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Next Derby Winner Already Laboring

by Jeremy Plonk

September 4, 2017

Labor Day may mean the close of racing at Saratoga and Del Mar’s summer boutique meetings, but this past week also has been the unofficial kickoff to the 2018 Kentucky Derby season. A bevy of 2-year-old stakes nationwide overwhelm the calendar while Churchill Downs has just now released its new, revamped list of points-producing races domestically and abroad.

It’s a weird seasonal calendar, not necessarily tied to any structure, but this is how the landscape has evolved.

Today they run the Hopeful at Saratoga and Del Mar Futurity out west, traditional closing-day fares at those venerable racetracks. Nothing new there, except for the faces that emerge annually to our consciousness. This is where many first had learned about Affirmed and Afleet Alex, even Silver Charm and American Pharoah. The Hopeful and Del Mar Futurity don’t always produce headliners, but often are a great place to start looking for the “next…”

Today we also get American Quarter Horse Racing’s $3 million juvenile jewel in the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. That, too, has been a Labor Day fixture since the black and white television era.

Also this past week we’ve seen the I’m Smokin at Del Mar; the Affirmed and Susan’s Girl at Gulfstream Park; Monmouth’s Sapling and Sorority; the Colin at Woodbine; the Prince and Princess at Evangeline Downs; and the leading freshman fillies in the Spinaway at Saratoga and the Del Mar Debutante. No doubt the 2-year-olds have taken center stage in a host of racing jurisdictions.

Might the next Kentucky Derby winner already be in our crosshairs? At this time a year ago, Always Dreaming was 0-2 in the maiden ranks at Belmont and Saratoga. Prior to that, Nyquist cruised to victory in the Del Mar Futurity this time in 2015, a race won the previous Labor Day by American Pharoah as well. You may have forgotten California Chrome’s sixth in the Del Mar Futurity the season before that one.

We have to go back to Animal Kingdom in 2011-’12 to find a Derby winner who had not debuted by Labor Day (and he was on the runway 13 days later at Arlington). In fact, it’s been since Barbaro’s 2005 October debut that an eventual Kentucky Derby winner had not debuted Sept. 18 or earlier. That said, there’s a very good chance you’ve already seen next year’s Derby winner already race somewhere.

Perhaps it will be today!

That’s always an exciting prospect.