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Derby Trends: BC Juvenile-Kentucky Derby Double

 
The Road to the Kentucky Derby never stops. Moreover the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has been decided so it’s time to switch gears towards the first Saturday in May. However, this road is a marathon and we’ve only just begun. In the months ahead more potential hopefuls will emerge, contenders will be ranked and then re-ranked but it’s never too early to begin the discussion.
 
 
Before we dive into a mysterious derby trend let me begin by answering a few of the obvious questions surrounding the pinnacle race for 2-yr-olds. Yes, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile should always be considered a solid derby prep. Regardless of its date on the calendar it still carries all of the important elements that any prep will feature over the coming months. For example, the race includes two turns, Grade 1 class, a purse as big as or even bigger than any other and it features connections that are already aiming for the roses. Finally, the Juvenile is where derby fever reaches its peak in the 2-yr-old racing season.
 
 
After taking all of these things into account this is where I’m constantly stuck on the same question that eludes me. Since its inception in 1984 why has only one horse won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby?
 

Street Sense is the only horse that holds the honor of scoring one of the most remarkable doubles in horse racing. Agree or disagree, the Kentucky Derby has become a race that is carefully analyzed by its trends, droughts and overdue accomplishments. While some of these trends have ended abruptly over the past several years, where one trend ends another one begins. Sure Street Sense became the first but until it happens again the years will be counted.  
 
 
Because of this, Shanghai Bobby will be watched carefully on his journey towards the Kentucky Derby. As for any of the horses in the field that finished behind him, including He's Had Enough, there is another trend that doesn’t put the odds of a Kentucky Derby victory in their favor either.  
 
 
You can throw this trend out immediately or chew on it for a little bit. It’s up to you, but for me personally this one is even more surprising than the Juvenile-Derby double.
 
 
In the history of the Breeders’ Cup only five horses that entered the Juvenile went on to win the Kentucky Derby the following year. That’s 5 for 28, not a very attractive stat. If anything convinced me that the number was going to climb to six in 2012 it was the amount of possibilities. This spring we saw a fascinating number of horses return to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby following a commendable effort in the Juvenile. Eight horses to be precise. Led by the winner Hansen were the horses that finished 2nd thru 5th (Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, Take Charge Indy) along with Alpha, Prospective and Daddy Long Legs. If you didn’t think that any of these eight had a shot at winning the roses you must not have been looking at the right program. But it wasn’t their day and instead, it belonged to I’ll Have Another.
 
Thus, another year has passed that a Juvenile entry could not win the Kentucky Derby. Here are the Champions that did followed by where they finished in the Juvenile.
 
Mine That Bird, 2008-09 (12th)
Street Sense, 2006-07 (1st)
Sea Hero, 1992-93 (7th)
Alysheba, 1986-87 (3rd)
Spend a Buck, 1984-85 (3rd)
 
 
This leads to a question that I put out to you: Is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile often purposely avoided in order to increase the chances of Kentucky Derby glory?  There’s plenty of discussion that could follow that question because we could go on for hours talking about unpredictable 2-year-old’s, injuries, when to rest vs. when to race or the most interesting conversation of them all, calculated strategy.
 
With the Kentucky Derby being the ultimate prize for a young horse and its connections, some trainers know immediately when their horse has the makeup of a champion.  In a number of these instances is when a trainer may carefully dodge the Juvenile to avoid an early bloom and instead be ready for the big one. This is a strategy move that has paid off.
 
An example of a horse that may have met this profile is the late great, Barbaro and his trainer, Michael Matz.  He started his 2 yr old campaign in October of 2005 when entering a MSW over a distance of 1 Mile.  After winning his debut, Barbaro raced only once more in his 2-yr-old season. Following the Florida Derby he entered the Kentucky Derby a perfect 5 for 5.  He was clearly the best that day and his performance proved that he was ready for the main event at just the right time. It may not have been an intentional late start but his light racing at age 2 still comes into the picture when analyzing his road to the Kentucky Derby.
 
 
Of course there is the element of surprise.  Horses can be quite
immature at such a young age; None of us know anything about that by the way.  Some of the sport’s most brilliant horses don’t have any interest in discovering or reaching their full potential until turning three thus eliminating the Juvenile as an option. Trainers for these horses may tell you that they knew he was a Kentucky Derby winner all along.  That just comes with the territory but early doubts can be clear.  How clear is a great question so how about this; Does a Claiming Race sound like a quality Derby Prep?
 
 
It’s been well documented but anyone that doesn’t recall let’s rewind to Charismatic. His road to the roses wasn’t a smooth ride. After scuttling at age 2 and during the beginning of the season at age 3, D. Wayne Lukas made a bold move when he fielded his colt in his first ever Graded Stakes, the Santa Catalina. The reason I defined it as bold is because he entered him after only a single maiden victory and a record that was all over the place (8: 1-0-3).  The results didn’t get much better. After a disappointing 5th the doubts had to be there as Lukas moved him from Grade 2 Stakes to a $65k claiming race.  But as the story goes it was the race and the win that got the progression towards brilliance underway. As erratic as he was until the spring of ’99, Charismatic turned out to be a true champion. If you’re like me he was proof that he that just needed a little bit of time before he could reach his full potential. 
 
 
These are just a couple different examples of routes around the Juvenile. Both avenues towards May are legitimate and there are many more that are comparable. But, in my estimation the amount of Kentucky Derby winners that made a stop at the Juvenile along the way are too few. 
 
 
At this stage of the lengthy Road to the Derby I am not yet willing to bet on any of the Juvenile entries to win the 139th Kentucky Derby. I guess you could say that right now I’m playing the trend but if I had to I would probably lay down the loyalty card and stick with the horse that I played in the Juvenile, Power Broker. Another thing I will point however is that Shanghai Bobby hasn’t done anything wrong because winning is all that he is doing. I definitely give him better odds than let’s say Hansen last year but until we get closer I can’t assume that he’s on a path towards destiny. But can you?
 
 
 
I will revisit this conversation once we get closer to May but for now I can only wish our entries a safe and healthy ride. As for the hardest double in horse racing, there’s still Street Sense. Like all Kentucky Derby trends, it will end and this will happen again. Time will tell when that will be but we’ll keep an eye on it until it does.
 
 
 
In the meantime, we should buckle up race fans, the march towards May is underway and we’re only getting started. 

 

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Older Comments about Derby Trends: BC Juvenile-Kentucky Derby Double...

Ruffian75 - Fair point. Sea Hero raced as a 4 yr old but his best performance was a win in the Travers also at age 3. KY Derby was Mine That Bird’s last win, 0 for 9 after. Street Sense was retired after his 3-yr-old season but not before winning the Jim Dandy and Travers. Alysheba is the exception, raced at age 4 and won the BC Classic along with 5 other Grade 1 races.
Good article, Bryan. A question that came to mind: There are only five to have won the Ky Derby after having ran in the Juvenile. If I recall, they don't seem to do much after that. Seems Street Sense took a back seat to Curlin, thereafter. I guess Alysheba would be the exception to this rule, but I would think that, for the most part, that if they pursue this road to the Derby, it might not go much further?
Great article Bryan! Very informative and certaintly a lot to ponder especially now when we have to throw in the new point system. It's such a hard road to the roses, wishing everyone a safe journey.
Fantastic article. I am quite shocked that onle five have ever started in the juvenile and won. I think the rarity of the double is the ability to continue to improve. Being the best two year old, then the best three year old his a hard task. The horse must keep improving in order to remain the best. I am in shock about that only five runners have ran in the juvi and win the derby. But I am not suprised about that only one has doubled. They improve at different rates. When they are two and three, some of them improve every race. Either with Baby Steps, or Leaps, until they reach their peak. Many horses peak at the right time, in May, others peak to early, or shall I say Bloom to early, not peak to early. The juvi winners are generally early bloomers, who are making the LEAPS early. Take their campagn as a HORSE RACE. An early bloomer is in the lead the whole race. They head for the stretch (PREPS) and the early bloomer's stride (Improvment) Is lowering..... A "Late" Bloomer will fly in and win at the finish line (The Derby) It is as simple as that. Don't get to high on Bobby at all, he has many of these aspects to "shorten his stride" come major prep season. Excellent article.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is long and difficult. Winning an Eclipse as a 2YO is clearly a goal for the earlier developing juveniles. If you think about it, to compete for that Eclipse Award and then survive to run in the Derby is a huge task.
Only 5 Kentucky Derby winners have even run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile ... Wow!

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