Ky. Derby: Which preps have produced the most success?

Ky. Derby: Which preps have produced the most success?
Photo: Gonzalo Anteliz Jr. / Eclipse Sportswire

Rich Strike, an also-ran last year in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks, reminded bettors that Kentucky Derby winners can come from anywhere. With that said, some Kentucky Derby prep races have yielded more success than others.

Historically the Florida Derby (G1) has been the marquee prep for producing Kentucky Derby winners. This trend has continued over the last 20 years with five winners coming from Florida. Maximum Security would have made it six if he was not disqualified in 2019.

Unlike other preps in the last 20 years, only the winners of the Florida Derby have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. This trend would tend to favor 2023 Florida Derby winner Forte over runner-up and live long shot Mage.

PrepKentucky Derby winners to exit this prepKentucky Derby winners who won this prepMost recent Derby Winner
Florida Derby2415 Always Dreaming        (2017)       
Wood Memorial  19  11     Funny Cide        (2003) 
Blue Grass Stakes19 10 Street Sense   (2007)   
Santa Anita Derby1710Justify (2018) 
Arkansas Derby 73Country House (2019)  
Louisiana Derby  5  2 Mandaloun (2021)
 Jeff Ruby Steaks32      Rich Strike          (2022)     
Tampa Bay Derby  2  1      Super Saver       (2010)    
Lexington Stakes2 1      Charismatic     (1999)
Sunland Park Derby  1 0 Mine That Bird (2009) 
UAE Derby  0  0 Never 

Historically the Wood Memorial (G2) has been a productive prep, but it is important to note that it has fallen on hard times in the last 20 years. No Kentucky Derby winners have exited the Wood Memorial since Funny Cide won the Derby after running second in the 2003 Wood Memorial. Fusaichi Pegasus is the last horse to complete the winning double when he did so in 2000. Other than Tacitus, who was placed third via disqualification in 2019, no Wood Memorial winner has even run in the top 3 in the Kentucky Derby since 2003.

The Blue Grass Stakes (G1) also has been in a surprising dry spell. There has not been a Blue Grass winner to repeat in the Kentucky Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991. Street Sense, who ran second in the 2007 Blue Grass, did go on to win the Derby.

Like the Florida Derby, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) has been a powerhouse prep in recent years. Since 2012, five horses who ran in the Santa Anita Derby crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby if one counts Medina Spirit, who was subsequently disqualified. Recent trends would upgrade the Kentucky Derby chances of Practical Move and Skinner, if his connections decide he'll run in the race.

Arkansas Derby (G1) winners have not fared very well in Kentucky historically as only three horses have completed the winning double since the inception of the Arkansas Derby in 1936. With a purse that always seems to be rising, it has been more productive lately. American Pharoah and Smarty Jones, the two most recent horses to win both races, have been two of the most talented Kentucky Derby winners of the last 20 years. 

Two of the last four Kentucky Derby winners ran in the Louisiana Derby (G2). It is worth noting that both horses, Mandaloun and Country House, were placed first via disqualification. Other than these two wins, the race has produced very little in its long history. Grindstone in 1996 was the last winner of the Louisiana Derby to win the Kentucky Derby.

Most winners of the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), formerly the Spiral Stakes, run off the board in the Kentucky Derby, but Rich Strike proved doubters wrong last year. Animal Kingdom won the Spiral and the Derby in 2011, which means this race has been more productive over the last 12 years than many of the more well-known preps.

Winners are few and far between from the Sunland Park Derby (G3), Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Lexington Stakes (G3), but unlike the UAE Derby (G2), they all have produced at least one winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby.

Horses exiting the UAE Derby are 0-for-18 all-time in the Kentucky Derby. The best finish came from Master of Hounds, who was fifth in 2011. There have been many talented winners of the UAE Derby, but Derma Sotogake seems better equipped to handle Kentucky than most. Japan has been bucking trends all over the world in the past couple of years. With two runners in this year's Derby, Japan and the UAE Derby both could produce their first Kentucky Derby winner in 2023.


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