Strength in Kentucky Derby field reminds us of past races

Strength in Kentucky Derby field reminds us of past races

April 24, 2018 3:00 AM


The 144th Kentucky Derby is quickly approaching. All of the prep races have been run and the field of 20 has taken shape. Barring last minute defections, we know who will be in the field. We will monitor the workouts and crystallize our opinions for how the race will unfold.

The Derby field is one of the strongest we’ve seen in some time. There are two undefeated colts, neither of whom raced as a two-year old (Justify and Magnum Moon). There is the defending two-year-old champion (Good Magic) who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the runner-up in the two-year-old voting (Bolt d’Oro).

There is another champion in the field, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (Mendelssohn) that makes it the first time the Derby has had two Cup winners participate. The three most prominent trainers in North America are heavily represented (Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown). Pletcher has four in the field who are a combined 13 for 17 in their career.

This is a strong group and has to be considered one of the deepest in recent memory. Here are my top five Derby fields prior to this year, dating back to 1989.

1. 1989: This field included two of the top 25 horses of the last 50 years, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Sunday Silence won on a muddy track over Easy Goer who proved the rain was his kryptonite. The field included superstars Clever Trevor, Houston and the top earning Illinois-bred of all time, Western Playboy. But the race was very top heavy with Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, both of whom were sensational in the prep season of that year.

2. 1997: Silver Charm gave Bob Baffert his first Kentucky Derby win. The race included the winner of the Santa Anita Derby (Free House), the winner of the Florida Derby (Captain Bodgit), the blowout winner of the Blue Grass (Pulpit) and the winner of the Arkansas Derby (Crypto Star). Silver Charm would miss the Triple Crown by a head but go on to win the Dubai World Cup.

3. 2001: Florida Derby winner Monarchos closed to win at 11-1 in one of the fastest times in the history of the race. Bob Baffert started 3-for-4 colt Congaree who had a similar profile to Justify. The favorite was Point Given who might be the greatest colt to win two out of three legs of the Triple Crown. He came into the Derby winning three straight after a nose loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile while going 10 wide. He was flat in the Derby and ran 5th. He would never lose again after taking the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers.

4. 2015: American Pharoah outgamed Firing Line to win the Derby on his way to the Triple Crown. Dortmund, who was third, was undefeated 6 for 6 after taking the G1 Los Al Futurity and the G1 Santa Anita Derby. There was the eight length winner of the UAE Derby, Mubtaahij and the undefeated Todd Pletcher colt Materiality, who had a 110 Beyer in the G1 Florida Derby win.

5. 2007: This field might most resemble the version we’ll see in two weeks. It included the Breeders’ Cup winner Street Sense, who would win the Derby. Curlin was unraced as a two-year-old and unstarted until Feb. 3 of that year. He had a maiden win by 13 lengths, a G3 Rebel win of 5 lengths and crushed the Arkansas Derby field by 10 lengths. He overcame trouble in the Derby to finish a fast closing 3rd before eventually becoming Horse of the Year by taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year.

Palace seminar

Please join Ralph Siraco, Gordon Jones and myself at the Palace Station on Friday, May 4 at 8 a.m. to break down both Oaks and Derby day cards. Those in attendance will get both of my six-page analysis reports (Oaks and  Derby) for free. There will be free breakfast and coffee available, as well.

Top play

It comes in Race 2 at Keeneland on Wednesday. It is a $20,000 claiming race at 1 mile and 1/16. No. 8 JEMROSE was facing superior company in allowance conditions at Turfway Park. The last time she was in for a tag she ran 2nd vs. better at Churchill Downs for $30,000. She’ll get a perfect stalking trip from the outside post. Jemrose is 7-2 on the morning line. Post time is 10:39 a.m. PT.