How Does the Kentucky Derby Runner Form Look?

With most of the U.S. action focused on the Arlington Park turf this weekend, it’s worth taking a look at how the 3-year-olds from the Kentucky Derby are tracking on the way to a possible Breeders’ Cup date.

The most obvious answer is that nobody knows. Dirt racing among the 3-year-old males produced surprises galore leading up to the Derby, and those have continued ever since. After the defeats suffered by Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing in the Jim Dandy Stakes, there is no clear pecking order in the classic division.

There is a tendency when no clear leader emerges for observers to think it mens the Derby wasn’t a strong one – especially this year’s wet-track Derby. However, this isn’t necessarily the case, especially as they haven’t taken on the older horses yet.

By at least one measure, the Kentucky Derby form is holding up. Ten of the Derby runners have won races since the First Saturday in May, and most of the major 3-year-old dirt races since the Derby have been won by Derby runners, and they have generally been superior to the non-Derby runners. In addition, Thunder Snow has won at group 1 level on turf in Europe.

The main exceptions were the Preakness Stakes, won by Cloud Computing, who qualified for the Derby but whose connections chose not to run; and the Jim Dandy Stakes. The defeats of Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing by a horse that hadn’t raced on dirt were disappointing, but Good Samaritan had very good graded stakes form on turf and the two classic winners may be better for the run.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the 3-year-old race which looks like the best form race since the Triple Crown ended was the Ohio Derby, won by Irap by a nose from Girvin. Girvin went on to beat McCraken and Practical Joke in the Haskell, and Irap went on to win the Indiana Derby from Colonelsdarktemper; the latter then won the West Virginia Derby from Game Over (fifth in the Ohio Derby), with Derby runners Lookin At Lee and Patch finishing third and fourth.

The next big test is clearly the Travers, where Irap, Girvin, and McCraken are likely runners. It is also set to be the first start for Tapwrit since he won the Belmont Stakes, while some of the other top Triple Crown horses may also run. They, along with Good Samaritan, seem to be strong contenders.

There’s also a question over Derby fourth-place finisher Classic Empire, who is being aimed at the Pennsylvania Derby. Whether he can prove up to championship form remains to be seen.

Ultimately, the chances of the Derby 3-year-olds in the Breeders’ Cup Classic won’t be fully measured until they start taking on the older horses, and there’s two outstanding ones to get past: Arrogate, provided he can recapture his Dubai World Cup form, and Gun Runner, whose efforts this summer show he’s right on top of his game.

It took Derby third-place finisher Curlin until the Breeders’ Cup Classic to prove he was a championship horse that year; it might take until then to sort out who is the champion 3-year-old male of 2017.

(Coady Photo/Churchill Downs)