Welcome to the major prep season on the trail to the 2013 Kentucky Derby. On Saturday the countdown to the first Saturday May reaches 5 more weeks until we crown the winner of the 139th edition. So, things will be heating up from here and to spice it up even more, the long awaited monster point season begins this weekend as well (100-40-20-10). Over the next couple of weeks the points that are up for grabs and eventually awarded will also bring an answer to the lingering question we’ve all been waiting for; how many points will it take to make the starting gate?
But, before we speculate any further on that pressing query let’s look at another subject that revolves around the two legendary preps that are set to kick things off this weekend; the Florida and Louisiana Derby. Both of these well known preps have a long history on the Kentucky Derby trail but the difference between them producing a Kentucky Derby winner is like comparing Secretariat to the rest of the field in the Belmont Stakes. The margin is so great that it begs the question: how will this trend begin to reverse and when will the other prep start catching up?
Florida Derby – Gulfstream Park
We begin with the runaway winner in this match-up. Inaugurated in 1952 the Florida Derby has become the most well known Kentucky Derby prep and the most influential in modern racing. Because it has produced so many Kentucky Derby winners it can be validated as the most prominent prep of all time. Here are the numbers to support it.
Toasting its 61st anniversary last spring the Florida Derby has produced a total of 21 Kentucky Derby winners. That’s basically an average of once every three years that a Florida Derby horse will wear the roses. The list does not include a Triple Crown winner but without further ado here they are:
Big Brown ’08, Barbaro ’06, Monarchos ’01, Thunder Gulch ’95, Go for Gin ’94, Strike the Gold ’91, Unbridled ’90, Swale ’84, Pleasant Colony ’81, Spectacular Bid ’79, Foolish Pleasure ’75, Cannonade ’74, Forward Pass ’68, Kauai King ’66, Northern Dancer ’64, Carry Black ’61, Venetian Way ’60, Tim Tam ’58, Iron Liege ’57, Needles ’56, Dark Star ‘53
Of these illustrious champions a total of 12 of them also won the Florida Derby. So, if you ever wonder why the Florida Derby winner tends to get so much attention then this might be the reason why. Pushing the hype even more is that the last four Kentucky Derby winners from this prep happen to be examples of that stat. Therefore, don't be surprised if the winner this weekend is talked about over and over again through out the next 5 weeks.
As you can clearly see, the Florida Derby is very successful. If you ask me why the race has enjoyed so much such success I point to one of the biggest things often left out when talking about the most successful horses or stakes races; who the winners beat or in the case of Florida Derby non-winners but eventual Kentucky Derby champions, who they raced against.
The one thing about the Florida Derby that is absolute year in and year out is that the field is always top class. In my opinion that is the key contributor for the Florida Derby’s success. It takes a good horse to win this stakes or at least finish in the top three so like in everything sports, when you play or race against some of the best you're in position to become the best. The Florida Derby has a track record of making it's contenders better and more prepared for the main event and that it hard to argue but also hard to find in Louisiana.
Louisiana Derby – Fair Grounds
While this race goes so much farther back in horse racing history the stats are not as impressive. Dating back to 1894 only three Louisiana Derby horses have ever gone on to claim the roses at Churchill Downs. I could look at that stat fifty different times and I could never interpret it any differently. I’m always shocked at how low that number is and I’m always curious as to when it will happen again.
Funny Cide ’03, Grindstone ’96 and Black Gold ’24. Of the three Black Gold and Grindstone actually won both the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby while Funny Cide finished 2nd.
Now, the good news is that the seventy one year drought was broken by Grindstone in 1996 and the gap between the next was only six years. So, the Louisiana Derby is heading in the right direction. A little bit more about the race that proves it’s come a long way in recent years is that since Churchill Downs took over the Fair Grounds in 2004, they have since helped promote the Louisiana Derby to becoming a more attractive prep.
In 2009, the decision was made that Louisiana Derby would be moved from eight weeks prior to the derby to five. That verdict also included a change in distance (back to 1 1/8 miles for the first time since 1988) and that the purse would increase. In 2011, the Louisiana Derby reached a milestone when it became the very first that was raced at a purse of $1 Million.
The purse has held steady and now that the race has been included along with the other major preps in the new qualification system (170 points) brighter days and more Kentucky Derby winners may be ahead. So, gone are the days when this race was just a prep for the major prep races. It should be noted that Gindstone moved on from Louisiana to finish 2nd in the Arkansas Derby and Funny Cide moved north to Aqueduct to also finish 2nd in the Wood Memorial.
But how soon should we expect for the Louisiana Derby to make some more noise? I think that the better days could be as soon as 2013, but that is up for debate.
Leading the probable Kentucky Derby winners from the Louisiana Derby entries is Revolutionary followed in no particular order by Titletown Five, Code West or Proud Strike. But, when you stack these guys against the Florida Derby entries, Orb, Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby, it looks like the Florida Derby has much better odds at maintaining the upper hand in the 139th Kentucky Derby.