The Major Prep Factor
Handicapping the Kentucky Derby
Level: Intermediate
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

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2014 Santa Anita & Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome (Eclipse Sportswire)

updated for 2017

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most over-analyzed events on the racing calendar. There is no shortage of angles to take into account when putting together your wagering for the big day, and some of the most effective “systems” are those that take into account multiple angles. The strike system created by HRTV racing analyst Jon White (link now defunct, sorry) takes into account many factors to find a winner on the big day.

In 2005, based on his strike system, White selected Closing Argument at 71-1. He finished a close second to another longshot, Giacomo. In 2009, his strike system did him no favors when Mine That Bird hit the wire first. Like all systems based in logic, this one goes out the window when a colt shipping in from New Mexico – winless in two starts as a 3-year-old – wins the big race at Churchill. However, the second through fifth place finishers that year all ranked high in White’s system. In racing, even when you are wrong, you can be right. Unfortunately, you don’t always get paid for good handicapping.

From an historical perspective, one of the most reliable angles can be found in the results of the four major prep races. Of the 63 winners of the Kentucky Derby since 1952, 48 (76%) finished in the top three in either the Florida Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial, or Santa Anita Derby. Of the last 63 Derby winners, 22 (35%) have finished first in one of these prep races.

The change to a synthetic racing surface at Keeneland and the enhanced stature of the Arkansas Derby have some questioning the importance of the big four. However, the reliability of this angle has only been off slightly since 2000, and Keeneland has returned to dirt as of 2015. Eight of the thirteen winners this century have finished in the top three in one of the four major preps. Five colts have won one of these preps before winning on the first Saturday in May.

In 2012, two of the top three in the Kentucky Derby won a major prep, the Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby and Dullahan, the third place finisher, won the Blue Grass Stakes. Bodemeister, who finished second, won the Arkansas Derby which made it the third straight year that runners from Hot Springs finished in the top three in the Kentucky Derby. In 2013 none of the top three finishers prepped in the Arkansas Derby.

It’s hard to believe that it has been over 10 years since a colt that finished in the top three of the Wood Memorial has done the same in the Kentucky Derby. In 2003, Empire Maker and Funny Cide finished first and second in both but the Wood runners have done nothing in the Derby since.

2017 Kentucky Derby
Potential Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Irap – 1st Blue Grass – chart

Practical Joke – 2nd Blue Grass – chart

McCraken – 3rd Blue Grass – chart

Always Dreaming – 1st Florida Derby – chart

State of Honor – 2nd Florida Derby – chart

Gunnevera – 3rd Florida Derby – chart

Gormley – 1st Santa Anita Derby – chart

Battle of Midway – 2nd Santa Anita Derby – chart

Royal Mo – 3rd Santa Anita Derby – chart

Irish War Cry – 1st Wood Memorial – chart

Battalion Runner – 2nd Wood Memorial – chart

Cloud Computing – 3rd Wood Memorial – chart

2016 Kentucky Derby
Potential Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Brody’s Cause – 1st Blue Grass – chart

My Man Sam – 2nd Blue Grass – chart

Nyquist – 1st Florida Derby – chartWINNER (chart)

Majesto – 2nd Florida Derby – chart

Exaggerator – 1st Santa Anita Derby – chartPLACE (2nd) (chart)

Mor Spirit – 2nd Santa Anita Derby – chart

Outwork – 1st Wood Memorial – chart

Trojan Nation – 2nd Wood Memorial – chart

2015 Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Carpe Diem – 1st Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Danzig Moon – 2nd Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Ocho Ocho Ocho – 3rd Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Materiality – 1st Florida Derby – chart

Upstart – 2nd Florida Derby – chart

Dortmund – 1st Santa Anita Derby – chartSHOW (3rd) (chart)

Bolo – 3rd Santa Anita Derby – chart

Frosted – 1st Wood Memorial – chart4th (chart)

Tencedur – 2nd Wood Memorial – chart

2014 Kentucky Derby
Potential Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Dance with Fate – 1st Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Medal Count – 2nd Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Wildcat Red – 2nd Florida Derby – chart

General a Rod – 3rd Florida Derby – chart

California Chrome – 1st Santa Anita Derby – chartWINNER (chart)

Candy Boy – 3rd Santa Anita Derby – chart

Wicked Strong – 1st Wood Memorial – chart4th (chart)

Samraat – 2nd Wood Memorial – chart

2014 Kentucky Derby Chart

2013 Kentucky Derby
Potential Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Java’s War – 1st Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Palace Malice – 2nd Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Charming Kitten – 3rd Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Orb – 1st in the Florida Derby – chartWINNER (chart)

Itsmyluckyday 2nd in the Florida Derby – chart

Goldencents – 1st in the Santa Anita Derby – chart

Super Ninety Nine – 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby – chart

Verrazano – 1st in the Wood Memorial – chart

Normandy Invasion – 2nd in the Wood Memorial – chart

Vyjack – 3rd in the Wood Memorial – chart

2013 Kentucky Derby Chart

2012 Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Dullahan – 1st in the Blue Grass Stakes – chart3rd in Kentucky Derby (chart)

Hansen – 2nd in the Blue Grass Stakes – chart

Take Charge Indy – 1st in the Florida Derby – chart

Union Rags – 3rd in the Florida Derby – chart

I’ll Have Another – 1st in the Santa Anita Derby – chartWINNER (chart)

Creative Cause 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby – chart

Gemologist – 1st in the Wood Memorial – chart

Alpha – 2nd in the Wood Memorial – chart

2012 Kentucky Derby Chart

2011 Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Brilliant Speed – 1st in the Blue Grass Stakes

Twinspired – 2nd in the Blue Grass Stakes

Dialed In – 1st in the Florida Derby

Shackleford – 2nd in the Florida Derby

Midnight Interlude – 1st in Santa Anita Derby

Comma to the Top – 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby

Toby’s Corner – 1st in the Wood Memorial

Uncle Mo – 3rd in the Wood Memorial

2011 Kentucky Derby Chart

2010 Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Stately Victor – 1st in the Blue Grass Stakes

Paddy O’Prado – 2nd in the Blue Grass Stakes – SHOW (3rd) (chart)

Ice Box – 1st in the Florida Derby – PLACE (2nd) (chart)

Sidney’s Candy – 1st In the Santa Anita Derby

Lookin at Lucky – 3rd In the Santa Anita Derby

Jackson Bend – 2nd in the Wood Memorial

Awesome Act – 3rd in the Wood Memorial

2010 Kentucky Derby Chart

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View spreadsheet of top three finishers in the major preps going back to 1952

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Last 5 posts by Kevin Martin
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