07 May 2005, Louisville, Kentucky, USA --- The field of 20 horses round the first turn during the 131st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Winner, Giacomo, ridden by Mike E. Smith, is on the far left in the pink and green silks. --- Image by © Steve Boyle/NewSport/Corbis

Believe it or not, it’s time to watch for potential Kentucky Derby horses!

It is hard to believe that the time to start laying your foundation for Kentucky Derby hopefuls, especially since the 2020 version of the Derby was run the first Saturday of September thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but starting January 1 it is time to kick it into gear.

Over the last 35 years I have had a solid track record of cashing nice Derby tickets. Every year when the Derby is over and I am walking to the window to cash, I always have people ask me how I came up with my picks.

The short answer – it is a process.

Of course, late in the preceding year I start watching and paying attention to the crop of 2-year-olds, but the real work starts in January.

There are races January 1 and January 2 this year – the Jerome at Aqueduct and the Sham at Santa Anita – that start the ball rolling. Those two races give me an early idea of the New York and California runners.

January 16 has the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana; January 22 the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn; and January 30 the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, rounding out the five major tracks for Derby hopefuls.

These five races give me a base to start watching as the horses develop. A couple of interesting notes on well-known trainers and where they send their horses.

Bob Baffert is the King of California, but he sends some of his horses to Oaklawn. If the last 10 years have shown anything, Baffert is apt to send some of his better 3-year-olds to the Arkansas track.

Todd Pletcher, the King of the East Coast, is based in New York and will be sure to have some quality runners at Aqueduct, but tends to send his better horses to Gulfstream, as well as Tampa Bay Downs.

I have always taken a stand against New York horses as to me, the harsh winters back there take a toll on the horses. Southern California and Florida are much nicer spots for the horses to train and race. At Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds, I am always interested in the Steve Asmussen horses.

Another key to tracking potential Derby runners is to carefully watch straight maiden races, paying attention to the purchase price and the trainers. It is key to remember, you may not see a Derby contender run in a stakes race until late March.

I will be posting previews and recaps here throughout the Derby run and will always be looking for key maiden races as well. I will also be running my yearly Derby Fantasy contest where you build and manage a stable from January through the Derby! Entries will be posted next week.

As of right now here are your leaders in the points race: Essential Quality 30 points, Keepmeinmind 18 points, Jackie’s Warrior 12, and Spielberg 12.

Hope you have a great holiday season and keep checking here at www.acesgolf.com for the latest on Kentucky Derby hopefuls!

By Dennis Miller