The Kentucky Derby prep season has entered the home stretch with the biggest and best of them serving as the final stops before the calendar turns to the first Saturday in May and the Triple Crown chase begins.
The Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Spiral and Sunland Derby are in the books, with the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial on tap for Saturday and the Arkansas Derby bringing down the curtain on the major preps on April 15. After that, attention will shift to Churchill Downs with 20 horses vying for a victory in a race that will earn one of them a lasting spot in racing history.
But which one?
While the strength and quality of horses from specific regions can change from year to year, history does paint an interesting picture of the preps that attract most successful Kentucky Derby runners.
Looking at the top three finishers in each of the last 10 editions of the Kentucky Derby, those 30 horses have exited seven of the aforementioned preps. Conspicuous by its absence is the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, which has not produced a top three finisher since 2003 when Empire Maker and Funny Cide ran 1-2 in the Wood but Funny Cide posted a 1 ¾-length victory over Empire Maker in the run for the roses.
Which prep tops the list with the most winners?
It’s the Florida Derby with three. Right behind are the Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park with two. After that, the Blue Grass, Spiral and Sunland Derby, each have one.
As satisfying as it may be to cash a win bet on the Derby, it’s even more thrilling – and financially rewarding – to hit the exacta or trifecta on a race with a 20-horse field. To that end, the 30 top three finishers in the last 10 years can be a means to filling in some of the blanks.
The prep that leads the way with six in-the-money finishers might be surprising. With two wins, two seconds and two thirds, it is the Arkansas Derby.
The two stakes tied for second with five might generate an even bigger shock. One is quite logical, that one being the Santa Anita Derby with two wins, two seconds and one third.
The other reflects the value of expecting the unexpected at the Derby. It’s the Louisiana Derby with no wins, but two seconds and three thirds – all of them coming in the last six years. Beyond that, in the last four years at least one Louisiana Derby horse has figured in the trifecta in three of them. Considering that the odds of those five horses in the Derby were 37-1, 34-1, 10-1, 9-1 and 6-1, including a horse from Fair Grounds’ definitive prep in a boxed exacta or trifecta could be the key to unlocking a huge payoff.
After that comes the Florida Derby with the three wins but only one second and then the Blue Grass with a win and two thirds for three. The Sunland Derby and Spiral both have a win and a second.
Again, there’s no guarantee that these trends will continue. The Wood Memorial, for one, seems overdue for being a launching pad to Derby success.
Yet what stands out most is that variety can be the spice of life in assembling your exactas and triples for the Derby. In nine of the last 10 years, the top three finishers have been from three different preps.
Now all you have to do is decide which three to choose – and hope you’re right.
In a race as challenging to handicap as the Kentucky Derby, history can be a valuable tool, but good, old fashioned luck can also come in quite handy.