Training to win the Kentucky Derby is quite a bit different than training a horse for any other event. First off, the stage is enormous. Secondly, a trainer is dealing with horses that are maturing and getting better or regressing almost hourly. And thirdly, there is a very small margin for error.
The best person training to win the Kentucky Derby in the history of the game is Ben Jones. He won the Run for the Roses six times between 1938 and 1952 and he had some bullets. He did a great job training to win the Kentucky Derby with Whirlaway in 1941 and that run won the Triple Crown, as did Citation seven years later.
A thoroughbred trainer has to intuitively know when to coddle and when to throw the gauntlet down when training to win the Kentucky Derby.
When training a runner specifically for the grueling Triple Crown Trail it is not enough to ‘breed the best to the best and hope for the best’, but you also need heart, luck, and the correct conditioning strategy.
Face it; a racehorse can weigh 1,000 pounds, running upwards of 40 miles per hour on legs that are supported by ankles as big as humans. To succeed, they need good care and excellent training
One thing is certain, being born with a silver spoon in your mouth does not automatically give you the birthright to run in or win the Kentucky Derby. Consider the auction prices for these Derby winners.
Funny Cide cost $22,000, War Emblem only cost 20 grand, Monarchos sold at 2 for a modest $170,000 and Bob Baffert went the beer rather than champagne route with Real Quiet and Silver Charm, who cost $17,000 and $16,500 respectively.
And one of the best horses of all time, Triple Crown hero Seattle Slew, only cost $17,500.
This year we are looking at some contenders that cost a ton and some runners that cost mere chump change.
American Anthem has some work to do to pay back his $435,000 purchase price. Iliad cost just under $300,000, J Boys Echo brought $485,000 at auction and the Robert B. Lewis winner Royal Mo cost about the same price as Iliad.
On the other end of the spectrum, Girvin, trained by Joe Sharp, only cost $130,000 and has now earned twice that amount after winning the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes.
And Gunnevera is a perfect example that anything can happen when training for the Kentucky Derby. This runner cost a mere $16,000. He has won half of his eight starts including the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park to bring his bankroll to over a million.
The point is the horse is the thing, not the price tag or the hype, when training to win the Kentucky Derby.
There is a reason there had not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 before Bob Baffert’s American Pharoah in 2015. It is a monumental feat for trainer and horse to be under the scrutiny and spotlight for 5 straight weeks.
Say what you want about Baffert, he knows a little about training for the Kentucky Derby. He has stood the test of time and he has won this race four times. He won his first Kentucky Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm and came right back the next year with Real Quiet. In 2002 War Emblem showed his speed and his grit for Baffert winning the Kentucky Derby.
A horse has to be good enough and lucky enough and fit enough to go a mile and a quarter the first Saturday in May. Hw then has to ship 500 miles to Baltimore and cut back in distance, then 3 weeks later go a mile and a half with the world looking on.
A good trainer can’t make a slow horse run. The horse has to have talent, but a good trainer can bring out the best in a horse by finding out what the runner does best.
Listen and learn from years of web-culled quotes from those in the game: After the Preakness and Afleet Alex’s win in 2005, his trainer had this to say, Tim Ritchey: “I’ve been a trainer over 30 years, so you put your time in at the small tracks, you finally get an opportunity to find a horse of this ability, believe me, it’s the horse. Horses make trainers, trainers don’t make horses.”
Bob Baffert after War Emblem won the Derby in 2002: “After Point Given, I wondered if I’d ever win another one of these again—it’s just too damn hard to win. This year, I took a different outlook: I’m going to get him and train that son of a gun the best I can and get him sharp and lead him up there and see what happens.”
On getting Charismatic, a reformed claimer, to win the 1999 Derby, his trainer was tough: D.Wayne Lukas: “I finally said, I think this horse is fat and lazy but I’m going to get him dead fit. I’m going to ask him to do things that he wouldn’t dream of. And I bore down on him, I drilled him, I treated him with tough love, if you want to call it that – and suddenly I had a fine-tuned athlete that went on to win the Derby, the Preakness and almost won the Belmont.”
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