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

Originally published on April 27, 2011
2014 Santa Anita & Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome (Eclipse Sportswire)

updated for 2018

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 65) winners of the Kentucky Derby since 1952, 50 (76.9%) finished in the top three in either the Florida Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial, or Santa Anita Derby. Of the last 65 Derby winners, 24 (36.9%) 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 had 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. Twelve of the 18 winners this century have finished in the top three in one of the four major preps. Nine colts have won one of these preps before winning on the first Saturday in May.

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.

2018 Kentucky Derby
Potential Kentucky Derby starters who finished in the top three of the major preps:

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Good Magic 1st Blue Grass
Flameaway 2nd Blue Grass
Free Drop Billy 3rd Blue Grass
Audible 1st Florida Derby
Hofburg 2nd Florida Derby
Justify 1st Santa Anita Derby
Bolt d’Oro 2nd Santa Anita Derby
Vino Rosso 1st Wood Memorial
Enticed 2nd Wood Memorial

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Irap 1st Blue Grass
Practical Joke 2nd Blue Grass
McCraken 3rd Blue Grass
Always Dreaming 1st Florida Derby Winner
State of Honor 2nd Florida Derby
Gunnevera 3rd Florida Derby
Gormley 1st Santa Anita Derby
Battle of Midway 2nd Santa Anita Derby Show (3rd)
Royal Mo 3rd Santa Anita Derby
Irish War Cry 1st Wood Memorial
Battalion Runner 2nd Wood Memorial
Cloud Computing 3rd Wood Memorial

2017 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Brody’s Cause 1st Blue Grass
My Man Sam 2nd Blue Grass
Nyquist 1st Florida Derby Winner
Majesto 2nd Florida Derby
Exaggerator 1st Santa Anita Derby Place (2nd)
Mor Spirit 2nd Santa Anita Derby
Outwork 1st Wood Memorial
Trojan Nation 2nd Wood Memorial

2016 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Carpe Diem 1st Blue Grass
Danzig Moon 2nd Blue Grass
Ocho Ocho Ocho 3rd Blue Grass
Materiality 1st Florida Derby
Upstart 2nd Florida Derby
Dortmund 1st Santa Anita Derby Show (3rd)
Bolo 2nd Santa Anita Derby
Frosted 1st Wood Memorial
Tencedur 2nd Wood Memorial

2015 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Dance with Fate 1st Blue Grass
Medal Count 2nd Blue Grass
Wildcat Red 2nd Florida Derby
General a Rod 3rd Florida Derby
California Chrome 1st Santa Anita Derby Winner
Candy Boy 3rd Santa Anita Derby
Wicked Strong 1st Wood Memorial
Samraat 2nd Wood Memorial

2014 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Java’s War 1st Blue Grass
Palace Malice 2nd Blue Grass
Charming Kitten 3rd Blue Grass
Orb 1st Florida Derby Winner
Itsmyluckyday 2nd Florida Derby
Goldencents 1st Santa Anita Derby
Super Ninety Nine 3rd Santa Anita Derby
Verrazano 1st Wood Memorial
Normandy Invasion 2nd Wood Memorial
Vyjack 3rd Wood Memorial

2013 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Dullahan 1st Blue Grass Show (3rd)
Hansen 2nd Blue Grass
Take Charge Indy 1st Florida Derby
Union Rags 3rd Florida Derby
I’ll Have Another 1st Santa Anita Derby Winner
Creative Cause 2nd Santa Anita Derby
Gemologist 1st Wood Memorial
Alpha 2nd Wood Memorial

2012 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Brilliant Speed 1st Blue Grass
Twinspired 2nd Blue Grass
Dialed In 1st Florida Derby
Shackleford 2nd Florida Derby
Midnight Interlude 1st Santa Anita Derby
Comma to the Top 2nd Santa Anita Derby
Toby’s Corner 1st Wood Memorial
Uncle Mo 3rd Wood Memorial

2011 Kentucky Derby Chart

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

Derby Starter Finish Prep Race Derby Top 3
Stately Victor 1st Blue Grass
Paddy O’Prado 2nd Blue Grass Show (3rd)
Ice Box 1st Florida Derby Place (2nd)
Sidney’s Candy 1st Santa Anita Derby
Lookin at Lucky 3rd Santa Anita Derby
Jackson Bend 2nd Wood Memorial
Awesome Act 3rd 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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Elsewhere of Interest
Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet

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