Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Post: The Road Through the Kentucky Derby

by Mark Cramer

   The last time that a Kentucky Derby winner was able to come back and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic was in 1990 with Unbridled. The year before, Sunday Silence accomplished the same feat.
The subsequent two-decade absence of Kentucky Derby valedictorians in the BC Classic winners’ circle is not simply a question of age. In France, where 3-year-olds regularly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, it is very rare that a French Derby winner goes on to win the Arc. Since the year 2000, only one French Derby winner has come back to triumph in the Arc, and that was Dalakhani in 2003.
   Three-year-old BC Classic winners fit in two categories. The first group includes those that bypassed the Kentucky Derby. A.P. Indy was scratched in 1992, while handlers of Concern (1994) and Tiznow (2000) chose not to run in the Derby. The 2008 BC Classic winner, Raven’s Pass, skipped his own 3-year-old derby, the Epsom Derby.
   The second group of 3-year-old BC Classic winners is comprised of horses that were not fully matured for the Kentucky Derby but ran and finished in the money: Cat Thief (1999) and Curlin (2007), both finishing third in the Derby.
   Looking through and past the Kentucky Derby, horses that ran in the Derby but did not win seem to have eclipsed Derby winners as stallions. I admit having difficulty singling out any one of the dazzling array of sire stats, so excuse me if my own reading is slanted. I am considering horses that have run in the Kentucky Derby since the year 2000, or horses that bypassed the Derby as 3-year-olds within the same period.
   The three leading sires among Kentucky Derby winners since 2000 are Street Sense, Smarty Jones and Fusaichi Pegasus. But ahead of them in many of the sire stats that I checked, including the TDN Year-to-Date Earnings General Sire List, are horses that, in retrospect, used the Derby as a prep for their ultimate stallion career. They include:

Tapit (9th 2004 Derby)
Lion Heart (2nd 2004 Derby)
Harlan’s Holiday (7th 2002 Derby)
More Than Ready (4th 2000 Derby)
Hard Spun (2nd 2007 Derby)
Any Given Saturday (8th 2007 Derby) 
Afleet Alex (3rd 2005 Derby)

   To this leading-sire list we can throw in horses whose handlers bypassed the Derby for whatever reasons: Tiznow, Macho Uno and Bernardini.
   I may end with egg on my face over this argument. Street Sense might rally and pass the others, but he has been sent to Japan to stand the 2013 season. I am told that War Emblem, also in Japan, is being bred selectively, so he has no chance to accumulate the earnings of his stallion counterparts.
   But my point is that the Kentucky Derby appears to function like a prep race for later Grade I glory and/or leading sire rankings.
   By all means, point out the flaws in my argument, but at this moment, if they had futures betting for leading stallions, I would play horses that failed to win the Derby over those that won it.
   If my hypothesis proves right, does this take away from TDN’s entertaining Road to the Derby Showdown with Steve Sherack and Brian DiDonato? On the contrary, when the dust settles on the 2013 Kentucky Derby, we will no longer suffer from PDDL--“Post-Dramatic Derby Letdown”--the analysis we have been following will continue to resonate, and the Road To will roll on towards another horizon.         

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