This is the last week of quiet before the road to the Kentucky Derby gets a steady stream of traffic. From Thanksgiving to Passover and Easter, there may be only four weekends without Derby prep races.
It should come as no surprise that a race like the Florida Derby (G1) has produced more Kentucky Derby winners, 24, than any other. But what about the races that are not worth 100 points for finishing first? How do preps like the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs fit in?
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Sixteen races that are lined up just ahead on the Derby trail may be worth only one-tenth the points. Occasionally, their influence has outpunched their weight, especially one in Southern California in February.
|Ky. Derby 10-4-2-1 preps||Track||Derby wins (most recent)|
|American Pharoah (G1)||SA||3 (Nyquist 2016)|
|Champagne (G1)||BEL||10 (Super Saver 2010)|
|Breeders' Futurity (G1)||KEE||8 (Street Sense 2007)|
|Kentucky Jockey Club (G2)||CD||7 (Super Saver 2010)|
|Remsen (G2)||AQU||6 (Thunder Gulch 1995)|
|Los Alamitos Futurity (G2)||LRC||0|
|Remington Springboard Mile||RP||0|
|Sham (G3)||SA||3 (Medina Spirit 2021)|
|Lecomte (G3)||FG||1 (War Emblem 2002)|
|Southwest (G3)||OP||2 (Smarty Jones 2004)|
|Holy Bull (G3)||GP||3 (Barbaro 2006)|
|Sam F. Davis (G3)||TAM||0|
|Robert B. Lewis (G3)||SA||4 (Medina Spirit 2021)|
|El Camino Real Derby||GG||0|
|John Battaglia Memorial||TP||0|
Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), Nov. 27, Churchill Downs. The two-turn, 1 1/16-mile race has produced seven Derby winners, but Super Saver is the only name that has appeared in the 21st century. He won the 2009 prep and the 2010 Derby, three years before the current qualifying-points system began. Last year’s winner, Keepmeinmind, was the only Kentucky Jockey Club starter to go in the Derby, where he finished seventh. In this case, getting early experience at Churchill does not carry much handicapping heft.
Remsen (G2), Dec. 4, Aqueduct. Go for Gin in 1993-94 and Thunder Gulch in 1994-95 won in both New York and Kentucky, but this prep has not yielded a Derby winner since. Mucho Macho Man was the last horse to hit the board in both races, finishing second in the 2010 Remsen and third in the 2011 Derby. Last year Brooklyn Strong and Known Agenda were first and third, respectively, in the Remsen before finishing 15th and ninth May 1 at Churchill.
Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), Dec. 11, Los Alamitos. Trainer Bob Baffert has won this 1 1/16-mile race every year since the 2013 closing of Hollywood Park forced a move 20 miles southeast to Cypress, Calif. It is easy to say Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs makes this race less important, but a historic truth preceded the ban. No Baffert horse or any other has come out of this race to win the Derby. The nearest was Simon Callaghan’s colt Firing Line, who was second to Dortmund in 2014 before he was a close runner-up to American Pharoah in the 2015 Derby.
Remington Springboard Mile, Dec. 17, Remington Park. This race is only 20 years old, and it was not anointed a Derby points prep until 2017. Only six horses have come through this Oklahoma feature to start the first Saturday in May at Churchill, where none has finished better than fifth. Three of the top four finishers in last year’s Springboard Mile had to forfeit their Derby points because they ran on Lasix, which was banned from the Triple Crown this year.
Gun Runner, Dec. 26, Fair Grounds. This is the first year of this 1 1/16-mile race, so there is nothing specific to go on here. It quickly got the points-prep designation, because the host track is owned by Churchill Downs. Historically, only five horses ever used a current Fair Grounds prep on the way to Derby victories – Black Gold (1924), Grindstone (1996), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003) and Country House (2019). That last one gets a big asterisk since he actually crossed second at Churchill before being promoted by stewards.
Jerome, Jan. 1, Aqueduct. Although this race has been around since 1866, most of its history was written in the autumn. Since it became a wintertime race in 2013, it has carried Derby points but almost no Derby influence. Vyjack (2013) and Firenze Fire (2018) were the only two horses who raced this one-turn mile before running for the roses. Neither finished better than 11th at Churchill.
Smarty Jones, Jan. 1, Oaklawn. This two-turn mile began in 2008, but no horse coming from this Arkansas prep has finished better than eighth in the Derby. Long Range Toddy, runner-up in the 2019, was the last Smarty Jones starter to make it to Louisville. That is where he was promoted to 16th place, just ahead of the disqualified Maximum Security.
Sham (G3), Jan. 1, Santa Anita. The last two Derby winners made their 3-year-old debuts in this race. Authentic and Medina Spirit were trained by Baffert, so insert that caveat here. Giacomo, the 50-1 winner of the 2005 Derby, was the only other Sham horse who eventually wore the roses at Churchill. He was third that winter at Santa Anita when the race went nine furlongs. Now it is a two-turn mile.
Lecomte (G3), Jan. 22, Fair Grounds. Fifth in this race in 2002, War Emblem was the only horse who raced in the Lecomte who eventually won the Derby. Golden Soul was the last horse from this prep to hit the board in Louisville, finishing second to Orb in 2013. Although Midnight Bourbon was an exception last year in leading the whole 1 1/16 miles, 15 of the last 23 Lecomte winners came from off the early pace. That is a style that has not translated well to Churchill Downs in May, especially since the prep-points system was established eight years ago.
Southwest (G3), Jan. 29, Oaklawn. Essential Quality won last winter’s 1 1/16-mile race that was postponed twice by snowy weather in the Ouachita Mountains. It was the first start in what may have been a championship season for the colt who wound up being a beaten favorite in the Derby. Lil E. Tee (1992) and Smarty Jones (2004) are the only Southwest graduates to have worn the roses at Churchill. Since 2009 only Lookin At Lee has come out of this prep to hit the board in the Derby, finishing second to Always Dreaming in 2017.
Withers (G3), Feb. 5, Aqueduct. This is not to be confused with the old Withers Mile, its springtime predecessor that began at Jerome Park in 1874. The last 10 runnings of what is now a 1 1/8-mile race have been run in the winter at Aqueduct. Of the nine horses who graduated from the Withers to the Derby, Revolutionary did the best. He parlayed his 2013 win in Ozone Park into a third-place finish in Louisville.
Holy Bull (G3), Feb. 5, Gulfstream Park. This race that began in 1990 as the Preview Stakes has sent only one horse to the Derby in the last three years. That was Tiz the Law, who won the 1 1/16-mile prep before the pandemic and finished second as the Derby favorite after COVID pushed everything back four months. Go for Gin (1994), Funny Cide (2003) and Barbaro (2006) are the only Derby winners to have come out of this race.
Sam F. Davis (G3), Feb. 5, Tampa Bay Downs. Seen more as a 1 1/16-mile prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, this race that began in 1981 has sent 28 horses to Churchill Downs, including Known Agenda and Hidden Stash this year. Only three finished in the money at the Derby with Bluegrass Cat’s second-place finish in 2006 being the best of them.
Robert B. Lewis (G3), Feb. 6, Santa Anita. Lately this has become the best of the 10-4-2-1 preps. Medina Spirit and Hot Rod Charlie finished one-three in this 1 1/16-mile race last winter and duplicated that result at Churchill Downs. I’ll Have Another also pulled off the Lewis-Derby double in 2012. Two other Derby winners have come out of the Bob Lewis – Ferdinand (1986) and Charismatic (1999). Firing Line and Dortmund, second and third to American Pharoah in the 2015 Derby, also came out of this prep.
El Camino Real Derby, Feb. 19, Golden Gate Fields. One of the rare Derby preps run on a synthetic track, this 1 1/8-mile race has become a points prep for the Preakness. Rombauer won both races last year, skipping a chance to race in Louisville. Charismatic used a second-place finish at Berkeley, Calif., as a launch pad for his 1999 Derby win. Under the points system, though, only Dance With Fate has gone from the El Camino Real to Kentucky, finishing sixth in 2014 beneath the twin spires.
John Battaglia Memorial, March 4, Turfway Park. This is the second season this 1 1/16-mile race on an all-weather course has been a Derby points prep. It is no coincidence this also will be the second full season Turfway Park will be under Churchill Downs ownership. Really a prep for the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), this 1 1/16-mile test has sent 12 of its starters to the Derby, none performing better than Perfect Drift did by finishing third in 2002. In May, Like the King was the first Battaglia horse in seven years to start the Derby, finishing 12th.