Not sure if you've noticed, but we like to make lists in horse racing, especially around the time of the Kentucky Derby. More often than not they contain the actual contenders for the Running of the Roses, but this list is a bit different. This one is about the actual races that get the runners ready for that all important first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. So without further ado, my top 5 Kentucky Derby preps are......
5. Louisiana Derby, The Fair Grounds
We'll start off with a little controversy, as this is admittedly a race that has questions to answer still. Historically, a lot of success has NOT come from the Bayou. Grindstone won it in 1996 then took the Kentucky Derby, but this was back when the race was run as a prep for a prep. Now, it's run six weeks before the Kentucky Derby and is meant to serve as the first of the last set of preps. It's also contested at 1 3/16 miles, the longest U.S. based prep. Gun Runner took it down in 2016 before running third in the Derby and in 2022, Epicenter used a victory in the race as a springboard to a monster sophomore campaign in which he was runner-up in both the Derby and Preakness and won the Runhappy Travers.
4. Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Park
One would think the California dominance in the Derby would have this race higher on the list but the top-heavy feel and dominance of circuit overall by trainer Bob Baffert has taken some of the bloom off the rose, pun intended, for me. With that said, its track record speaks for itself, though it has suffered from a bit of a lull as of late with Justify in 2018 being the last Santa Anita Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby. I imagine the lull won't last long.
3. Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park
Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher has really dominated this event, having won five of the last nine runnings, and when handicapping the Derby it's always good to know where one of the main players is going to be pointing one of his primary weapons. Always Dreaming winning in 2017 was fun for the boys from Brooklyn but the race has been a bit of a "toss" the past couple of years. You know, that could be just as helpful as being a positive. Sometimes, a negative is even more helpful in handicapping.
2. Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park
Like California, the Baffert factor can get overwhelmingly annoying but it has been fun to watch the Hot Springs oval's emergence over the past two decades since Smarty Jones almost took the Triple Crown. Speaking of the Triple Crown, American Pharoah ended the 37 year drought in 2015 and the historic campaign started in Arkansas and included a win in this event.
1. Wood Memorial, Aqueduct
You had to see this coming. Aqueduct is my favorite track and after the Cigar this is my favorite race at the Big A. I will admit, there were some lean years for the race but I feel that the juvenile program has come along. The fact that Mo Donegal won the Belmont and Early Voting won the Preakness in 2022, and they were 1-2 in the Wood, has given the race a much-needed boost. I like the four-week placement, the nine furlong distance and how it culminates the series here at Aqueduct in the winter over the best racing surface in the country at this time of year.
Why Bet Derby Preps
So why bet the Derby Preps? There is no better way to get familiar with the Derby Contenders than watching their past races - and if you have the chance to win some cash while watching, all the better!
What is Coming Soon?
Stay tuned to NYRA Bets and Twitter for more Derby Prep news...and the chance to compete against me to win Belmont Stakes tickets and NYRA Bets wagering vouchers!