Best Kentucky Derby Prep Races To Watch Out For

Horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby by earning points in designated prep races in a series known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

There are only twenty slots available in the Derby starting gate, and though winners of certain international races are reserved a spot should they elect to travel to Louisville, it is only those twenty horses with the most qualifying points who are allowed to even enter the race.

Although the 2023 Road to the Kentucky Derby has been underway since last autumn, the best is yet to come. How will it affect the Kentucky Derby live odds?

The series launches with certain stakes races for two-year-olds, which give out ten points to the winner.

As time goes on and the horses mature, the races not only become longer and more prestigious, but they also become worth more points, ensuring that the Kentucky Derby qualifiers can maintain their class throughout the season and carry it over a distance of ground.

The eight races to follow are worth more points than any of the other Kentucky Derby prep races. In each of these contests, 100 points are allotted to the winner, 40 to the second place finisher, 30 to the third, 20 to the fourth, and 10 to the fifth.

Group II UAE Derby

The UAE Derby, along with the Louisiana Derby, is the longest of the Kentucky Derby prep races at 1 3/16th mile. This means that these preps are a mere sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby itself.

The UAE Derby has yet to produce a winner of any Triple Crown race, but last year’s winner and runner-up had nearly as much to do with Rich Strike’s upset win as Rich Strike himself. Crown Pride (JPN) and Summer is Tomorrow set insanely fast fractions in the Derby, setting up the race for a deep closer.

Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks

Few expected the winner of the Kentucky Derby to exit the Jeff Ruby Steaks, and fewer still expected that it would be third-place finisher Rich Strike.

Indeed, initially, Rich Strike was on the outside looking in at number 21 on the leaderboard and only got into the Kentucky Derby when another horse, Ethereal Road, scratched.

The Jeff Ruby Steaks is unique among the 100 point preps in that it is not run on a dirt track, but rather a synthetic “all-weather” track. This may be why the race is often overlooked as a Kentucky Derby prep.

However, in addition to Rich Strike, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom prepared for the Derby by winning this race (which was, at the time, called the Spiral Stakes).

Grade II Louisiana Derby

Although no winner of the Louisiana Derby has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby since Black Gold in 1924, the race has had a significant impact on the Triple Crown scene in recent years.

Last year’s Louisiana Derby winner was Epicenter, a deserving Derby favorite who looked every bit a winner until Rich Strike blindsided him at the last moment. Epicenter finished second in the Preakness as well but proved himself to be the champion of his crop with wins in the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes and the Grade I Travers Stakes before an injury in the Breeders’ Cup Classic ended his career.

In addition, Mandaloun and Country House have two interesting things in common. Both horses inherited their Kentucky Derby wins via disqualification, and both horses prepared for the Kentucky Derby by losing the Louisiana Derby.

Grade I Santa Anita Derby

For many years, the Santa Anita Derby has been the prep of choice for much of Bob Baffert’s contingent. Over the last decade, Baffert has won this race with Roadster (2019), Justify (2018), and Dortmund (2015).

Baffert, of course, is ineligible to enter horses in the Kentucky Derby this year, and no horse trained in his name can earn Kentucky Derby points.

However, most of Baffert’s top Derby contenders have been transferred to another Southern California trainer, former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen. Last year, Yakteen picked up where Baffert left off: he not only won the race with Taiba, but he took second with Messier as well.

He appears to come into this year’s edition loaded with talent from former Baffert clients, as well as Practical Move, a horse he has trained all along.

Grade I Wood Memorial

Although the Wood Memorial has not produced a Kentucky Derby winner since 2003, just last year the race contained the winners of both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Runner-up Early Voting bypassed the Kentucky Derby to focus on the Preakness, and trainer Chad Brown’s wisdom was rewarded with a victory.

Mo Donegal, who caught Early Voting in the closing strides of the Wood, went on to earn a fast-closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and later ran down stablemate Nest, a champion in her own right, in the Belmont Stakes.

Grade I Arkansas Derby

This was the final prep of choice for American Pharoah, who in 2015 went on to become the first American Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

American Pharoah is the latest in a series of high class colts to win the Arkansas Derby, although he is the only one since Smarty Jones in 2004 to take both Arkansas and the Kentucky Derby.

Afleet Alex (2005), Curlin (2007), and Bodemeister (2012) went on to place in the Derby, while Omaha Beach (2019)  was the likely Derby favorite before being forced to scratch a few days before the race.

Grade I Blue Grass Stakes

The only 100 point Kentucky Derby prep race to take place in Kentucky is the Blue Grass Stakes, which is run at Keeneland Racecourse. Last year’s edition saw Zandon explode onto the national scene with a gritty win after a troubled trip.

Zandon, who was the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, went on to finish third.

The last Blue Grass winner to wear the Kentucky Derby roses was Strike the Gold in 1991. However, in recent years future Kentucky Derby victor Street Sense (2007) finished second in the Blue Grass, and Blue Grass victors Essential Quality (2021) and Good Magic (2018) finished fourth and second in the Derby.

Grade I Florida Derby

In the past decade, of all of the major prep races, it has been the winners of the Florida Derby who have been most likely to add the Kentucky Derby to their resume. Prior to the twenty-first century, the race was run five weeks before the Derby, meaning that horses who ran in it typically would use another race, such as the Blue Grass or the Wood Memorial, as their final prep race.

Always Dreaming (2017), Nyquist (2016), and Orb (2013) have all completed the Florida-Kentucky Derby double. In addition, disqualified Derby first-place finisher Maximum Security also won the Florida Derby (2019).

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