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What Makes a Kentucky Derby Winner?

We look at the key attributes that make a Kentucky Debry winner
| 4 min read
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The Kentucky Derby is the first leg in the Triple Crown, with any horse having to go through this race in order to have a chance to win the next two and end up as one of horse racing's immortals. But winning just the Kentucky Derby by itself is no easy task and shouldn't be taken for granted. In fact, there are a number of things that go into making a Kentucky Derby winner that should not be overlooked when people search for the next Triple Crown hopeful.


Suffice it to say that our parents have a huge influence on who we end up being in our own lives, and the same can be said for horses. For horses in the racing game, this means that their parents' genetics can help make them high-quality racers themselves. This is far from a guarantee, of course, just as it's far from a guarantee for a great basketball player's son to be a pro himself. But it certainly doesn't hurt a horse's chances at Kentucky Derby success.

Look for this to become an especially big factor in the upcoming years, as Triple Crown horses like American Pharoah and Justify are right in the sweet spot to where they should be passing their genetics down to the next generation of competitors in the Derby. The horses still need to run the race, but having a parent who has had success in the Kentucky Derby themselves can certainly help the cause of a horse in this event.

Good Form

Just as is the case in any sport, being on solid form is one of the keys to success in horse racing. A horse that is running well and winning races will have a better chance to do well in the Derby than a horse of equal talent that is running poorly of late. This is why horse racing handicappers have an extensive knowledge of a horse's recent races, as those results do a lot to tell them what to expect the next time the horse takes the track.

In fact, with the Kentucky Derby being such an elite level race, it's no surprise that many of the marquee entrants into the race have never lost at all. One such example was Justify in 2018, who had never lost heading into the race and made sure not to lose in that race either. Of course, Justify also went onto win the Triple Crown, remaining undefeated through the three biggest races of its career to make horse racing history.

Of course, being undefeated or on strong form doesn't guarantee that a horse is going to run through the field en route to a win in the Kentucky Derby. Factors like the strength of the competition faced are something to look at when determining who will take home the run for the roses in addition to just wins and losses. But those wins and losses can tell you a lot about how a horse is feeling leading up to the Derby.

A Quality Jockey

There is a reason that most of the top horses in the world of horse racing are topped by the best jockeys in the world when it comes time for this massive race. Unlike a race day at a less prestigious track, where jockeys of varying qualities end up riding the favorites, there is nothing but quality on the track, both in terms of the horses and those riding them come Derby day. But not all jockeys are created equal, and a great one can really tip the scales in the favor of some horses more than others in this race.

Recent examples of great Kentucky Derby jockeys include Victor Espinoza, who won the event multiple times with War Emblem and California Chrome. Calvin Borel won a historic three derbies in four years atop Mine That Bird, Super Saver and Street Sense before he stepped away from the profession. While the horse still has to outrun the others in the field, these experienced hands atop the best horses in the world can make just a slight difference between winning and finishing behind the pace.


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