Past Kentucky Derby Winners: How Did They Prep?

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It is the time of year where most Kentucky Derby hopefuls only have one or two preps left before the big dance on May 4. The last seven winners won all of their prep races in the year of their triumph, but before that things were more open ended.

Justify (2018) notably became the first horse to win the Derby without racing as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882, which made the entirety of his sophomore spring special. He broke his maiden in his February debut, then won an allowance in March and the Santa Anita Derby in April.

Always Dreaming (2017) had raced at two, but didn’t break his maiden until January 25 when racing at Tampa Bay Downs. He won an allowance race on March 3 at Gulfstream, and did not win his first stakes race until the Florida Derby on April 1.

Nyquist (2016) also used the Florida Derby as his springboard, his was held April 2 and was only his second start of the year after winning the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on February 15. Nyquist, however, was proven at two, having been the unbeaten Eclipse champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner in 2015.

Future Triple Crown hero American Pharoah (2015) was off from September until March 14, when he won the Rebel Stakes, followed by the Arkansas Derby on April 11. Both of those races were at Oaklawn Park. Like Nyquist, he was proven at two by being a dual grade 1 winner.

Popular California-bred California Chrome (2014) had a different seasonal start than most, as he was eligible to race against state-breds in the California Cup Derby on January 25. He took on graded company in the San Felipe March 8 before winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

Orb (2013) had broken his maiden at two, but took it slowly by first winning an allowance at Gulfstream on January 26. He added the Fountain of Youth on February 23 and the Florida Derby on March 30. Like Always Dreaming and Nyquist after him, Orb helped put the Florida Derby back on the map as one of the best prep races run each year.

I’ll Have Another (2012) is the last recent runner to go undefeated as a three-year-old heading into the Run for the Roses. He was off from September 5 until February 4, when he won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. He skipped a prep in March in favor of the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, which he also won.

Animal Kingdom (2011) took a much rarer path, losing an allowance race on March 3rdat Gulfstream before winning the Spiral Stakes on the synthetic track at Turfway Park on March 26. There was concern about the large gap between that race and the Derby, but Animal Kingdom handled it with aplomb.

Super Saver (2010) and Mine That Bird (2009) didn’t win any of their sophomore starts before the Derby. Super Saver was third in the Tampa Bay Derby and second in the Arkansas Derby, while Mine That Bird took the Sunland Park route and was second in the Borderland Derby before running fourth in the Sunland Derby.

Recently, Derby winners have gone unbeaten as three-year-olds, but that has not always been the case. Will the current trend be bucked this year?


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