Derby Wins From the Blue Grass and Arkansas

The major difference in today’s Kentucky Derby Preps when it relates to how many eventual Kentucky Derby winners came from each race is the score: 23-5. The advantage goes to the Blue Grass Stakes, the prep that dates back further and been designated by the American Graded Stakes process as a Grade 1 race for much longer. However, over the last 8 years the advantage goes to the Arkansas Derby. Both races have accomplished their fair share of notoriety but only one has the honor of claiming a Triple Crown Champion. 

The Blue Grass Stakes

The storied Kentucky Derby prep was inaugurated in 1911 at the Kentucky Association, a race track in Lexington that eventually closed in the 1930’s. In 1937 the Blue Grass Stakes was revived at Keeneland after it was run for the last time at Kentucky Association in 1926. Since then the Blue Grass Stakes hasn’t skipped a beat. The 23 Kentucky Derby winners that came from the Blue Grass Stakes make this prep the most successful as it currently has more winners than any other.

In 1941, a horse named Whirlaway made his way through the Blue Grass Stakes for a 2nd place finish before moving on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. To this day Whirlaway remains the only Triple Crown winner to come out of the Blue Grass Stakes.

The closest to joining him was one of the greatest horses to have never won the Triple Crown. In 1979, Spectacular Bid entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated in his 3-yr-old season after winning the Blue Grass Stakes just 9 days before. However, the undefeated season only lasted until he finished 3rd in the final leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park. In 1987, Alysheba finished 3rd at Keeneland before following the same unfortunate series of events and having the Triple Crown bid denied down the stretch at Belmont. In 1995, the Blue Grass stakes produced Thunder Gulch who eventually also scored in 2 legs on the Triple Crown but his only misstep was a 3rd place finish in the 2nd leg, the Preakness Stakes.

In the summer of 2006 is when Keeneland made the decision to replace its dirt course with a Polytrack surface. In the opening year that the Blue Grass Stakes was raced on the new surface is when the last Blue Grass Stakes entry went on to win the Kentucky Derby. That year Street Sense finished 2nd coming off of a win in the Tampa Bay Derby before moving on to win in exciting fashion on the first Saturday in May.

Year – Kentucky Derby Winner – Blue Grass Stakes Finish

  • 2007 Street Sense 2nd                    1995 Thunder Gulch 4th
  • 1993 Sea Hero 4th                           1991 Strike the Gold 1st
  • 1990 Unbridled 3rd                          1987 Alysheba 3rd
  • 1982 Gato Del Sol 2nd                    1979 Spectacular Bid 1st
  • 1972 Riva Ridge 1st                          1970 Dust Commander 1st
  • 1968 Forward Pass 1st                    1967 Proud Clarion 2nd
  • 1965 Lucy Debonair 1st                    1964 Northern Dancer 1st
  •  1963 Chateaugay  1st                      1962  Decidedly  2nd
  • 1959 Tommy Lee 1st                        1942 Shut Out  1st
  • 1941 Whirlaway 2nd – Triple Crown Winner
  • 1926  Bubbling Over 1st                  1921  Behave Yourself  2nd
  • 1913 Donerail 2nd                             1911  Meridian  2nd

Arkansas Derby

Inaugurated in 1936, the Arkansas Derby has continued to be a well-known race on the Kentucky Derby trail. It has remained a Graded Stakes Race since 1973 but was only upgraded to a Grade 1 race in 2009. It was long overdue but now that the race has reached the Grade 1 Level, the odds for more Kentucky Derby winners are getting better.

The biggest and most memorable Arkansas Derby winner that carried his undefeated streak through Oaklawn Park and on to the Kentucky Derby was Smarty Jones in 2004. To this day Smarty Jones remains the only horse to have ever reached the $5 Million bonus for sweeping the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. From there Smarty Jones came about as close as any to win the Triple Crown only to get denied by the slimmest of margins in the Belmont Stakes.

In 1983 Sunny’s Halo became the first ever Arkansas Derby horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Super Saver was the last in 2010. The only trend is that if you are going to become the next, you will be better served with a 1st or 2nd place finish in Arkansas as no other finish outside of the top two has done yet it.

Year – Kentucky Derby Winner – Arkansas Derby Finish

  • 1983 Sunny’s Halo 1st               1992 Lil E Tee  2nd
  • 1996 Grindstone 2nd                2004 Smarty Jones 1st
  • 2010 Super Saver 2nd

I hope this history of horses that used the Blue Grass Stakes – Arkansas Derby as their final step before moving into the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May adds a little bit more prestige to the confusing trail of Kentucky Derby Preps. More importantly, I hope that it proves that these 2 major preps have played a big role for eventual Kentucky Derby winners and can do the same in 2012.

Written by: Little Brink

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