Derby Details 2021 Edition 1

“And We’re Off !!!” (Image: Berkley Farm starting gate)

Derby Details 2021 Edition 1

A New Season

by Tom Carley

January 8, 2021

The holidays are done, the New Year’s resolutions have already been vacated, and the weather has gotten colder.  What does all this mean?  It is time to start the fourth year of Derby Details.  This will be the first weekly column that will be written for you to follow the path of horses, people, and fans through the Triple Crown journey.   

A year unlike last year

While Authentic will be listed on the Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glasses as the winner of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, that year was unlike any other. The 2020 race date was moved from early May to early September, resulting in the following:

  • The traditional prep races were not held or if they were held, were run at different distances than usual.
  • The late date allowed horses to mature another 10%.
  • Trainers no longer needed to be concerned about stamina as the horses had longer to build up the stamina to 10 furlongs.

What I have done for 2021 is to provide a listing of the Kentucky Derby prep races in order to focus on for the path this year’s horses will have to take.  Ideally, I would like to see a horse run 3 times before the Derby (@ 1 mile, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/8 miles).  However, many trainers emphasize rest for the young 3-year-olds and choose to give them only two prep races.  

This year will be more like 2018 and 2019 when the connections also had to worry about having enough points to qualify.  Because so many horses were taken out of training last year due to injury, inability to train and/or race at racetracks closed for Covid, a horse did not need any points to enter the derby. Only 15 horses ran in the 2020 “Run for the Roses”, compared to the usual 20 in other years.

Keep all of this in mind when looking forward to May.  Better yet, remove the 2020 path to the Derby from your consideration and focus on the Derby preps as you had in 2018 & 2019, and check here for more details: https://www.kentuckyderby.com/history/the-race#:~:text=The%2020%20horses%20racing%20in,the%20country%20and%20the%20world.

Early horses of note

Traditionally, the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile produced the early favorite for the first leg of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby).  But as trainers have chosen to start each horse’s career much later in their 2-year-old year, this race has lost its previous emphasis.  The following are a few early horses that look to be better than the rest.

Jackie’s Warrior: This undefeated contender had won two graded stakes races coming into the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and so was an overwhelming favorite.  Thought by many to be the best two-year-old in training, if Authentic lost the Classic, there was some talk about him being in the mix for Horse of the Year.  He did not get a good trip in the race and suffered his first defeat.  Expect trainer Steve Asmussen to prep him at either the Fairgrounds or Oaklawn Park.

Essential Quality: Godolphin looks to win their first Kentucky Derby with this horse who won the Breeder’s Futurity and Breeder’s Cup Juvenile in addition to his maiden win.  Trainer Brad Cox ended 2020 as hot as any trainer and I have liked this horse from day 1. 

Life’s Magic: This Bob Baffert trainee won the Sham Stakes last Saturday and is thought by many to be the fastest of this group.  However, he only beat his stablemate by a length and lost 3 lengths in the last 200 yards.  This horse is owned by the same ownership group (WinStar and China Racing Club) that campaigned Authentic.  

Key Dates

  • Early Triple Crown Nomination Date:   January 15, 2021
  • Holy Bull (1st Florida Prep):   January 30, 2021
  • Late Derby Prep Races:      April 1, 2021 
  • Kentucky Derby:    May 1, 2021 

This is just an introductory column and is meant just to set up the calendar and provide my initial thoughts on the Derby.  We have 4 months of fun, so sit back and pick a horse to follow!

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