When and where will Kentucky Derby 2020 horses emerge?

November 12, 2019 02:36pm

It’s never too early to talk Kentucky Derby 2020, and as these facts and figures show, you’re actually running a bit late if not already eyeing which promising horses could line up in the May 2, 2020, race at Churchill Downs.

In examining the Derby fields going back to 2013 — that’s when Churchill Downs instituted its points system to replace graded stakes earnings as a qualifier — we found that a majority of horses that went on to run the first Saturday in May debuted before October. November is also the most popular month for points era Derby runners to break their maidens.

Here’s a closer look at the year-by-year data with we learned below:

2019 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: Spinoff (June 23 at Gulfstream)

Maiden winner: Spinoff (June 23 at Gulfstream)


Debut: Maximum Security (Dec. 20)

Maiden winner: Feb. 16 (By My Standards)*

 Top months for maiden wins: November (5), September (3), August/October/December (2)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Gulfstream (4), Santa Anita (3), Del Mar (3)

2018 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: Flameaway (May 28 at Woodbine)

Maiden winner: Free Drop Billy (June 15 at Churchill)


Debut: Justify (February 18 at Santa Anita)

Maiden winner: Hofburg (March 3 at Gulfstream)

 Top months for maiden wins: September (5), October (3), November (3)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Churchill (4), Santa Anita/Del Mar/Gulfstream (3)

2017 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: Classic Empire (May 4 at Churchill Downs)

Maiden winner: Classic Empire (May 4 at Churchill)*


Debut: Battle of Midway (Jan. 21 at Santa Anita)

Maiden winner: Irap (April 8 at Keeneland)

 Top months for maiden wins: October (3), November (3), January (3)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Churchill (3), Gulfsteam (2), Keeneland (2)

2016 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: Outwork (April 23 at Keeneland)

Maiden winner: Outwork (April 23 at Keeneland)*


Debut: My Man Sam (Dec. 19 at Aqueduct)

Maiden winner: Creator, Majesto (Feb. 27 at Oaklawn, Gulfstream)

 Top months for maiden wins: September (6), October (3), November (3)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Churchill (4), Belmont (3), Santa Anita (3)

2015 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: Far Right (April 25 at Keeneland)

Maiden winner: Mr. Z (June 8 at Churchill)


Debut: Materiality (Jan. 11 at Gulfstream)

Maiden winner: Danzig Moon (Feb. 7 at Gulfstream)

 Top months for maiden wins: September (4), November (4), October (3)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Churchill (4), Gulfstream (3), four-way tie (2)

2014 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: California Chrome (April 26 at Hollywood Park)

Maiden winner: May 17 (California Chrome at Hollywood Park)


Debut: Uncle Sigh, Chitu (Dec. 7 at Aqueduct, Hollywood)

Maiden winner: Vinceremos (Jan. 1 at Gulfstream)

 Top months for maiden wins: August through December (3 apiece)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Churchill (3), Belmont (3), Hollywood (3)

2013 Kentucky Derby contenders


Debut: Lines of Battle (May 27 in Ireland)

Maiden winner: Lines of Battle (May 27 in Ireland)


Debut: Verrazano (Jan. 1 at Gulfstream)

Maiden winner: Verrazano (Jan. 1 at Gulfstream)

 Top months for maiden wins: November (7), four-way tie (2)

 Top tracks for maiden wins: Aqueduct (5), Saratoga (3), Churchill (2)

* = Bodexpress (2019), Sonneteer (2017) and Trojan Nation (2016) each ran in the Derby as maidens.

So, what can we take away from this?

1. Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence, or the start of a trend, but the most-recent two Derby horses first across the wire — Maximum Security and Justify — were also the latest to debut in their respective fields.

2. Likewise, with the points system rewarding horses performing at their best later in the spring, it’s more common to see contenders breaking their maidens after the new year. Just two did so in 2013 and 2014; both of those horses ran on Jan. 1 and were trained by Todd Pletcher. No fewer than three Derby horses per year have won their first race after the calendar turns since then, with Country House (Jan. 17 at Gulfstream) counting himself among the bunch in 2019.

3. Still, those late to the game remain exceptions. Of the 135 Derby horses to compete in the points era, 99 (73%) broke their maidens before Dec. 1. 

Horse Racing Nation seeks to identify contenders early, covering maiden special weight flights on major circuits through its Kentucky Derby Radar. Check it out to learn the names to know for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.


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About the Derby Radar

Back for the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail, Horse Racing Nation's Derby Radar seeks to identify promising maiden, allowance and even stakes winners who could target points-paying preps down the line. We'll cover the buzz horses, of course, then using a systematic approach based on past years' Derby contenders identify other talented colts moving up the ladder.

Did we miss one? Email editor Jonathan Lintner (jlintner@horseracingnation.com) if you know of a horse that should be on the radar.

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