D. Wayne Lukas the best asset for fillies in Kentucky Derby preps

March 19th, 2022

Last week's news that Secret Oath would face males in next month's Arkansas Derby (G1) puts us one step closer toward potentially seeing a filly compete in the Kentucky Derby (G1), which hasn't happened since the points qualifying system was introduced by Churchill Downs in 2013. 

The current system basically requires fillies to compete against males prior to the Kentucky Derby. Otherwise, there is little to no chance of their making the starting field. While some might argue this is a deterrent for fillies participating in the race, the historical fact is that prior experience against males is a common thread linking the three previous filly winners of the Derby.

While records of participation by fillies in the last major preps is hard to come by, what is more readily available is a list of fillies who won or placed in preps generally used as final ones for the Kentucky Derby. These include the Louisiana Derby (G2), Florida Derby (G1), Jeff Ruby (G3), Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial (G2), Santa Anita Derby (G1), Blue Grass (G1), and Lexington (G3). Here is the list going back to 1980.

Year Prep Horse Finish
1980 Wood Memorial Genuine Risk 3
1982 Jeff Ruby Cupecoy's Joy 3
1984 Arkansas Derby Althea 1
1986 Arkansas Derby Family Style 3
1988 Santa Anita Derby Winning Colors 1
1992 Santa Anita Derby Eliza 3
1995 Jeff Ruby Serena's Song 1
2020 Blue Grass Swiss Skydiver 2


Things to note:

*Genuine Risk and Winning Colors both went on to win the Kentucky Derby, joining an illustrious list first started by Regret (1915), who had beaten males in three stakes as a juvenile.

*Cupecoy's Joy would run 10th in the Derby as a member of the mutuel field. Althea and Serena's Song also finished well up the track in the Derby as part of entries that went favored. 

*Family Style, Eliza, and Swiss Skydiver would later bypass the Derby to run in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), which none of them won. The 2020 Blue Grass was held in July, so it wouldn't have served as a final prep for Swiss Skydiver even if she had pursued the Derby, which was run in September.

The most obvious takeaway is the success trainer D. Wayne Lukas has had with fillies in these Derby preps. Although full stats are not readily available, the bottom line is that only Lukas-trained fillies (Althea, Winning Colors, and Serena's Song) in the modern era have come up with victories in the most notable Derby preps.

Whether Secret Oath can join that list on April 2 remains to be seen. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that Lukas has long had a knack at knowing the best times to strike with a filly. He might be right again about this year's Arkansas Derby.