How to Find a Kentucky Derby Winner

(Photo via

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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 – 2015 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 start the previous year. Seven of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners have competed in a stakes race as a two-year-old, seven of them in graded stakes. However, only four won a graded stakes as a juvenile.

Breeders’ Cup Jinx

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 Kentucky Derby winners in twenty years have even raced in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — Street Sense won and Mine That Bird finished an undistinguished twelfth. One year, there will be another exception: perhaps Nyquist, this year’s Breeders’ Cup hero, will break the mold.

Prep Races

All but five 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 of this changed dramatically in 2007 when Street Sense didn’t start his three-year-old season until March and had only two prep races. Seven of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners followed in the hoof-prints of Street Sense, participating in just two races before heading to the winner’s circle in Louisville. Orb and California Chrome are the only Kentucky Derby winners who made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.

All Kentucky Derby winners in the last ten years had a 1 1/8-mile prep as their final start before entering the Derby starting gate. Only two, Street Sense and Mine That Bird, didn’t win that prep. Seven of the last ten Derby champs exited either the Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby or Santa Anita Derby.

Final Prep of Derby Winner

2015 – Arkansas Derby
2014 – Santa Anita Derby
2013 – Florida Derby
2012 – Santa Anita Derby
2011 – Spiral Stakes
2010 – Arkansas Derby
2009 – Sunland Derby
2008 – Florida Derby
2007 – Blue Grass Stakes
2006 – Florida Derby

Qualifying Points

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 through 2015 Kentucky Derbies fared in the designated two-year-old races:

1st: American Pharoah (10 points)
2nd: Firing Line (4 points)
3rd: Dortmund (10 points)
4th: Frosted (4 points)

1st: California Chrome (0 points)
2nd: Commanding Curve (0 points)
3rd: Danza (0 points)
4th: Wicked Strong (2 points)

1st: Orb (0 points)
2nd: Golden Soul (0 points)
3rd: Revolutionary (0 points)
4th: Normandy Invasion (4 points)

The top two-year-old point holders of 2013 and 2014 were nowhere to be found. The 2015 juvenile points leader Texas Red had to skip the Triple Crown due to injury.

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. Our hero will likely make only two or three starts as a three-year-old. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Year Horse Broke Maiden 2YO  Record BC Stakes Races Graded stakes 1st 3YO Start Date 1st 3YO Race # of Derby Preps
2015 American Pharoah 8/9/14 3-2-0-0 No 2-2-0-0 2-2-0-0 3/14/15 Rebel Stakes 2
2014 California Chrome 4/26/13 7-3-1-0 No 5-2-0-0 1-0-0-0 1/25/14 Cal Cup Derby 3
2013 Orb 11/24/12 4-1-0-1 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/26/13 Allowance 3
2012 I’ll Have Another 7/3/11 3-1-1-0 No 2-0-1-0 2-0-1-0 2/4/12 RB Lewis 2
2011 Animal Kingdom 10/23/10 2-1-1-0 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 3/3/11 Allowance 2
2010 Super Saver 9/11/09 4-2-1-0 No 2-1-0-0 2-1-0-0 3/13/10 Tampa Bay Derby 2
2009 Mine That Bird 8/4/08 6-4-0-0 12 4-3-0-0 2-1-0-0 2/28/09 Borderland Derby 2
2008 Big Brown 9/3/07 1-1-0-0 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 3/5/08 Allowance 2
2007 Street Sense 8/19/06 5-2-1-2 1 3-1-0-2 3-1-0-2 3/17/07 Tampa Bay Derby 2
2006 Barbaro 10/4/05 2-2-0-0 No 1-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/1/06 Tropical Park Derby 3
2005 Giacomo 10/22/04 4-1-1-1 No 1-0-1-0 1-0-1-0 2/5/05 Sham Stakes 3
2004 Smarty Jones 11/9/03 2-2-0-0 No 1-1-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/3/04 Count Fleet Stakes 4
2003 Funny Cide 9/8/02 3-3-0-0 No 2-2-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/18/03 Holy Bull 3
2002 War Emblem 10/4/01 3-2-0-0 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/26/02 Le Comte 4
2001 Monarchos 1/13/01 2-0-0-1 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/13/01 Maiden 4
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 1/2/00 1-0-1-0 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/2/00 Maiden 4
1999 Charismatic 11/21/98 7-1-0-3 No 0-0-0-0 0-0-0-0 1/16/99 Allowance 7
1998 Real Quiet 10/18/97 9-2-0-5 No 3-1-0-2 2-1-0-1 1/18/98 GG Derby 3
1997 Silver Charm 8/24/96 3-2-1-0 No 1-1-0-0 1-1-0-0 2/8/97 San Vicente 3
1996 Grindstone 6/11/95 2-1-0-0 No 1-0-0-0 1-0-0-0 2/16/96 Allowance 4
1995 Thunder Gulch 10/4/94 6-2-2-1 No 4-1-2-0 4-1-2-0 2/18/95 FOY 3


Laurie Ross
Laurie Ross is a handicapper, pedigree consultant and published author. She is also a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. Laurie maintains her pedigree website Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds and pedigree handicapping blog, IMTBreds, where she focuses on two-year-olds and maidens through the Triple Crown Trail.

Since 2008, Laurie has been a featured writer and pedigree analyst with Horse Racing Nation. Laurie’s yearly publications contain tremendous insight and value for bettors and horsemen. The Freshmen Sire Guide has received accolades from leading trainers and handicappers. Her Triple Crown e-books continue to be a best-selling feature. Laurie’s work has been featured on numerous websites and she is a recurring guest on sports radio programs.

Laurie has been around horses for most of her life, working in racing stables as a hot walker and exercise rider in her teenage years, and later as a volunteer with rescued and retired racehorses. She attends thoroughbred auctions year round on behalf of clients and manages the breeding operations for a racing/breeding syndicate.

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