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The Kentucky Derby Post

2014 Kentucky Derby: Chasing Apollo


Only one Kentucky Derby trend has withstood the test of time. Now, with the rise of Hoppertunity, comes another challenger that will attempt to do the improbable.


Since Apollo in 1882, there has not been a Kentucky Derby winner that did not race at age 2. Dating back to the 1940’s there have been over 50 attempts at ending this trend. So, it has been tested. And by all accounts, those that have entered the starting gate on the first Saturday in May with a shot, were also very talented.


The top three challengers over the last 20 years are Strodes Creek, runner-up in 1994, Curlin, 3rd in 2007, and Bodemeister, runner-up in 2012. Yet, with as much flair as these horses had leading up to and after the Kentucky Derby it was not enough to rewrite history. They were not ready and Apollo remains the owner of a feat that has now gone unmatched for 132 years.


But, there’s always a chance that the next Apollo will one day wear the roses. What’s interesting about the possibility of Hoppertunity becoming that champion is that his resume has two big variations than our most recent challengers.


In the chart below you will notice that over the last four attempts, none of the horses that did not race as Juvenile entered a Graded Stakes until March of their 3-yr-old season. In the case of Midnight Interlude he did not race in a graded stakes until April when he won the Santa Anita Derby.


Horse January  February Mach April KyDerby
Hoppertunity 5th / 1st - MSW 4th - Risen Star 1st - Rebel    
*Bayern 1st - MSW 1st - Allowance      
Verrazano 1st - MSW 1st - AlwOC 1st - TB Derby 1st - Wood 14th
Bodemeister 2nd - MSW 1st - MSW 2nd - San Felipe 1st - Arkansas 2nd
Midnight Interlude 3rd - MSW 2nd - MSW 1st - MSW 1st - Santa Anita 16th
Curlin   1st - MSW 1st - Rebel 1st - Arkansas 3rd

 *Should Bayern qualify for the Kentucky Derby he will enter this discussion as well. 


What’s also interesting about Hoppertunity is that he finished 4th in the G2 Risen Star stakes on February 22. Why that is important is because unlike the recent challengers, he is on pace to compete in three graded stakes races prior to the Kentucky Derby, one or two more than the others.


What’s also different, is that Hoppertunity raced in two MSW races in January. Why that stands out is because if he remains on the Kentucky Derby trail and enters the Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby, his total amount of races prior to the Kentucky Derby will be five, more than the recent challengers, including Strodes Creek in 1994.


So, that then begs the question; does this experience give him a better chance of becoming the next Apollo?


Last year, Verrazano brought a very interesting element to this discussion. His career debut race was on January 1, the very first day of the 3-yr-old season. With that some felt as though he should be looked at differently because he was only one day away from racing as a Juvenile.


That is a fair point, and is actually quite similar to Hoppertunity who began his racing career on January 4. But, here’s another statistical measure to consider when handicapping your Kentucky Derby contenders. It’s more than just racing as Juvenile. In all but two years over the last 30 has a Kentucky Derby winner only started once as a 2-yr-old. And, in only 1 of the last 30 years did an eventual winner start their career as late as December. 


Horse > # of Juvenile Starts > Month of first career race

Orb 4 August   Real Quiet 9 June
I'll Have Another 3 July   Silver Charm 3 August
Animal Kingdom 2 September   Grindstone 2 June
Super Saver 4 August   Thunder Gulch 6 September
Mine That Bird 6 July   Go for Gin 5 September
Big Brown 1 September   Sea Hero 7 July
Street Sense 5 July   Lil E Tee 4 September
Barbaro 2 October   Strike the Gold 3 October
Giacomo 4 July   Unbridled 6 August
Smarty Jones 2 November   Sunday Silence 3 October
Funny Cide 3 September   Winning Colors 2 August
War Emblem 3 October   Alysheba 7 July
Monarchos 2 October   Ferdinand 5 September
Fusaichi Pegasus 1 December   Spend a Buck 8 July
Charismatic 7 June   Swale 7 July


Therefore, it seems that in order to win the Kentucky Derby you must begin racing prior to December and race more than once as Juvenile so that you will be ready for the size of the field, the distance, the crowd and every other minor detail that comes into play once the field is released from the starting gate. 


On the other hand, this can also just be considered data. Furthermore, sports have always been able to reverse a trend that seems impossible to break. So, it is probable that we will soon see another champion that joins Fusaichi Pegasus and becomes the next Kentucky Derby winner with only one start as a 2-yr-old in December. In fact, look no further than Hoppertunity's team; same silks, same trainer, same jockey. Midnight Hawk burst onto the scene with a win in the Sham Stakes. Prior he broke his maiden in his career debut, his only race as a Juvenile on Dec. 13. 


And of course, there is now the possibility that Hoppertunity could score an almost impossible achievement. With qualification now in hand, the son of Any Given Saturday and Refugee will need to keep his form and remain healthy before the test becomes official. But if can and if he scores, the third time will be the charm for Bob Baffert who was also the trainer of Midnight Interlude in 2011 and Bodemeister in 2012.


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Older Comments about 2014 Kentucky Derby: Chasing Apollo...

I'm not sold on Hoppertunity just yet, but I do like that he's going to have a stronger foundation than his Apollo-chasing predecessors.
If my memory serves me Majestic Prince had a start very late in his his two yr old season. I thought it was November or December, but may be wrong. But I know the bulk of his running was in the TC and the prep races. Johnny Longden brought him along very slowly.
I prefer to see 3-5 races as a two year old, but 5 races prior to the Derby this year will give him as much or more foundation than the others, so ya I give him a shot if he turns out to be a good as he recently looked.
Don't know if he's good enough but if he is, I see no reason why he can't buck that trend!
5 races as a 3 year old before the derby and no starts as a 2 year old, I dont like him at all to win and he may be over used by then
no! Stop talking about it lol I want high odds on him.

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About Me

Meet Bryan Brinkmeyer – Chicago, IL


Growing up across the river from the Bluegrass State I was able to spend a lot of summer days at Ellis Park, Henderson, KY. 


In the spring of 2000, I made my inaugural Kentucky Derby appearance and the tradition continues because there is no other city in the racing world like Louisville, KY on Derby Day. 


Although the story of a Kentucky Derby winner is legendary, a champions trail is what The Kentucky Derby Post is all about. The coverage begins when Juvenile season starts and continues until the field is set, the picks are in and the roses are awarded. 



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