5 key races to know on the 2019 Kentucky Derby trail

April 25, 2019 03:01pm
Win Big on Kentucky Derby this year!

Now that the field for the 2019 Kentucky Derby is set and the post-position draw awaits, let’s take a look back at some of the most important prep races for this year’s contenders.

Arkansas Derby

Omaha Beach
is the biggest name to emerge from this key Kentucky Derby prep. However, there is one other factor that might not be getting enough credit: a closer look at who he beat. A total of four horses from the Arkansas Derby qualified for the Kentucky Derby. Unlike some of our other major prep races this season, a few of the horses that Omaha Beach defeated also won prep races on the Kentucky Derby trail.

The runner-up, Improbable, won the Los Alamitos Futurity and proved that he still a top contender despite losing twice at Oaklawn in the 3-year-old season. Long Range Toddy, the horse that beat him in the Rebel Stakes, didn't take to the slop. While Gray Attempt didn’t qualify for the Kentucky Derby, he too won an official Kentucky Derby prep when he defeated Long Range Toddy in the Smarty Jones Stakes earlier in the season. Finally, Country House, a tested horse that finished in the Top 4 in all three of his Kentucky Derby prep races, is the final qualifier that Omaha Beach overpowered in the Arkansas Derby.  



Florida Derby

After the Florida Derby, one of the most discussed takeaways was how slow they went early. But by completing nine furlongs in 1:48.86, Maximum Security posted the fastest winning time of the six major preps that were raced over a distance of 1 1/8 miles.

But who did he beat? This prep has been among the most productive, historically, but the maiden Bodexpress chased Maximum Security home. The only other Kentucky Derby contender in the field was Fountain of Youth winner Code of Honor.

Will history repeat itself, with the Florida Derby producing the next Always Dreaming, Nyquist or Orb? Or can we more safely dismiss Maximum Security as a product of the pace?



Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Last year, the Breeders’ Cup returned to Churchill Downs for the first time since 2011. Therefore,
Game Winner is returning to Churchill Downs seeking his first win since he dominated the field there to conclude his 2-year-old campaign perfect.

Will Game Winner’s return to Churchill Downs be the missing the ingredient that was absent in his last two races?

A couple of recent champions who welcomed the return to Churchill Downs after winning there in as juveniles include Street Sense, who also won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile under the Twin Spires in 2006, and Super Saver, who scored in the Kentucky Jockey Club as a 2-year-old.



UAE Derby

There's no getting around the fact that this race hasn’t had an impact on the Kentucky Derby. In 13 tries, Master of Hounds owns the best Kentucky Derby performance by a UAE Derby starter when he finished fifth in 2011.

Will the results in 2019 be any different? This year's UAE Derby Top 2 are certainly unique.

Unlike many UAE Derby starters in the past that made the Kentucky Derby their first race in North America,
Plus Que Parfait and Gray Magician are based in the U.S. They've run on American soil before, and as for the UAE Derby winner, Plus Que Parfait, the Kentucky Derby will mark his third career start at Churchill Downs, where he ran second in the Kentucky Jockey Club at 2.



San Felipe Stakes

This race didn't happen, but the sequence of events its cancellation set off make its impact on Kentucky Derby prep season worth mentioning.

After Santa Anita announced that it would cancel races indefinitely amid safety concerns in March, West Coast trainers searched for new options. Particularly, the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Game Winner and Improbable -- then both undefeated -- needed to get their seasons going.

Enter Oaklawn Park, which split its Rebel Stakes into a pair of $750,000 divisions, upping the purse money by a half million, to 
accommodate a total of 19 horses, including all those planning to go a week prior in the San Felipe.

In addition to the Baffert duo, Omaha Beach left California to go in the Rebel, though note that his departure was planned, with Richard Mandella allowing an extra week for a quarter crack to heal following the colt's maiden win.

 

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