Every year, the racing world looks forward to the unveiling of many promising 2-year-olds as the summer racing season kicks in. The best and most precocious 2-year-olds seem to emerge earlier in the year, while others do not get to the track until the fall rolls around.
Saratoga, or the “Spa,” as it is lovingly nicknamed, is the summer destination for top trainers such as Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown. And it is here they choose to reveal their most talented juveniles.
Saratoga is also the place where the road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) unofficially begins. Yet, surprisingly, over the last 30 years, most Kentucky Derby winners have not broken their maiden at Saratoga.
Since 1976, only two Kentucky Derby winners have broken their maidens at Saratoga. The first to do so was Winning Colors in 1987 followed by Big Brown in 2008.
So where do most Kentucky Derby winners break their maidens? In the past 40 years, 17 Kentucky Derby winners have come from tracks such as Hollywood Park, Arlington, Woodbine, Delaware, Calder or — believe it or not — Turfway Park.
Belmont Park is the most successful track for preparing horses for the Kentucky Derby. Belmont Park has had nine horses in the last 40 years break their maidens over the track, including Super Saver, Funny Cide, Grindstone and Thunder Gulch.
Both Aqueduct and Del Mar boast three Kentucky Derby winners that broke their maidens there before taking the Kentucky Derby. The last horse to do so at Aqueduct was Orb in 2012, while American Pharoah broke his maiden in the Del Mar Futurity (GI), giving Del Mar the most recent maiden graduate to gain Kentucky Derby success.
Saratoga is definitely the centerpiece of the summer racing. There is no question that it draws some of the most competitive fields prior to the Breeders’ Cup, but when it comes to identifying next year’s Kentucky Derby prospects you should look elsewhere.