Recent Trends Offer Keys to Evaluating Saturday’s ‘Big Three’ Derby Preps

Brody’s Cause, inside, edged away late to win the 2016 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on a main track that he had previously won a Grade 1 at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With all due respects to the cast of “This Is Us,” horse racing will present the melodrama of its own “Big Three” on Saturday.

The trifecta of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park will add a heavy dose of clarity to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve picture and offer some excellent wagering opportunities for astute handicappers.

Saturday’s races are the definitive Derby preps at each track and they also contain their own path to the winner’s circle. Much like the way races such as the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby have been effective steppingstones to success in the Kentucky Derby, there also are key races that produce success in the final preps.

Irish War Cry won the Wood Memorial. (Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo)

Let’s take a look at each of them to find out if there’s a specific trend that can help point out a winner in the “Big Three.”

Starting with the Wood Memorial, the race is about redemption and southern flavor.

Looking at the last 10 runnings of the Wood, what stands out is that the last six winners all came out of races in Florida. Two winners exited the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and two more came out of allowance races at Gulfstream Park, while the other two raced in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.

Overall, in the 10-year span, there was one more Wood winner who raced previously in the Fountain of Youth, giving Florida tracks a 7-3 edge in producing a Wood winner.

After that, two Wood winners came out of the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct and one from the Louisiana Derby.

Another interesting statistic is that the last four horses, and six of 10 overall, emerged victorious in the Wood off of of losing efforts.

Definitely respect trainer Todd Pletcher in the Wood – as you should in any race. He has won it four times in the 10 years.

With the Blue Grass, there’s a smaller sample since analyzing the years when the Lexington track had a synthetic main track is like comparing apples and oranges.

That leaves just three runnings to analyze, but they do show that two of them ran in the Tampa Bay Derby. In addition, both of them also won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland as a 2-year-old.

The other Blue Grass winner is Irap, a California-based 3-year-old who finished fourth in the Sunland Derby before shipping east.

As for the Santa Anita Derby, the golden rule is horses for courses. All 10 of the most recent winners of the race came out of races at, yes, Santa Anita.

Bolt d'Oro, left, and McKinzie, right, battle in San Felipe. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Specifically, the San Felipe Stakes, which featured last month’s epic duel between Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie, has been the prep race for the last five winners of the Santa Anita Derby. Overall, seven of the last 10 winners, came out of the San Felipe.

The other three Santa Anita Derby winners ran in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, the Sham Stakes and a maiden race.

As for trainers, Bob Baffert has won three of the last 10 editions (and seven Santa Anita Derbys overall) and Doug O’Neill two.

Interestingly, the last two Santa Anita Derby winners turned in losing efforts before landing in the winner’s circle. Before that, however, seven of the last eight winners came out of victories.

Both Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie were expected to run in the Santa Anita Derby before Baffert revealed March 31 that an issue was discovered with McKinzie that would force him to miss the race. That could make the Santa Anita Derby Bolt d’Oro's for the taking and make it eight of the last 11 winners to come out of the San Felipe.

Tune in Saturday to find out.

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