Kentucky Jockey Club is not necessarily good path to Derby

Kentucky Jockey Club is not necessarily good path to Derby
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

As sure as the days get cold this time of year in Louisville, there will be no shortage of declarations that Saturday’s victor in the Grade 2, $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes will have the benefit of a win over the track where the Kentucky Derby will be run May 6.

Only lately has that come to matter.

Mandaloun, through his promotion over the disqualified Medina Spirit in 2021, and Rich Strike, through his 80-1 shocker this year, were the first Derby winners with previous triumphs at Churchill Downs since Super Saver won the 2009 Kentucky Jockey Club and 2010 Derby.

Click here for Churchill Downs entries and results.

A big reason that the win-over-the-track angle has been unreliable has been the annual closing of Churchill Downs for the winter. That leaves the track with no Derby points preps for horses who already have turned 3. The 2-year-olds who win the Iroquois (G3) in September or the Kentucky Jockey Club in November might have blossomed early only to have their rivals surpass them in the spring.

Seven Derby winners used the Kentucky Jockey Club as a prep since the race was inaugurated in 1920. Super Saver was one of five who won both races and one of only two who did so since the Great Depression.

Derby winner*Ky. JCTrainer
1921 Behave Yourself    3rdHerbert J. Thompson
1928 Reigh Count    1stBert Mitchell
1929 Clyde Van Dusen    1stClyde Van Dusen
1931 Twenty Grand    1stJames Rowe Jr.
1974 Cannonade    1stWoody Stephens
1998 Real Quiet    3rdBob Baffert
2010 Super Saver    1stTodd Pletcher
*Previous year 

The number of Kentucky Jockey Club graduates who made it into the Derby starting gate rose in the last decade. The average was 1.25 per year between 2000 and 2011. In the 11 years since, it was up to 2.09.

Few of those horses have had much success running for the roses. Of the 38 who took part in both races since the 1999-2000 season, only three finished in the money in the Derby – first-place Super Saver in 2010, third-place Gun Runner in 2016 and runner-up Tiz the Law in the COVID September of 2020.

Some of that may be owed to the style of horses coming out of the Kentucky Jockey Club. Since 2012-13, only 7 of 21 who also started in the Derby were pacesetters or stalkers. Those were the tactics of eight consecutive horses who crossed the finish line first in the Derby until Rich Strike this year.

YearHorseQuirinKy JC*Derby
2021Smile Happy  P 4  1st    8th
 Classic Causeway  E 8 2nd  11th
 White AbarrioE/P 6  3rd  16th
2020Keepmeinmind  S 2  7th    6th
2019Tiz the LawE/P 7  3rd   2nd
 Enforceable  S 0  4th    7th
 South Bend  P 0  6th  15th
2018Plus Que ParfaitE/P 2 2nd**8th
2017BravazoE/P 510th    6th
 Lone Sailor  S 3  5th    8th
 Enticed  P 3  1st  14th
 Promises Fulfilled  E 8  3rd  15th
2016McCraken  S 3  1st    8th
2015Gun Runner  P 4  4th    3rd
 Mo Tom  S 0  3rd    8th
 Mor Spirit  P 3 2nd  10th
 Tom's Ready  S 1  8th  13th
2014    
2013TapitureE/P 4  1st  15th
2012Will Take Charge  P 313th    8th
 Java's War  P 0  6th  13th
 Frac Daddy  P 3 2nd  16th
2011Optimizer  S 0  4th  11th
 GemologistE/P 7  1st  16th
2010SantivaE/P 4  1st    6th
2009Super Saver  E 6  1st    1st
2008    
2007Anak Nakal  P 1  1st    7th
 Cool Coal ManE/P 5  7th  15th
2006Any Given SaturdayE/P 5 2nd    8th
 Dominican  P 3  3rd  11th
2005Private VowE/P 6  1st  14th
2004Greater Good  S 2  1st  13th
2003The Cliff's Edge  S 0  1st    5th
2002Ten Cents a Shine  S 2 2nd    8th
 Domestic Dispute  P 3  9th  10th
2001Request for ParoleE/P 7 2nd    5th
2000Dollar Bill  P 2  1st  15th
1999Captain Steve  P 3  1st    8th
 High Yield  E 8  6th  15th
   *Following year   
 **Promoted   
 E - Early (pacesetter)   
 E/P - Early presser (stalker)   
 P - Presser (mid-pack)   
 S - Sustainer (closer)  

Forwardly placed has been a term synonymous with Derby success in the last decade, but it has been just the opposite for the Kentucky Jockey Club.

When Smile Happy scored last year by making up four places and four lengths, he was the sixth winner in the previous seven runnings of the November prep to have erased at least 3 1/2 lengths. Since 1991, only Exploit in 1998, Super Saver in 2009 and El Kabeir in 2014 led from gate to wire in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

YearWinner1/41/23/4StrFin
2021Smile Happy  5 -   4   5 -   2 1/44 -    3/41 1
2020Keepmeinmind  9 -   5 1/4  9 -   5 1/49 - 4 1/43 - 2 1
2019Silver Prospector  5 -   3 1/2  6 -   3 1/25 - 1 1/42 -    1/21
2018Signalman  6 -   5   4 -   3 1/24 - 1 1/22 - hd 1
2017Enticed  3 -   1   3 -   1 1/24 - 2 2 -    1/21
2016McCraken  9 -   8 1/2  9 -   5 6 - 3 1/22 - hd 1
2015Airoforce  8 -   3 3/4  7 -   3 1/25 - 2 3 -    1/21
2014El Kabeir  1   1 1 1 1
2013Tapiture  5 -   3   2 -   1 1 1 1
2012Uncaptured  2 -   1   2 -      1/21 2 - hd 1
2011Gemologist  3 -   1   3 -   2 1/22 -    1/21 1
2010Santiva  2 -   2   2 -      1/21 1 1
2009Super Saver  1   1 1 1 1
2008Beethoven  5 -   3   4 -   5 2 - 1 1/21 1
2007Anak Nakal  4 -   2 3/4  4 -   2 1/24 - 1 3/42 -    1/21
2006Tiz Wonderful  2 - hd  2 - hd 2 - hd1 1
2005Private Vow  2 -      1/2  2 -   1 2 - hd1 1
2004Greater Good  7 -   8 1/4  8 - 10 1/47 - 6 1/43 - 1 1/21
2003The Cliff's Edge  8 -   4 3/4  3 -   1 1/21 1 1
2002Soto10 - 16 1/410 - 14 1/48 - 6 1/46 - 1 1/21
2001Repent  6 -   5   5 -   2 1/25 - 3 3 - hd 1
2000Dollar Bill  5 -   4 1/2  5 -   1 3/44 - 2 1/22 - hd 1
1999Captain Steve  3 -   1 1/2  2 -   1 1 1 1
1998Exploit  1   1 1 1 1
1997Cape Town  4 -    2 1/4  3 -   2 1/24 - 2 1/23 - 3 1
1996Concerto  2 -    1/2  2 -   1 1/2 2 - hd 1 1
1995Ide  2 - hd  2 -   1 4 - 1 3/43 -    1/21
1994Jambalaya Jazz  5 -   2 1/2  5 -   4 1/2  1
1993War Deputy  8 -   8 1/2  8 -   7 1/27 - 8 1/23 - 1 1/21
1992Wild Gale  8 -   9 3/410 -   7 1/29 - 7 3/43 - 2 1/21
1991Dance Floor  3 -   4   3 -   6 2 - 3 1 1

Instant Coffee, a maiden winner who finished fourth in last month’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) for trainer Brad Cox, and Freedom Trail, who is 2-for-2 for John Terranova, are the two horses this year who fit the closer’s profile. Red Route One, a maiden victor for Steve Asmussen, also has come from off the pace in his races, most recently a fifth-place result in slop of the Street Sense (G3) last month at Churchill Downs.

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