August 27th 2018
One thing that I have been kind of silent about after the retirement of Justify, is that fact that this sport really lacks a Superstar right now. Why? Because it doesn’t really make good sense for anyone in the media to lament the fact because blog views will go down, TV ratings will go down, interest in the sport will wane. etc.
Part of the problem with a lack of Superstars in the sport is due to the fact that the casual fan gets to know and develops favorite horses mostly due to exposure from the Kentucky Derby. How many of the past Derby runners from previous years are still racing and doing well in the Older Horse division? Virtually none. Although there is talent in the Older Horse division with Accelerate and Diversify, they lack name recognition with the casual race fan as a consequence of not running in the Kentucky Derby.
The other part of the problem has been the fact that the last few Derby classes have lacked depth which I will get into shortly. When the talent pool of a Derby class lacks depth, ultimately it affects the Older Horse division the next year since injuries and retirements to the breeding shed take away many budding Superstars.
Typically in the past, before the Curse of Apollo breaker Justify, the vast majority of the time, the future Kentucky Derby winner had raced as a 2-year-old on or before Labor Day. See chart below.
Kentucky Derby Winners – # of Starts as a 2-Year-Old by Labor Day
2017 – Always Dreaming – 2
2016 – Nyquist – 3
2015 – American Pharoah – 1
2014 – California Chrome – 4
2013 – Orb – 1
2012 – I’ll Have Another – 2
2011 – Animal Kingdom – None (1st Start Sept 18th)
2010 – Super Saver – 1
2009 – Mine That Bird – 3
2008 – Big Brown – 1
Critics of Justify state that he dominated a weak Derby class to win his Triple Crown. A Triple Crown is still one of the toughest accomplishments in sports, but this criticism is warranted.
The good news, early reports are this upcoming Kentucky Derby class will be a good one. When looking at Beyer Speed Figures as 2 Year-Olds, I decided to research and find out how many from the past six classes had achieved a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 or better by September 1st.
2018 – 5
2017 – 2
2016 – 5
2015 – 2
2014 – 10
2013 – 9
The 2013 and 2014 2 Year-Old classes were exceptional and produced Derby winners the following year in California Chrome and American Pharoah. There was little doubt in my mind before this research that American Pharoah and California Chrome both faced tougher competition in their Triple Crown runs than Justify faced this year. This makes me appreciate American Pharoah’s Triple Crown championship even more.
The 2015 2 Year-Old Class that included eventual Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist had some of the weakest Beyer Speed Figures and times. Many in the media moaned about the slow times. The 2017 2-Year-Old class showed a lot of promise but didn’t really deliver as expected as 3 Year-Olds. The poster child here was Bolt d’Oro who had many excited as a 2 Year-Old but kind of faded as a 3 Year-Old.
So when you have a number of weak Derby classes in a row and the Triple Crown Champion is retired after the Belmont Stakes, you have the situation we have right now with a lack of Superstars. But hope springs eternal with the next Derby class.
Early 2019 Kentucky Derby Favorites?
As for the 2019 Kentucky Derby class, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt Instagrand and Bob Baffert’s Roadster are the top two on my watch list. I have posted videos of both colts below. Instagrand has already posted Beyer Speed Figures of 88 and 92 in his first two starts.
Both colts are expected to square off in the Del Mar Futurity next Monday. My next blog will preview this race. Stay tuned!
Update With Some Sad News
Shortly after publishing this blog, I caught the unexpected news of the passing of John Asher, who was Vice President of Racing Communications at Churchill Downs. Asher died on an apparent heart attack early this morning. This is really sad news for our sport as John Asher was the most visible face of the Kentucky Derby and a real credit to the sport. The sport needs more people like John, not less.
A Twitter tweet from trainer Bob Baffert sums it up best: John was the warm human face of Churchill Downs. He was as Kentucky as the Derby and the Bluegrass, Bourbon and hot Browns.
Condolences to Asher’s family and friends. He will be missed.