There is no more famous race in the world than the Kentucky Derby. Held annually on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the Kentucky Derby is regarded as the most exciting two minutes in sports. The race is contested at a mile and a quarter on the main track and boasts Grade 1 status as well as a purse of $2 million. Restricted to three-year-olds, it is the first jewel of horse racing’s coveted Triple that only twelve horses have claimed.
The Kentucky Derby was run for the first time in 1875, the year Churchill Downs opened its doors, and has been run every consecutive year since then.
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One of the most exciting parts of the road to the Kentucky Derby is picking a horse early in the year and watching he or she progress towards the Run for the Roses. With a Kentucky Derby future wager, you can lock in generous odds on an up-and-coming horse and if they win on the first Saturday in May, you can win big. You can get in on the Kentucky Derby Futures action through one of these safe and secure recommended online racebooks.
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Kentucky Derby Predictions
Predicting the winner of the Kentucky Derby will give you bragging rights all year. However, with a full field of 20 of the most talented three-year-old Thoroughbreds in the world, narrowing down a winner can be a tough task. Having a firm understanding of the history of the race can help with picking the winner and maybe even padding your bankroll.
Kentucky Derby History
The Kentucky Derby stakes record was set in 1973 by the immortal Secretariat. He completed the mile and a quarter in 1:59.40 and that record has not been threatened since. In fact, only one horse since Secretariat has even cracked the 2:00 minute mark for the race and that was Monarchos in 2001 – he finished his winning race in 1:59.97.
Winningest Kentucky Derby Jockeys
There have been two jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby a record five times each – Bill Hartack and Eddie Arcaro. Hartack won with Iron Leige (1957), Venetian Way (1960), Decidedly (1962), Northern Dancer (1964) and Majestic Prince (1969). Arcaro visited the winner’s circle with Lawrin (1932), Hoop Jr (1945), Whirlaway (1941), Citation (1948) and Hill Gail (1952). Both Whirlaway and Citation went on to win the Triple Crown.
While trainer Ben Jones has the record for the most wins in the Kentucky Derby with six victories stretching from 1938 to 1952, contemporary trainer Bob Baffert is closing in on that record. Baffert won the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 1997 with Silver Charm after suffering a nose defeat with Cavonnier to Grindstone the previous year.
He was back in the winner’s circle in 1998 with Real Quiet and has also saddled War Emblem (2002) and American Pharoah (2015) for a total of four. With a stable always loaded with potential stars, there is plenty of time for that number to grow.
Biggest Kentucky Derby Upsets
One of the biggest upsets in modern history came with Mine That Bird in 2009. When torrential rain rendered the track sloppy, jockey Calvin Borel guided the diminutive gelding up the rail from way off the pace to pull off a shocking victory at odds of 50-1. Borel came back to win the Derby again the following year aboard Super Saver, again over an off track.
There have been three fillies in the course of the history of the Kentucky Derby to defeat male rivals and earn a spot in the history books. The first was Regret in 1915. It would take 65 years for another filly to win the race and that was Genuine Risk in 1980.
In 1988, Winning Colors turned in a stunning performance for jockey Gary Stevens and trainer D. Wayne Lukas to win. That race launched Stevens’s career that has spanned decades including two other Kentucky Derby victories – Thunder Gulch (1995) and Silver Charm (1997).
The Juvenile Curse
For many years, there was talk of the “Juvenile Curse” which implied that any horse who earned the Eclipse Award for champion two-year-old would be doomed for the Kentucky Derby. In the past decade, that theory has been heavily debunked. Street Sense, the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse champion, broke the curse in 2007.
Since then, American Pharoah parlayed his award winning juvenile season into not only a Kentucky Derby victory but to win the entire Triple Crown in 2015. In 2016, Breeders’ Cup winner Nyquist also kept his undefeated streak alive and won the Kentucky Derby.
The Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby
Once the calendar turns over to the New Year, the path to qualifying for the 2018 Kentucky Derby starts to get crowded, with qualifying races happening almost every weekend right up until the running of the race on the first Saturday in May.
Throughout January and February, there are 11 qualifying races run in the United States (and one more in Japan) beginning with the (G3) $150,000 Jerome Stakes, run at one mile on the dirt at Aqueduct Race Track on New Year’s Day. Aqueduct also plays host to the (G3) Withers Stakes on the first weekend of February.
Qualifying races will also be run at Santa Anita. The (G3) Sham Stakes at one mile on January 6, and the (G3) Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on February 3; Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Louisiana hosts the (G3) Lecomte Stakes on January 13, and the (G2) Risen Star Stakes on February 17; Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas hosts the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on January 15, and the (G3) Southwest Stakes on February 19; Gulfstream Park in Florida hosts the (G2) Holy Bull Stakes on February 3; and Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco hosts the (G3) El Camino Real Stakes on February 17.
All of these listed qualifying races in the United States award Derby qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four finishers, with the exception of the Risen Star, which awards points on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
Once the season turns to March, the points value of qualifying races begins to go up. As of January 1, the top ten horses on the Derby qualifying leaderboard are 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic with 24 points, followed by Bolt d’Oro (14), Solomini (14), Enticed (12) and then Firenze Fire, Free Drop Billy, Greyvitos, Catholic Boy, The Tabulator and McKinzie all tied with 10. It typically takes a minimum of at least 30 points to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, so no horse as of yet has a spot locked up.