Held at Keeneland racecourse, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Churchill Downs, the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) annually ranks as Kentucky’s most prestigious race for 2-year-old colts and geldings.
For obvious reason, the Breeders’ Futurity is a can’t-miss target for the most promising 2-year-olds in the Midwest. As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, the race serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). In addition, the Breeders’ Futurity is an official stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and the top four finishers receive Derby qualification points on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
The Breeders’ Futurity boasts a long history dating back to 1910, when it was run for the first time at Lexington’s long-defunct Kentucky Association racetrack. Kentucky Derby winners Black Gold (1924), Bubbling Over (1926), and Clyde Van Dusen (1929) all used the Breeders’ Futurity as a steppingstone to success at Churchill Downs, giving the young race a high profile on the Kentucky racing circuit.
Following the closure of the Kentucky Association track, newly-opened Keeneland took over as host over the Breeders’ Futurity in 1938. Fittingly, the first winner of the race at Keeneland—the speedy Johnstown—went on to secure victory in the 1939 Kentucky Derby. Two years later, fan favorite Whirlaway parlayed his own Breeders’ Futurity triumph into a sweep of the 1941 Triple Crown.
For much of its early history, the Breeders’ Futurity was conducted as a sprint ranging in distance from six furlongs to just over seven furlongs. Only in 1981 did Keeneland lengthen the race to its current 1 1⁄16-mile configuration, which helped restore its prestige after a series of quiet years. Seemingly as a thank-you, the stoutly-bred 1983 Breeders’ Futurity winner Swale went on to prevail in the 1984 Kentucky Derby.
Between 2006 and 2013 the Breeders’ Futurity was conducted over a synthetic racing surface, weakening its ability to produce contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Nevertheless, 2006 third-place finisher Street Sense provided a bright moment with his victory in the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
Keeneland returned to dirt in 2015, triggering a rebound in the profile of the Breeders’ Futurity. From 2015 through 2018, the race produced 11 Kentucky Derby starters, including runners-up Exaggerator (2016) and Lookin At Lee (2017). When coupled with its status as a Road to the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep race, you can argue the Breeders’ Futurity has become more valuable than ever before.
By J. Keeler Johnson
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