Your Guide to Kentucky Derby’s Prep Races

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In 2024, we will witness another thrilling season of the highly-anticipated Kentucky Derby, also known as the Run for the Roses. This grand horse racing event is the first jewel of North America’s famous Triple Crown Series. Such highly acclaimed horseracing spectacle showcases only the finest thoroughbreds of their generation.

Before the elite thoroughbreds qualify for this race, they will try to earn their stripes in different prep races, which are held between September and April. If you are unfamiliar with these qualifying races, we will walk you through these competitions as they will offer you a clearer picture of the top contenders in the Derby.

Holy Bull Stakes

Before it was named the Holy Bull Stakes, this prep race was inaugurated as Preview Stakes in 1990. Five years later, in 1996, it was renamed the Holy Bull Stakes in honor of the 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull.

Three Kentucky Derby champions competed in the Holy Bull Stakes and used it as a stepping stone to qualify for the race. They are Barbaro (2006), Funny Cide (2003), and Go for Gin (1994). The stakes are high in this prep race, with the top five finishers receiving points on a 20-10-6-4-2 scoring basis. In 2024, Hades clinched the winning title, an outcome subtly hinted at by platforms like TVG and similar sites that offer insights for such prep races.

Held in Keeneland, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is a prep race with a hefty amount of prize money at $2 million. Every year, this prep race showcases the fastest 2-year-old colts, ready to secure their spots for the first leg of the Triple Crown Series.

However, there’s a popular curse known as the “Juvenile Jinx,” where fans would believe that a horse can’t win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby in the same season. But in the 2006-2007 season, Street Sense broke this jinx and won both races. In the present year, a horse named Fierceness won this prep race, and fans are excited to see if he’s going to bring an end to the curse in 2024.

Risen Star Stakes
Source: twinspires.com

The Risen Star Stakes is one of the top producers of Churchill Down starters. It is held annually at Fair Grounds and was inaugurated in 1973 as the Louisiana Derby Trial. The most notable thoroughbred that competed in this prep race was Risen Star, who also won the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, the other two jewels of the Triple Crown Series.

The top five finishers of the Risen Star Stakes will earn 50-25-15-10-5 points, respectively, guaranteeing the fastest one a sure spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate. Sierra Leone, mounted by Tyler Gaffalione, won the race this year.

The Florida Derby is known as the most successful prep race for the Run for the Roses. It is raced every last week of March or the earliest week of April in Hallandale Beach, Florida. In 2024, it will be held on March 30 in the same venue, promising yet another thrilling horseracing spectacle.

From 1952 to 2017, this horse racing event produced an impressive total of 24 winners in the Run for the Roses. Its prominence attracts a convention of elite horses vying for the generous awarding points of 100-40-30-20-10 for its top five finishers.

Santa Anita Derby
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Offering qualifying points of 100-50-25-15-10, the Santa Anita Derby is arguably one of the most anticipated prep races for the Kentucky Derby. For the record, this prep race has produced three winners of the Kentucky Derby in a four-year span. These champs were Hill Gail in 1952, Determine in 1954, and Swaps in 1955.

Santa Anita Derby has also gone on to win two Triple Crowns with horses Affirmed in 1978 and Justify in 2018. It has also produced eight Kentucky Derby winners. This year, this prep race will happen on April 6, less than a month closer to the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Held at Lexington, Kentucky, the Blue Grass Stakes offer a 100-5-25-15-10 points system distributed to the top five finishers of the prep race. It started in 1911 and has produced 19 victorious horses in Churchill Downs, with 10 thoroughbreds winning both the prep race and the May Event.

Skip Away was the fastest horse who has ever run in the Blue Grass Stakes, boasting a speed record of 1 ⅛ miles in 1:47.29 in 1996. The legendary 1942 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway also competed in Keeneland, securing second place in the prep race.

Source: thoroughbreddailynews.com

A hundred years after Arkansas was granted statehood, the Arkansas Derby was inaugurated in 1936. This 1 1/8-mile prep race is annually held at Hot Springs, Oaklawn Park. It’s one of the most celebrated Kentucky Derby prep races since it has produced multiple Triple Crown and Classic winners.

It offers a 100-40-35-10 basis for awarding qualification points, distributed to the four top finishers of the prep race. It will be completed on March 30 and will feature the finest 3-year-old starters of their generation.

The Louisiana Derby is the oldest prep race for the Run for the Roses. It was inaugurated in 1894, making it only 19 years younger than the Kentucky Derby itself. Besides being the most senior race in this list, the Louisiana Derby is also popular for producing fan-favorite thoroughbreds like Funny Cide in 2003 and Country House in 2019, who used the prep race as a springboard to the opening jewel of the Triple Crown.

With a 100-50-25-15-10 qualifying point basis awarded to the top five finishers, this qualifying race is known as a top-tier prep race. It is scheduled to happen this March 23, a week earlier than the Arkansas Derby.

Final Thoughts

The USA Road to Kentucky Derby comprised 37 prep races. The racing events mentioned in this list are only eight of this extensive series of equestrian spectacles. But for sure, these races are the events you wouldn’t want to miss as you anticipate the annual “Run for the Roses” this coming May 4. Besides leisure and adrenaline rush, following these races will give you an edge as you speculate which three-year-old thoroughbreds will ace the 2024’s Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.

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