Less Than Three Weeks to The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports

Kentucky Derby 140By Art Parker

Notice to those of you experiencing Derby Fever: It’s about to get much hotter. The prep races have concluded and the field is closer to being set for the first Saturday in May.

Last year I reminded readers of a simple fact that is hard to overlook when trying to find the Derby winner. In the last several decades over 80% of the Derby winners finished either first or second in one of the following major prep races: Spiral Stakes (Turfway Park – March 22), Florida Derby (Gulfstream Park – March 29), Louisiana Derby (Fairgrounds – March 29), Wood Memorial (Aqueduct – April 5), Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita – April 5), Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park – April 12) and the Blue Grass Stakes (Keeneland – April 12).

Last year’s Derby winner, Orb, was the winner of the Florida Derby.

There are a couple of reasons for these races being so important to the Derby. 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.

Of course there is another reason why these races draw the best contenders. The large number of points that can be won that will assure or guarantee entry into the KY Derby. Before going further it is important to note that the Spiral Stakes at Turfway does not carry the high number of points available compared to the other races listed. Also, the UAE Derby is now among the high point races. That race was contested in Dubai on March 29.

In the last several decades over 80% of the Derby winners finished either first or second in one of the major prep races.

The point system was instituted in 2013 to decide who could qualify to run in the Derby. It replaced the old determinant of the amount of lifetime graded earnings a horse collected prior to the big day in Louisville. Both systems, in my opinion, have pluses and minuses. I do believe that the point system places too much emphasis on just a few races within a couple of weeks of one another.

The Spiral Stakes is of lesser importance in terms of points and is run the week before the Florida and Louisville Derbies, hence, it almost seems to be a non-factor regarding the first Saturday in May. It is hard to imagine that the winner of the UAE Derby will try to recover and make the trip halfway around the world to Louisville, face quarantine, and then run in the Kentucky Derby, all in just five weeks. With that in mind we easily narrow the Derby opportunity down to performances in the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass.

With the point system the probability increases that the Kentucky Derby winner will come from one of those races, and if history continues, as in the past, the winner and runner up in those contests will have a clear advantage.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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