Derby Trends: Will the Test of Time Be Too Much?

Midnight Interlude Gets A Victory Pat From Baffert

We have pointed to trends that didn’t seem to want to end but did over the last several years.  It took over 50 years before a horse won after a 5 week layoff, until Barbaro in 2006 followed  by Big Brown in 2008.  The required experience rule was also ended by Big Brown when he became the first horse in nine decades to win the Derby with a mere three starts.  Until Street Sense in 2007, no winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile had come back to win the Derby since the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984.   While these are a few examples of trends that crumbled in time, there is ONE that has been active for over 125 years.

Withstanding the test of time, since Apollo in 1882, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year old.  Going against the trend this year will be Midnight Interlude.  A trend cannot get the attention it does without being tested and this one has.  This year, Midnight Interlude will be the 56th horse since 1944 to enter the Kentucky Derby without starting a race at 2.  Only six horses during this time span finished in the money, the most notable being Strodes Creek, 2nd in 1994, and Coaltown, 2nd in 1948, behind his legendary stablemate, Citation.  Even champion horse, Curlin, was unable to deny Street Sense.  After winning the Rebel and Arkansas Derby this colt had a lot of people betting, including myself, that the trend would end in 2007.  Though he went on to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic at 3 yrs old, he just wasn’t ready enough in May to show the same form.

The reason this trend has become so hard to beat is because there is such a limited amount of time for a horse to develop his or her true potential.  This prep season we saw Nick Zito take Dialed In down an unusual path when he entered his 3 yr old in an allowance race against older company.  While he was unable to beat his 4 yr old stablemate, Equestrio, the colt’s connections and jockey all considered it a valuable experience.  So, if it’s tough for a 3 yr old to beat 4 yr olds so early in the year (March) imagine how tough it is for an unraced 2 yr old to train and develop to be a Derby Champ in about 4 months.  While I give Midnight Interlude all the credit on a brilliant fight down the stretch to win the Santa Anita, I think this trend is too tough a fight for him to win.

Another trend that has been picking up more and more attention over the last 7 years is winning the Kentucky Derby after never racing on dirt.   While switching from turf to dirt has never a produced a winner, anyone who didn’t make the move away from synthetics prior has also never won.  Since the inception of Synthetic Racing Surfaces at Host Derby Prep Races in 2005, this young trend has a threat in 2011 with Master of Hounds and Animal Kingdom.

The European will be making his 2nd trip to Churchill Downs after a 6th place finish in last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf.  His only start in his 3 yr old campaign was a hard fought 2nd place finish in the UAE Derby at Meydan which is now a synthetic racing surface.  Animal Kingdom received good remarks from his connections after he worked for the first time over dirt on Saturday.  However, training and racing are two different things.  In 4 starts he is 2-2-0, most recently winning the Spiral Stakes on 3/26.  His other races included a maiden win a Keeneland, maiden start at Arlington and a 2nd Place finish on the Turf at Gulfstream.  As if deafting one trend isn’t hard enough, both face the daunting task of overcoming the 6 six week layoff, aka The Needles Trend.

All three of these horses had a very successful start to their careers and are likely to enjoy continued success down the road.  Even though I believe the trends will eventually end, I don’t foresee it for any of these in 2011.  However, I’ve claimed “I stand corrected” before so good luck to you and your connections in Kentucky Derby 137.

Written by: Little Brink

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