1952. SECRETARIAT, ran third in the 1973 Wood, and SEATTLE SLEW, the 1977 Winner, made Aqueduct their last stop before their Triple Crowns. But since FUNNY CIDE 19 years ago, no Derby Winner has come out of this climactic race of the Aqueduct winter. When 2019 Wood Winner TACITUS was promoted to 3rd in Kentucky, that was the only time since the FUNNY CIDEEMPIRE MAKER Exacta in 2003 that a horse came out of the New York prep to hit the board in the Derby.

Blue Grass (G1), April 9, Keeneland.  Only the Florida Derby has produced more Kentucky Derby Winners than the 23 from this 1 1/8-mile race, which began in 1911 and has been run every year since 1937. The only one since 1996 was STREET SENSE, who delivered at Churchill Downs after he finished 2nd in the 2007 Blue Grass. The last two years have seen the Keeneland race produce two 3rd-place finishers in Louisville – MR. BIG NEWS in the COVID-extended season of 2020 and the promoted ESSENTIAL QUALITY in 2021. Since SPECTACULAR BID in 1979, only STRIKE THE GOLD in 1991 has Won both races.

Santa Anita Derby (G1), April 9, Santa Anita.  It appeared (for a while anyway) that this race had produced its 20th Kentucky Derby Winner last spring. That was before Santa Anita Derby runner-up MEDINA SPIRIT was disqualified last month. Otherwise, the race, which began in 1935 and has been run at 1 1/8 miles since 1948, has been on a hot streak. I’LL HAVE ANOTHER in 2012, CALIFORNIA CHROME in 2014, eventual Triple Crown Winner JUSTIFY in 2018 and AUTHENTIC in 2020 each Won this race and the Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert trained the last two in addition to the late MEDINA SPIRIT.

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