The Kentucky Derby is the
race that all trainers want to win and very few, only one a year, ever
succeed. Thus, it raises the question: Who is the best active trainer who has
not won the Kentucky Derby?
It can happen at any point
in a trainer’s career. Charlie Whittingham was the oldest to win the roses at
the age of 76 with his second winner, Sunday Silence in 1989, and 24 year-old James Rowe Sr. was
the youngest in 1881 with Hindoo. Johnny
Longden trained Majestic Prince to victory in 1969 after having won the Derby
as a jockey in 1943 with the great Count Fleet.
Here is a chart [based on Equibase statistics as of March 18, 2014] of the leading active trainers by career earnings to use as a reference tool. Some are already Derby winners, and
surprisingly some are not. Clearly these top earning trainers have been working
with better quality horses at the most competitive tracks. There are also trainers
who rank highly in number of wins but have never had a Derby horse because they
work at lower echelon tracks.
Winning the Kentucky Derby
is no easy task. Todd Pletcher has only one win in 35 tries. Five of those
top-earning trainers are not only winless on the first Saturday in May but they
have not cracked the top three in the Derby with a combined record of 31:
0-0-0. That is how hard it is to win America’s most coveted race.
Steve Asmussen saddled his first Derby horse in 2001 and he has had a total of 12
runners. Curlin, who finished third in 2007 as the 5-1 second choice, was his
most famous Derby horse. Nehro got Asmussen a second place finish at 8.5-1
behind Animal Kingdom in 2011. Could Tapiture give Asmussen his first taste of the Roses in 2014?
It looked like this might
be the year for Hall of Fame trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, but the 2013 juvenile champion Shared Belief is off the Derby Trail. The Golden Gate Fields based
trainer has had five Derby runners since 2003 with a fifth place being his best
finish. Hollendorfer did win this year’s El Camino Real Derby, on a synthetic
surface, with Tamarando.
Larry Jones, who has won many big races in recent years, has had good luck in his
only three Derby starts. He had back-to-back second place finishes in 2007 with
Hard Spun and in 2008 with the ill-fated filly Eight Belles. In 2009 his Derby
favorite Friesan Fire finished a distant 18th. Jones has Albano on this year’s Louisiana road to
the Kentucky Derby, so he has a shot to get off the Derby schneid.
Michael Maker has had five Derby runners since 2010 with double entries in that
first year and in 2011. Remember in 2012 he was part of the flamboyant Team
Hansen. This year, Maker has General a Rod, who finished second in the Fountain of Youth.
Kiaran McLaughlin may be poised to get out of this 0-fer club with Cairo Prince. Cairo Prince sits atop many people’s
Derby lists after his impressive win in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream
Park. McLaughlin has started five horses in the Derby and his first two runners
have been his best. In 2005 the 75-1 shot Closing Argument got McLaughlin
within a half-length of a Derby win in his first attempt. 50-1 shot Giacomo
caught Closing Argument in the final 70 yards to trigger a $9,814 exacta. The
following year Jazil finished in a dead-heat for fourth.
Kenny McPeek also got a second place finish in his first Kentucky Derby. In 1995
Tejano Run finished behind the winner, Thunder Gulch. Since then McPeek has had
five other starters including Frac Daddy (16th) and Java’s War (13th)
in last year’s Run for the Roses.
patient training style makes it hard for his younger horses to be ready for the
first Saturday in May. Still Mott has had seven Derby starts over the years
with an eighth place finish by Favorite Trick in 1998 as his best.
European based Aidan O'Brien, who has had so much
success in the Breeders’ Cup, has become a presence in the Kentucky Derby, too.
O’Brien has had five starters including one in each of the past three Derbies.
His most famous runner Johannesburg finished eighth in 2002. Master of Hounds got
fifth place in 2011.
Dale Romans has done quite well with his four Derby runners since 2006. He has
two show finishes from Paddy O’ Prado in 2010 and Dullahan in 2012. It is hard
to believe that Shackleford was 23-1 when he came in fourth in 2011.
Great trainers with great
horses have failed to win the Run for the Roses. Hall of Famers have tried and
been unsuccessful. Jimmy Croll couldn’t win it with Bet Twice in 1987 and Holy
Bull in 1994. Bobby Frankel ran in the Derby eight times including Medaglia
d’Oro in 2002 and Empire Maker in 2003. Elliot Burch finished second twice with
Sword Dancer in 1959 and Arts and Letters in 1969.
If your Derby choice does
not get to the winner’s circle on May 3rd, please keep this blog in
mind and take it easy on the trainers.