Trainers have grown bold in their experiments with prepping Kentucky Derby prospects over the past decade, but the tradition of contenders getting in at least two two-turn races as a 3-year-old has held steady. Since 2003, only
14 nine of 153 Derby prospects have started without two two-turn preps. That small group has hasn’t done well: Big Brown won in 2008 Hard Spun was second in 2007, Closing Argument second in 2005, and Lion Heart second in 2004. If early Derby fave Uncle Mo wins this year, he’ll not only be the fifth winner in five years to have two preps, firmly establishing that norm, he’ll be the second in five years to have won with a single two-turn sophomore start; a new trend. Never again will any contender so prepped seem so exceptional.
9:15 AM Corrections: Mea culpa! I published without fact-checking. Usually I take time to confirm things, to prevent embarrassing mistakes — like the ones above. There have been nine Derby starters since 2003 without two two-turn preps, and Big Brown is not only the sole winner, he’s the only one to finish ITM. Hard Spun prepped in the Southwest and Lane’s End; Closing Argument in the Holy Bull (then nine furlongs) and Blue Grass; Lion Heart in the San Rafael and Blue Grass. My thanks to commenter PTP for the tip that something was off with his observation that trainer Larry Jones is old school — he is indeed, and that his first Derby contender would be unconventionally prepped is something about which I should have questioned my memory.