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The Kentucky Derby Post

Kentucky Derby Trends: Third Race is No Longer a Charm

Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Trainers have shifted their strategy these days in regards to how often they race their Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Throughout history, any horse that entered the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby for only their 3rd race of the year was at an extreme disadvantage.  Betting against a horse that had very little sophomore season experience used to be as solid as it gets. 

But then came 2007. Before, it was very rare that a horse who had raced fewer than 3 times as a 3-year-old would win the Kentucky Derby. In fact, between 1984 and 2006 it never happened. 

Sunny's Halo won the roses after only racing twice before the first Saturday in May (Won Rebel and Arkansas) but it eventually happened again. However, since that was accomplished in 2007, it hasn't changed. That's six years in row. Will 2013 make it seven?

Kicking off this recent recipe for success was Street Sense trained by Carl Nafzger. After winning the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the champion colt waited until St. Patrick's Day to make his 3-yr-old debut.  After winning the Tampa Bay Derby, Street Sense got into a stretch duel in the Blue Grass Stakes. The 2nd place photo finish provided what he needed and Street Sense was ready to roll with only two preps in his 3-yr-old campaign. 
After this approach to prepping for the Kentucky Derby became a winning a formula it was also questioned if it would happen more often. Any handicappers that felt it would be too tough were in for a rude awakening.  The repeat was on with Big Brown in '08, followed by Mine That Bird in '09 and Super Saver in 2010. 
In one of the most unusual, or maybe just rare, approaches to the Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom kept the streak alive in 2011. Trainer Graham Motion first put him out in Allowance Optional Claiming race at Gulfstream Park. A 2nd place finish then led to a win in the G3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway. What made these two races even more interesting is that they were both in March. But, as we later found out, that was all Animal Kingdom needed before he stepped onto the dirt at Churchill Downs. Animal Kingdom is one of the most memorable Kentucky Derby winners in recent history. Not only did his performance speak for itself but he also caught some attention by becoming the first Kentucky Derby winner that never raced on dirt and the first since Needles in 1956 to win after a six-week layoff.
Bringing us to 2013 with the streak still intact was I’ll Have Another last year. Following a five month layoff the champion colt trained by Doug O’Neill made quite the impression in his return. It was a win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes that put him on the trail and set him up for the Santa Anita Derby. He would go on to win the SA Derby and qualify for the Kentucky Derby with only two prep races in his 3-yr-old season. Again, that was enough and I’ll Have Another delivered on the first Saturday in May.
I compliment these trainers for their approach and for trusting that an active prep season of three races or more was no longer necessary. This seems to be proof that things change over time in sports. In horse racing it also shows that the road to winning the ultimate 3-yr-old prize doesn’t have to mirror the legends that scored over the years and decades before. But, what does this trend say about the chances of it continuing in 2013? In my opinion, it’s wide open so I’ll rate it as 50/50.
Leading the way for this trend is Revolutionary. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the WinStar Farms owned colt began his prep season with a win in the G3 Withers Stakes on February 2nd.  From there he came back on March 30th to win again in the G2 Louisiana Derby. The tough and gritty win over Mylute by a neck gave his connections all they needed to see and the Kentucky Derby will be his third race of 2013.
The second biggest threat to keeping the streak alive is Normandy Invasion. He began his sophomore season with a failed attempt at scoring from well off the pace but returned much stronger his next time out. In the G1 Wood Memorial Normand Invasion launched an all attack on the undefeated Verrazano down the stretch but came short by only 3/4 of a length. The valiant effort did not go unnoticed and he is considered by many to be a serious Kentucky Derby contender.
I put Revolutionary and Normandy Invasion at the top of the list because I think they have the best chance at extending the streak to seven. However, there are the other horses to consider.
 Revolutionary | WinStar Farm | T. Plecther | C. Borel
 Withers Stakes: 1st - Louisiana Derby: 1st
 Normandy Invasion | Fox Hill Farm | C. Brown | J. Castellano
 Risen Star: 5th - Wood Memorial: 2nd
 Mylute | Gold Mark Farm | T. Amoss | R. Napravnik
 Risen Star: 7th - Louisiana Derby: 2nd
 Overanalyze | Repole Stable | T. Pletcher | R. Bejarano
 Gotham Stakes: 5th - Arkansas Derby: 1st
 Java's War | Charles Fipke | K. McPeek | J. Leparoux
 Tampa Bay Derby: 2nd - Blue Grass Stakes: 1st
 Lines of Battle | Tabor, Smith, Allen | A. O'Brien | R. Moore
 UAE Derby: 1st
As we know, these six contenders face a very tough crop of horses that have already raced three times in 2013. I’m not certain if this trend will continue but I am 100% certain about one thing; this trend will not affect which horse I pick in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Some trends are very interesting and can make a very compelling case. This one for me however just isn’t one of them. Instead, I think it’s entertaining and will be very fun to keep an eye on.


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby Trends: Third Race is No Longer a Charm...

woll Desormeaux make it or will the booze prevail, again? http://www.drf.com/news/desormeaux-conflicting-views-his-struggles
...or a last chance to earn a position in the 20 horse traffic 2 minute rush.
You're right, It's not a charm. I believe it's only an opportinty to either freshen up horses with the right aptitude.

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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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