Prepping for the Final Kentucky Derby Prep

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.

Race # of KY Derby Starters % of KY Derby Starters # of KY Derby Winners % of KY Derby Winners # of Years Producing KY Derby Starters Winners Comments
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
TOTAL 362   19

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!

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at

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