Of Saturday’s 4 preps, 1 stands out for the Kentucky Derby

Of Saturday’s 4 preps, 1 stands out for the Kentucky Derby
Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire

When it comes to putting horses together with roses, there are not very many races that measure up to the Fountain of Youth and the San Felipe. These Grade 2 stakes have produced a combined 26 winners of the Kentucky Derby – 27 if Medina Spirit were to be restored to his 2021 victory. 

For now, each has produced 13 Derby winners. The momentum belongs to the San Felipe, which will be run this weekend for the 85th time at Santa Anita.

The San Felipe, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct will be renewed Saturday, each with 50-20-10-5 points available to the top four finishers, as long as they are eligible to collect them.

San Felipe (G2)

Against the glare of Life Is Good’s victory, Medina Spirit was widely regarded as an also-ran who happened to give trainer Bob Baffert the exacta in the 2021 San Felipe. Who knew it would be a significant step on the way to a first-place finish in the Derby?

Even if last year were thrown out, four other horses since 2000 used the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe as a springboard to success in Kentucky. Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, California Chrome in 2014 and Authentic in 2020 won both races. After finishing second in 2005, Giacomo pulled off a 50-1 upset at Churchill Downs.

Since California produces so many pacesetting horses, and since forward-running 3-year-olds have performed so well since Churchill Downs created its qualifying-points system nine years ago, it has been appropriate that horses with E (early) and E/P (early-presser) Quirin Speed Points designations have been the most successful graduates from the San Felipe to the Kentucky Derby. These were the graduates since 2000:

YearHorseQuirinSFSDerby
2021Medina Spirit  E 72nd*19th
2020Authentic  E 81st   1st
 Honor A. P.E/P 52nd   4th
 Storm the Court  E 63rd   6th
2019- no San Felipe -   
2018Bolt d'OroE/P 41st 12th
2017GormleyE/P 54th   9th
2016Exaggerator  P 33rd  2nd
 Mor Spirit  P 32nd 10th
 Danzing Candy  E 81st 15th
2015Dortmund  E 81st   3rd
 BoloE/P 63rd 12th
 Ocho Ocho OchoE/P 38th 14th
2014California ChromeE/P 71st   1st
2013GoldencentsE/P 84th 17th
2012Bodemeister  E 82nd  2nd
 Creative Cause  P 41st   5th
 Liaison  P 24th   6th
 Rousing Sermon  S 05th   8th
2011Comma to the Top  E 74th 19th
2010American LionE/P 84th 11th
 Sidney's Candy  E 81st 17th
2009Pioneerof the NileE/P 51st  2nd
2008Bob Black Jack  E 83rd 16th
 GayegoE/P 72nd 17th
2007    
2006Point Determined  P 52nd   9th
 Bob and JohnE/P 53rd 17th
 A. P. WarriorE/P 31st 18th
2005GiacomoE/P 52nd   1st
 Don't Get Mad  S 03rd   4th
 Wilko  P 34th   6th
2004Action This Day  S 17th   6th
2003Atswhatimtalknbout  S 02nd   4th
 Buddy Gil  P 31st   6th
 Ten Cents a Shine  S 28th   8th
 Domestic Dispute  P 35th 10th
 BrancusiE/P 73rd 16th
2002Medaglia d'OroE/P 81st   4th
2001Point GivenE/P 51st   5th
 Jamaican Rum  S 33rd   6th
2000Fusaichi PegasusE/P 71st   1st
 Anees  S 03rd 13th
 The DeputyE/P 52nd 14th
 CommendableE/P 44th 17th
 *DQ'd from 1st.   
 E - Early (pacesetter)   
 E/P - Early presser (stalker)   
 P - Presser (mid-pack)   
 S - Sustainer (closer)  

The early-speed factor has been even more telling in the history of San Felipe winners. Six of the last seven winners led from gate to wire. The lone exception was Bolt d’Oro, who did not lead in 2018 until stewards promoted him over the disqualified McKinzie. These were the San Felipe winners since 2000:

YearWinner1/41/23/4StrFin
  2021Life Is Good11111
  2020Authentic11111
  2019- no race -     
  2018x-Bolt d'Oro4 - 34 - 1 1/43 - 112-hd
  2017Mastery11111
  2016Danzing Candy11111
  2015Dortmund11111
  2014California Chrome11111
  2013Hear the Ghost4 - 2 1/25 - 4 1/24 - 64 - 6 1/21
  2012Creative Cause5 - 45 - 2 1/24 - 1 1/22 -    1/21
  2011Premier Pegasus6 - 5 1/47 - 7 3/45 - 4 1/211
*2010Sidney's Candy11111
*2009Pioneerof the Nile5 - 4 1/22 - 12 -    1/211
*2008Georgie Boy3 - 1 1/23 - 1 1/23 - 13 - 21
  2007Cobalt Blue11111
  2006A. P. Warrior5 - 2 1/26 - 2 1/24 -    3/411
  2005Consolidator2 - hd2 - hd2 - hd11
  2004Preachinatthebar3 - 22 - 1 1/2111
  2003Buddy Gil5 - 1 1/46 - 25 - 34 - 11
  2002Medaglia d'Oro113 -    1/22 - hd1
  2001Point Given5 - 55 - 4111
  2000Fusaichi Pegasus2 - 12 - 22 - 211
 *Synthetic     
  All others dirt.     
 x-Promoted to 1st.    

Four of the last six San Felipe winners were trained by Baffert, who has a record eight career victories in the race. His current maiden winner Armagnac fits the pacesetting profile. So does Forever Kingdom, the San Vicente (G2) victor who could bring trainer Richard Mandella his third victory in this race and his first since 1995.

The usual warning label appears here. Baffert’s horses are ineligible for Derby points because Medina Spirit’s drug positive last spring led Churchill Downs to impose a two-year ban. Any points they earn in Derby preps are being vacated, and they are not passed down to the next-best finisher.

Fountain of Youth (G2)

Think of some of the great names who have won this race. And the Kentucky Derby. And induction into the Hall of Fame. They run from Tim Tam to Spectacular Bid.

But since Bid was big in 1979, only two horses have won both the Fountain of Youth and the Derby – Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Orb in 2013.

Since Orb, only Good Magic in 2018 and Code of Honor in 2019 have come out of this race to hit the board in Louisville, each finishing second. The last two runnings of the Fountain of Youth produced no Derby starters.

Part of this may be the desire of horsemen to train up to the Florida Derby (G1), which this year arrives in four weeks. Five of the last seven Kentucky Derby winners who came out of Gulfstream Park had won the Florida Derby after skipping the Fountain of Youth.

Curiously, the recent graduates from this race who fared best at Churchill Downs were mid-pack horses (P for pressing) and closers (S for sustaining).

YearHorseQuirinFoYDerby
2021    
2020    
2019Code of Honor  S 2 1st 2nd
VekomaE/P 5 3rd12th
2018Good Magic  P 4 3rd 2nd
 Promises Fulfilled  E 8 1st15th
2017Practical Joke  P 3 2nd  5th
 Gunnevera  S 1 1st  7th
 Irish War CryE/P 8 7th10th
2016MohaymenE/P 6 1st  4th
2015FrostedE/P 4 4th  4th
 Itsaknockout  P 4*1st  9th
 Frammento  S 0 3rd11th
 UpstartE/P 7 2nd18th
2014Medal Count  P 3 5th  8th
 We Miss Artie  P 3 8th10th
 General a RodE/P 8 2nd11th
 Wildcat Red  E 8 1st18th
2013Orb  P 2 1st  1st
2012Union Rags  P 2 1st  7th
2011Shackleford  E 6 5th  4th
 SoldatE/P 5 1st11th
2010Ice Box  P 3 5th 2nd
 Jackson BendE/P 5 2nd12th
2009    
2008Anak Nakal  P 1 8th  7th
Court Vision  S 3 3rd13th
Z HumorE/P 5 4th14th
 Cool Coal ManE/P 5 1st15th
Adriano  P 3 9th19th
 MonbaE/P 312th20th
2007Nobiz Like Shobiz  E 7 3rd10th
 Scat DaddyE/P 5 1st18th
 StormelloE/P 8 2nd19th
2006Jazil  S 2 7th  4th
 Flashy BullE/P 5*2nd14th
2005High FlyE/P 6 1st10th
 BandiniE/P 6 2nd19th
2004Read the FootnotesE/P 6 1st  7th
2003Ten Cents a Shine  S 2 6th  8th
 Offlee WildE/P 4 4th12th
 Supah Blitz  P 1 2nd13th
2002Harlan's Holiday  P 3 2nd  7th
Blue Burner  S 0 3rd11th
2001Songandaprayer  E 8 1st13th
 Talk Is MoneyE/P 510thDNF
2000Deputy Warlock  S 0 7th10th
 High Yield  E 8 1st15th
 Hal's Hope  E 7 2nd16th
 *Promoted by stewards.   
 E - Early (pacesetter)   
 E/P - Early presser (stalker)   
 P - Presser (mid-pack)   
 S - Sustainer (closer)  

Headed into its 80th running, the Fountain of Youth has shown no particular favoritism to frontrunners or closers since 2012, when it went back to 1 1/16 miles. Gunnevera in 2017, Code of Honor in 2019 and Greatest Honour last year made up at least 8 1/2 lengths of ground. On the other hand, Promises Fulfilled in 2018 and Été Indien in 2020 led at every call.

YearWinner1/41/23/4StrFin
   2021Greatest Honour  9 -   7 3/48 - 68 - 8 1/24 - 51
   2020Été Indien  11111
   2019Code of Honor  5 -   7 1/25 - 8 1/23 - 42 -    1/21
   2018Promises Fulfilled  11111
   2017Gunnevera10 - 137 - 95 - 411
   2016Mohaymen  5 -   3 1/23 - 1 1/22 -    1/211
   2015x-Itsaknockout  3 -   14 - 24 - 54 - 1 1/22 - 2 3/4
   2014Wildcat Red  12 - hd111
   2013Orb  7 -   86 - 85 - 5 1/22 - 1 1/21
   2012Union Rags  3 -   14 - 24 - 2 1/211
**2011Soldat  11111
**2010Eskendereya  2 -   22 - 1111
  *2009Quality Road  2 -   1 1/22 - 12 -    1/211
**2008Cool Coal Man  4 -   2 1/24 - 44 - 211
**2007Scat Daddy  7 -   56 - 4 1/25 - 35 - 41
**2006x-First Samurai  1112 -    1/22 - 1
**2005High Fly  2 -   22 - 1 1/22 - 111
   2004Read the Footnotes  3 -   2 1/23 - 12 - 12 -    1/21
   2003Trust n Luck  11111
   2002Booklet  11111
   2001Songandaprayer  11111
   2000High Yield  11111
   *1 mile.     
 **1 1/8 miles.     
 Others 1 1/16 mi.     
 x-Promoted to 1st.    

Holy Bull (G3) runner-up Simplification, trained by Antonio Sano, and undefeated stakes debutant Emmanuel for Todd Pletcher figure to attract a big chunk of the handle and be out front early in the race. Morning-line favorite Mo Donegal, a closer from Pletcher’s barn, would have provided a study in contrasts had he not been ruled out Wednesday with a fever.

Gotham Stakes (G3)

At times it has been a two-turn race at 1 1/16 miles. Once it went a mile and 70 yards. It reverted to a one-turn mile in 2018. No matter the distance, this race has produced graduates who rarely finish in the money in the Derby.

Since Easy Goer won the 1989 Gotham and finished second to Sunday Silence in Louisville, only 2000 runner-up Aptitude has hit the board at Churchill, finishing second there, too. But the Gotham produced perhaps the greatest of all Derby champions when Secretariat graduated in 1973, winning each in a stakes-record time.

It should come as no surprise that the last five Gotham horses who finished in the top 10 in Louisville had a forward-going style, including Highly Motivated last year.

YearHorseQuirinGSDerby
2021Highly MotivatedE/P 63rd10th
2020Necker IslandE/P 55th  9th
Attachment RateE/P 33rd14th
2019    
2018Firenze Fire  S 34th11th
Enticed  P 31st14th
Free Drop Billy  P 23rd16th
2017J Boys Echo  P 21st15th
2016ShagafE/P 41stDNF
2015Tendencur  P 35th17th
2014SamraatE/P 61st  5th
Uncle Sigh  E 52nd14th
2013Overanalyze  S 45th11th
VyjackE/P 41st18th
2012Hansen  E 81st  9th
Done Talking  S 010th14th
2011Stay ThirstyE/P 21st12th
2010Awesome Act  P 21st19th
2009    
2008Visionaire  S 31st12th
2007Cowtown CatE/P 61st20th
2006SweetnorthernsaintE/P 73rd  7th
 Keyed Entry  E 72nd20th
2005    
2004    
2003    
2002Saarland  S 32nd10th
2001    
2000Aptitude  P 22nd 2nd

Pacesetters and stalkers, though, have not been as dominant lately in the Gotham as they were the ’00s, when the race had its last four gate-to-wire winners. Since 2010, victorious styles have been mixed. Seven winners came from at least three lengths up the track, but Mischevious Alex in 2020 and Weyburn last year were never more than a length behind at any call.

YearWinner1/4 1/23/4StrFin
   2021Weyburn  2 -      1/22 -     1/22 - hd2 - hd1
   2020Mischevious Alex  4 -   12 - hd111
   2019Haikal  7 - 12 1/47 - 145 - 8 1/24 - 4 3/41
   2018Enticed  6 -   3 1/45 -   32 - 22 -    1/21
  *2017J Boys Echo  4 -   3 1/24 -   74 - 211
  *2016Shagaf  2 -   24 -   23 - 23 - 1 1/21
  *2015El Kabeir  9 -   12 6 -   85 - 411
  *2014Samraat  4 -   1 1/23 -   1 1/23 -    1/211
  *2013Vyjack10 -   78 -   7 1/48 - 6 3/43 - 2 1/21
  *2012Hansen  3 -   12 -      1/22 - hd11
  *2011Stay Thirsty  4 -   34 -   33 - 2 1/22 - hd1
  *2010Awesome Act  7 -   5 1/26 -   44 - 1 1/411
  *2009I Want Revenge  2 -      1/22 -      1/22 - hd11
  *2008Visionaire  xxxx1
  *2007Cowtown Cat  3 -   14 -   14 - 12 - 1 1/21
  *2006Like Now  11111
   2005Survivalist  7 -   3 1/28 -   4 1/24 - 23 - 1 1/21
   2004Saratoga County  5 -   1 1/25 -   1 1/23 - 2 1 -    1/21
**2003Alysweep  11111
   2002Mayakovsky  11111
   2001Richly Blended  11111
   2000Red Bullet  6 -   2 3/45 -   1 1/45 - 211
   *1 1/16 mi (2 turns).     
 **1 mi 70 yds (2 turns).     
 All others 1 mile (1 turn).     
 x-Fog.     
      

The Gotham is unique in that it regresses to a mile at a time when other Derby preps ask horses to extend in distance. It also is the last on the U.S. calendar to be run at only one turn.

John Battaglia Memorial

Even though it became a 10-4-2-1 points prep only last year, this 1 1/16-mile race at Turfway Park has had occasional contributions to the Derby in its 40 runnings, the last 16 of which have been on synthetic surfaces.

Twelve horses who finished this race went on to run for the roses. When Like the King went from second at Turfway to 12th at Churchill last year, he became the first horse from the Battaglia to start the Derby in seven years.

Perfect Drift had the best result in Louisville, going from a runner-up finish in the Battaglia to finish third in the 2002 Derby behind long shots War Emblem and Proud Citizen.

The chart showing Battaglia-to-Kentucky Derby graduates since 2000 is spotty.

YearHorseQuirinJBMDerby
2021Like the KingE/P 42nd12th
2020    
2019    
2018    
2017    
2016    
2015    
2014Harry's Holiday  E 63rd16th
2013Giant Finish  E 82nd10th
2012    
2011Twinspired  P 24th17th
2010    
2009    
2008    
2007    
2006    
2005    
2004    
2003    
2002Perfect Drift  P 32nd  3rd
 Request for ParoleE/P 71st  5th
2001    
2000   

More pertinent to this weekend, horses going forward early have been about as successful as off-the-pace runners in the Battaglia. Of the last eight winners, four came from at least three lengths behind, two made up no more than two lengths, and two led from gate to wire.

YearWinner1/41/23/4StrFin
 2021Hush of a Storm  8 -   7  8 -   6  6 - 2 3/43 - hd1
 2020Invader  3 -   1 1/2  3 -   1  2 - 111
 2019Somelikeithotbrown  3 -   1  3 -   1 1/2  3 - 22 - hd1
 2018Magicalmeister  4 -   3  4 -   3  3 - 211
 2017It's Your Nickel  9 -   9 1/2  8 -   5 1/4  7 - 4 1/411
 2016Surgical Strike10 -   711 -   6 3/4  7 - 2 1/411
 2015Royal Son  1  1  111
 2014Solitary Ranger  1  1  111
 2013General Election  7 - 10 1/2  6 -   8  6 - 5 1/211
 2012State of Play  2 -      1/2  2 -   1 1/2  111
 2011Positive Response  1  1  111
 2010Vow to Wager  8 -   8 1/4  8 -   9  6 - 311
 2009Proceed Bee  3 -   1 1/2  5 -   2 1/4  4 -      3/411
 2008Absolutely Cindy (f)11 - 15 1/211 - 2110 - 10 1/43 - 2 1/21
 2007Catman Running  4 -   2  3 -      1/2  2 - hd11
 2006Laity  1 -      1/2  4 -      3/4  2 - hd2 - hd1
*2005Magna Graduate  2 -      1/2  2-   1 1/2  2 - hd11
*2004Silver Minister  2 -   1  2 - hd  111
*2003Champali  4 -   1 3/4  3 - hd  111
*2002Request For Parole  4 -   1 3/4  3 -   2  2 - 12 - hd1
*2021Bonnie Scot  7 -   8  6 -   9  4 - 4 1/211
*2020Nature  6 -   7  5 -   4 1/2  4 - 311
 *Dirt.     
  Others synthetic.     
 f-Filly.    

The Battaglia is regarded as a prep for next month’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), a race that under other names was a winning stop for Lil E. Tee in 1992 and Animal Kingdom in 2011 on their way to Derby victories.

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