The Juvenile racing season is coming to a close. As with any other year at this time there should be much speculation regarding which of our freshman will make it to the first Saturday in May and which of our hopefuls will prove to be pretenders.
However, instead of ranking our Kentucky Derby contenders let’s conclude the Juvenile season by asking if any of you are certain that you’ve seen the next winner yet. And by that I’m referring to whether or not you have actually watched him (or her) race thus far.
Now, that’s a pretty broad question so let’s break it down a little bit further. Where to begin. How about we start in the most obvious place; is our next Kentucky Derby winner a Juvenile that has already won a Graded Stakes?
The first horse that comes to everyone’s mind is Honor Code, the recent winner of the G2 Remsen Stakes. Known for skipping the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after a strong runner up finish to Havana in the G1 Champagne, this stout young colt by A.P. Indy and Serena’s Cat proved the decision to be a wise one. His refuse to lose effort in the Remsen was nothing short of spectacular and he rightfully deserves all of the attention he has been awarded thus far.
But what about some of our other notable Graded Stakes winners? According to our 2014 Kentucky Derby Contenders, the top ten is loaded with Juveniles that have already tasted victory against the some of the best so far. They include Strong Mandate, Shared Belief, Albert’s Hope, No Way Never and the horse that all but beat Honor Code, Cairo Prince. Others that are outside the top ten but have already got our attention include Tapiture, Havana, Tamarando, Rise Up and Wired Bryan.
Since these Juveniles have already won on the main stage, then yes, if they win the Kentucky Derby, you have seen the next best thing race at this stage of the trail by now. In fact, if any of the horses that didn’t win a graded stakes but still entered become the next champion, then I guess we’ve already seen them too. It may not have been the prettiest of efforts but if they were in the program, you at least gave them a glance. Some that come to mind are Tap it Rich, Smart Cover or Yes I’m Lucky.
In case anyone is wondering why I have yet to mention New Year's Day, there is a reason. And that’s because the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has to be addressed on its own. I feel like I’ve pointed it out a million times but until it happens again; I’m not going to stop. We all know that Street Sense is the only horse to ever win both the BC Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. But, are you aware that a BC Juvenile entry has only ever won the Kentucky Derby on 5 occasions? Orb did not enter the 2012 Juvenile so you have to go back to Mine that Bird in 2008-2009 to find the last. Prior it was Street Sense ‘06-'07, Sea Hero ‘92-'93, Alysheba '86-’87 and Spend a Buck '84-'85.
Therefore, we need to ask, will New Year's Day or any other 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile entry win the 2014 Kentucky Derby?
Now let’s move into the area where some may have seen a contender while others did not. Because it lacks Graded Stakes status, you may have missed it. For example, how many of us watched the Colin Stakes at Woodbine? If not, don’t mind that you don’t know who Conquest Two Step is. I’m not sure that I do either but he is ranked inside the top 20. Or what about another Florida bred named Jessethemarine? Did anyone see him win the ungraded Whirling Ash Stakes at Delaware Park or the James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel? He’s not ranked in the top 50 right now but neither is Storming Inti, winner of the Awad Stakes at Belmont Park and Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream.
Should they be? If so, did you see them and do you think they could win in May? Or what about the most mysterious contenders right now; the ones that have only entered in Allowance races and / or Maidens.
Getting the most attention in that category at HRN is Stash the Cat, 2nd place in his only attempt so far, a Maiden Claiming at Churchill Downs on September 20. Another one is Commissioner, a WinStar Farm owned colt that is trained by Todd Pletcher. In two MSW attempts he finished as the runner up before winning. Maybe it has more to do with TP and the colt’s Dam or Sire but none the less Meadowood, a horse that has not raced since breaking his maiden in his only attempt on June 23rd at Monmouth, has also been looked at as a potential contender.
Chances are that most of us have not seen any juveniles that have yet to enter a graded or non-graded stakes race. Sorry it took me this long to bring it up but that, in part, is pretty much my whole point.
How many of us saw Orb race as Juvenile? You may have heard of him but did you actually watch any of his four Maiden races in 2012. What about Animal Kingdom in 2010, did you see him race in either of his maidens?
To sum it up, that is what’s puzzling and also fun about the road to the Kentucky Derby. So many connections are focused on the first Saturday in May, it’s become more about preparations in the Juvenile season than anything else. What’s unique, and a talent of some trainers, is that Graded Stakes races may not matter as much as they used to, especially with the new points system. These days it seems like a juvenile can prepare very well just the same outside of stakes races as they might racing in them. If you're healthy, you're a contender.
To prove that even more, let’s go back to Monarchos and Fusaichi Pegasus. Did anyone watch them not win a single MSW race in their Juvenile season, the only races they entered?
I love thinking that I have already seen the next winner at the end of the Juvenile season but the 3-yr-old season is where stars come out to race more often than not. This isn't to take anything away from the Juvenile season because I do think it is still very important. It's all about the way a horse is handled and prepped for a very a intense few months of racing and training in the 3-4 months leading up to May rather than what races they win or enter as a 2-yr-old.
But, it's still fun to predict. So, has anyone already seen the next Kentucky Derby winner race in 2013?
Here’s a look at our last 20 Kentucky Derby winners and what their best win and entry was in the Juvenile season.
|Year||Horse||Best Win||Best Start|
|2012||I'll Have Another||MSW||G1 Hopeful Stakes|
|2010||Super Saver||G2 Kentucky Jockey Club||G2 Kentucky Jockey Club|
|2009||Mine That Bird||G3 Grey Stakes||G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile|
|2007||Street Sense||G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile||G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile|
|2006||Barbaro||Laurel Futurity||Laurel Futurity|
|2005||Giacomo||MSW||G1 Hollywood Futurity|
|2004||Smarty Jones||Penn Nursery Stakes||Penn Nursery Stakes|
|2003||Funny Cide||Bertram F. Bongard Stakes||Bertram F. Bongard Stakes|
|2002||War Emblem||Allowance||Manila Stakes|
|2000||Fusaichi Pegasus||No wins||MSW|
|1998||Real Quiet||G1 Hollywood Futurity||G1 Hollywood Futurity|
|1997||Silver Charm||G2 Del Mar Futurity||G2 Del Mar Futurity|
|1996||Grindstone||MSW||G2 Bashford Manor Stakes|
|1995||Thunder Gulch||G2 Remsen Stakes||G1 Hollywood Futurity|
|1994||Go For Gin||G2 Remsen Stakes||G2 Remsen Stakes|