Road to the Kentucky Derby : Biggest Races
by Trevor Whenham - 1/23/2015
In my view it is never too early to look ahead to the Kentucky Derby. Heck, I start thinking about next year's race on the first Sunday in May. Right around the time of the Super Bowl, though, is when things really start to get interesting on the trail to the Triple Crown. Around the country tracks are being prepared for what is typically a three-race path to the Derby. Some of these prep races are more significant than others. Here's a look at the paths in each area, along with winners of these races that have gone on to Triple Crown glory of some sort.
Feb. 7, Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita: This race has been run since 1935 but only under this name since 2007. Most notably of late, the race produced I'll Have Another - the horse that won the Derby and Preakness before mysteriously being pulled from the Belmont the day before the race and retired - in 2012.
Mar. 7, San Felipe, Santa Anita: A winner of this race hadn't won a Classic since Point Given won two in 2001. But California Chrome changed that last year when he won the first two legs - and went on to be named Horse of the Year.
Apr. 4, Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita: I'll Have Another and California Chrome both won this race, ending a slump that this major prep race had been in again stretching back to Point Given. The temporary switch to a synthetic track in California certainly did not help the fate of this race.
Jan. 31, Withers, Aqueduct: This race was an early step for 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini. It has not been a major producer since, though the last three winners have drawn a fair bit of bettor attention at the Derby.
Feb. 28, Gotham, Aqueduct: This race has fallen on hard times lately. Since Easy Goer won it in 1989, the only notable winners have been 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet and I Want Revenge, who was the 2009 Derby winner before being scratched on the morning of the race. It will always be known, though, as a key Derby prep for Secretariat.
Apr. 4, Wood Memorial, Aqueduct: If the Gotham is famous because Secretariat won it, this race is famous because he lost it. This horse has created some nice winners lately, but they have had bad luck or near misses. The last Classic winner was 2003 Belmont winner Empire Maker.
Mar. 21, Spiral, Turfway: The race produced four straight Classic winners starting in 1990 but then fell out of favor and didn't really factor into the big picture. That all changed in 2011 when Animal Kingdom used this as a springboard to his Derby win.
Apr. 11, Blue Grass, Keeneland: This historic race was once a hugely significant prep. It had been all but meaningless since 206 when the track installed a synthetic surface. With a shift back to dirt last fall, though, we should see a more meaningful race. The track hosts the Breeders' Cup this fall, so optimistic owners could use this race as a chance for their horses to get used to the track.
Apr. 18, Lexington, Keeneland: This race used to matter, but Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic in 1999 was the last meaningful winner. Since then it has been mostly a last gasp race for long shots desperate for a Derby bid.
Jan. 24, Holy Bull, Gulfstream: The first of Gulfstream's three major preps gave us Barbaro as well as 1994 Derby champ Go For Gin.
Feb. 21, Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream: This race has produced four different horses that have gone on to win two Triple Crown races, but none since Thunder Gulch back in 1995. In recent years it has again become significant - 2013 winner Orb went on to win the Derby, and 2012 champ Union Rags took the Belmont.
Mar. 28, Florida Derby, Gulfstream: Orb took this one in 2013 as well. So did Barbaro in 2006. And dual winner Big Brown in 2008. And 12 other Derby winners since 1955 as well - none more impressive than Northern Dancer in 1964.
Feb. 16, Southwest, Oaklawn: This race, which is named for the NCAA's old Southwest Conference, is best known for producing Smarty Jones in 2004.
Mar. 14, Rebel, Oaklawn: Smarty Jones took this one as well. So did Curlin and 2010 Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky. That's some impressive class.
Apr. 11, Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn: Smarty Jones swept the Arkansas prep races in 2004. Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex won it the next year, So did Curlin and 2012 Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister. Arkansas carries its weight.
Feb. 21, Risen Star, Fairgrounds: This Louisiana Derby prep hasn't produced a Triple Crown race winner since 1988 when Risen Star himself won it and then took the Preakness and Belmont. It has produced older horse superstars Lawyer Ron and Mucho Macho Man, though.
Mar. 28, Louisiana Derby, Fairgrounds: This race is a respected prep race, but 1996 Derby winner Grindstone in the only Derby winner since 1924 to come out of it.
Mar. 22, Sunland Derby, Sunland Park: This race isn't an A-lister, but it produces entrants with some consistency, Bob Baffert likes it, and Mine That Bird finished fourth in it in 2009 before his shocking Derby score.
Mar. 28, UAE Derby, Meydan: The last two years this race has given out Kentucky Derby points, so it is now viable for a horse to use this race to rep for the Derby. I'm not holding my breath that we'll see a foreign-based Derby winner any time soon.
Raphael Esparza will be handicapping all of the most important races on the road to the Kentucky Derby. His "Other Sports" package has racked up a profit of $4,800 in 2014, and he is expecting even better things in 2015! Esparza is one of the best horse racing handicappers in the nation for big races, and you can get $60 worth of his expert horse racing picks, or for any sport he handicaps, for free by Clicking Here.
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