Does A Start In The Derby Lead To A Ruined Career???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Nick Kling of The Troy Record…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Save them for The Travers

Recently I followed a conversation on Twitter that went something like this. Person 1, “Just because some (horses) may go on to enter the (Kentucky) Derby doesn’t make them Derby horses.” Person 2 replied, “Yes it does.”

That prompted a third person to join in by saying, “No, it makes them horses whose owner’s ego is bigger than their willingness to do what’s best for the horse.” Person 2 then responded with, “The goal is to make the Derby. Any good that comes after that is gravy.”

That reminded me of something I wrote here three years ago, titled “The First Slaughter Day in May.” In summary it said, “Over (the years 2004-07), 78 horses started in the Kentucky Derby. A staggering total of 14 came out of the race either (to never race again or start) just a handful of times, unable to regain anything resembling decent form. That is 18 percent of ALL horses who started in the race.”

Readers can find the entire article, with documentation, by following this link:

When presented with the statistics, Person 2 questioned whether the Kentucky Derby was different from any other major race. Would studying a race like the Breeders’ Cup Classic or some other Grade 1 event reveal the same percentage of bad outcomes?

That prompted me to do two things. First, I looked at the three Kentucky Derbys run since the April 29, 2008 article. That should tell us if the original trend has continued. Then, I analyzed the three Travers Stakes run from 2007-09 to see how they compared. The 2010 Travers was not used because some of the starters in that event might continue to race and skew the result.

The outcome was stark. The trio of Derbys run from 2008-10 continued the pattern identified three years ago. Conversely, horses that raced in the Travers from 2007-09 went on to have successful careers. There was almost no sign competing in Saratoga’s Midsummer Derby was destructive to their future prospects.

Here are the numbers.

59 horses raced in the three most recent Kentucky Derbys. 3 of them (Eight Belles, American Lion (2010), and Line of David (2010) never raced again. Eight Belles tragically broke down and had to be euthanized after finishing second in the 2008 Derby.

5 of those Derby starters raced once more. They were Denis of Cork (2008), Pioneerof the Nile and Dunkirk (2009), and Dublin and Awesome Act (2010). To be fair it should be noted Awesome Act’s race came recently and he may start again.

2 starters from the last three Derbys, West Side Bernie (2009) and Conveyance (2010) have made two starts since. Those starts produced one second and a third. Finally, 3 others started three or four times, with a single third-place finish the best outcome.

The bottom line? A full 10 of the last 59 Derby starters (17 percent) made two or fewer starts after racing on the first Saturday in May. Second-place finishes in the Belmont Stakes by two of them was the best outcome. None won another race.

That is WORSE than the outcome previously identified for Derbys 2004-07. That means over the last seven Kentucky Derbys there have been 137 starters, with 20 of them making two or fewer subsequent starts.

So much for having a productive career.

A total of 26 colts and geldings ran in the 2007-09 Travers Stakes. EVERY ONE continued to race after the event. Only 1 of them, Charitable Man (2009), raced only once more, finishing second in an allowance event.

2 of those Travers starters, Street Sense (2007) and Summer Bird (2009) had two subsequent starts. Street Sense raced in the Kentucky Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classics, finishing second and fourth, respectively. He was then retired to stud duty. Summer Bird won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, then finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was scheduled to race in 2010 but was injured in training and retired.

From those 26 Travers starters, a full 19 of them went on to win future races. Among them they amassed a total of 33 victories, many of them graded stakes. That is a far superior outcome to what recent Kentucky Derby starters went on to accomplish.

An observer might postulate there are two reasons why there is carnage among Derby starters as opposed to continued success for Travers participants.

The Kentucky Derby has a fixed date which requires participants to be in the starting gate that day or forever lose their chance to win America’s greatest race. Some might not even be fully three-years-old. Horsemen have a choice — do whatever it takes to make the race or skip it for future events.

Getting to the Derby can include starting a horse in prep races early in the winter and spring when the colt or gelding might not be ready for a tough effort. Or, a horse might develop an injury too close to the Derby for complete healing. It was announced Sunday Derby hopeful Jaycito will not be entered. Trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat made a wise decision, one which not all of their colleagues have made over the years.

The Derby has averaged nearly 20 starters over the last seven years. The Travers had less than 9 per race in the three years surveyed. That is a difference not to be overlooked. More horses means a greater chance for mayhem and injury. It also lends credence to those wishing to limit the Derby field to 14.

The siren song of Kentucky Derby participation is difficult for owners to resist. Nevertheless, available evidence suggests starting a horse only if everything is perfect. It should have sufficient maturity, be completely sound and fit, and have a reasonable chance to hit the board.

Absent any of those traits, it is better to save them for the Travers.


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