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Jon White: Kentucky Derby Top 10 Has Much Movement

by Jon White

April 28, 2022

It’s the last week in April, which means the 148th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs is nearly upon us.

There have been a couple of significant developments in the past few days. One involves Tampa Bay Derby winner Classic Causeway. Another involves Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba {pictured above}, who ranked No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for the past two weeks.

Classic Causeway’s name had been crossed off on the list of Kentucky Derby point earners disseminated by Churchill Downs. At the bottom of the list, it’s explained that when a horse’s name is crossed off, it means the horse is “sidelined, inactive or appears to be no longer under serious Kentucky Derby consideration.”

Well, Classic Causeway not only is now under serious consideration, he is running in the 1 1/4-mile classic. This announcement was made Monday (April 25).

Classic Causeway kicked off his 2022 campaign with a 3 3/4-length win in Tampa Bay Downs’ Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 12. He followed that with a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 12. Both victories were accomplished in front-running fashion.

After the Tampa Bay Derby, Classic Causeway was in the Top 10 on most Kentucky Derby lists. I had him ranked No. 3. Classic Causeway was No. 1 on the Thoroughbred Daily News’ Kentucky Derby rankings compiled by T.D. Thornton.

However, Classic Causeway subsequently flopped in Gulfstream Park’s Grade I Florida Derby on April 2. He showed early speed again, but this time he faltered badly and finished 11th.

Can a horse rebound from such a poor performance and win the Kentucky Derby?

History is against it. According to the Kentucky Derby media guide, from 1940 to present, only three horses have won the Run for the Roses off a race in which they finished worse than fourth.

In 2021, Mandaloun finished sixth in the Louisiana Derby. He went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby, then earlier this year was declared the winner after first-place finisher Medina Spirit was disqualified for a medication violation.

For betting purposes, Medina Spirit was the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner. If you don’t count the 2021 renewal, only two horses going all the way back to 1940 have won the roses off a race in which they finished worse than fourth.

That does not bode well for Classic Causeway.

In 1957, Iron Liege finished fifth in the Derby Trial. He won the Kentucky Derby in his next start.

In 1951, Count Turf finished fifth in the Wood Memorial. He took the Kentucky Derby in his next start.

One of the most famous pre-Kentucky Derby defeats, of course, came when Secretariat finished third to stablemate Angle Light and Sham in the 1973 Wood Memorial. Back then, the Wood was just two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat bounced back big-time, not only winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths but also posting a final time of 1:59 2/5 to set a track record that has stood for nearly half a century.

In 2005, Closing Argument went into the Kentucky Derby off a nine-length loss when third in the Blue Grass Stakes. Nevertheless, I made him my top pick in the Kentucky Derby. Most people didn’t think Closing Argument had a prayer to win, hence his odds of 71-1 at race time.

The main reason I went with Closing Argument is I felt he had a very good chance to be either first or second with a furlong to go. By that time I had discovered just how important that is. I also was willing to stick my neck out and go with Closing Argument because he had zero strikes in my Derby Strikes System (more on the system later).

“Closing Argument, like War Emblem in 2003, is a Kentucky Derby longshot with the credentials to win,” I wrote for Xpressbet.com in 2005. “He won the Holy Bull (with the vanquished including High Fly) before finishing third behind Bandini and High Limit in the Blue Grass.”

It turned out that I was correct about Closing Argument in that he was in front by a half-length with a furlong left to run. He stayed in front until the final yards when not quite able to stave off 50-1 longshot Giacomo. Closing Argument had to settle for second, a half-length behind Giacomo.

Though Closing Argument did not win the 2005 Kentucky Derby, he remains one of the picks I’m the most proud of ever making in that he ran so well at such gigantic odds. He paid $70.00 for each $2 place bet. It remains the highest place payoff in the history of the Kentucky Derby.

As for Classic Causeway, if I owned him I would skip the Kentucky Derby with him and run him instead in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 21. I think that 1 3/16-mile race is a better fit for him. Of course, it’s a lot easier for me to say I wouldn’t run him in the Kentucky Derby when I don’t actually own him.

If a horse does have enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby (and Classic Causeway does), I really can’t blame anyone who takes a shot at winning this world-famous, financially consequential event. There is only one Kentucky Derby. And there is just the one chance to run in it.

Trainer Brian Lynch said that discussions with Classic Causeway’s owners, Patrick O’Keefe (Kentucky West Racing) and Clarke Cooper, resulted in the decision to run Classic Causeway in the Kentucky Derby despite what happened in the Florida Derby.

“I’ve been through every excuse not to run him, and I can’t find one,” Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee quoted Lynch as saying.

“The colt has just given me no excuses,” Lynch added. “He’s sound and he worked great Saturday [five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Churchill Downs]. I’ve just got to put a line through the Florida Derby and trek on.”

Putting a line through a disappointing race worked before for Lynch. He trained Oscar Performance, who in 2018 was sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the Grade I Arlington Million. Not only did Oscar Performance lose, he was pulled up in the stretch and vanned off.

“When Oscar Performance appeared to take a bad step in the Arlington stretch, jockey Jose Ortiz acted quickly to pull his mount up and then could do nothing but wait for news as the colt was taken back to the barn for further examination,” BloodHorse’s Alicia Wincze Hughes wrote. “A crises was averted when Oscar Performance cooled out sound and was given a subsequent bill of health after being checked out at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, and when his trainer put him back on the work tab Sept. 3, Oscar Performance confirmed he was unaffected by the incident.”

Five weeks after Oscar Performance did not finish in the Arlington Million, he led past every pole in the Grade I Woodbine Mile. He prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths.

Barring the unforeseen, Classic Causeway’s presence in the Kentucky Derby will impact the pace. The Giant’s Causeway colt has sat off the early pace only once in six career starts. That was when he finished second as the 7-5 favorite after being fourth early in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill last Nov. 27. Smile Happy won that race by 3 1/4 lengths.


Even though Classic Causeway finished up the track in the Florida Derby, he has just one strike in the Derby Strikes System (DSS) that I developed in 1999. The decision to run him in the Kentucky Derby is more palatable to me than if he had three or more strikes.

I developed my Derby Strikes System (DSS) in 1999. It consists of eight key factors that attempt to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the eight categories, the horse gets a strike.

The eight categories in the DSS are listed toward the end of this column/blog/article.

A number of the categories in my DSS are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. As a result, when the race was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 in 2020 due to COVID-19, it rendered my DSS unworkable for that particular year.

Only one horse has won the Kentucky Derby with more than two strikes. That was Mine that Bird, who had four strikes.

A horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. According to the DSS as it’s now constituted and excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (40 out of 48) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.

The seven Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018) and Country House (2019).


The other development, involving Taiba that I mentioned earlier, is Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported last Saturday (April 23) that the Gun Runner colt “will have just one work in preparation for the Kentucky Derby, trainer Tim Yakteen said Saturday, a few hours after he worked his other potential Derby starter, Santa Anita Derby runner-up Messier.”

Taiba overtook Messier in the final furlong of the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby and won the Grade I race going away by 2 1/4 lengths. For Taiba to do that with only a six-furlong maiden victory under his belt was “nothing less than phenomenal,” I wrote.

After the Santa Anita Derby, Taiba zoomed to the top of my Kentucky Derby Top 10.

Yakteen explained to Privman the reasoning behind Taiba having only one workout between the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby.

Taiba “doesn’t need much to be fit,” Yakteen said. “I want to go in on the fresher side. He’ll work Thursday or Friday this coming week [April 28 or 29]. I’ll give him a few stronger gallops.”

I was not thrilled by the news that Taiba did not have a workout last Sunday (April 24) as originally scheduled. For Taiba to miss that workout and Yakteen to say that he wants the colt to go into the Kentucky Derby “on the fresher side” suggests to me that the Santa Anita Derby did take a lot out of Taiba. If this is the case, it is perfectly understandable considering how much was asked of Taiba for him to run in the Santa Anita Derby having only previously raced once in a maiden sprint.

Can Taiba win the Kentucky Derby with but one workout since the Santa Anita Derby? An extremely talented athlete should never be underestimated. And it is clear that Taiba is an extremely talented equine athlete. He has the best Thoro-Graph number, a minus 1/2, among all of this year’s Kentucky Derby candidates. (In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, a higher number is better than a lower one. The opposite is true regarding Thoro-Graph figures.)

Taiba recorded his Thoro-Graph number of minus 1/2 in the Santa Anita Derby. The number in his debut victory was a 2. To put these numbers into perspective, they both are better than anything Epicenter has done so far.

Many observers believe Epicenter is going to be sent away as the Kentucky Derby betting favorite. His best Thoro-Graph number is a 2 1/2. He has recorded a 2 1/2 twice, first when he won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, then also when he won the Grade II Louisiana Derby.

Do I believe Taiba has the sheer talent to win the Kentucky Derby? You bet I do. But I also can’t help wondering if only one workout between the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby will prove successful.

Trying to win the Kentucky Derby in only Taiba’s third career start is enough of a very tough task in itself without making it even more difficult by a revamped workout schedule. Taiba is seeking to become just the second horse to win the Kentucky Derby in his third career start, joining Leonatus, who achieved the feat in 1883.

Horseracingnation.com’s Ed DeRosa pointed out on Twitter that since Churchill Downs instituted the points system in 2013, Taiba would be just the third Kentucky Derby starter to race four weeks beforehand and then have only one workout prior to the first Saturday in May. The two others were Irish War Cry, who finished 10th in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, and Tax, who ran 15th in the 2019 running.

That does not bode well for Taiba. On the other hand, in terms of ability, I would say Irish War Cry and Tax were nowhere close to being in the same league as Taiba.


My Kentucky Derby Top 10 is how I rank the horses in terms of who I think is the most likely winner of that race. As I mentioned earlier, Taiba ranked No. 1 on my Top 10 the past two weeks.

Because of the workout situation, I hemmed and hawed as to whether to move Taiba out of the top spot on my Top 10. I thought about possibly moving him all the way down to No. 5. But I’ve decided to lower him to No. 3. I especially did not want to lower him more than that after some encouraging news Wednesday (April 27).

In an interview with the media Wednesday, Yakeen said “Taiba is on schedule. He’s going to breeze tomorrow. We’ll get a good drill in him. We’ll go three-quarters with him. We’ll look for a good, strong drill. He’s got good energy. We’re on schedule. He looks great.”

Yakteen was asked if it’s any concern for Taiba to have the one drill going into a 1 1/4-mile race.

“No concern,” Yakteen said. “I had to recognize that the horse, even though he bounced out of his race in great shape -- I mean, he looked super and he continues to look super -- I couldn’t overlook the fact of what he accomplished. And more so, more than anything, I wanted to make sure that I was bringing a horse to Kentucky, to Churchill, with a full tank. It would do me no good to take a horse that I misread to Churchill and have him underperform because I overtrained him.”

Meanwhile, I find myself circling back to Messier as a strong Kentucky Derby contender. He had been No. 1 on my Top 10 for nine consecutive weeks, but then dropped to No. 3 after finishing second to Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby. I’m moving Messier back into the top spot this week.

Now that the Thoro-Graph numbers for the Kentucky Derby are coming into focus, I love what I see in that regard for Messier.

I frequently have said that I consider Beyer Speed Figures to be a useful tool for horseplayers. But I’ve also stated many times before that I believe Thoro-Graph numbers are superior to the Beyers. That’s because Thoro-Graph takes more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”

The winner of a race never gets a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second never gets a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.

In the case of the Thoro-Graph numbers, a horse who finished second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the reasons I think Thoro-Graph is better than Beyers. I consider a Thoro-Graph number to be a much truer reflection of a horse’s performance than a Beyer. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the reality that the winner is not necessarily the horse who ran the best race.

If you are a serious horseplayer and do not yet utilize Thoro-Graph in your handicapping, you really should. I just wish that I still could see the Thoro-Graph numbers when making the morning line for Santa Anita and Del Mar. Once the morning line started going into the Daily Racing Form, the morning-line odds had to be submitted prior to the Thoro-Graph numbers being posted online. When I was able to incorporate Thoro-Graph into the morning-line process, I was on more of an even playing field with the horseplayers who do seriously use Thoro-Graph numbers.

What is the best Thoro-Graph number among all the prospective Kentucky Derby starters this year? It is Taiba’s minus 1/2 in the Santa Anita Derby. The next-best number is White Abarrio’s 1 in his Florida Derby victory.

As I noted earlier, possible favorite Epicenter’s two best Thoro-Graph numbers are the 2 1/2 when he won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes and the exact same figure when he won the Grade II Louisiana Derby.

When Messier won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths on Feb. 6, Thoro-Graph credited him with running a 1 1/2 (originally a 1). He then was off for two months before registering another 1 1/2 in the Santa Anita Derby. The way I see it, Messier has every right to run another 1 1/2 or quite possibly an even better number on May 7.

As I noted earlier, I’m moving Messier back to No. 1 on my Top 10 this week. He was below both Taiba and Epicenter last week. I feel more comfortable going with Messier at No. 1 over Taiba because Messier has much more of a foundation for the Kentucky Derby than Taiba. As for moving Messier above Epicenter, I’m swayed by Messier’s pair of 1 1/2 Thoro-Graph numbers being better than Epicenter’s pair of 2 1/2 numbers.

Furthermore, based on Yakteen’s comments Wednesday about Messier, it seems to me that the trainer is anticipating a dynamite performance by the Empire Maker colt on May 7. Yakteen said he thinks Messier’s race in the Santa Anita Derby sets him up “very well” for the Kentucky Derby.

“He did have an extended period between races,” Yakteen said. “And he did all of the heavy lifting [in the Santa Anita Derby when pressing pacesetter Forbidden Kingdom]. So I feel we should see a big move forward from Messier. He’s bounced out his race exceptionally well. He doesn’t give me the impression that he was fatigued…I’m very excited about the way he’s doing it in the mornings and looking forward to him moving forward in the afternoon.”

Messier’s sire was my pick to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby. I think Empire Maker would have won it if Bobby Frankel would have been able to train the colt like he wanted, which Frankel was not able to do because of Empire Maker’s foot issue that occurred from running on a muddy track in his victory over Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial. Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby. But Empire Maker then took the Belmont Stakes to thwart Funny Cide’s bid to sweep the Triple Crown. Funny Cide ran third in the Belmont.

Empire Maker is by Unbridled, who won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990.

I’m moving Zandon up to No. 2 this week after he was No. 4 last week. As time has gone on, my respect for Zandon has grown. Check out the improving Thoro-Graph pattern in his four career starts. Zandon received a 6 1/2 at first asking, then a 4 1/2 when the runner-up in the Remsen, then a 2 1/4 when third in the Risen Star, then 1 1/2 when he rallied from last to win the Blue Grass.

Epicenter slides down a couple of notches to No. 4 this week on my Top 10. I do still regard him as a major player. There is no question that Epicenter has the credentials to become a Kentucky Derby winner.

I’ve elevated Japanese-bred UAE Derby winner Crown Pride from No. 10 to No. 5 this week. More and more I look at him as someone who just might win the Kentucky Derby and continue the recent success of Japanese horses in important races all over the world, such as at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup, plus on the 2022 Saudi Cup and 2022 Dubai World Cup cards.

Crown Pride arrived at Churchill Downs on March 30. He has made a favorable appearance in his training there. On Wednesday (April 27), he drilled four furlongs beneath the Twin Spires in a bullet :46.40.

“With regular morning partner Masa Matsuda aboard, Crown Pride produced fractions of :11.60 and :23.20 [en route to his four-furlong clocking of :46.40] and galloped out [five furlongs] in 1:00.20 and [six furlongs] in 1:14.80 while working in company with the 4-year-old Southern Passage,” Churchill’s Kentucky Derby Update reported.

Below is more detail on Crown Pride’s workout from the keen eye of Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch:

“Crown Pride spent a little time warming up in the chute before coming back on the main track to begin his drill while going in company with the Dale Romans-trained Southern Passage, who briefly was on the Kentucky Derby trail himself a year ago and more recently a good second against entry-level allowance company at Keeneland,” Welsch wrote. “Crown Pride, the UAE Derby winner, wore blinkers for the first time locally, an odd-looking set equipped with eye shields to protect him from any kickback that might occur from working behind another horse.

“Although the work was officially called in as four furlongs by Crown Pride’s connections, he actually broke off at the five-eighths pole, about four lengths or so behind Southern Passage. After stretching his legs with a :13.01 opening furlong, Crown Pride accelerated rapidly, readily running past his target while getting to the top of the stretch after three-eighths in :35.98. He continued to increase his advantage over a somewhat passive partner while working several paths out from the rail and under pressure to the wire. Crown Pride covered the distance in :59.25 before gearing down seemingly purposefully on the gallop-out, easing up after six furlongs in 1:13.43. This more serious and certainly no less impressive move was in contrast, by design, from several days earlier when he worked solo and breezed through the early stages before finishing full of run into and around the clubhouse turn.”

Look, folks, Crown Pride is a serious horse. I wrote this about him for Xpressbet.com earlier this month:

“Crown Pride will have plenty of people dismissing him. But I warn you. He just might make his presence felt on the first Saturday in May. I’d go so far as to say I would not rule out another victory by a Japanese horse in an important race on the world stage. He’s won three of four career starts, but he actually had an excuse when he finished sixth in Tokyo’s Hyacinth Stakes on Feb. 20.

“The track was muddy the day that Crown Pride lost. But the main reason I believe a line can be drawn through that race is it appears to me that he got squeezed back badly in the initial strides, then has a ridiculously wide trip.” Here is a link to a video of that dirt race, which actually begins on the turf (Crown Pride has saddle towel 9): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GIMPc87_lc

This week’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 is below:

1. Messier
2. Zandon
3. Taiba
4. Epicenter
5. Crown Pride
6. Simplification
7. White Abarrio
8. Mo Donegal
9. Tawny Port (new)
10. Cyberknife

Tawny Port is a newcomer on my Top 10 this week, while Smile Happy drops off.

Brad Cox trains Tawny Port, Cyberknife and Zozos. Not surprisingly, Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife and Louisiana Derby runner-up Zozos are getting considerably more respect than Tawny Port.

But I will not be surprised if Tawny Port makes his presence felt in the Kentucky Derby at a big price in the wagering. He might be blossoming at just the right time, much like Charismatic in 1999.

Charismatic was my top pick to win the 1999 Kentucky Derby. Why? His Beyer Speed Figures suggested to me that he was a live longshot.

In Charismatic’s first 13 starts, all in California, his highest Beyer had been a 95. But then he was sent to Kentucky and won the Lexington Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths. He made a giant leap in the Beyer department, recording a 108 in the Lexington.

Charismatic was sent off at 31-1 in the Kentucky Derby. He won.

Tawny Port won this year’s Lexington by one length. His price in the Kentucky Derby probably will be at least that of Charismatic’s 31-1. Like Charismatic, Tawny Port showed dramatic improvement figure-wise in the Lexington, not in terms of Beyer Speed Figures but concerning his Thoro-Graph numbers.

When Tawny Port finished second to Tiz the Bomb in Turfway Park’s Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on a synthetic surface April 2, he recorded a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure. He then regressed slightly to an 89 Beyer in the Lexington.

Consider how that differs from Thoro-Graph. Thoro-Graph gave Tawny Port a 7 in the Jeff Ruby, then a 2 3/4 in the Lexington. That 2 3/4 puts Tawny Port in the ballpark with the big boys in the Kentucky Derby.


Below you will find the number of strikes for the 20 horses considered at this time to be definite or possible for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, plus nine more who currently do not have enough points to start but whose connections have expressed an interest in running if they can.


Classic Causeway (1 strike, Category 5)
Crown Pride (0 strikes)
Cyberknife (0 strikes)
Early Voting (1 strike, Category 4)
Epicenter (0 strikes)
Messier (1 strike, Category 4)
Mo Donegal (0 strikes)
Simplification (1 strike, Category 4)
Smile Happy (1 strike, Category 4)
Tawny Port (0 strikes)
Tiz the Bomb (0 strikes)
White Abarrio (0 strikes)
Zandon (0 strikes)


Barber Road (Categories 2 and 3)
Bye Bye Bobby (Categories 2 and 4)
Major General (Categories 5 and 6)
Pioneer of Medina (Catgories 2 and 4)
Un Ojo (Categories 3 and 7)
Rich Strike (Categories 2 and 3)
Skippylongstocking (Categories 1 and 2)
Summer Is Tomorrow (Categories 2 and 4)
Taiba (Categories 1 and 7)
Zozos (Categories 2 and 7)


Charge It (Categories 1, 2 and 7)
Golden Glider (Categories 2, 3 and 5)
Happy Jack (Categories 2, 3, 6 and 7)
In Due Time (Categories 2, 3 and 5)
Ethereal Road (Categories 2, 3, 4 and 5)
Rattle N Roll (Categories 3, 5 and 6)


Because two of the categories deal with graded stakes races, the Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973. Stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973.

Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. Country House was declared the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But in terms of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun is now recognized as the winner following Medina Spirit’s disqualification.

The strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are below:

2021 Mandaloun (1 strike) Category 4*
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3**
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)

*Medina Spirit (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and all purse money forfeited

**Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and placed 17th


What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:

1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Going back to the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)

2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions going back to the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)

3. THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners through 2021 have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second a furlong from the finish in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)

4. THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 and Mandaloun in 2021, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)

5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)

6. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Going back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)

7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Going back to 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old now are a combined 1 for 67 in the Kentucky Derby through 2021. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 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.)

8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)


It was 50 years ago that I went on the record in my high school newspaper, the Lewis and Clark Journal, stating that Riva Ridge was my pick to win the Kentucky Derby. Riva Ridge did not let me down. He won by 3 1/4 lengths for owner-breeder Meadow Stable, trainer Lucien Laurin and jockey Ron Turcotte.

Riva Ridge was backed down to overwhelming 3-10 favoritism in the Preakness Stakes, but he detested a sloppy track and finished fourth. If Riva Ridge had won the Preakness, his owner, trainer and jockey would have collaborated for back-to-back Triple Crowns inasmuch as they swept the coveted three-race series in 1973 with the great Secretariat.


I urge you to read the outstanding piece on Bates Motel written by Jay Hovdey for the Thoroughbred Racing Commentary website. Here is a link: https://www.thoroughbredracing.com/articles/bates-motel-if-hed-been-human-being-i-think-he-would-have-ended-federal-prison-john-gosden/

This is Hovdey at his best. His best is why Hovdey in 2012 was selected for inclusion on the Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor, joining the likes of Charles Hatton, William Nack, Red Smith, Jim Murray and William Leggett.

When Bates Motel was racing in the early 1980s, I covered him as a writer on the Southern California beat for the Daily Racing Form. Hovdey at that time was an editor in the DRF’s Los Angeles office.

In those days, all of the Eclipse Award winners other than the Horse of the Year were announced early in the year prior to the Eclipse Awards dinner.

One chilly morning at Santa Anita early in 1984, thanks to a confidential source, I found out before it was publicly announced that Bates Motel had been voted a 1983 Eclipse Award as champion older male. With that knowledge, I made my way over to Gosden’s Santa Anita barn to pass along the good news to him.

When I arrived at Gosden’s barn, he was standing in the doorway of his stable office with a clipboard.

“Good morning, John,” I said.

“Morning, Jon,” Gosden countered, continuing to look over the sheet of paper on the clipboard.

I paused a bit, then said, “I know something you don’t know.”

Knowing that the Eclipse Award winners were to be announced later that day, Gosden looked up from his clipboard. He grinned and said, “Is it what I think it is?”

“It sure is,” I said. “Bates Motel was voted an Eclipse Award. Congratulations.”

“That’s fantastic,” Gosden said.

Hovdey’s reflective piece on Bates Motel also is fantastic.


Regal Glory, winner of Keeneland’s Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes on April 16, moves onto the Top 10 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week at No. 10. Ce Ce, No. 10 last week, drops off after finishing third to Letruska and Clairiere in last Saturday’s Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 311 Country Grammer (20)
2. 288 Letruska (9)
3. 261 Life Is Good (3)
4. 227 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 188 Speaker’s Corner
6. 161 Express Train (3)
7. 96 Flightline
8. 70 Olympiad
9. 62 Golden Pal
10. 40 Regal Glory


In this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll, No. 3 Mo Donegal and No. 4 White Abarro swapped places from last week:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 342 Epicenter (28)
2. 285 Zandon (3)
3. 223 Mo Donegal (1)
4. 217 White Abarrio
5. 205 Taiba (1)
6. 170 Cyberknife (2)
7. 149 Messier
8. 95 Smile Happy
9. 59 Simplification
10. 45 Charge It