The Kentucky Derby hopes of El Areeb and Irish War Cry took a significant hit last Saturday when they were beaten badly as heavy favorites.
Supporters haven’t necessarily given up – horses rebound from disappointing performances all the time and the possibility remains for the clunkers to be aberrations. El Areeb and Irish War Cry still have another prep race and connections hope a return to form next time can serve as a springboard to a top showing in the May 6 Kentucky Derby.
The rationale sounds good but history shows it’s unlikely because Kentucky Derby victors don’t get drubbed by double-digit margins in the next-to-last prep race. We have to go back 36 years to Pleasant Colony, who finished 12 ¼ lengths behind when fifth in the 1981 Fountain of Youth, to find a similar beating from an eventual Kentucky Derby winner.
When it comes to beaten lengths, El Areeb is in a better position toward the tip of the iceberg, weakening to be 11 lengths back in third as the 2-5 Gotham (G3) favorite. But El Areeb was facing softer competition on the inner track at Aqueduct and appears much more suspect for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance than Irish War Cry.
The problem with Irish War Cry is he hasn’t finished the Fountain of Youth (G2) yet. The Curlin colt didn’t settle willingly off the pace as expected, rushing forward to press pacesetter Three Rules before coming up completely empty on the far turn. He faltered to seventh, beaten 21 lengths in a dismal seventh-place effort as the even-money favorite.
Next-to-last prep results
In the last 35 years (since 1982), 21 Kentucky Derby winners have captured the next-to-last prep race, a 60% clip. The win rate increases to 80% when including eight runner-up finishers during the same time frame.
You won’t find any way up the track.
Three eventual Kentucky Derby winners placed third, all beaten less than four lengths. The remaining trio – Gato Del Sol (1983), Go for Gin (1994) and Charismatic (1999) – finished fourth, none by double-digit margins before proving successful two starts later at Churchill Downs.
Based on Kentucky Derby history, horses seldom rebound from a stinker performance in the next-to-last prep race. And given how poorly El Areeb and Irish War Cry performed, it may be best to draw a line through their chances and focus upon more realistic contenders this year.