Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contender Birth Dates

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The Kentucky Derby (G1) is a race like no other, pitting 20 talented three-year-old Thoroughbreds against each other over a 1 1/4-mile distance they've never before tackled. A special race calls for special handicapping techniques, and Derby bettors annually analyze a wide variety of angles and metrics they don't normally consider.

Diving deep into unusual data can be risky, since there's a chance of overemphasizing largely irrelevant information. On the other hand, it's also an opportunity to uncover surprisingly effective angles few other bettors are considering.

Every year, I like to analyze the Kentucky Derby contenders according to their birth dates. There is some evidence that horses born in January are at a disadvantage on Kentucky Derby Day, while horses born in May tend to develop too late to shine on the first Saturday in May.

The data is stark: over the past 40 years, only one horse born in January (Grindstone) has won the Kentucky Derby. In contrast, there have been 12 Kentucky Derby winners born in February, 14 born in March, eight born in April, and five born in May.

Medina Spirit, April 5
Authentic, May 5 (Derby held in September due to COVID-19)
Country House, May 8
Justify, March 28
Always Dreaming, February 25
Nyquist, March 10
American Pharoah, February 2
California Chrome, February 18
Orb, February 24
I'll Have Another, April 1
Animal Kingdom, March 20
Super Saver, March 18
Mine That Bird, May 10
Big Brown, April 10
Street Sense, February 23
Barbaro, April 29
Giacomo, February 16
Smarty Jones, February 28
Funny Cide, April 20
War Emblem, February 20
Monarchos, February 9
Fusaichi Pegasus, April 12
Charismatic, March 13
Real Quiet, March 7
Silver Charmer, February 22
Grindstone, January 23
Thunder Gulch, May 23
Go for Gin, April 18
Sea Hero, March 4
Lil E. Tee, March 29
Strike the Gold, March 21
Unbridled, March 5
Sunday Silence, March 25
Winning Colors, March 14
Alysheba, March 3
Ferdinand, March 12
Spend a Buck, May 15
Swale, April 21
Sunny's Halo, February 11
Gato Del Sol, February 23

Note: Medina Spirit's victory is under dispute due to a positive post-race drug test, but since he remains the winner for betting purposes, I have included him in our data breakdown. For the record, Mandaloun (second across the finish line) was born on March 18.

It should be noted this raw data doesn't account for the possibility of more Thoroughbreds being born in February and March than January. But it should be noted winners of the Travers S. (G1) in August at Saratoga (the "Midsummer Derby") tend to be born a month later than Kentucky Derby winners, suggesting there is at least some correlation between birth dates and peak racing success.

So what does this data mean for the 2022 Kentucky Derby? As of April 25, Churchill Downs lists 29 horses under consideration for the great race. Eight were born in February, nine in March, nine in April, one in May... and one very big name was born in January.

Here's the list of Kentucky Derby contenders, arranged in order by birth date:

Epicenter, January 29
Tiz the Bomb, February 2
Ethereal Road, February 9
Smile Happy, February 10
Major General, February 15
In Due Time, February 19
Classic Causeway, February 22
Pioneer of Medina, February 24
Simplification, February 28
Early Voting, March 7
Barber Road, March 8
Un Ojo, March 12
Cyberknife, March 14
Happy Jack, March 17
White Abarrio, March 18
Zozos, March 18
Tawny Port, March 21
Zandon, March 21
Messier, March 24
Bye Bye Bobby, April 1
Skippylongstocking, April 2
Charge It, April 3
Rattle N Roll, April 12
Taiba, April 13
Golden Glider, April 16
Mo Donegal, April 19
Summer Is Tomorrow, April 24
Rich Strike, April 25
Crown Pride, May 4

Interestingly, the only 2022 Kentucky Derby candidate born in January is probable morning line favorite Epicenter, impressive winner of the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star S. (G2). While it's possible Epicenter's abundant talent will carry him to the Kentucky Derby winner's circle, it's also possible his January birth date gave him a maturity advantage during the winter, and his younger rivals are eligible to catch up by the first Saturday in May.

Now it's your turn! What are your takeaways from the Kentucky Derby birth dates data?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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