By Art Parker
If were not for the obligation to write about the 143rd edition of the Kentucky Derby, I probably would not be considering the race this far in advance (this was penned on April 18, 2017). I do my best, as I have previously written, to avoid concentration on a race so far away. I guess it’s about time to take a look at Kentucky Derby 143, and without making a specific selection, which would be truly foolish, let’s see what the future holds for the first Saturday in May.
[Before I go further please note that the final Derby field is yet to be determined. Some horses mentioned here may not make it to the post position draw.]
Nothing is a replacement for sound historical data, especially when one is considering making an investment, be it real estate, the shares of a corporation, or a pari-mutuel wager on a thoroughbred. Where winners come from is a prime consideration when analyzing the Derby in search of a winner. For that answer we look to the Derby prep season, which reminds me of a presidential campaign. First there are primaries and eventually a convention. The deal with the Derby is similar; we have prep races and then we have a race at a big venue called Churchill Downs. In the presidential primaries so much is made of winning certain primaries because of the number of delegates available. The same is true of the Derby preps especially since points have been awarded to the highest ranking finishers. Without getting into the specifics of the point system, let’s just look at the most important piece of pre-Derby history.
In the last several decades over 80% of the Derby winners finished either first or second in one of the following major prep races: Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Spiral Stakes, Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby, Santa Anita Derby or the Blue Grass. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, most of these races serve as the last “big prep” before the Derby and almost all serious contenders will run in one of these, plus the purses of these races are very appealing. Secondly, the cream of the crop shows up at these races, which are generally held four to five weeks before the Derby making these races the best indicator of current form.
Here are the winners and second place finishers in the critical prep races in 2017:
Florida Derby (Gulfstream Park in Miami): Always Dreaming (Winner) State of Honor (second)
Wood Memorial (Aqueduct in NY): Irish War Cry (Winner) Battalion Runner (second)
Spiral (Turfway Park in Florance KY): Fast and Accurate (Winner) Blueridge Traveler (second)
Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AK): Classic Empire (Winner) Conquest Mo Money (second)
Louisiana Derby (Fairgrounds in New Orleans): Girvin (Winner) Patch (second)
Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita Park in LA): Gormley (Winner) Battle of Midway (second)
Blue Grass (Keeneland in Lexington, KY): Irap (Winner) Practical Joke (second)
A total of 14 different horses finished first or second in these preps. If you want to look in the direction of high probability when selecting a Derby winner then I can’t think of a better place than those that ran first or second in these select races.
Others worth noting:
McCracken won the Tampa Derby (Tampa Bay Downs) and finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Gunnevera won the Fountain of Youth (Gulfstream Park) and finished third in the Florida Derby.
Malagacy won the Rebel Stakes (Oaklawn Park) and finished third in the Arkansas Derby.
Thunder Snow won the United Arab Emirates Derby in Dubai.
Easy pickings, right?