Top Kentucky Derby Prep Races To Watch

The Road to the Kentucky Derby is well underway, with many of the leading contenders for the famous race having already appeared on a racecourse in some capacity.

The field for the Derby this year will be made up runners that finish in the top places on the leaderboard following the prep races. 

Following the action in the prep races is essential for all bettors that are looking to make a wager on the opening leg of the Triple Crown. TwinSpires has a complete list for you to follow the action:

However, which prep races have proven most successful when it comes to finding the winner of the Kentucky Derby?

Florida Derby

There have been few more successful prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby throughout history than the Florida Derby. It has produced a total of 21 Triple Crown winners, which includes 15 that have followed up in the race at Churchill Downs. 

The Florida Derby is staged annually in late March or early April, giving runners the perfect amount of time to recover before lining up in the opening leg of the Triple Crown. This race covers a total distance of 1 1/8 miles, and it also boasts a healthy purse of $1 million. 

The Florida Derby was a significant race on the prep series last year, with Forte holding off Mage to land success. However, bigger glory would come for the runner-up, who landed success in the Derby just four weeks later. Other notable winners of the race in recent seasons include White Abarrio, who scored in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the end of last season. 

Wood Memorial

Historically, the Wood Memorial is one of the key Kentucky Derby preps, with eleven winners of the Grade 2 at Aqueduct following up with success at Churchill Downs between 1930 and 2000. 

However, the success achieved by the race has significantly decreased since the turn of the millennium, with no winners of the race coming from the prep. But, that has been down to misfortunate more so than anything else, with talented runners such as Toby’s Corner and I Want Revenge missing the Triple Crown race due to injury. 

However, the race has produced some solid runners in other Triple Crown races in recent seasons, including 2022 victor Mo Donegal, who later landed victory in the Belmont Stakes. But, the prep race may be most famous for a Triple Crown winner that couldn’t land victory, as Secretariat famously finished third in the 1973 running of the race. 

Santa Anita Derby

The Santa Anita Derby is one of the key final prep races before the Kentucky Derby, with the race typically having a major impact on the top of the betting for the Triple Crown race. 

Since the start of 2013, this race has offered the winning runner 100 points, therefore securing a place in the field at Churchill Downs. Since it was introduced to the racing calendar in 1935, it has proven a popular race for the future Derby winner, with ten victors later landing victory at Churchill Downs. It could also be worth examining horses that don’t win the race, with seven losing runners in the race at Santa Anita Park landing victory in the Derby. 

Winning Colors made history in 1988 by becoming the first filly to win both the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby. Other famous winners of both races include Affirmed and Justify. However, success in the race in recent seasons has been harder to achieve, with last year’s victory Practical Move being scratched just a few days before the Derby. 

UAE Derby

The Kentucky Derby is one of the world’s biggest races, and due to that, there is prep races to be staged outside of the United States. The standout race, which offers a runner an automatic start in the race at Churchill Downs, is the UAE Derby

This race is staged annually on Dubai World Cup Night, and it is a Group 2 affair at Meydan. It has been staged since 2000, with the field competing over a distance of 1 3/16 miles for a share of $2.5 million. The winner of this race hasn’t yet won the Derby, but it hasn’t stopped connections from making the journey to Churchill Downs. Mendelssohn was a rare European challenger in 2018 for Aidan O’Brien, but he finished last. 

Crown Pride was one of the first Japanese raiders to plot a race in the U.S., and he finished back in the field in 13th and 18 lengths behind Rich Strike. Derma Sotogake was one of the best international raiders in recent memory, finishing sixth in May last year. However, he showed his prowess on the dirt later in the season after finishing just a length behind White Abarrio in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.