Gates Beginning to Fill in Road to the Derby

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After a bit of a slow start to the Road to the Kentucky Derby in terms of field size, horsemen's interest has been picking up as they try to qualify their 3-year-olds for the season's opening classic.

The past seven races--counting the 11 starters in the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park--have featured field sizes larger or as large as last year.

The 11 starters in the Fountain of Youth exceeds last year's nine starters in that race. The Southwest Stakes (G3) was up to 11 from 10, the Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) improved from 9 to 14, and the El Camino Real Derby (11-9), Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) (9-6), and Withers Stakes (G3) (7-5) also saw improvement. The Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream had nine starters in 2019 and 2018.

That improvement in recent weeks has helped the Road to the Kentucky Derby enjoy a 4.7% increase in starters to 201, up from 192 for the same 21 races last year.

That said, the series did get off to a slow start. In the nine races for juveniles in 2018 awarding qualifying points to the 2019 Derby, the number of starters was down slightly to 91, after 95 contested those races in 2017 for the 2018 Derby.

Also, Southern California has struggled throughout the series for the 2019 Derby. Of the four races offered thus far in the series--the American Pharoah Stakes (G1), Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (G1), Sham Stakes (G3), and Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3)--the number of starters is down from 29 last year to 23 this year, a 21% decline.

While field size has been down in California, the quality is still believed to be there as Southern California-based 3-year-olds are prominent on most Derby watch lists and in future betting odds with horses like champion Game Winner, who won the American Pharoah; Los Alamitos Futurity winner Improbable; and Robert B. Lewis winner Mucho Gusto prominent.

The average field size for the Road to the Kentucky Derby races of 9.6 is 15.7% larger than the average field size of all races in the United States and Canada in 2018, 8.3. Last year, looking at all races in the U.S. and Canada, average field size improved 7.5%, and the average starters per race surpassed 8 for the first time since 2011.

This week: While the lone points race in the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be the Fountain of Youth (Fox Sports 2, around 5:32 p.m. ET) Saturday at Gulfstream, the European Road to the Kentucky Derby will offer points races March 1, the BetVictor Patton Stakes at Dundalk; and March 6, the Road to the Derby Condition Stakes at Kempton Park.

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