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How to Find a Kentucky Derby Winner
Right around this time of year, there's a buzz in the air. No, it isn't the snow blowers or the crowds at the Christmas sales. It's the horseplayers reviewing early candidates for next year's Kentucky Derby trail.
Over the last twenty years, colts that have been victorious in the Kentucky Derby have followed a fairly specific training pattern. The majority of the Derby winners from 1990 - 2014 made their initial start as two year olds, between June and October and won their maiden between August and September. The exceptions are California Chrome, who debuted in April of his two year old year; plus Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos, who didn't win their maiden race until the following January, although they did run the previous year. Seven of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners have competed in a stakes race as a two year old, six of them in graded stakes. However, only three won a graded stakes as a juvenile.

The winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is normally installed as the future betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Avoid this horse like the plague. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile has almost no bearing on the Kentucky Derby. Only two Derby winners in twenty years have even raced in the Breeders' Cup. Street Sense won and Mine That Bird finished an undistinguished twelfth in the Juvenile. One year there will be another exception. Perhaps this year's Breeders' Cup hero will break the mold.
All except four of the last twenty Derby champs started their three year old season in January or February. Before 2007, our heroes participated in three or four preps before the big race. All this changed dramatically in 2007 when Street Sense didn't start his three year old season until March and had only two prep races. Five of the last seven Kentucky Derby winners followed in the hoof prints of Street Sense, participating in just two races before heading to the winner's circle in the Kentucky Derby. The last two Kentucky Derby winners, Orb and California Chrome, made three starts before the Kentucky Derby, so maybe trainers are going back to traditional methods.
The playing field changed further in 2013 with the inception of the Kentucky Derby points. Points are awarded to the first four finishers of designated stakes races. Thirty-four races are included in the series, starting in September with the Iroquois Stakes and ending in mid-April with the Lexington Stakes.
It's too soon to determine how much credence we can give to the juvenile races that are included in the new Kentucky Derby Points System. Nine races for two year olds are included in the structure, so 36 colts are awarded points. Here's how the top four finishers in the 2013 and 2014 Kentucky Derbies fared in the designated two year old races:
2014
1st place - California Chrome - 0 points
2nd place - Commanding Curve - 0 points
3rd place - Danza - 0 points
4th place - Wicked Strong - 3rd Remsen (G-2) 2 points
2013
1st Place - Orb - 0 points
2nd Place - Golden Soul - 0 points
3rd Place - Revolutionary - 0 points
4th Place - Normandy Invasion - 2nd Remsen (G-2) 4 points
The top two year old point holders of 2013 and 2014 were nowhere to be found.
Now we know the parameters for finding a Kentucky Derby winner. We're looking for a colt who won their maiden race between August and November and who may have participated in a stakes race as a two year old, but not necessarily one of the designated Derby prep races. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
Does that two year old stakes winner have the pedigree, conformation and running style to develop into a Kentucky Derby Contender? Read the pedigree profiles on the Pedigree Power Blog.
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