Trends have changed, trainers are shifting strategies, and horses are responding. Throughout history, any horse that entered the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby for only their 3rd race of the year was at an extreme disadvantage and handicappers knew it. Classified under the Experience Trend this used to be as solid as it gets. Going into 2006 only 5 horses since 1937 had raced fewer than 3 times as a 3 year old before going on to win the Kentucky Derby. However, going into 2011, that number has climbed to 9. That’s right, it’s been 4 years in a row. The trend has ended and has been put to bed.
Kicking off the demise of a trend was Street Sense with jockey Calvin Borel and trainer Carl Nafzger. After winning the 2006 Breeders Cup Juvenile, the champion colt waited until St. Patrick’s Day 2007 to make his 3 yr old debut in the Tampa Bay Derby. After finishing 3rd followed by a 2nd place photo finish at the Bluegrass Stakes, Street Sense proved to be in tip-top shape and up for the challenge and moved from last to first in the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby. Talk about ending some streaks, this horse also became the first Breeders Cup Juvenile winner to come back and win the Kentucky Derby.
Things can come in bunches. After the trend seemed to end, any lingering believers that thought it would be too tough to win the Run for the Roses with little racing as a 3 yr old were in for a rude awakening. The repeat was on with Big Brown in ‘08, followed by Mine That Bird in ’09, before Super Saver did it again in 2010. Similar to Street Sense, Todd Pletcher waited patiently before sending Super Saver out in March at the Tampa Bay Derby. After finishing 3rd, Super Saver moved on to the Arkansas Derby to finish 2nd and then handled the slop and won last years Kentucky Derby. Compliments to these trainers for defying the odds and trusting that a past formula for success didn’t hold the weight it once did.
So, it look likes the last four years has started a whole new trend. As I hope you’re wondering because I know am………will 2011 make it 5 in a row? It’s too early for me to tell or touch with a ten foot pole but as anyone’s derby rankings will tell you, it’s very possible. Leading the way is Uncle Mo, who as you read yesterday will make his sophomore start on Saturday in the Timely Writer. But he isn’t the only horse we’re excited to see make their 3 yr old debut on Saturday. Out west Bob Baffert will debut highly regarded Jaycito as well as potential cinderella story Awesome Patriot in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
Over the last couple of weeks we recently saw a few other 3 yr old campaigns get underway with To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty. Both horses seem to have their schedules set and their trainer’s minds made up as the Florida Derby looks to be the 2nd and last race for both before Kentucky. The last remaining touted 3 yr old to debut will be Astrology. Trainer Steve Assmussen seems to be waiting for the Rebel Stakes on 3/19. On the other end of the trend with the overall stats still on their side are some serious contenders. The first two that come to mind are Dialed In heading for the Florida Derby and Mucho Macho Man who’s pointing towards the Louisiana Derby. If these schedules remain, both will head into Kentucky with a total of 3 races under their belts.
While I consider the derby trends fascinating to read about, I’ve learned the hard way never to dismiss a horse due to what derby history is telling me. Come derby day you’re better off making bets on what you see this year not what you’ve seen derby days ago. Ahh Sports………they can be more entertaining with stats (aka Fantasy Football) trends, and claims of “not a chance” but as we’ve seen all too often, records break and streaks end. Only problem we have is guessing when.
Written by: Little Brink