2YO Maiden Special Weight ‘Teachings’ – Kentucky Derby 149

April 22, 2023

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Kentucky Derby favorite Forte breaks his maiden on debut May 27, 2022 at Belmont Park (Chelsea Durand)

By 2YO EdgeMan

I was talking with one of my senior Edgies the other day about the KY Derby and he quipped, ‘Mr. EdgeMan, you know full well that The Derby only consists of 3YO horses and you are only dialed into 2YOs, so why are you spending time talking about it?’. Although I have to admit that he was right, the fact is that a study of Derby contenders’ efforts at age two (or not) is still an interesting (and unique) analysis. When do Derby champions typically begin their racing careers?  How long does it normally take for them to break their maiden? Where do they often debut? And finally, how did this years’ competitors navigate their two-year-old season – or did they skip it? Be glad that you’ve got the EdgeMan on your side to break it all down for you.  Let’s go…

We definitely see trends shifting over the past five years or so, but it is important to get a fairly large statistical sample to take a deep look at the above questions. So, for this analysis, we’ll go back 20 years and report out on the Derbies run between 2003 and 2022.  

For the first question above, we can safely say that it definitely varies. The winner of the 2014 edition of the Derby – California Chrome – debuted in April of his juvenile year, while a relatively short, four years later, Justify didn’t see the racetrack in the afternoon until February of his three-year-old campaign. However, nine of the most recent 20 winners of the trophy were first-time starters in either July or August, and if you add to that the three that first ran in September, 12 of 20 (60%) began their careers in the ‘summer’ months.  

Triple Crown hero American Pharoah broke his maiden in his second start, the Del Mar Futurity (G1) Sep. 3, 2014 (Benoit Photo)

As far as how many races it generally takes for eventual Derby champs to break their maidens, it is no doubt sooner rather than later. Nearly half of the 20 in scope for this analysis – 9 of 20 – won at first asking (all nine except Justify in their 2YO year). Additionally, eight more won on their second spin around the oval, including both Mine That Bird and Rich Strike who were dropped in to run for a tag in their second starts. On the other side of that class drop, Bob Baffert sent out American Pharoah for his initial score in the Del Mar Futurity after failing to win his first race, which was a traditional Maiden Special Weight affair. Two Derby heroes won on their third ever effort, ironically both of these wins came in January of their three-year-old season (Always Dreaming and Country House) and lastly, Shug McGaughey was patient with Derby 2013 victor – Orb – waiting a full four runs before breaking his maiden.

To tackle the question of ‘where do Derby winners typically run their first race?’, my instinct is to simply say ‘everywhere’, but that would not be very helpful to you.  Breaking it down by state, California leads the way with seven (the old Hollywood Park has three and DMR and SA both have two), New York is right on their heels with six (BEL and SAR have three each) and Kentucky is third with three (one apiece for CD, KEE and ELP).  Four locations were where it all began for one future Derby king – PA (Philadelphia Park), DE (Delaware Park), IL (Arlington) and Canada (Woodbine).

Now, fast forward to today with two weeks before the big event. How do this year’s KY Derby contenders fit in (or not) with what we’ve learned above?  Most notably, two colts that qualify with enough points to start on May 6 – Kingsbarns and Mage – try to follow in the footsteps of Justify (and Apollo in 1882) with hopes of wearing the blanket of roses after never having started as a two-year-old. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the certain favorite – Forte – trying to get his picture taken in the Winner’s Circle after competing (and scoring) almost a whole year ago – May 27 – at Belmont Park.  

The immortal Secretariat broke his maiden July 15, 1972, eleven days after his troubled debut (NYRA/Coglianese)

One side note before we close. I can’t do a piece on the Derby without mentioning the immortal Secretariat.  It’s been 50 years since we were blessed to watch ‘Big Red’ and jockey Ronnie Turcotte cover the mile and a quarter under the Twin Spires in 1:59 2/5 to smash the track record and of course go on to the don the Triple Crown.  As a young two-year-old, it was said that he was a bit awkward and took awhile longer than most to shed his baby fat.  He made his first start at Aqueduct on July 4, 1972, but got a difficult trip after being bumped hard and ultimately finished 4th.  Eleven days later, in the second race of his Hall of Fame career, Penny Chenery’s stout chestnut colt broke his maiden winning by six lengths.  And you know the rest of that story.

Finally, below are the list of horses likely to make up the field for Derby 149. Enjoy, my Derby Edgies – I hope that you nail the winner!

2023 ContenderFTSFTS TrackFTWFTW Track
ForteMayBelmont ParkMayBelmont Park
Practicle MoveAugDel MarOctSanta Anita
Angel of EmpireAugHorseshoe IndyAugHorseshoe Indy
Tapit TriceNovAqueductDecAqueduct
Two Phil’s JuneChurchill DownsJulyColonial Downs
Lord MilesNovGulfstream ParkNov Gulfstream Park
Derma SotogakeJuneHanshinOctChukyo
KingsbarnsJan*Gulfstream ParkJan* Gulfstream Park
Raise CainSeptChurchill DownsOctKeeneland
Rocket CanAugSaratogaOctChurchill Downs
Hit ShowOctKeenelandOctKeeneland
Confidence GameJulyChurchill DownsAugChurchill Downs
Sun ThunderNovChurchill DownsDecOaklawn Park
Wild On IceNovZia ParkNov Zia Park
MageJan*Gulfstream ParkJan* Gulfstream Park
Blazing SevensJulySaratogaJulySaratoga
DisarmJuneChurchill DownsAugSaratoga
ReincarnateSeptDel MarNov Del Mar
Jace’s RoadAugEllis ParkAugEllis
SkinnerJulyDel MarFeb*Santa Anita
Cyclone MischiefSeptChurchill DownsOctKeeneland
Dura EredeJuneHanshinAugSapporo
Major DudeJuneMonmouth ParkJuneMonmouth Park
* = 3YO Year
FTS = First-Time Starter
FTW = First-Time Winner

Contributing Authors

The 2YO Edge Man, Past The Wire

The 2YO EdgeMan

The 2YO EdgeMan started following horse racing when his family moved to Louisville, KY when he was 9 years old.  The story goes that he...

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