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Kentucky Derby: Historical winners in January

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We all know what a Derby winner looks like on the first Saturday in May. But, for the sake of our future betting instincts, what does one look like in mid-January?

Did Animal Kingdom's form in January of his three-year-old year hint at a Kentucky Derby winner?
Did Animal Kingdom's form in January of his three-year-old year hint at a Kentucky Derby winner?
Travis Lindquist

UPDATE: Taking a bit more time I realized I had the winners data back to 1995, so I've updated the chart with those horses. Pre-1995 I've got nothing. Oddly enough, the pattern remained pretty much the same for the additional entries - they've either got just a maiden win to their name or they've won a stakes race. Not a lot of in between, which is a bit strange. You'd think we'd see some horses with an allowance win as their most recent victory by mid-January, but instead it's a more feast-or-famine type of situation.

So, I'm reading through the latest Wynn Las Vegas Kentucky Derby future book and lifetime PPs (post coming later) when I started thinking to myself, "Matt, do you ever wonder what the accomplishments were for the last decade of winners of the Kentucky Derby as of mid-January in their three-year-old year?" Why, yes I do, inner thoughts.

Many people, including myself, like to look for a Derby winner as early as we can. Hell, it makes any future bet a lot more exciting if you can pick of Derby winner in January. (And, you know, gives you something to brag about.) But typically, I handicap my Derby futures with too much of an eye towards what I think horses should have accomplished and not what is typical for a Derby winner in January.

Being the research nerd that I am, I dove into the last twelve years of Kentucky Derby winner's past performances to come up with the following chart that highlights the last win of each as of mid-January, along with their career record. Some of these horses ran well in stakes races but didn't win (or ran really, really poorly); I'm just highlighting their last race won as of mid-January and their overall record.

Make of this what you will.

*I put this chart together rather quickly...while enjoying a cold beverage, so, you know, any and all errors are mine and will be corrected in due time.

Year Derby Winner Last Win as of mid-January Record
2013 Orb MdSpWt 4-1-0-0
2012 I'll Have Another MdSpWt 3-1-1-0
2011 Animal Kingdom MdSpWt 2-1-1-0
2010 Super Saver G2-KY JC 4-2-1-0
2009 Mine That Bird G3-Grey 5-4-0-0
2008 Big Brown MdSpWt 1-1-0-0
2007 Street Sense G1-BC Juvenile 5-2-0-2
2006 Barbaro G2-Tropical Park Derby (T) 3-3-0-0
2005 Giacomo MdSpWt 4-1-1-1
2004 Smarty Jones Count Fleet 3-3-0-0
2003 Funny Cide* Sleepy Hollow 3-3-0-0
2002 War Emblem** MdSpWt 3-2-0-0
2001 Monarchos MdSpWt 3-1-0-0
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus MdSpWt 2-1-1-0
1999 Charismatic $62.5 MdClm 8-1-0-0
1998 Real Quiet*** G1-Hollywood Futurity 8-2-0-5
1997 Silver Charm D1-Del Mar Futurity 3-2-1-0
1996 Grindstone MdSpWt 2-1-0-0
1995 Thunder Gulch G2-Remsen 6-2-2-1

*Funny Cide finished 5th in the Holy Bull on Jan. 18th.
**War Emblem finished 5th in the Lecomte on Jan. 26th.
***Real Quiet won the Golden Gate Derby on Jan. 18th.

Two things stand out from me after looking at that chart, which, admittedly, encompasses a very small sample size. One, if a horse hasn't broken his maiden by mid-January of his three-year-old season, he's highly unlikely to find himself in the Churchill Downs winner's circle on the first Saturday in May. Second, winning a stakes race by January is about as important as winning a maiden race. In other words, if a horse has won just a single race, he's like the guy at the World Series of Poker with a chip and a chair.

With the updated data back to 1995, here's the minimum we can say about Derby winners in mid-January:

Of the last 19 horses to win the Kentucky Derby, 10 of them only had a maiden win to their name as of mid-January (one of which was a maiden claiming victory (Charismatic)). Seven had a Graded Stakes race as their most recent victory, while two had won an ungraded stakes.

Oh, and one more thought: Mine That Bird. I've never ripped up so many Derby day tickets in my life.