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Spring Traditions

The Courier-Journal notes that all sixteen ‘prominent’ horses should make the Derby field this time around; it’s a bit ironic that in a year which seems to have a much stronger group of three-year-olds than we have likely seen for some time, we may not hit the maximum field of twenty.

It’s become something of an annual tradition at Casa Superfecta to question the need for a twenty-horse field – last year’s edition was a historical primer reflecting on how relatively recent the annual twenty-horse trend is – the first full field for years only came in 2005 (with considerable variation in the decades prior to that). In 2007, I set my own limit of fifteen worthies, while in 2006 it was a general lament that many ‘great’ Derbies had featured smaller numbers of runners – although it must be said that many Triple Crown winners did defeat large fields – Gallant Fox was one of fifteen, Omaha beat an eighteen-horse field, War Admiral faced nineteen other horses (and is thus the only Triple Crown winner from a twenty-horse field), while Assault and Seattle Slew triumphed over seventeen- and fifteen-horse fields, respectively.

To expand on the twenty horses=lower Triple Crown chance, one could argue that those large fields (often filled with at least a generous handful of horses who did not deserve to be there) denied Afleet Alex, Point Given and Risen Star (to name a few) the chance to run their races in the Derby. (Of course, you can equally well make the point that it’s meant to be difficult – it’s certainly a valid position).

But this year may be different; there have been so many obviously talented horses that some owners and trainers whose horses have already faced the top eschelon and come away wanting have wisely decided to prep them for other races – with a few more similar defections from the Derby trail, we may end up with the most competitive field for many long years – and perhaps with a little welcome breathing room.

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