Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Trainers have shifted their strategy these days in regards to how often they race their Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Throughout history, any
horse that entered the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby for only their 3rd
race of the year was at an extreme disadvantage. Betting against a horse that had very little
sophomore season experience used to be as solid as it gets.
But then came 2007. Before, it was very rare
that a horse who had raced fewer than 3 times as a 3-year-old would win the
Kentucky Derby. In fact, between 1984 and 2006 it never happened.
Sunny's Halo won the roses after only racing twice before the first Saturday in May (Won Rebel and Arkansas) but it eventually happened again. However, since that was accomplished in 2007, it hasn't changed. That's six years in row. Will 2013 make it seven?
off this recent recipe for success was Street Sense trained by Carl
Nafzger. After winning the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the champion colt waited until St. Patrick's Day to make his 3-yr-old debut. After winning the Tampa Bay Derby, Street Sense got into a stretch duel in the Blue Grass Stakes. The 2nd place photo finish provided what he needed and Street Sense was ready to roll with only two preps in his 3-yr-old campaign.
this approach to prepping for the Kentucky Derby became a winning a formula it
was also questioned if it would happen more often. Any handicappers that felt it
would be too tough were in for a rude awakening. The repeat was on with Big Brown in '08, followed
by Mine That Bird in '09 and Super Saver in 2010.
one of the most unusual, or maybe just rare, approaches to the Kentucky Derby,
Animal Kingdom kept the streak alive in 2011. Trainer Graham Motion first put
him out in Allowance Optional Claiming race at Gulfstream Park. A 2nd place finish then led to a win in the G3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway. What made these two races even more interesting is that they were both in March. But, as we later found out, that was all Animal Kingdom needed before he stepped onto the dirt at Churchill Downs. Animal Kingdom is one of the most memorable Kentucky Derby winners in recent history. Not only did his performance speak for itself but he also caught some attention by becoming the first Kentucky Derby winner that never raced on dirt and the first since Needles in 1956 to win after a six-week layoff.
us to 2013 with the streak still intact was I’ll Have Another last year. Following
a five month layoff the champion colt trained by Doug O’Neill made quite the
impression in his return. It was a win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes that put
him on the trail and set him up for the Santa Anita Derby. He would go on to
win the SA Derby and qualify for the Kentucky Derby with only two prep races in
his 3-yr-old season. Again, that was enough and I’ll Have Another delivered on
the first Saturday in May.
compliment these trainers for their approach and for trusting that an active
prep season of three races or more was no longer necessary. This seems to be
proof that things change over time in sports. In horse racing it also shows
that the road to winning the ultimate 3-yr-old prize doesn’t have to mirror the
legends that scored over the years and decades before. But, what does this trend
say about the chances of it continuing in 2013? In my opinion, it’s wide open
so I’ll rate it as 50/50.
Leading the way for this trend is Revolutionary. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the WinStar Farms owned colt began his prep season with a win in the G3 Withers Stakes on February 2nd. From there he came back on March 30th to win again in the G2 Louisiana Derby. The tough and gritty win over Mylute by a neck gave his connections all they needed to see and the Kentucky Derby will be his third race of 2013.
second biggest threat to keeping the streak alive is Normandy Invasion. He
began his sophomore season with a failed attempt at scoring from well off the
pace but returned much stronger his next time out. In the G1 Wood Memorial
Normand Invasion launched an all attack on the undefeated Verrazano down the
stretch but came short by only 3/4 of a length. The valiant effort did not go unnoticed
and he is considered by many to be a serious Kentucky Derby contender.
put Revolutionary and Normandy Invasion at the top of the list because I think
they have the best chance at extending the streak to seven. However, there are
the other horses to consider.
Withers Stakes: 1st - Louisiana Derby: 1st
Risen Star: 5th - Wood Memorial: 2nd
Mylute | Gold Mark Farm | T. Amoss | R. Napravnik
Risen Star: 7th - Louisiana Derby: 2nd
Overanalyze | Repole Stable | T. Pletcher | R. Bejarano
Gotham Stakes: 5th - Arkansas Derby: 1st
Java's War | Charles Fipke | K. McPeek | J. Leparoux
Tampa Bay Derby: 2nd - Blue Grass Stakes: 1st
UAE Derby: 1st
we know, these six contenders face a very tough crop of horses that have
already raced three times in 2013. I’m not certain if this trend will continue but
I am 100% certain about one thing; this trend will not affect which horse I pick
in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Some trends are very interesting and can make a
very compelling case. This one for me however just isn’t one of them. Instead, I
think it’s entertaining and will be very fun to keep an eye on.