For many years, racing fans and handicappers spoke of the “Juvenile Jinx.” So the thinking went, it was virtually impossible for any horse to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and the Kentucky Derby (G1).
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile ranks as North America’s season-defining championship for 2-year-old colts and geldings. The 1 1⁄16-mile race has traveled around the country since its inauguration in 1984 and is frequently won by early-maturing runners lacking the stamina and/or durability to succeed as 3-year-olds in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby.
Generally speaking, the “Juvenile Jinx” has been a sound theory. Many impressive Juvenile winners have indeed come up short on the first Saturday in May, including the sensational Arazi (eighth in 1992) and Horse of the Year Favorite Trick (eighth in 1997).
But pit enough high-quality juveniles against each other in an annual championship race, and you’re bound to come up with Kentucky Derby winners once in a while. During the first decade of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, future Derby champions Spend a Buck (1985), Alysheba (1987), and Sea Hero (1993) were all beaten in the Juvenile before making history under the Twin Spires.
Then in 2006-07, the jinx was broken. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile traveled to Churchill Downs, where an unheralded colt named Street Sense obliterated his rivals by a record-breaking 10 lengths. Six months later, he returned to Louisville and crushed the curse with a decisive rail-skimming triumph in the Kentucky Derby.
In the years since, the influence of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has continued to grow. When Midshipman won the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the stakes-record time of 1:40.94, the last horse to cross the finish line was a diminutive gelding named Mine That Bird. The following year, Mine That Bird stunned the racing world with a 50-1 upset in the Run for the Roses.
Even more significantly, Nyquist emulated Street Sense by sweeping the Juvenile/Derby double in 2015-16, reiterating the importance of racing’s championship test for juveniles. Between 1984 and 2019, a span of 35 years, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile produced six winners of the Kentucky Derby, more than any other stakes race for two-year-olds.
By J. Keeler Johnson