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Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Race History

One of two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races held at Churchill Downs, the historic Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) offers promising juveniles an opportunity to gain racing experience over the Derby’s host track.

That’s just one of the benefits available to young runners tackling this 1 116-mile race, held every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Kentucky Jockey Club also offers a rich purse and 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points to the winner, making it a lucrative target for late-maturing juveniles with an eye on the spring classics.

The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes dates all the way back to 1920, and the inaugural edition remains one of the strongest ever run. On a sunny afternoon at Churchill Downs, champion 2-year-old Tryster defeated future Hall of Famer Grey Lag and 1921 Kentucky Derby winner Behave Yourself in a battle of top-class racing talent.

Three more Kentucky Derby winners contested the Kentucky Jockey Club during the next decade, with Reigh Count (1927-28), Clyde Van Dusen (1928-29), and Twenty Grand (1930-31) winning both races to cement the Kentucky Jockey Club’s position as a key steppingstone toward the first Saturday in May.

But the race wasn’t run between 1939 and 1945, and when it returned to the agenda in 1946, its momentum had been lost. Nearly three decades passed before the Kentucky Jockey Club turned up another Derby winner. Cannonade appropriately completed the double in 1973-74, restoring the Kentucky Jockey Club to prominence with his upset victory in the much-heralded 100th Kentucky Derby.

In 1980, the Kentucky Jockey Club was lengthened from one mile to its present 1 116-mile distance. Its graded stakes status shifted through the years, finally settling at Grade 2 in 1998, the same year Real Quiet parlayed a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club into victory in the Kentucky Derby.

Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey and Hall of Fame inductee Calvin Borel has been among the most successful riders in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, scoring four victories between 2000 and 2014. His most significant triumph came in 2009 aboard Super Saver, who prevailed in the stakes-record time of 1:42.83. The following year, Borel and Super Saver executed a bold ground-saving ride to win the Kentucky Derby.

In 2019, the purse of the Kentucky Jockey Club was boosted to a record $300,000, double the amount offered as recently as 2013. With this hefty purse in tow, an increasing number of high-class horses figure to use the Kentucky Jockey Club as a prep for the first Saturday in May.

By J. Keeler Johnson

Kentucky Jockey Club S. Recap

Smile Happy announced his arrival on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a decisive victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs Nov. 27.

The son of Runhappy, who dazzled when winning his debut at Keeneland, went off at 4.80-1. Bettors instead preferred Breeders’ Futurity (G1) third-place finisher Classic Causeway and Street Sense S. winner Howling Time.

But after settling just off the speed set by Howling Time, Smile Happy launched his bid four-wide on the final bend as Classic Causeway and Ben Diesel also looked to challenge. In the stretch Smile Happy was much the strongest, defeating Classic Causeway by 3 14 lengths.

The victory earned Smile Happy 10 points on the Road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby table, his first points in the series. Classic Causeway earned four points, taking his Road tally to six following his Futurity effort. Florida visitor White Abarrio, held up briefly at the top of the stretch, finished third and earned two points, while Ben Diesel took fourth and earned one point.

Smile Happy is one of several good two-year-olds in the barn of Ken McPeek. Initially sold as a weanling at Keeneland for $175,000, he was re-sold for $185,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Showcase sale in Kentucky last September to Lucky Seven Stable, who also own the McPeek-trained Breeders’ Futurity winner Rattle N Roll.

Of the other points scorers, Classic Causeway improved on his Breeders’ Futurity effort, while White Abarrio impressed in his first run away from Florida and could be one to watch in early 2022 Florida Derby preps.

By Alastair Bull