April 1, 2023

Kentucky Derby winners don’t take bad losses in next-to-last prep

The Kentucky Derby hopes of El Areeb and Irish War Cry took a significant hit last Saturday when they were beaten badly as heavy favorites.

Supporters haven’t necessarily given up – horses rebound from disappointing performances all the time and the possibility remains for the clunkers to be aberrations. El Areeb and Irish War Cry still have another prep race and connections hope a return to form next time can serve as a springboard to a top showing in the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

The rationale sounds good but history shows it’s unlikely because Kentucky Derby victors don’t get drubbed by double-digit margins in the next-to-last prep race. We have to go back 36 years to Pleasant Colony, who finished 12 ¼ lengths behind when fifth in the 1981 Fountain of Youth, to find a similar beating from an eventual Kentucky Derby winner.

When it comes to beaten lengths, El Areeb is in a better position toward the tip of the iceberg, weakening to be 11 lengths back in third as the 2-5 Gotham (G3) favorite. But El Areeb was facing softer competition on the inner track at Aqueduct and appears much more suspect for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance than Irish War Cry.

The problem with Irish War Cry is he hasn’t finished the Fountain of Youth (G2) yet. The Curlin colt didn’t settle willingly off the pace as expected, rushing forward to press pacesetter Three Rules before coming up completely empty on the far turn. He faltered to seventh, beaten 21 lengths in a dismal seventh-place effort as the even-money favorite.

Next-to-last prep results

In the last 35 years (since 1982), 21 Kentucky Derby winners have captured the next-to-last prep race, a 60% clip. The win rate increases to 80% when including eight runner-up finishers during the same time frame.

You won’t find any way up the track.

Three eventual Kentucky Derby winners placed third, all beaten less than four lengths. The remaining trio – Gato Del Sol (1983), Go for Gin (1994) and Charismatic (1999) – finished fourth, none by double-digit margins before proving successful two starts later at Churchill Downs.


Based on Kentucky Derby history, horses seldom rebound from a stinker performance in the next-to-last prep race. And given how poorly El Areeb and Irish War Cry performed, it may be best to draw a line through their chances and focus upon more realistic contenders this year.

2 Comments on Kentucky Derby winners don’t take bad losses in next-to-last prep

  1. Hi James

    I know it doesn’t look good but Irish War Cry’s race was so bad comprised to his other with no apparent excuse that I could possibly forgive it more than El Areeb. But agree seen more horses stub a toe in last prep an run back good in Derby. Only problem i have is that he appears to want to go to the lead as he ran up on the horse and got strangled back and then refused to run again. Those need to lead horses have to be monsters like Speed a Buck to win the Derby. Let’s see what happens I’m getting the feeling that he likely is not going to be running it is next prep if he does I don’t think it’s going to be in Florida.

    Regarding going to Gunervera he’s the best thing out there now and think he’s a very good horse. However my only issue with him is he’s been in training since the fall and he may be peaking before the Derbywhat is one of my top horses for use underneath right now. However probably getting ahead of myself there’s a lot of time between now and the first week in May.

    • Wayne, great points. Seems to me there’s a chance Irish War Cry goes to a race like Wood Memorial & they send him from the start — if he wins wire-to-wire then he’s essentially committed to front end at CD. But the prospect of him winning on front end May 6 seems unlikely.

      Gunnevera opposite position — he’s probably going to be dependent upon a hot pace like 2013 Derby (Orb) & the question remains whether he will be good enough. Right now, competition isn’t imposing but San Felipe and Rebel could produce serious win contenders

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