Dispelling the Myth that the Winner of the Kentucky Derby is the Best Three Year Old Thoroughbred


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Is the Kentucky Derby the best indicator of success for future thoroughbreds? On the surface most of us would answer of course, the best horses run in the Derby, so the best horse must win. But a closer look at some simple statistics tell a different story.

There are a number of good races that can indicate a quality race horse. Among these are the Kentucky Derby, the Travers Stakes, and the Breeders Cup Classic. Each of these races are run annually, several months apart from each other. The three year old horse of the year, most often must win at least one of these races, to have an opportunity to be Three Year Old Horse of the Year.

In the last ten years Giacomo, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, War Emblem, Monarchos, Fusaichi Pegasus, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, and Grindstone have one the Kentucky Derby. More often than not the Derby winner ends up running in the Travers Stakes as well.

In the last ten years, none of the Kentucky Derby winners have went on to win the Travers Stakes. Both the Travers and the Derby are Grade 1 Stakes races with a million dollar purse. (The Derby went to a two million dollar payout in 2005)

Over the last ten years the Kentucky Derby winner has produced six three year old champions, the Travers has produced just two.

What I find more compelling, however, is that out of the three year olds that have won the Derby over the last 10 years only Charismatic has went on to win the outright Horse of the year title, while three Travers winners (Point Given, Tiznow, and Skipaway), have gone on to win Horse of the Year.

My take on the Kentucky Derby is this. There are a number of quality horses that are entered into the Kentucky Derby, sometimes, in my humble opinion, too many horses are entered. One small missed stride, too much traffic, a long spring, and any nummber of things go into deciding who wins the Derby and sometimes the best horse does not win. So while the Derby is the premier race for those of us in the States, we need to understand one important thing about the Derby itself, it is a very wonderful race, rich in tradition, but winning it is only one very small factor in determining how good a horse will be throughout its career.

Michael D. Barnes


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