Prepping for the Final Kentucky Derby Prep

by Ray Wallin

This is a fun time of year. The 2019 Kentucky Derby field is starting to take shape, as horses are trying to win enough points to qualify for a spot in the Derby starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The races are worth more points and the fields are getting more competitive. Whether you are a casual fan or you make a living playing the races, it is time to catch “Derby Fever”.

Week to week, the field changes. Horses get injured, don’t perform as well as expected, or come out of nowhere to burst into contention. The current Kentucky Derby picture is as clear as mud.

The Risen Star Stakes was won by War of Will for trainer Mark Casse a few weeks ago and, this past weekend, Shug McGaughey’s Code of Honor came from off the pace to upset Hidden Scroll in the Fountain of Youth.

Yet a majority of the first leg prep races remain, including the “wild card” Jeff Ruby Steaks that occurs during the same time as the first leg preps. Most interestingly are two that run next weekend, which have produced five of the last nineteen Kentucky Derby Winners — the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe Stakes.

Which first leg prep races have yielded the most Kentucky Derby starters and winners?

Since 2000, there have been 362 runners that have started in the Kentucky Derby. While some races have changed dates and become a final prep, like the Florida Derby in 2004, many of the races still produce a lot of the Derby runners.

The game has changed a bit as well with the introduction of points to determine the Kentucky Derby field starting in 2013. While this did affect some of the obscure paths horses took to get to the Derby, many of the main early prep races still remain as major steps.


# of KY Derby Starters

% of KY Derby Starters

# of KY Derby Winners

% of KY Derby Winners

# of Years Producing KY Derby Starters



Allowance – N1X

19 5.25% 4 21.05% 12 Justify, Always Dreaming, Animal Kingdom, Big Brown Various Tracks, No Qualifying Points

San Felipe Stakes (G2)

37 10.22% 3 15.79% 18 California Chrome, Giacomo, Fusaichi Pegasus First Leg – 50pts

Tampa Bay Derby (G2)

30 8.29% 2 10.53% 16 Street Sense, Super Saver First Leg – 50pts

Rebel Stakes (G2)

32 8.84% 2 10.53% 16 American Pharoah, Smarty Jones First Leg – 50pts

San Vincente Stakes (G2)

1 0.28% 1 5.26% 1 Nyquist *No Qualifying Points

Borderland Derby

1 0.28% 1 5.26% 1 Mine That Bird Now the Mine That Bird Derby; No Qualifying Points

Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3)

7 1.93% 1 5.26% 4 I’ll Have Another Prep Season – 10pts

Holy Bull Stakes (G2)

7 1.93% 1 5.26% 7 Barbaro Prep Season – 10pts

Other ALW / OC Races

8 2.21% 1 5.26% 7 War Emblem *No Qualifying Points

Florida Derby (G1)

12 3.31% 1 5.26% 5 Monarchos Became a Final Prep in 2005; Second Leg – 100pts

Louisiana Derby (G2)

23 6.35% 1 5.26% 13 Funny Cide Now a Final Prep; Second Leg – 100pts

Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2)

32 8.84% 1 5.26% 15 Orb First Leg – 50pts

Wood Memorial Stakes (G2)

1 0.28% 0 0.00% 1 Second Leg – 100pts

IRE Starts

2 0.55% 0 0.00% 2 *No Qualifying Points

Santa Anita Derby (G1)

4 1.10% 0 0.00% 4 Second Leg – 100pts

Breeders’ Cup Races – Various (G1)

4 1.10% 0 0.00% 4 Prep Season – 10pts

UAE Starts

6 1.66% 0 0.00% 5 Other than UAE Derby, No Qualifying Points

Maiden Special Weight

7 1.93% 0 0.00% 6 *No Qualifying Points

Southwest Stakes (G3)

8 2.21% 0 0.00% 7 Prep Season – 10pts

El Camino Real Derby

8 2.21% 0 0.00% 8 Prep Season – 10pts

Spiral / Lane’s End / Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3)

13 3.59% 0 0.00% 8 Wild Card – 20pts

Gotham Stakes (G2)

20 5.52% 0 0.00% 14 First Leg – 50pts

Risen Star Stakes (G2)

23 6.35% 0 0.00% 11 First Leg – 50pts

Other Stakes Races

57 15.75% 0 0.00% 18 Various Tracks / Defunct Stakes





As the chart above shows, not only has the San Felipe Stakes sent the most runners (37 horses) to the Kentucky Derby, but has done so the most consistently over the last 19 years (18 times).

Yet, it is the horses that haven’t seen the spotlight yet that are racing at the entry allowance level that have produced the most Kentucky Derby winners and at the highest percentage per starter at 21.05%.

First leg preps that have been the weakest producers of Kentucky Derby winners, include the Louisiana Derby (1 for 23), the Fountain of Youth (0 for 32), the Spiral Stakes (0 for 13), The Gotham Stakes (0 for 20), and the Risen Star Stakes (0 for 23).

The “Other Stakes” category includes stakes that have produced less than five starters and, in some cases, may no longer be run.

All 19 Kentucky Derby winners since 2000 finished in the money in their secondary prep race with 13 of them winning. Only two starters finished more than one length off the winner — Giacomo (6 ½ lengths) and Funny Cide (3 ¼ lengths).

While the excitement for Derby Day is growing, we may not know who the best horse is yet. Perhaps they will dominate and win an entry level allowance race in the next week or two and find themselves on the radar for the first Saturday in May!

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