Using Two-Year-Old Records to Find the KY Derby Winner?

Handicapper Art Parkerby Art Parker, author and handicapper

A couple of years ago the Kentucky Derby qualifying system changed from a graded earnings measurement to a new point system. The graded stakes earnings measurement that was used to determine Derby entrants for so long gave aid to those who, made some money as a two year old but failed to show much as a sophomore. The case to support the continuance of that system is Mine That Bird, who as a three old qualified for the Derby off the strength of one race he won as a two year old. On the first Saturday in May in 2009 Mine That Bird was considered to be a bum, and was so despised by bettors, that he left the gate at more than 50-1.

As my grandfather told me, “A blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.” On occasion, something insane will happen, and it supposed to in horse racing. But there is more insanity in using two year old form to determine who should run or who should win, on the first Saturday in May.

When the leaves turn brown and the Breeders’ Cup rolls around, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile begins to initiate the usual conversation about next year’s Derby. The races leading up to the BC Juvenile help to frame that race almost like an election primary before a general election. The way the juveniles are promoted in the fall it would lead one to think that the Derby field is already set just after the BC Juvenile trophy is handed out.

Since the Breeders’ Cup began only one winner of that race went on to win the Derby and that was Street Sense in 2006 (2007 was his Derby year). Counting last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day, 6 of the last 7 BC Juvenile winners haven’t even made it to the Derby and the same can be said of 7 of the last 10.

But the failure of the BC Juvenile winner to win the Derby just partially explains the situation. Let’s look at what the big juvenile race in the fall has produced the last 5 years.

2009 BC Juvenile produced only 2 Derby runners

2010 BC Juvenile produced only one Derby runner

2011 BC Juvenile produced 8 Derby runners

2012 BC Juvenile produced no Derby runners

2013 BC Juvenile will produce only one Derby Runner – We Miss Artie, who is a 50-1 shot

Not only does the BC Juvenile fail to produce a Derby winner, it has become a virtual non-producer of Derby runners. The BC Juvenile of 2011 appears to be an aberration. It is worth noting that 5 of the 8 in the 2012 Derby that ran in the 2011 BC Juvenile performed poorly in Louisville, and the last 3 finishers in that Derby were participants in the BC Juvenile the previous year. In fact, the best finish from a BC Juvenile participant in the last 4 Derbies has been a third place finish by Dullahan in the 2012 Derby.

Even if you include the unusual year of 2011, the BC Juvenile has only produced 12 Derby runners in 5 years, that’s less than 3 runners per year on average.

It is also interesting to note that the winners of the last three Kentucky Derbies have failed to win a stakes as two year olds. The last Derby winner that captured a stakes race at the age of two was Super Saver when he won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club.

After reviewing the Top 20 in points for the 2014 Derby there are 7 runners that have won stakes as 2 year olds, but only 4 of those were graded stakes winners last year.

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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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