by Jon White
March 22, 2018
Is this the year it finally happens? Will this be the year in which the Kentucky Derby winner is someone who did not race as a 2-year-old?
We already saw one of the longest streaks in all of sports come to an end last Friday when UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) crushed Virginia by a score of 74-54 in college basketball. Prior to that, No. 16 seeds had lost 135 straight games against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. It marked the first time that a No. 16 seed had knocked a No. 1 seed out of the tourney in its history.
Apollo won the Kentucky Derby in 1882. Since Apollo, 135 straight Kentucky Derby winners have raced as a 2-year-old. But this long streak appears to be in serious jeopardy this year, thanks to a pair of seriously talented colts, Justify and Magnum Moon.
Justify, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, is undefeated and untested in two career starts. I currently have Justify ranked No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list.
Magnum Moon, conditioned by Todd Pletcher, is three for three. I have Magnum Moon at No. 6 following his convincing 3 1/2-length victory in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday.
Here is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:
2. Bolt d’Oro
4. Good Magic
6. Magnum Moon
8. Promises Fulfilled
Justify and Magnum Moon are scheduled to meet in Oaklawn’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 14. That will be an especially important race for Justify in that he has zero Kentucky Derby points at this time, whereas Magnum Moon has 50 points. Bolt d’Oro is the leader with 64 points.
In an excellent article regarding Kentucky Derby points written by Michael Spector for racingdudes.com, he forecasts that a horse will need approximately 34 to 38 points to safely get into one of the two Kentucky Derby starting gates this year. Spector speculated further that it could rise to 40 points or more (a) depending on how many defections occur in the weeks leading up to the first Saturday in May, (b) whether or not horses from the Japan and/or European Roads to the Kentucky Derby take one or two spots in the starting field, and/or (c) how many horses currently pointless will earn 100 points for a win or 40 points for finishing second in the last round of races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Meanwhile, the big news for Southern California racing enthusiasts last Saturday was the announcement that McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro will have a rematch in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 7. These are the two sophomores who put on quite a show in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at the Great Race Place on March 10.
McKinzie, who like Justify resides in the powerful Baffert barn at Santa Anita, finished first by a head in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. Bolt d’Oro finished second. However, Justify was disqualified and placed second for fouling Bolt d’Oro in deep stretch. Bolt d’Oro, conditioned by Mick Ruis, was elevated to first by the stewards following an inquiry that lasted for more than 10 minutes.
As for Magnum Moon, he was assigned a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his Rebel triumph. According to the American Racing Manual, these are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Rebel going back to 1990:
2018 Magnum Moon (97)
2017 Malagacy (94)
2016 Cupid (95)
2015 American Pharoah (100)
2014 Hoppertunity (100)
2013 Will Take Charge (96)
2012 Secret Circle (92)
2011 The Factor (103)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (98)
2009 Win Willy (102)
2008 Sierra Sunset (99)
2007 Curlin (99)
2006 Lawyer Ron (94)
2005 Greater Good (95)
2004 Smarty Jones (112)
2003 Crowned King (90)
2002 Windward Passage (94)
2001 Crafty Shaw (102)
2000 Snuck In (101)
1999 Etbauer (102)
1998 Victory Gallop (105)
1997 Phantom On Tour (102)
1996 Ide (93)
1995 Mystery Storm (93)
1994 Judge TC (95)
1993 Dahlart (105)
1992 Pine Bluff (106)
1991 Quintana (no figure listed)
1990 Nuits St. Georges (82)
Many seem to be “over the moon” vis-a-vis Magnum Moon’s potential to win this year’s Kentucky Derby. But keep in mind what occurred last year.
Pletcher won the 2017 Rebel with Malagacy, who exited the race undefeated in three lifetime starts, just like Magnum Moon. But Malagacy went on to finish fifth in the Grade I Arkansas Derby as the 2-1 second choice in the wagering, a race won by 9-5 favorite Classic Empire. Malagacy did not run in the Kentucky Derby. In fact, he did not make another start in 2017.
APOLLO: A FORTUITOUS KENTUCKY DERBY WINNER
The truth is, Apollo was quite fortunate to win the 1882 Kentucky Derby. He did so as a longshot in what William H.P. Robertson characterized as a “historic upset” in his book “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America.”
Runnymede, the heavy favorite, probably should have won that Kentucky Derby instead of losing by a half-length. Most people at the time were of that opinion.
In all likelihood, Runnymede would have won it if the track had not been wet (officially rated good). He disliked running on a wet track. Moreover, Runnymede was making his 3-year-old debut in the Kentucky Derby. And in 1882, the Kentucky Derby was a 1 1/2-mile race, not a 1 1/4-mile race as it is today.
It obviously was not an easy assignment for Runnymede to make his first start of the year going 1 1/2 miles. That meant Apollo had a distinct advantage against Runnymede inasmuch as Apollo had started three times in New Orleans in 1882 prior to the Kentucky Derby.
If Runnymede had won the 1882 renewal, all 143 Kentucky Derby winners would have raced at 2.
The fact that no horse has won the Kentucky Derby since 1882 without having raced at 2 often is referred to as “the Apollo jinx” or “the Apollo curse.” More than a “jinx” or a “curse,” I believe the reason no one has done it since Apollo is it makes perfect sense for a horse to need a good foundation by having raced some as a 2-year-old prior to being asked to go 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May while carrying 126 pounds.
I also think a good foundation to win the Kentucky Derby does not stem solely from a horse having made at least one start at 2. My belief is it’s also beneficial for a horse to have experienced all of the training necessary in order to be ready to race as a 2-year-old. In other words, to a large extent, it’s the training a horse requires in concert with any racing the horse does as a 2-year-old that builds a good foundation.
Nevertheless, as I have stated a number of times previously, I do believe we will see a Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race at 2 one of these years, mainly because horses do not race anywhere as much these days as they did through most of the Derby’s history. Considering how good Justify and Magnum Moon appear to be, this just might be the year it happens. I especially think Justify, who looks so scary to me in terms of raw talent, could possibly do what has not been done since 1882, back when this nation had 38 states, not 50.
But don’t forget that we have seen some very good racehorses who were unraced at 2 fail to win the Kentucky Derby at 3, such as Forego, Devil His Due, Pulpit, Curlin and Bodemeister.
Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 0 for 61 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to even place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.
Going back to 1937, these are the 61 horses to try and win the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2:
Comenow (finished 12th in 1944)
Bert G. (14th in 1945)
Hampden (3rd in 1946)
Perfect Bahram (9th in 1946)
Rippey (10th in 1946)
Coaltown (2nd in 1948)
Fanfare (5th in 1951)
Golden Birch (19th in 1951)
No Regrets (7th in 1956)
Gone Fishin’ (8th in 1958)
Our Dad (15th in 1959)
Gleaming Sword (13th in 1968)
Fourulla (19th in 1971)
Big Spruce (7th in 1972)
Kentuckian (10th in 1972)
Dr. Neale (15th in 1972)
Forego (4th in 1973)
Twice a Prince (12th in 1973)
Agitate (3rd in 1974)
Confederate Yankee (12th in 1974)
Media (5th in 1975)
Bold Chapeau (8th in 1975)
Amano (4th in 1976)
On the Sly (5th in 1976)
Affiliate (9th in 1977)
Best Person (15th in 1977)
Chief of Dixieland (9th in 1978)
Great Redeemer (10th in 1979)
Flying Nashua (8th in 1981)
Reinvested (3rd in 1982)
Air Forbes One (7th in 1982)
Wavering Monarch (12th in 1982)
Majestic Shore (eased in 1984)
Irish Fighter (11th in 1985)
Wheatley Hall (6th in 1986)
Zabaleta (12th in 1986)
Pendleton Ridge (13th in 1990)
Corporate Report (9th in 1991)
Alydavid (14th in 1991)
Devil His Due (12th in 1992)
Disposal (18th in 1992)
Strodes Creek (2nd in 1994)
Pulpit (4th in 1997)
Desert Hero (13th in 1999)
Valhol (15th in 1999)
Wheelaway (5th in 2000)
Curule (7th in 2000)
Trippi (11th in 2000)
Atswhatimtalknabout (4th in 2003)
Song of the Sword (11th in 2004)
Greeley’s Galaxy (11th in 2005)
Showing Up (6th in 2006)
Curlin (3rd in 2007)
Summer Bird (6th in 2009)
Dunkirk (11th in 2009)
Midnight Interlude (16th in 2011)
Bodemeister (2nd in 2012)
Verrazano (14th in 2013)
Materiality (6th in 2015)
Battle of Midway (3rd in 2017)
Patch (14th in 2017)
BLENDED CITIZEN WINS TURFWAY’S JEFF RUBY STEAKS
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
This marks the first time I have quoted Shakespeare here at Xpressbet.com since I first started writing this column in 2004.
I could not help but think of that famous phrase of The Bard’s when trying to recall how many different names the Spiral Stakes -- known this year as the Jeff Ruby Steaks -- has had through the years.
Blended Citizen, trained by Doug O’Neill, won the Jeff Ruby Steaks last Saturday by a neck at 6-1 with Kyle Frey in the saddle. A son of 2002 Kentucky Derby runner-up Proud Citizen, Blended Citizen was assigned an 83 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance in the 1 1/8-mile race contested on a synthetic surface.
Racing with blinkers for the first time last Saturday, Blended Citizen now has won two of eight career starts. This was his first victory in a graded stakes race.
This race has undergone so many name changes that not even the American Racing Manual has managed to list them all. But when a race has its name changed so many times, I really can’t blame anyone for missing some of them.
I did the very best that I could in researching this. The following is what I found in terms of various names for what began in 1972 as the Spiral Stakes at Latonia (before the track changed its name to Turfway Park in 1986):
1972-1981 Spiral Stakes
1982-1983 Jim Beam Spiral Stakes
1984-1998 Jim Beam Stakes
1999 Galleryfurniture.com Stakes
2000-2001 Turfway Spiral Stakes
2002 Lane’s End Spiral Stakes
2003-2010 Lane’s End Stakes
2011-2012 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes
2013-2016 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Racing Spiral Stakes
2017-2020 Jeff Ruby Steaks
I can’t think of another stakes race that has been run under so many different names.
“STRIKES SEASON” NEARS
As regular readers of my weekly column here at Xpressbet.com know, I have developed the Derby Strikes System, which attempts to ascertain the chances of a horse to win the Kentucky Derby from both a tactical perspective and a historical standpoint. This tactical and historical approach has worked well since I first came up with the system in 1999.
It is not until a horse has made his or her final start before the Kentucky Derby that one can determine a horse’s number of strikes. This could start to occur as soon as after this Saturday’s Grade II Louisiana Derby and Sunday’s Grade III Sunland Derby.
The system consists of nine key factors. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike.
Statistically speaking, it is important for a horse to have zero strikes or one strike. That’s because 38 of the last 45 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike.
According to my Derby Strikes System, it is not impossible for a horse to win the Kentucky Derby with two strikes, but it is unlikely. Only six of the 45 Kentucky Derby winners since 1973 have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
Any horse with three or more strikes has only a remote chance of winning the Kentucky Derby. Of the last 45 horses to win the roses, the only one to have more than two strikes was Mine That Bird, who had four.
In recent years I have come to the conclusion that “the sufficient racing experience” category is the least important by far because horses just do not race as much nowadays as when I first came up with the Derby Strikes System. Horses get a strike in the “sufficient racing experience” category if they go into the Kentucky Derby having made fewer than six lifetime starts.
The only strike for five of the last 12 Kentucky Derby winners came in the “sufficient racing experience” category. The five were Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Animal Kingdom (2011), I’ll Have Another (2012) and American Pharoah (2015).
One of Always Dreaming’s two strikes came in the “sufficient racing experience category.”
Among the plethora of runners who look like they will be getting a strike in the “sufficient racing experience category” this year are McKinzie (No. 1 on my current Kentucky Derby Top 10 list), Justify (No. 3), Good Magic (No. 4), Audible (No. 5) Magnum Moon (No. 6), Promises Fulfilled (No. 7) and Quip (No. 8).
THE LATEST NTRA POLLS
This is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 452 West Coast (31)
2. 326 Unique Bella (2)
3. 302 Roy H (1)
4. 249 Forever Unbridled (1)
5. 232 Accelerate
6. 178 World Approval
7. 142 Gun Runner (12)
8. 139 Gunnevera
9. 137 Abel Tasman
10. 109 Sharp Azteca
Here is this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 451 Bolt d’Oro (32)
2. 424 McKinzie (13)
3. 276 Magnum Moon (1)
4. 245 Audible
5. 240 Good Magic
6. 166 Justify
7. 160 Promises Fulfilled
8. 157 Solomini
9. 117 Enticed
10. 75 Bravazo