Now that maiden wins have been thoroughly examined, let's look at the stakes races.
After taking a quick peek into the maiden victories, I realized that the next thing I had to look at was KY Derby winners' Stakes victories. But instead of running through each and every stakes race, I wanted to look at three categories: 1st Stakes Start; 1st Graded Stakes Win; and their Final Derby Prep.
So, without further ado:
2013- Orb (by Malibu Moon) - His first stakes start was also his first Graded Stakes victory with his nice win in the G2-Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on 23 February. Orb then back that up with his convincing win in the G1-Florida Derby on 30 March. No surprises here. The Points system pretty much makes progress to the Derby Winner's Circle a straight line.
2012- I'll Have Another (by Flower Alley) - HIs first Stake was the G2-Best Pal at Del Mar over 6 1/2 f on the poly where he ran second. But he really kicked off his sophomore season with a nice victory in the G2-Bob Lewis over 1 1/16 mile at Santa Anita. His final prep was his hard fought victory over 9f in the G1-Santa Anita Derby.
2011- Animal Kingdom (by Leroy the Animal)- So, as with everything else, AK is the outlier. His only stakes race prior to the Derby was the G2-Spiral at Turfway at 9f on the poly where he won nicely.
2010- Super Saver (by Maria's Mon)- Opened his stakes career with a 4th place showing in the G1-Champagne over a mile as a Juvenile. His first Graded Stakes victory was the G2-Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill on 28 November. His final Derby prep was the G1-Arkansas Derby over 9f where he finished 2nd.
2009- Mine That Bird (by Birdstone)- Started at Woodbine in the listed Silver Deputy Stakes where he won over 6 1/2 f on the poly as a juvenile on 23 August. He backed that up with a win in the G3-Grey Stakes over 1 1/16 mile at Woodbine, also on the poly, on 5 October. MTB then finished 4th in the Sunland Derby over 9f. The more I look at him the crazier it is that he won. Sure, he was wickedly fast, but man, such an improbable path to victory both in the micro and macro senses.
2008- Big Brown (by Boundary)- Easy one here. First stakes start, Graded Stakes victory, and Final Derby Prep were all the Florida Derby at 9f. Too bad it looks like Three Chimneys literally bet the farm on him as a stallion and lost.
2007- Street Sense (Street Cry (IRE))- His first start was a 3rd place finish in the G3-Arlington Washington Futurity at a mile on 10 September. He followed that up with a really good win the in the G1-Breeders' Cup Juvenile to seal his campaign as Champion Juvenile. The refocused him as a sophomore and his final prep was a 2nd in the G1-Blue Grass at Keeneland on 14 April, leaving 3 weeks until the Derby.
2006- Barbaro (Dynaformer)- Barbaro loved the grass. So it's nor surprising that he started his stakes career on the lawn in the Laurel Futurity at (duh) Laurel on 19 November where he won over 1 1/16 mile. His first Graded Stakes win was the G3-Tropical Derby at Calder on New Year's Day over 9f, again on the turf. Then he went to the G1-Florida Derby where he won on 1 April.
2005- Giacomo (Holy Bull)- His first Stakes action was his 2nd in the G1-Hollywood (now Cashcall) Futurity at Holllywood Park over 1 1/16 mile on the plastic. His first Graded Stakes win was the Derby itself, but he was highly competitive in every single race he was in finishing no worse than 4th, I believe. His final Derby prep was a 4th place finish in the Santa Anita Derby at 9f.
2004- Smarty Jones (Elusive Quality)- Smarty mopped up a relative ton of listed stakes prior to really committing to the Derby Trail. His first stakes run was a victory in the listed Penn Nursery Stakes over 7f on the dirt on 22 November. But his first Graded Stakes win did not come until his final Derby prep the G2-Arkansas Derby on 10 April where he won convincingly. BUT HOW DID HE NOT WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN!!!!!!!
Note: Barbaro, despite his terrific success on the dirt, really is the shining example of the need for a 3yo turf division. We've seen some awesome developments in the past 3 years with the American Derby, the Penn Mile at Penn National, and the newly constructed Grade 1 Belmont Derby. But prior to the Derby Points System it was easier to see that need than it is now where every single connection with Derby Fever is forced to run exclusively on the dirt/poly.
So what can we learn? I think the only true thing to glean from all of the above is that in their final Derby Prep, every single winner ran well. 6 of 10 won their final prep, 2 finished second, and 2 finished 4th (not surprisingly leading to huge odds on Giacomo and MTB). But not a clunker amongst them. Also, of the 10 winners, 3 had their final prep in the Florida Derby (Orb, Barbaro, Big Brown), 2 in the Santa Anita Derby (I'll Have Another, Giacomo), 2 in the Arkansas Derby (Super Saver, Smarty Jones), and 1 each in the Spiral (Eukaryotes), Sunland (MTB), and Blue Grass (Street Sense).
I think we all know that plenty of good horses get buried in the Derby, and yes, the 1 post is bad news, but the above shows that good horses get good trips too. All of them proved their class in their preps, showed they could handle the distances as they increased from a mile through a mile and a sixteenth to 9 furlongs as they stretched to get the 10 panels of the Derby, and demonstrated they could deal with adversity where they didn't only win from the front against outclassed competition.
But therein lies the greatness of the Derby Points System. You cannot duck the competition and weasel your way into the field by running 1 turn races or in a weak turf division (which the 3yo division always is until at least June or July). You have to match up against your true peers prior to getting into the starting gate.