With the long history of the Kentucky Derby–the race dates back to 1874–there’s been all kinds of strange occurrences. Typically when someone suggests that a horse can ‘make history’ in the Kentucky Derby it evidences an ignorance of the historical context of the race. Simply put, no matter what the backstory it’s likely ‘been done’.
Bob Baffert’s Bayern is an exception to that axiom–he has a legitimate shot of doing something very rare should he manage to win the Kentucky Derby. Bayern didn’t race at all as a two year old and a Derby win would make him the first such horse to take the roses since Apollo turned the feat in 1882. Apollo is the only horse ever to win without racing as a two year old and it’s been 132 years since. First things first–Bayern isn’t even guaranteed of a spot in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. He’s slated to run in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday and a top two finish will punch his ticket to Churchill Downs. Curiously, Bayern might not be the only horse in the Derby field unraced as a two year old–speedy Social Inclusion has only three career starts all as a 3 year old and is currently ‘on the bubble’ in terms of qualifying points.
Although it’s been 132 years since a horse won the Kentucky Derby unraced as a two year old it’s almost inevitable due to changes in philosophies about preparing a horse for his three year old campaign. Additionally, the revised qualification process for the race places a much greater emphasis on a horse’s three year old performance. These trends may help facilitate the end of this trend but it hasn’t happened yet. Since 1944, 58 horses have started in the Derby without racing as a two year old. Just seven have finished in the money but its worth noting that two of those seven have been in the past five years (Bodemeister finished second in 2012, Curlin finished third in 2007). Though it admittedly is a short sample size, the possibility of two entrants unraced as two year olds seems to validate the trend discussed above. In the previous 70 years there’s been an average of less than 1 horse per year entering unraced as a two year old (.828 per year to be exact). This year there could be two and the betting market hasn’t completely dismissed either horse–Bayern is currently 25/1 in the Wynn Las Vegas Kentucky Derby futures odds and Social Inclusion is 20/1.