With my selections for Xpressbet.com last week, I tried to beat the favorite in both the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and Grade III Gotham Stakes. I was vindicated in my approach when the favorite did not win either race. But, darn it, my top pick also did not win.
Candy Man Rocket was sent away as the 8-5 favorite in last Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby. He finished 11th in the field of 12. My top pick, Hidden Stash, ran second at 3-1. Helium won in a 15-1 upset.
Highly Motivated was favored in last Saturday’s Gotham at slightly less than even money. He finished third in the field of eight. My top pick, Freedom Fighter, ran fourth at 2-1. Weyburn was victorious in a 46-1 shocker while making his first 2021 start. Crowded Trade, coming off a maiden win at first asking, lost by a scant nose at 5-1.
Weyburn and Crowded Trade showed up in the Gotham only after an allowance race that had been preferred for them failed to fill.
Life Is Good was my top pick in last Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. He won by eight lengths as the 1-2 favorite.
In late January, I began making selections for Xpressbet.com in terms of this country’s races offering points toward a starting berth in the Grade I, $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1.
Of the 12 such races, I have picked the winner in seven of them, as noted below:
Date Race (Selection) Finish, $2 win payoff if applicable
01-30-21 Holy Bull (Greatest Honour) WON, $7.60
01-30-21 Robert B. Lewis (Medina Spirit), WON, $4.00
02-06-21 Sam F. Davis (Candy Man Rocket), WON, $8.20
02-06-21 Withers (Donegal Bay), finished 7th
02-13-21 Risen Star (Senor Buscador), finished 5th
02-13-21 El Camino Real Derby (Rombauer), WON, $4.40
02-26-21 Battaglia Memorial (Gretzky the Great), finished 3rd
02-27-21 Southwest (Essential Quality), WON, $3.80
02-27-21 Fountain of Youth (Greatest Honor), WON, $4.00
03-06-21 Gotham (Freedom Fighter), finished 4th
03-06-21 Tampa Bay Derby (Hidden Stash), finished 2nd
03-06-21 Life Is Good, WON, $3.00
There is just one race this Saturday offering Kentucky Derby points. It is the Grade II, $1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, which will reward the first four finishers with 50-20-10-5 points toward the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses.
REBEL HAS ATTRACTED FIELD OF EIGHT
My selections for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel are below:
- Concert Tour
- Caddo River
Caddo River ranks No. 4 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. Concert Tour is No. 6. Keepmeinmind is No. 9.
Eight are scheduled to do battle in the Rebel. Concert Tour goes into the race for trainer Bob Baffert quite similarly to the Baffert-trained Nadal last year.
Nadal won a six-furlong maiden race by 3 3/4 lengths as a 6-5 favorite last year on Jan. 19 at Santa Anita in his first career start. The Kentucky-bred Blame colt then won the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes by three-quarters of a length when shown on the tote board to be a 2-5 favorite on Feb. 9.
Concert Tour won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths as an even-money favorite on Jan. 15 in his first career start. The Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt then won the San Vicente by a half-length as a 2-5 favorite.
After last year’s San Vicente, Baffert sent Nadal to Oaklawn for the Rebel. Nadal won the Rebel on a sloppy track by three-quarters of a length.
Following this year’s San Vicente, Baffert has sent Concert Tour to Oaklawn for the Rebel.
In his final recorded workout prior to the Rebel, Nadal was clocked in a bullet :59.60 for five furlongs. It was the best of 58 works at that distance on Santa Anita’s main track that morning.
In Concert Tour’s final recorded workout before the Rebel, he was timed in a bullet 1:11.40 for six furlongs. It was the best of 11 works at the distance on Santa Anita’s main track that morning.
I picked Nadal to win the 2020 Rebel. He did not let me down. Concert Tour is my top pick in the 2021 Rebel. We shall see if he comes through or he lets me down.
I have the utmost respect for Caddo River, as evidenced by the fact that I currently have him ranked higher than Concert Tour on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Trained by Brad Cox, Caddo River lost his first two races. The Kentucky-bred Hard Spun colt then won a one-mile maiden race by 9 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs on Nov. 15, followed by a 10 1/4-length victory in Oaklawn Park’s one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 22.
Keepmeinmind certainly is a Rebel entrant to keep in mind. As a maiden, he finished second in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity last Oct. 3 and third in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6. Essential Quality won both races en route to being voted an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 2020.
In Keepmeinmind’s final 2020 start, he earned his maiden diploma by winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Keeneland for trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Baffert had hoped to run Hozier in an allowance race at Santa Anita. When that race didn’t fill, Baffert decided to have him join Concert Tour in the Rebel.
Will Hozier be like Weyburn and Crowded Trade and finish first or second in a graded stakes race when running in that after an allowance race failed to fill?
Hozier was unveiled at Santa Anita on Jan. 15. He finished fourth, 15 lengths behind Concert Tour. Hozier then showed dramatic improvement to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by 1 3/4 lengths at Santa Anita on Feb. 15.
Hozier worked four furlongs in a bullet :47.40 last Saturday. It was the fastest of 58 works at that distance on Santa Anita’s main track that morning.
LIFE IS GOOD NEW NO. 1 ON MY DERBY TOP 10
Life Is Good moves into the top spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week following last Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in which he won by a sizable margin and received a marvelous Beyer Speed Figure.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
- Life Is Good
- Essential Quality
- Greatest Honour
- Caddo River
- Concert Tour
- Medina Spirit
- Hot Rod Charlie
After Life Is Good kicked off his racing career with a 9 1/2-length victory at Del Mar last Nov. 27, some wondered if he also would be able to win going farther.
In his next start, Life Is Good did indeed succeed going farther. He won Santa Anita’s one-mile Sham Stakes by three-quarters of a length on Jan. 2. But the smaller margin of victory led some to wonder if going farther than one mile would prove to be a problem for the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt.
Last Saturday, Life Is Good demonstrated that 1 1/16 miles is not even close to being a limit for him in terms of distance. Annihilating his foes in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes, he won by eight lengths.
“Life Is Good, breaking from the rail, used his natural speed to open a clear lead into the first turn, and his six rivals never had a chance,” Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote. “He drew clear through the lane while drifting out, yet still stopped the timer in 1:42.18 for 1 1/16 miles, a time that compares favorably with the 1:43.86 recorded by his older stablemate, Mastering, when winning an allowance race earlier on the card on the fast main track.”
The fractions were :23.63, :46.83, 1:10.55 and 1:35.46. Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin pointed out that even though Life Is Good “was on cruise control, he still went the three-quarters in 1:10 2/5, which was two full seconds than [older horses] ran in the Big ’Cap” on the same card. The six-furlong fraction in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap was 1:12.26.
“What was noteworthy about this race was that he was setting quick fractions while seemingly doing it under control, not acting like a runaway freight train as in his debut or his similarly headstrong effort in the Sham,” Privman also wrote regarding Life Is Good’s San Felipe. “In the two months since the Sham, Life Is Good has been trained to not blast off.”
Life Is Good and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith drifted all the way out to about the 10 path during the stretch run of the San Felipe. How dominant was Life Is Good? Smith speculated that if the colt had run straight, he might have won by 15.
Nevertheless, any way you slice it, drifting out that much in the stretch is not a good thing. Smith attributed the drifting to Life Is Good seeing the big screen in the infield, which is not on when he trains in the morning. Life Is Good has never exhibited such behavior in the a.m. Jockey-turned-television broadcaster Richard Migliore said that if seeing the big screen was indeed responsible for Life Is Good drifting out, then why did he continue to drift out well after he had gone past the big screen?
One person who does not seem concerned that Life Is Good didn’t run straight down the lane last Saturday is Baffert. Even before the race, according to Baffert, the supremely talented 3-year-old did not exactly act like a seasoned pro. While Life Is Good was on his way to the paddock, he balked at first when he saw a bunch of people.
Baffert is quick to remind everyone that Authentic acted very greenly early on in his career. When Authentic won the Sham by 7 3/4 lengths, he ran such an erratic course down the lane that he nearly hit the inside rail at one point. But by the end of the year, Authentic had won the Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not only was he voted an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male, he was elected 2020 Horse of the Year.
In Life Is Good’s first two stakes races, he has run quite a bit faster than Authentic did in the same two races.
Authentic’s final time in the one-mile Sham was 1:37.57. Life Is Good completed the distance in 1:36.63.
When Authentic won the San Felipe by 2 1/2 lengths, his final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.56. Life Is Good stepped the distance in 1:42.18.
Authentic received a 90 Beyer in the Sham, a 98 in the San Felipe.
Life Is Good was credited with a 101 Beyer in the Sham, a 107 in the San Felipe. Those are the two-highest Beyers posted by a 3-year-old so far in 2021.
Below are the eight-best Beyer Speed Figures recorded this year by a 3-year-old, male or female:
Beyer Winner (Finish, Race, Track, Date)
107 Life Is Good (won San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 6)
101 Life Is Good (won Sham at Santa Anita on Jan. 2)
99 Medina Spirit (2nd Sham at Santa Anita on Jan. 2)
98 Mandaloun (won Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13)
97 Proxy (2nd Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13)
96 Dream Shake (won maiden race at Santa Anita on Feb. 7)
96 Midnight Bourbon (3rd Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13)
96 Essential Quality (won Southwest at Oaklawn on Feb. 27)
LIFE IS GOOD FAVORED AGAIN IN FUTURE WAGER
In Pool 1 of the 2021 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), which closed on Nov. 29, Life Is Good was the 5-1 favorite among the 22 individual horses. Essential Quality was the second choice at 8-1.
In Pool 2 of the KDFW, which closed on Jan. 24, Life Is Good was the 7-1 favorite among the 23 individual horses. Essential Quality again was the 8-1 second choice.
In Pool 3 of the KDFW, which closed on Feb. 14, Life Is Good again was the 7-1 favorite and Essential Quality the 8-1 second choice among the 23 individual horses.
In Pool 4 of the KDFW, which closed last Sunday, Life Is Good was hammered down to 2-1 favoritism after his lopsided San Felipe triumph. Essential Quality was the 5-1 second choice.
Below are the final odds for Pool 4 of the 2021 KDFW:
2-1 Life Is Good
5-1 Essential Quality
6-1 Greatest Honour
7-1 “All Other 3-Year-Old Males”
16-1 Caddo River
17-1 Concert Tour
36-1 Highly Motivated
39-1 Medina Spirit
42-1 Risk Taking
52-1 Midnight Bourbon
53-1 Hot Rod Charlie
71-1 Candy Man Rocket
71-1 Dream Shake
79-1 The Great One
84-1 Freedom Fighter
94-1 Roman Centurian
146-1 Hush of a Storm
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Idol moved onto the Top 10 at No. 4 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll following his win in last Saturday’s Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. Next-to-last early in the field of seven, he rallied to prevail by a half-length at odds of 5-1. It was his first stakes victory. Joel Rosario rode the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Curlin colt for trainer Richard Baltas.
Baltas was emotional after the race in that he has an appreciation for the rich history of the Santa Anita Handicap, a race he has fond memories of witnessing as a teenager in the 1970s. He especially recalls watching Vigors, “The White Tornado,” storm to a come-from-behind win in the 1978 Big ’Cap.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
- 370 Charlatan (24)
- 343 Monomoy Girl (14)
- 291 Knicks Go
- 175 Idol
- 150 Mystic Guide (1)
- 148 Swiss Skydiver
- 147 Maxfield
- 137 Colonel Liam
- 78 Gamine
- 51 Jesus’ Team
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
- 369 Essential Quality (20)
- 360 Life Is Good (17)
- 293 Greatest Honour (1)
- 240 Mandaloun (1)
- 174 Medina Spirit
- 158 Caddo River
- 123 Concert Tour
- 87 Keepmeinmind
- 72 Helium
- 65 Risk Taking
MY DERBY STRIKES RETURN!
After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my Derby Strikes System is back in 2021.
I developed my Derby Strikes System back in 1999. This system at that time consisted of nine categories. When a horse did not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse received a strike.
Various “rules” for the Kentucky Derby once were very popular. A “Derby rule” meant a horse needed to have done this or that, or not done this or that, in order to win the Run for the Roses. However, through the years, many of the “Derby rules” were broken. This caused their popularity to wane.
I think what has distinguished my Derby Strikes System from any single “Derby rule” is the Derby Strikes System is considerably more comprehensive. The Derby Strikes System is an amalgamation of factors that attempts to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives. It is the marriage of the TACTICAL with the HISTORICAL that might well make the strikes system better than a “Derby rule,” per se.
A number of the categories in the Derby Strikes System are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. As a result, when the race last year was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 due to COVID-19, it rendered the Derby Strikes System unworkable.
But now that the Kentucky Derby is returning to the first Saturday in May, the Derby Strikes System likewise returns.
DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM REVAMPED FOR 2021
Because the Derby Strikes System, as it was originally constructed back in 1999, seemed to work well through the years, I resisted making any changes to it. One reason for my reluctance to tinker with it is what happened with the Dosage Index.
“The Dosage Index is a mathematical figure used by breeders of Thoroughbred racehorses, and sometimes by bettors handicapping races, to quantify a horse’s ability, or inability, to negotiate the various distances at which horse races are run,” according to Wikipedia. “It is calculated based on an analysis of the horse’s pedigree.”
I spent part of 1981 working as an editor/handicapper in the Los Angeles office of the Daily Racing Form. My “post position” in that office was not far from the desk of breeding expert Leon Rasmussen.
The Dosage Index, again quoting from Wikipedia, “attracted little interest from the general public until 1981, when Daily Racing Form breeding columnist Leon Rasmussen published a new version of Dosage developed by an American scientist and horse owner, Steven A. Roman, Ph.D., in his analysis of the upcoming Kentucky Derby for that year. The new approach, which was more accessible to owners, breeders and handicappers was supported by solid statistical data, rapidly caught on, and the term ‘Dosage Index’ has been a fixture in the lexicon of horse racing ever since. The details of Dosage methodology have been summarized in Dr. Roman’s book entitled ‘Dosage: Pedigree & Performance’ published in 2002.”
The Dosage Index is compiled by noting the presence of certain influential sires, known as chefs-de-race, in the first four generations of a horse’s pedigree. Based on what distances the progeny of the sires so designated excelled in during their racing careers, each chef-de-race is placed in one or two of the following categories, or aptitudinal groups: Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Solid or Professional.
In the 1980s, a horse’s Dosage Index became a big deal in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby. It needed to be 4.00 or lower. That’s because retroactive research conducted when the Dosage Index first become popular in 1981 revealed that no horse at that time having a Dosage Index higher than 4.00 had won the Kentucky Derby since 1929 (a year chosen because by then the number of available chefs-de-race on which to base the figures was thought to have reached a critical mass).
But then the Dosage Index took a major hit in the credibility department in 1991. When Strike the Gold won the Kentucky Derby, his Dosage Index was 9.00. Alydar, who had not been standing at stud all that long, had not yet been accorded chef-de-race status by Dr. Roman. That was the primary reason Strike the Gold’s Dosage Index was so high at the time that he won the roses.
If having a Kentucky Derby winner with a Dosage Index so much higher than 4.00 wasn’t bad enough, when Alydar subsequently — and appropriately — was made a chef-de-race, it significantly lowered Strike the Gold’s Dosage Index. Pedigreequery.com lists a horse’s Dosage Index in addition to his or her pedigree. If you go to that website, you will see that Strike the Gold’s Dosage Index (or DI) currently is listed as 2.60.
Dosage critics howled that Strike the Gold’s Dosage Index was retroactively lowered from 9.00 to 2.60 in order to keep Dosage relevant vis-a-vis the Kentucky Derby.
“Alydar was eventually designated a Classic chef-de-race because of the continuing success of his offspring going long,” Dick Powell wrote for TwinSpires.com in 2019. But “the ‘objection’ sign went up in the minds of many who accused Dr. Steven Roman of force feeding the classification to make Strike the Gold’s DI below 4.00.”
The damage to the credibility to the Dosage Index when Strike the Gold’s DI was lowered from 9.00 to 2.60 was a major reason why I was reluctant to make any retroactive changes to the Derby Strike System.
But I have decided that the time has come to make a logical and appropriate tweak to the system for 2021. This is in reaction to the significant change that horses just do not race as much as they did when the Derby Strikes System was introduced in 1999.
One of the original categories was that a horse needed to have made at least six lifetime starts prior to the Kentucky Derby. It is abundantly clear that this no longer is relevant.
From 1973 through 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby having previously made fewer than six lifetime starts. He had made five starts going into the Kentucky Derby.
But from 2006 through 2019, seven horses won the Kentucky Derby having previously made fewer than six lifetime starts. They were Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Animal Kingdom (2011), I’ll Have Another (2012), American Pharoah (2015), Always Dreaming (2017) and Justify (2018).
Clearly, what once had been a strike no longer was a strike.
And so the category in the Derby Strikes System specifying that a horse needs to have made at least six lifetime starts prior to the Kentucky Derby has been eliminated. The revamped Derby Strikes System for 2021 now consists of eight categories.
One of the eight categories is a horse needs to have raced as a 2-year-old to avoid getting a strike. This remains a category even though Justify in 2018 became the first Kentucky Derby winner who did not race at 2 since Apollo in 1882.
The fact that only one horse since 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 does not come anywhere close to this particular category needing to be discarded.
NUMBER OF STRIKES FOR HELIUM
It is not until a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby that a horse’s number of strikes can be determined. Because Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse has said it is likely that the next race for Grade II Tampa Bay Derby winner Helium will be the Kentucky Derby, a determination can be made concerning Helium’sstrikes situation.
If Helium’s connections do decide to run him again before the first Saturday in May, his number of strikes then will need to be recalculated.
Helium gets only one strike. His lone strike comes in Category 5, which states that a horse needs to have finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby to avoid getting a strike. The farthest Helium has raced to date is the 1 1/16 miles of the Tampa Bay Derby.
Thunder Gulch, the sire of Helium’s dam, won the 1995 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes.
In last Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby, Helium rallied from 10th in the field of 12 to win by three-quarters of a length. The Kentucky-bred Ironicus colt recorded a career-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
Helium won last Saturday despite it being his first 2021 start, his first race around two turns and his first race on dirt.
The Derby Strikes System can’t go back further than 1973 because that was the year in which stakes races in the U.S. were first graded. Two of my eight categories deal with graded stakes races.
According to the revamped Derby Strikes System, not counting the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (39 out of 47) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.
The seven Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018) and Country House (2019).
Maximum Security had zero strikes and finished first by 1 1/4 lengths in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. However, the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th when ruling that he had committed a foul by veering out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy.
Only one horse, Mine That Bird in 2009, has had more than two strikes. He had four.
WINNER’S STRIKES GOING BACK TO 1973
Many years after I developed my Derby Strikes System in 1999, racing enthusiast Ryan Stillman suggested that I should take a look at the number of strikes for Kentucky Derby winners prior to 1999. Again, because stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973, I could not go further back than that year when calculating the number of strikes for Kentucky Derby winners. That’s because, as mentioned earlier, two of my eight categories deal with graded stakes races.
Based on the revamped Derby Strikes System, the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are below:
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3*
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first, disqualified and placed 17th
These are the eight categories in my revamped Derby Strikes System after having eliminated the category requiring a horse to have made six lifetime starts prior to the Kentucky Derby:
- THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
- THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
- THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 52 of the last 55 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
- THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
- THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
- THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
- THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
- THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)