Premier summer meets no longer impact KY Derby

Keep your focus on the upcoming fall meets

 Handicapper Art ParkerBy ART PARKER

  The visual is still there. I can see Secretariat storming into the Saratoga stretch against helpless two year olds, who are shaken by his rush to the front. Other two year olds embarrassed by the legend in the 1972 editions of the Sanford and the Hopeful. Of course we know what happened the next year. Secretariat made history, winning the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown.

   The two premier summer meets in America, Saratoga and Del Mar, bring us thrills and provide an escalator for talent in big stakes races to come. That’s the way it may have been, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.

 Premier 2yos at Del Mar, Saratoga All of us who are lovers of the great sport of thoroughbred racing are always looking to the future. We anticipate the content of history yet to be written, and in thoroughbred racing history is first dominated by the greatest race of all, the Kentucky Derby. In the last ten years Saratoga and Del Mar have almost totally failed to contribute to the history of the Kentucky Derby. Let’s look at the last ten Kentucky Derby winners and take a glimpse at their two year old season.

None of the following Kentucky Derby winners (showing the year in which they won the Kentucky Derby) raced at Saratoga or Del Mar in their two year old campaigns:

2002 War Emblem, 2003 Funny Cide, 2004 Smarty Jones, 2005 Giacomo, 2006 Barbaro, 2007 Street Sense, 2009 Mine that Bird, and 2011 Animal Kingdom.

The 2008 Kentucky Derby winner, Big Brown, broke his maiden at Saratoga on the turf. The 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver finished second in his initial maiden race at Saratoga.   

It looks like the Kentucky Derby winners are getting a later start in the business. Of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners only three broke their maidens before September and only one of those, the previously mentioned Big Brown, broke his maiden at one of the premier meets. The other two, Street Sense and Mine That Bird, broke their maidens in August at Arlington Park and Woodbine, respectively.

I’m sure many racing aficionados feel sad that the history of Kentucky Derby now seems to exclude Del Mar and Saratoga. But those storied meets still make their significant contributions to the annals of thoroughbred racing history. Furthermore, it means that good news is coming our way since it is late August. Next year’s Derby winner will probably be seen soon (if not already). If you enjoy thinking about the first Saturday in May then steer your focus in on September and October. Pay attention to the two year old maiden and stakes races at Arlington Park, Woodbine, Delaware Park, Keeneland, Hollywood Park and, of course, the always superb fall meeting at Belmont.

The answer to the question us handicappers always ask during the spring will probably be racing at one of those venues soon.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-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 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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