Which Races are the Best Predictors of Kentucky Derby Success?

The 144th Kentucky Derby might still be a few months away, but the excitement and predictions among racing fans has already started. Those who want to take a shot at predicting the winners need only look to statistics from Kentucky Derby prep races in the past. This provides great insight into how often horses who win prep races go on to win it all at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Even former hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who has toyed with the idea of owning a racehorse for a few years now, found success with this method in 2012. I’ll Have Another, his pick for the Derby winner, won with odds of 15 to 1.

Gretzky credits his decision to studying the results of the Santa Anita Derby prep race. He wasn’t the only one. Half of the last 20 horses who received their training in California later won the biggest race of all in Kentucky. The good news is that the Santa Anita Derby isn’t the only prep race to produce the big winners.

Other Prep Races with the Highest Number of Kentucky Derby Winners

If the results of these races are any indication, horse racing fans can start formulating their bets now. The Bluegrass Stakes, for example, has produced 23 winners of the Kentucky Derby in the history of the race. In fact, Bluegrass is the top Keeneland race for horses three years of age. Kentucky Derby winners coming out of Bluegrass all placed between first and fourth. The last Bluegrass Stakes participant to win the Kentucky Derby was Street Sense in 2007.

Five horses who placed in the Arkansas Derby went on to take the prize at Churchill Downs. The most well-known winners come from the Kentucky Derby races of 1992 and 2004. In 1992, Lil E. Tee, a second-place winner in Arkansas, upset the heavily-favored Arazi to take the prize. Twelve years later, Smarty Jones won the big race as a 5/2 favorite.

The Florida Derby, which started in 1952 at Gulfstream Park, has produced 22 Kentucky Derby winners. Dark Star, a 19th-place finisher in 1953, shocked horse racing fans when he won in Kentucky a short time later. However, Dark Star was a notable exception. Since his unlikely win, no horse who ran at the Florida Derby and later won the Kentucky Derby has placed less than fifth in the prep race.

Wood Memorial Stakes in New York has produced 20 horses who went on to win the Kentucky Derby. All placed first through third in the prep race except for Count Turf, a 1951 fifth-place finisher. The most famous horse to come out of the Wood Memorial Stakes, Secretariat, placed third in 1973. Other notable horses include Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Funny Cide in 2003.

While predicting the outcome of horse racing will never be a precise science, tapping into these statistics makes a winning bet on the Kentucky Derby much more likely.