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 1⁄16-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 1⁄16-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