As Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Justify prepares for the May 19 Preakness Stakes (G1), he has plenty of trends in his favor, including Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's amazing record of winning the Baltimore classic each of the four times he's entered the Derby winner.
But there is one recent trend going against this year's Kentucky Derby winner: Six of the past seven horses to win the Derby on an off track failed to win the Preakness, including the past four in a row. In the past 50 years, seven of the nine off-track Derby winners failed in their Preakness try.
That 22% win rate in the past 50 years is a small sample, but knowing the problems that can arise after racing on an off track--for instance, Justify's heel issue this week--perhaps there's a bit more to the stat than a random trend. The 1 3/16-mile Preakness is contested just two weeks after the 1 1/4-mile Derby.
In the past 50 years, the Derby has been contested on a fast track 41 times. In those 41 races, the Derby winner came back to win the Preakness 18 times (44%). If you remove the three Derby winners from the past 50 years who did not contest the Preakness, that percentage jumps to 47%.
The past four horses to win the Derby on an off track each lost the Preakness: Always Dreaming last year, Orb in 2013, Super Saver in 2010, and Mine That Bird in 2009.
Always Dreaming won the Derby on a wet-fast track. Then, as the 6-5 favorite in the Preakness, he finished eighth to Cloud Computing. Orb also disappointed as the Preakness favorite. At 3-5, he wasn't able to launch his late kick and settled for fourth behind front-running winner Oxbow.
Super Saver, the 9-5 favorite in the Preakness, contested early but faded to eighth as second-choice Lookin At Lucky claimed victory for Baffert. Mine That Bird ran a credible Preakness as the 6-1 third choice but he finished second to favored filly and eventual Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
Always Dreaming hasn't won since the Derby and Orb, Super Saver, and Mine That Bird never won after the Derby.
The two off-track Derby winners in the past 50 years to take the Preakness were Smarty Jones, who won the Derby on a sloppy track in 2004, and Sunday Silence, who won the Derby on a muddy surface in 1989. The other three off-track Derby winners to come up short in the Preakness were Go for Gin (1994, sloppy), Unbridled (1990, good), and Dust Commander (1970, good). Dust Commander was off the board in the Preakness, but Go for Gin and Unbridled each finished second.
Of course Justify isn't much on stats. He did just end the Apollo curse, which dated back to the 19th century.