Kentucky Derby Contender Birth Dates, and a Live Longshot

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

Every year, I like to analyze the Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders according to their birth dates. While there are multiple ways to interpret the data, there is some evidence that horses born in January are at a disadvantage in the Kentucky Derby, and that 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 11 Kentucky Derby winners born in February, 14 born in March, nine born in April, and five born in May.

Rich Strike, April 25
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

Note: Medina Spirit has been disqualified due to a still-disputed positive post-race drug test, but since he remains the winner for betting purposes, I have included him in this data breakdown. For the record, upgraded winner Mandaloun was born on March 18.

Of course, 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 at age three.

So what does this data mean for the 2023 Kentucky Derby? As of April 27, Churchill Downs lists 24 horses under consideration for the great race. Only one was born in January, followed by six in February, five in March, 10 in April, two in May.

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

Kingsbarns, Jan. 17
Forte, Feb. 3
King Russell, Feb. 8
Tapit Trice, Feb. 17
Skinner, Feb. 18
Major Dude, Feb. 24
Disarm, Feb. 28
Continuar, March 7
Sun Thunder, March 12
Two Phil's, March 16
Mandarin Hero, March 20
Lord Miles, March 30
Reincarnate, April 1
Raise Cain, April 7
Angel of Empire, April 9
Mage, April 18
Confidence Game, April 23
Jace's Road, April 25
Derma Sotogake, April 28
Rocket Can, April 28
Cyclone Mischief, April 30
Practical Move, April 30
Hit Show, May 9
Verifying, May 11

The only 2023 Kentucky Derby candidate born in January is the undefeated Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Kingsbarns. Florida Derby (G1) winner and reigning champion two-year-old male Forte just missed the January cutoff, having been born on Feb. 3. It's possible horses like Kingsbarns and Forte have enjoyed a maturity advantage over their marginally younger rivals thus far, leaving them with less upside for improvement on the first Saturday in May.

Meanwhile, horses like Hit Show (born May 9) and Verifying (born May 11) might be destined to enjoy their greatest successes later in the year, once they've grown up a little more.

A Kentucky Derby live longshot

On Thursday morning, Skinner was confirmed as a Kentucky Derby starter, with Santa Anita's leading jockey Juan Hernandez named to ride. The son of Curlin seems destined to start at double-digit odds on the first Saturday in May, but might Skinner actually rank among the strongest contenders?

One of the Kentucky Derby favorites is Practical Move, by virtue of his rail-skimming victories in the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1). Skinner finished third in both of those races while enduring wide trips and losing more ground than Practical Move.

Ground loss arguably determined the outcome of the Santa Anita Derby. After racing wide around both turns, Skinner rallied to finish only half a length behind Practical Move.

Skinner has repeatedly shown a nice turn-of-foot, and it's worth noting the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby ranked among the fastest Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers from a Beyer and Brisnet speed figure perspective. Factor in the ground loss Skinner endured in the Santa Anita Derby, and you can make a case he's one of the fastest horses in the Kentucky Derby field.

My one hesitation in backing Skinner is the possibility of a modest pace at Churchill Downs; as I outlined last week, I believe we're likely to see a relaxed pace in the Kentucky Derby, which could be detrimental to Skinner's late-running style. But if a hot pace develops, Skinner may take advantage in the manner of Giacomo, who sprung a 50-1 upset in the 2005 Kentucky Derby for Skinner's trainer, John Shirreffs.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like as a live longshot in the Kentucky Derby, and what do you make of the 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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