The Kentucky Derby Championship Series – Part 4

Once the Road to the Kentucky Derby has made its overseas visit to the United Arab Emirates, it’s back stateside for the remaining five races on the second leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. The next three races will take horse lovers on a whirlwind tour of Louisiana, New York and California. Make sure to put sunscreen on your horse’s nose, by the way.

March 30: Louisiana Derby (1 1/8 Mile, Dirt, Fair Grounds Race Course)

This is the third of the three March 30 races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s also the oldest, having its inaugural run in 1894 at the old Crescent City Race Course. Conveniently enough, Churchill Downs also owns the Fair Grounds Race Course, and they’ve used this corporate synergy to make the Louisiana Derby a top-flight prep race for the Kentucky Derby. In 2009, they moved the race from eight weeks before the Run for the Roses to five weeks. They also moved the distance from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles, and upped the purse from $600,000 to $750,000. The purse went up again the following year to $1 million.

Despite the long history and the recent upgrades, only two horses have won the Louisiana Derby and then the Kentucky Derby: Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996). The list of near-misses includes Master Derby, who finished fourth at the 1975 Kentucky Derby before winning the Preakness Stakes, and Risen Star, who was third at the 1988 Kentucky Derby before taking both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

Last year’s Louisiana Derby was won by Hero of Order, a 109-1 long shot who didn’t even make it to Churchill Downs. Who will it be this year? The very early list of nominees includes Goldencents, who won the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot last year in Louisiana, and fellow Doug O’Neill horse He’s Had Enough. Mailbu High, Mylute and Departing are also on the list.

April 6: Wood Memorial Stakes (1 1/8 Mile, Dirt, Aqueduct)

The most important race of the year in New York should be producing more Kentucky Derby champions. However three of the last four Wood Memorial winners didn’t even make it to Churchill Downs. I Want Revenge (2009) had ligament damage, Eskendereya (2010) had a tissue injury and Toby’s Corner (2011) developed lameness in his left hind leg. Gemologist broke the streak last year by finishing 16th at the Run for the Roses, a disappointing result for the third favorite at 6-1.

These things happen. Before this dry spell, 11 horses won the Kentucky Derby after winning the Wood Memorial (inaugurated 1925), including four Triple Crown champions:

2000: Fusaichi Pegasus
1981: Pleasant Colony
1977: Seattle Slew
1976: Bold Forbes
1975: Foolish Pleasure
1946: Assault
1945: Hoop Jr.
1943: Count Fleet
1939: Johnstown
1931: Twenty Grand
1930: Citation

That list matches up pretty closely with the glory days of horse racing. Those days look like they’re back in New York thanks to recent state gambling measures that have revitalized the industry. We already know that Todd Pletcher is planning to bring Overanalyze to the Aqueduct; we’ll see who joins him in New York this April.

April 6: Santa Anita Derby (1 1/8 Mile, Dirt, Santa Anita)

Eventually, they’ll figure out how to clone horses and have them run on two separate tracks on the same day. That’s the only way horsemen will be able to avoid choosing between the Aqueduct and Santa Anita. That’s like having to choose between lager and ale.

When it comes to winning the Kentucky Derby, the Wood Memorial has been the more successful prep race. Nine horses have won the Santa Anita Derby and then the Kentucky Derby, or two fewer than at the Wood Memorial – although the Santa Anita Derby has “only” been run since 1935. However California has enjoyed more recent success, producing last year’s big winner, I’ll Have Another. Here’s the complete list:

2011: I’ll Have Another
1989: Sunday Silence
1988: Winning Colors
1978: Affirmed
1969: Majestic Prince
1965: Lucky Debonair
1955: Swaps
1954: Determine
1952: Hill Gail

Santa Anita has also drawn a plethora of top Kentucky Derby contenders in the new millennium. Point Given won the 2001 Santa Anita Derby before finishing fifth at the Kentucky Derby, then took both the Preakness and the Belmont. Brother Derek was the pre-race Kentucky Derby favorite in 2006 before drawing post position No. 18 and finishing in a dead heat with Jazil for fourth place. Pioneerof the Nile finished second behind Mine That Bird at the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

Although Goldencents and He’s Had Enough are on the early list of nominees for the Louisiana Derby, it’s much more likely that Goldencents will run at the Santa Anita Derby. He’s Had Enough could be joining him. Keep an eye on the newswires for further developments.

About Tennessee Leduc

Born in Summersville Kentucky, Tennessee is an impassioned fan of horse racing, women, civilized debauchery, and... mint juleps. He writes, he reads, he listens, but above all he experiences the world he lives in.

Post Navigation