As sure as days are getting cold in Louisville this time of year, there will be no shortage of explanations that Saturday’s Class 2 winner is $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes will benefit from a win at the track hosting the Kentucky Derby on May 6th.

Only lately has it mattered.

Mandalathrough his rise above the disqualified Medina Spirit in 2021, and Rich Strike, through his 80-1 shocker that year, became the first derby winners with previous triumphs at Churchill Downs, since Super Saver 2009’s Kentucky Jockey Club and 2010 won the derby.

Click here for Churchill Downs entries and results.

A major reason the win-over-the-track angle was unreliable was the annual closure of Churchill Downs for the winter. This leaves the course without derby point preparation for horses that are already 3 years old. The 2-year-olds who win the Iroquois (G3) in September or the Kentucky Jockey Club in November may have blossomed early, only to be outclassed by their rivals in the spring.

Seven derby winners have used the Kentucky Jockey Club to help prepare them since the race opened in 1920. Super Saver was one of five to win both races and one of only two to do so since the Great Depression.

derby winner * Ky. JC Trainer
1921 behave yourself 3 Herbert J Thompson
1928 Imperial Count 1 Bert Mitchell
1929 Clyde VanDusen 1 Clyde VanDusen
1931 Twenty Grand 1 James Rowe Jr.
1974 cannonade 1 Woody Stephens
1998 Really Quiet 3 Bob Baffert
2010 super saver 1 death plecher
*Previous year

The number of Kentucky Jockey Club graduates who have made it to the derby starting gate has increased over the past decade. The average between 2000 and 2011 was 1.25 per year. In the 11 years since then it has been up to 2.09.

Few of these horses have had much success running for the roses. Of the 38 who have competed in both races since the 1999/2000 season, only three have cashed in the Derby – first place Super Saver in 2010, third place Gun Runner in 2016 and runner-up Tiz the Law in the Derby COVID September 2020.

Some of this may be due to the style of the horses coming out of the Kentucky Jockey Club. Since 2012/13, only 7 out of 21 who also started in the derby have been pacemakers or stalkers. That was the tactic used by eight consecutive horses to finish first in this year’s Derby to Rich Strike.

Year Horse Quirin Ky JC *Derby
2021 smile happily P4 1 8th
Classic dam E8 2 11
White Abarrio E/P 6 3 16
2020 remember me S2 7 6.
2019 Tiz the law E/P 7 3 2
Enforceable S0 4 7
South Bend p0 6. 15
2018 Plus que parfait E/P 2 2 **8th
2017 Bravazo E/P 5 10 6.
Lonely Sailor S3 5. 8th
curly P3 1 14
promise fulfilled E8 3 15
2016 McCraken S3 1 8th
2015 Gunrunner P4 4 3
MoTom S0 3 8th
mor spirit P3 2 10
Tom is ready S1 8th 13.
2014
2013 tapeture E/P 4 1 15
2012 Will take over P3 13. 8th
Java’s War p0 6. 13.
frac daddy P3 2 16
2011 optimizer S0 4 11
gemologist E/P 7 1 16
2010 Saniva E/P 4 1 6.
2009 super saver E6 1 1
2008
2007 Anak Nakal P1 1 7
Cool charcoal man E/P 5 7 15
2006 Any given Saturday E/P 5 2 8th
Dominican P3 3 11
2005 private vow E/P 6 1 14
2004 greater good S2 1 13.
2003 The edge of the cliff S0 1 5.
2002 Ten cents a note S2 2 8th
domestic quarrel P3 9. 10
2001 application for parole E/P 7 2 5.
2000 dollar bill p2 1 15
1999 Captain Steve P3 1 8th
High yield E8 6. 15
*Next year
**Promoted
E – Early (pacemaker)
E/P – Early Presser (Stalker)
P – Presser (middle pack)
S – Sustainer (closer)

Placed forward has been a term synonymous with derby success for the past decade, but for the Kentucky Jockey Club it has been quite the opposite.

When Smile Happy scored last year by moving up four places and four lengths, he became the sixth winner in the previous seven heats of November prep to clear at least 3 1/2 lengths. Since 1991 only Exploit 1998, Super Saver 2009 and El Kabeir 2014 by Gate to Wire have led the Kentucky Jockey Club.

Year winner 1/4 1/2 3/4 street fin
2021 smile happily 5 – 4 5 – 2 1/4 4 – 3/4 1 1
2020 remember me 9 – 5 1/4 9 – 5 1/4 9 – 4 1/4 3 – 2 1
2019 silver prospector 5 – 3 1/2 6 – 3 1/2 5 – 1 1/4 2-1/2 1
2018 signalman 6 – 5 4 – 3 1/2 4-1 1/2 2 – hd 1
2017 curly 3 – 1 3 – 1 1/2 4 – 2 2-1/2 1
2016 McCraken 9 – 8 1/2 9 – 5 6 – 3 1/2 2 – hd 1
2015 air force 8 – 3 3/4 7 – 3 1/2 5 – 2 3-1/2 1
2014 El Kabeir 1 1 1 1 1
2013 tapeture 5 – 3 2 – 1 1 1 1
2012 Not recorded 2 – 1 2-1/2 1 2 – hd 1
2011 gemologist 3 – 1 3 – 2 1/2 2-1/2 1 1
2010 Saniva 2 – 2 2-1/2 1 1 1
2009 super saver 1 1 1 1 1
2008 Beethoven 5 – 3 4 – 5 2 – 1 1/2 1 1
2007 Anak Nakal 4 – 2 3/4 4 – 2 1/2 4 – 1 3/4 2-1/2 1
2006 Tiz Wonderful 2 – hd 2 – hd 2 – hd 1 1
2005 private vow 2-1/2 2 – 1 2 – hd 1 1
2004 greater good 7 – 8 1/4 8 – 10 1/4 7 – 6 1/4 3 – 1 1/2 1
2003 The edge of the cliff 8 – 4 3/4 3 – 1 1/2 1 1 1
2002 soto 10 – 16 1/4 10 – 14 1/4 8 – 6 1/4 6 – 1 1/2 1
2001 Regret 6 – 5 5 – 2 1/2 5 – 3 3 – hd 1
2000 dollar bill 5 – 4 1/2 5 – 1 3/4 4 – 2 1/2 2 – hd 1
1999 Captain Steve 3 – 1 1/2 2 – 1 1 1 1
1998 Exploit 1 1 1 1 1
1997 Cape Town 4 – 2 1/4 3 – 2 1/2 4 – 2 1/2 3 – 3 1
1996 concert 2-1/2 2 – 1 1/2 2 – hd 1 1
1995 idea 2 – hd 2 – 1 4 – 1 3/4 3-1/2 1
1994 jambalaya jazz 5 – 2 1/2 5 – 4 1/2 1
1993 war deputy 8 – 8 1/2 8 – 7 1/2 7 – 8 1/2 3 – 1 1/2 1
1992 Wild Storm 8 – 9 3/4 10 – 7 1/2 9 – 7 3/4 3 – 2 1/2 1
1991 dance floor 3 – 4 3 – 6 2 – 3 1 1

Instant Coffee, a first winner who finished fourth in last month’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) for trainer Brad Cox, and Freedom Trail, who is 2-on-2 for John Terranova, are the two horses this year to compete in fit the closer’s profile. Red Route One, a maiden winner for Steve Asmussen, also got off the pace in his races, most recently a fifth-place finish in last month’s Slop of the Street Sense (G3) at Churchill Downs.

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