Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
There’s the Super Bowl. There’s the World Series. There’s
the NBA Finals. There’s the Stanley Cup. There’s the Daytona 500. And there’s
the Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is American racing’s staple event. Attracting twenty elite
three-year-old Thoroughbreds every year, the mile and one-quarter race –
contested under Churchill Downs’ iconic twin spires – is the most esteemed of
the year, creating a fortune of discussion and excitement. From the moment
two-year-old races begin, anticipation for the next year’s Run for the Roses
commences as racing enthusiasts strive to “discover” the next Derby winner.
Often, horses that break their maiden in remarkable fashion – typically by a
large margin – at renowned tracks are those that find themselves on early Derby
watch lists, especially those that win their debut. But a large portion of the
horses in this year’s Derby field did not break their maiden in their initial
trip to the races and few of them were overwhelmingly impressive in their
Take a look back at the beginnings of the careers of the twenty horses aligned
for the 2013 Run for the Roses:
1. Black Onyx: Originally
trained by Carl Domino, Black Onyx debuted at Belmont Park last October against
three rivals in a mile and one-sixteenth maiden special weight over the
expansive dirt track that had originally been scheduled for the same distance
on the turf. He was defeated by 6 ¼ lengths by Irsaal, a horse that has not won
since. Black Onyx finished second, clearing the third-place runner by a margin
of 6 ½ lengths. After one month had elapsed, Black Onyx went to post for the second time, this
time at Aqueduct. Nine other two-year-olds lined up to face the blaze-faced
colt in yet another race that had been taken off the turf. The dark colt
settled behind the leaders down the backstretch of the one-mile contest,
gradually improving his position before swinging to the outside around the far
turn, leading the field into the homestretch. He held sway, drawing away to a
clear 2 ¼-length triumph. Although it was a good maiden score, his name did not
immediately jump to the top of watch lists.
2. Oxbow: Most people
would not expect for a horse that is pulled up and vanned off in the initial
start of its career to make it to the Kentucky Derby. But Oxbow has done just
that. After such an incident occurred in his first start at Saratoga, the D.
Wayne Lukas trainee pressed the pace in a maiden special weight at Keeneland
before weakening to fourth. The winner of that race was Winning Cause, who
would go on to win the Lexington Stakes (GIII). Less than two weeks later, Oxbow made his third start at Churchill Downs, setting
the pace before fading to third. His initial three starts were far from
implications that Oxbow would land a position on watch lists, but he proved
that assumption wrong with a dominant victory in the fourth start of his
career. On closing weekend at Churchill Downs, the three-quarters brother to Paynter set a
brisk pace before kicking clear to a win that left his nearest rival 4 ¾
3. Revolutionary: Although
Revolutionary lost his first outing, he did gain attention from those who
watched the race. The son of War Pass encountered trouble at the gate, being
slammed into it and the rival next to him. This caused the Todd Pletcher
trainee to check, thus losing any early speed he may have had. Revolutionary
found more trouble than just a chaos-filled break; the colt also raced wide
prior to running greenly, ducking in slightly. The five one half-furlong
distance of the race was too short of an expanse for him to rediscover his full
momentum, but despite his run of bad luck, Revolutionary offered a remarkable
rally to finish a determined third. Crossing the wire ahead of him was the
future stakes-placed Always in a Tiz and the eventual stakes-winning Clawback. Revolutionary then turned in a runner-up finish at Belmont
and a third-place result at Aqueduct, the latter in which he finished behind eventual
Florida Derby (gr. I) victor and Kentucky Derby morning line favorite Orb.
December 28, 2012 marked the day that changed the course of Revolutionary’s
career. Competing in a one-mile maiden special weight around Aqueduct’s inner
oval, Revolutionary found a position just behind the leaders and as the seven-horse
field approached the end of the far turn, the colt galloped to the lead and drew
away with ease, capturing the race by 8 ½ lengths. The final clocking of the
one-mile event fell a mere 0.73 seconds off the track record. This striking
performance sparked much interest in the colt.
4. Golden Soul: He
missed winning his debut by a head after closing impressively in a one-mile
maiden special weight at Churchill Downs. Going to post for the second time in
his career next out at the Fair Grounds, the son of Perfect Soul settled off
the pacesetters prior to drawing off to a 7 ¼-length victory that caught the
attention of many.
Invasion: Following a slightly poor start, Normandy Invasion finished a
disappointing fifth in his debut, which took place in a six-furlong maiden
special weight at Belmont Park last September. But he rebounded with a
breathtaking score in his second start, coming from off the pace and going wide
throughout his stunning rally to capture a mile-long maiden special weight at
Aqueduct by 9 ¼ lengths. Normandy Invasion hasn’t won since, but has turned in
solid performances against graded stakes company.
6. Mylute: A horse
with unique beginnings, Mylute was a distant third in his debut at Churchill
Downs, bested 9 ¼ lengths by the eventual graded stakes-winning Circle
Unbroken. Despite this loss, he made his subsequent start in the Prairie Gold
Juvenile Stakes at Prairie Meadows, losing by just a neck after a troubled
trip. Mylute broke his maiden in his third start, which came over the all-weather
surface at Arlington Park. Rating off the leaders, the son of Midnight Lute raced
very eagerly, causing his rider to hold him back. Trapped by rivals as the
field rounded the far bend, a hole opened for Mylute as the horses galloped
into the lane, which allowed him to seize the lead commandingly. Once in front,
the gray colt seemed to take his job less seriously, but still outshone his
opponents by 2 ¼ lengths.
7. Giant Finish: One
of eight horses in the Derby that won his debut, Giant Finish was sent off as
the second choice in a six-furlong state-bred maiden special weight at Aqueduct
last November. Sitting behind the leader throughout the race, the chestnut colt
was steadily urged throughout. Near the quarter pole, he drew even with the
pacesetter prior to battling that rival in upper stretch in advance of drawing
clear to win by 1 ½ lengths.
8. Goldencents: In
one of the most impressive maiden scores of the horses in this field,
Goldencents landed on many watch lists after debuting at Del Mar. Exhibiting
notable early speed, Goldencents led from start to finish, posting brisk
fractions before lengthening his advantage on the group behind him, winning by
7 ¼ lengths in a final time that was merely .09 seconds slower than the track
mark for five and one-half furlongs.
9. Overanalyze: Debuting
at Saratoga in the summer, a meet known for its two-year-old maiden races,
Overanalyze controlled the pace of a five-furlong maiden special weight,
setting quick fractions en route to winning the race by 1 ¼ lengths under a
strong hand ride. Although it was a good maiden win, it was not heralded as one
of the best of the meet.
10. Palace Malice: Revealed
to the racing world last July in a five-furlong Belmont maiden special weight,
Palace Malice endured traffic trouble that subdued his effort, resulting in his
second-place finish behind the eventual graded stakes-placed runner Carried
Interest. At Saratoga a month later, the son of Curlin acted up in the gate but
broke away from it well, settling into a spot right behind the leaders. Following
the leaders closely, Palace Malice maintained a wide run before masterfully
grabbing the lead around the curve en route to a powerful 3 ½-length triumph. The
third-place finisher in that race was Hightail, who would go on to capture the
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.
11. Lines of Battle:
The lone horse in the field to debut outside of the United States, Lines of
Battle made his first start at The Curragh Racecourse in Ireland near the end
of last May. Going six furlongs, the son of War Front sat behind the leaders
prior to battling for the lead in the late stages of the race, prevailing by a
head over Leitir Mor, who would go on to be a group three winner that has
placed in several group stakes events.
12. Itsmyluckyday: Beginning
his career on the first day of June last year at Monmouth Park, Itsmyluckyday assumed
the role of runner-up, finishing 4 ¼ lengths behind the winner. Just over three
weeks later, Itsmyluckyday competed in a maiden special weight at the same
track, although this race was a sixteenth of a mile longer. Tracking the
leaders throughout, the Eddie Plesa, Jr. trainee kicked clear in the final
furlong, defeating his three competitors by 2 lengths.
13. Falling Sky: Facing
a small field in his career debut at Calder Race Course last November, Falling
Sky pressed the pace of a six-furlong maiden special weight in the early stages
of the race prior to taking the lead and never looking back as he left the
field 4 lengths behind at the wire in a rather plain time of 1:12.49.
14. Verrazano: Unveiled
to the racing world on New Year's Day, Verrazano pressed the pace of a six and
one-half-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park while racing a few
paths off the rail. In upper stretch, Verrazano advanced to the lead, drawing
off to a 7 3/4-length triumph that earned the attention of many. The only horse
to ever win the Kentucky Derby without any starts as a juvenile under his belt
was Apollo in 1882.
Kitten: Sent off in a mile and one-sixteenth maiden special weight over
a good turf course at Saratoga as the favorite in a field of ten, Charming
Kitten tracked the leaders while racing wide. Asked for a run around the final
bend, Charming Kitten made a powerful finish to draw clear of his competitors
and win by 1 ¾ lengths.
16. Orb: This colt
did not break his maiden until his fourth start, though he had previously shown
potential. Debuting at Saratoga, Orb reared at the start but still managed to
offer a remarkable rally, finishing third. His next two starts came at Belmont
and Aqueduct, respectively, and he finished fourth in both. Among the horses
finishing ahead of him in these starts were the future graded stakes-winning
Vyjack (a fellow Derby entrant) and the black-type-winning Clawback. In his second start at Aqueduct last November, Orb finally solved the puzzle.
Patiently guided by Joel Rosario, Orb came from behind, going wide around the
turn en route to an easy 2-length victory. The third-place finisher in that
17. Will Take Charge:
A $425,000 yearling purchase, Will Take Charge was a rather flat fifth in
his debut at Saratoga. Transferring to the synthetic surface at Keeneland for
his second start, Will Take Charge was devoid of early speed in the
seven-furlong maiden special weight but made a move around the far turn, going
very wide as the field entered the stretch. Rallying down the center of the
track, Will Take Charge ground out a one-length victory.
18. Frac Daddy:
Belmont in October served as the setting of Frac Daddy's debut. Traveling
one mile over the dirt oval, the gray colt settled just behind the pace. In the
stretch, he ran greenly, ducking in prior to battling down the lane with the
eventual winner. Although the victor drew clear from Frac Daddy in the late
stages of the race, Frac Daddy finished 13 lengths ahead of the third-place
finisher. A month later, below the twin spires of Churchill Downs, Frac Daddy broke his
maiden, and in impressive fashion. Tracking the pace, Frac Daddy raced slightly
wide into the far turn and inched closer to the lead down the backstretch.
Challenging the frontrunners around the far turn, Frac Daddy stormed to a 9 ¾-length
triumph that impressed many.
19. Java's War: Fifth
in his debut in a five-furlong turf maiden special weight at Churchill Downs,
Java's War shipped to Ellis Park for a maiden special weight going one mile on
the grass. Rating a short distance from the pace, Java's War was steadied on
the first curve but remained comfortable. The Kenny McPeek trainee raced wide
before kicking clear in the stretch to score by 1 3/4 lengths, becoming the
late War Pass' first winner.
20. Vyjack: Racing
to the outside of the leader, Clawback, and between rivals, Vyjack pressed the
pace of a six and one-half-furlong maiden special weight at Aqueduct in his
debut. Once his rider lessened the restraint on the reins, the gelding
accelerated, dueling with Clawback down the lane before kicking clear to win by
1 ¾ lengths. Finishing fourth was none other than the morning line favorite for
the Derby, Orb.
This year’s Derby field proves that a horse need not dominate its debut to
become a Kentucky Derby starter. Eight of the horses entered in the 139th
installment of the Run for the Roses won first time out; an additional eight
broke their maiden in their second start. The other four horses took three or
four outings to find the winner’s circle.
As for the past twenty Kentucky Derby winners, seven won upon debut, eight won
in their second outing, and five took three or more tries to break their
maiden. I’ll Have Another,
last year’s Derby victor, is the most Derby winner that won his debut. Animal Kingdom,
who won the Derby two years ago, is the most recent Derby winner to have earned
a win in his second start. A horse that took three attempts or more to win the
Derby has not won the grand race since Monarchos in 2001, but it is intriguing
to note that two of the horses in the past twenty years that fell one race
short of winning the Triple Crown took numerous attempts to break their
maidens: Charismatic, the 1999 Derby winner, did not break his maiden until his
sixth outing and Real Quiet, who captured the 1998 Kentucky Derby, needed seven
attempts to finally win.
Of course, what the twenty horses entered in the Derby have done after their maiden victories is what’s
most important. All of these horses – even the ones with the lowest
accumulation of points – have earned their place in the starting gate for this
classic. The Kentucky Derby is, of course, a race, but it is not “just a race.”
Even the maiden races in which these starters competed earlier in their careers
weren’t “just races.” After all, they produced at least one Kentucky Derby
starter from the near-26,000 Thoroughbreds born in 2010.