The Derby Trail goes through New York
Since 1986, graded stakes earnings have determined which horses get into the Kentucky Derby field. The Derby Trail through New York offers four opportunities to gather graded purse money. With the October opening of the Genting Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct those purses have already grown and become more attractive. The purse for the Withers (G3), to be run on Feb. 4, has gone from $150,000 to $200,000. The March 3rd Gotham (G3) has increased by $150,000 up to $400,000. The Bay Shore (G3) runs on April 7th, with prize money increased by $50,000 to $250,000 and on the same day the $1,000,000 Wood Memorial (G1) is the feature race of the New York prep races.
The New York Derby trail actually began on Jan. 7th, when Alpha won $90,000 of ungraded stakes purse money. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, this Godolphin runner earned an 85 Beyer Speed Figure for the mile and 70 yards. The Bernardini colt made an impressive 2012 return to the races after having had gate trouble and a disappointing run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. A second place in the 2011 Champagne (G1) gave him $60,000 in graded stakes earnings. Alpha is being pointed to Aqueduct’s Withers Stake.
The 2012 running of the Withers has the race adding an extra sixteenth of a mile, moving to earlier in the Derby prep sequence, and increasing the purse. These are radical changes for a race with a glorious history. Past winners include great sires, Classic and Triple Crown winners, and Hall of Famers such as: 2006 Bernardini, 1987 Gone West, 1982 Aloma's Ruler, 1967 Dr. Fager, 1953 Native Dancer, 1950 Hill Prince, 1945 Polynesian, and 1943 Count Fleet to name just some of them. These changes were made to try and get horses onto the New York Derby trail earlier in their sequence.
A month later the Gotham (G3) runs at a mile and a sixteenth distance, but for a purse of $400,000. That means $240,000 to the winner, which is probably enough in graded earnings to get in the Derby field. The second place finisher will collect $80,000. Of course, Secretariat, the top horse in HRN’s Rankings of All-time, leads the list of past Gotham winners. In 1989 Easy Goer set a track record for a mile at Aqueduct with a time of 1:32-2.
April 7th begins with the $250,000 Bay Shore (G3), which is run at seven furlongs. Even though recent winners like JJ’s Lucky Train, Eightyfiveinafifty, and Capt. Candyman Can have not found their way into the Derby field, they have left the race as horses with a lot of hype.
This year is the 88th running of the Wood Memorial (G1) that again has a $1,000,000 purse. That means that the top two finishers should have enough to get into the Derby field with the $600,000 and $200,000 that they would earn.
Eleven Wood winners have gone to Louisville and won on the first Saturday in May. Six of the eleven Triple Crown winners ran in the Wood: 1930 Gallant Fox, 1935 Omaha, 1943 Count Fleet, 1946 Assault, 1973 Secretariat, and 1977 Seattle Slew. The importance of this New York prep resounds with the bettors who have made 23 of the Wood winners the Derby favorite. Some racing’s greatest names lost the Run for the Roses as the favorite after winning the Wood: 1953 Native Dancer, 1955 Nashua, 1957 Bold Ruler, 1967 Damascus, and 1989 Easy Goer. The vast majority of the Wood winners go on to run in the Derby.
In January, it is quite hard to pinpoint which Derby trail each of the contenders will take. There are several of the top future book horses that are being prepped by New York based trainers. Todd Pletcher has Discreet Dancer, Algorithms, Gemologist, and Overdriven. Kiaran McLaughlin has Alpha pointed to the Withers. Michael Matz has already run Union Rags on the New York circuit twice. Currency Swap won the Hopeful for Terri Pompay. Jonathan Sheppard has a possibility in Ever So Lucky. Be sure to visit the HRN Kentucky Derby Contenders page.
It is really interesting to look at which races the Derby winners have prepped. The chart shows the Ten Most Important Derby Preps as determined by the number of Derby wins. The Wood Memorial has produced 20 Derby victories. Also, the chart points out which prep races have had the most winners since the 1986 graded stake earnings requirement began.
As of January 19th, Hansen is the leading earner of graded stakes money with $1,080,000 and Gemologist stands in the number 20 spot with $103,855. Money won on the New York Derby trail will have a significant impact on which 20 horses find their way into the starting gate for the 137th Kentucky Derby.
Dr. Fager Easy Goer Damascus Discreet Dancer Nashua Overdriven Gone West Ever So Lucky Seattle Slew Currency Swap Bold Ruler Secretariat Algorithms Alpha Native Dancer Gallant Fox Aloma's Ruler Hansen Union Rags Bernardini Gemologist Count Fleet Assault Polynesian Hill Prince Todd A. Pletcher Kiaran P. McLaughlin Teresa M. Pompay Jonathan E. Sheppard Bay Shore Withers Gotham Wood Memorial Kentucky Derby Count Fleet Stakes Kentucky Derby (2012) Count Fleet Stakes (2012) Wood Memorial (2012) Withers (2012) Gotham (2012) Bay Shore (2012)