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Kentucky Derby Prep Trends

Time to buckle down and tighten the screws as Derby day is approaching fast! As you whittle away all the pretenders from consideration, let’s look at some trends over the last 25 Derbies (1987-2011) to help narrow the focus on who may be draped in roses on the first Saturday in May.

• 21 winners prepped last in the Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial Stakes, Arkansas, Florida or Santa Anita Derby. The other 4 being Animal Kingdom (1st 2011 Spiral Stakes), Mine That Bird (4th 2009 Sunland Derby), War Emblem (1st 2002 Illinois Derby), Charismatic (1st 1999 Lexington Stakes. This puts a damper on the chances of Went the Day Well, Done Talking, Trinniberg, Daddy Nose Best and Daddy Long Legs.


• The Louisiana Derby has a short history as a final prep for the Derby, but has a good track record.  Grindstone (1996) and Funny Cide (2003) both ran in the Bayou, but made their final preps in the Arkansas Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes respectively.
• 20 of the last 25 winners ran 1st or 2nd in their final prep, though surprisingly split evenly (10 winners & runner-ups).


• No horse has finished worse than 4th in their final prep. (Sea Hero-1993, Thunder Gulch-1995, Giacomo-2005 and Mine That Bird-2009), sorry Liaison & Prospective.


• 5 of the last 10 winners won their final prep before the Derby.


• The Blue Grass Stakes boasts the most winners (6) since 1987, but only 1 (Street Sense in 2007) since they installed Polytrack. Not what Dullahan, Hansen or Prospective was wanting to hear.


• Only 1 horse has finished 3rd in his final prep before winning the roses. Does this hurt the chances of Union Rags? Probably not considering it was Unbridled’s 3rd place finish in the 1990 Blue Grass, which led to Derby glory and victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that fall.


• Sorry Trinniberg, but no winner has prepped in a race less than 1 1/16 miles.


• Only 2 winners have come from the Florida Derby in the last 25 years (Barbaro-2006 and Big Brown-2008), and both found the winner’s circle in Hallendale before heading to Louisville. Put another checkmark in against column for Union Rags & El Padrino.


• Though not part of their final preps, I would be foolish not mention that no horse since 1882 (Apollo) has won the Kentucky Derby without 2-year-old experience. Bye Bye Bodemeister.


YearHorseFinal PrepFinish
2011Animal KingdomSpiral1
2010Super SaverArkansas Derby2
2009Mine That BirdSunland Derby4
2008Big BrownFlorida Derby1
2007Street SenseBlue Grass2
2006BarbaroFlorida Derby1
2005GiacomoSanta Anita Derby4
2004Smarty JonesArkansas Derby1
2003Funny CideWood Memorial2
2002War EmblemIllinois Derby1
2001MonarchosWood Memorial2
2000Fusaichi PegasusWood Memorial1
1998Real QuietSanta Anita Derby2
1997Silver CharmSanta Anita Derby2
1996GrindstoneArkansas Derby2
1995Thunder GulchBlue Grass4
1994Go For GinWood Memorial2
1993Sea HeroBlue Grass4
1992Lil E. TeeArkansas Derby2
1991Strike the Gold Blue Grass1
1990UnbridledBlue Grass3
1989Sunday SilenceSanta Anita Derby1
1988Winning ColorsSanta Anita Derby1
1987AlyshebaBlue Grass2

After looking at the final preps of the Derby runners it seems wise to focus on (in no particular order) Mark Valeski, I’ll Have Another, Creative Cause, Gemologist, Alpha and Take Charge Indy. That being said, I’m still on the Union Rags bandwagon & think El Padrino is a win contender as well. Let the paralysis by analysis begin!


Please be sure to follow me on Twitter-@Cappercorner and/or friend me on to continue the horse racing conversation!   


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby Prep Trends...

good job jason !!! I’ll Have Another, Creative Cause, Gemologist, Alpha and Take Charge Indy all have a shot i like alpha and ill have another and gem good luck
Personally, I believe Dullahan is peaking at the right time. Polytrack preps might not have a good track record (no pun intended), but Dullahan did run a solid fourth behind the big 3 (UR, Hansen, and CC) in the Juve at CD back in the fall.
  • El Kabong · He closed on a slow pace in the Palm, and he closed on a fast pace. Both times in splits of 11+ for his last 3 furlongs. Kent is the perfect Jockey for him. He's done it before but he'll have to remember back to that perfect ride on Fusaichi Pegasus. I hope he has some pace to run at, it sure looks like he'll get it. I'll be grinning if I see 109 and change or even a low 1:10 for the 3/4, but he can close on any pace. · 2494 days ago
I am a stats person--so love this! I'll throw in the mix winners by post positions 1900-2011: 1 – 12; 2 – 9; 3 – 8; 4 – 11; 5 – 12; 6 – 6 ;7 – 8; 8 – 10; 9 – 4; 10 – 10; 11 – 3; 12 – 3; 13 – 4; 14 – 2; 15 – 3; 16 – 4; 17 – 0; 18 – 1; 19 – 0; 20 - 2
  • Capper · Funny how everyone thinks the rail is the kiss of death, but is tied for the lead with most wins. I imagine most of those wins came when there were 12 horses or less in the field. Obviously its tough if you get smashed into the rail, but I'd much rather be there than out in the 19/20 posts. · 2494 days ago
  • El Kabong · Capper, it depends on the needs of the horse. For a closer, it's not a big deal. Drop back and run the shortest distance possible. But for anyone but a fast breaking front runner, it does set you up for the squeeze play as horses come over. Lookin at Lucky actually got squeezed twice and Limehouse got shuffled back. Jazil, a stone cold closer, didn't mind it at all. And you are correct about those 1 hole wins coming before the aux gate and 20 horse stampede. But looking back, the one hole has been occupied by a grand list of who's not in Derby History. More indicative of the failure than anything. · 2494 days ago
Monarchos, Go For Gin, Thunder Gulch, Strike The Gold, Unbridled, Swale and Pleasant Colony all ran in the Florida Derby although not in their last start before the Derby. It was moved to 5 weeks out only recently
  • Capper · Still can't believe Thunder Gulch paid as much as he did, just because he ran 1 subpar race in the Blue Grass. 1 of very few Derby highlights! · 2494 days ago
All winning Derby horses in the last ten years have won at least 1m or more as a two year old.
I, too, love the trivia involved in Derby analysis! Nice chart, Jasen.
Nice blog Jasen, interesting information!
If any of my FB friends have considered on betting on a horse race, the Kentucky Derby on May 5, 2012 is THE race to do. There is no absolute clear cut hands down favorite, the Top 8-9 horses are so talented any of them could win. To quote Mike Battaglia, Churchill Downs odds maker "the only sure thing is the program favorite is likely to be 5-1 or 6-1 on Derby Day." Whoah...if you're not into betting, just watch these magnificent creatures run for the roses!

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Meet Jasen Mangrum

My interest in the Sport of Kings goes back over 25 years with my father taking me with his friends to the old Ak-Sar-Ben Race Course in Omaha, Nebraska. From those early experiences I was able to read the Daily Racing Form before the age of 10. Once The Woodlands opened in Kansas City in 1988, I became totally hooked on the sport studying racing charts after homework and tennis practice.  In recent years, with the explosion of handicapping tournaments, my love for playing the races has risen to a new level. Primarily focused on New York, Chicago and Louisiana racing, I have now been forced to study races far and wide in attempt to find “cap horses” in the tournaments I play.  I have also dabbled in horse ownership within syndicates and on my own.

My fondest memories in racing include Silver Charm’s 1997 Kentucky Derby victory.  Both my father and I selected him, which made for a memorable day.  The best race I’ve seen was Tiznow’s first Breeders Cup Classic win in 2000 when he outdueled Giant’s Causeway down the length of the Churchill Downs stretch. My biggest windfall as a gambler was a pool-scooping Pick 4 win, paying over $6,600 at The Woodlands in 2005.

The point of this blog is to get everyone out there a few winners, but also to go in depth at how I come to the conclusions that I do. I encourage others to post picks they like, too, but please explain how you come to your conclusions. That way everyone can learn a little more about this great game, and add another weapon to their handicapping arsenal. Best of luck.

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