Kentucky Derby Context: Bourbonic

April 16th, 2021 horse racing analyst James Scully attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1981. Along with a brief profile of this year’s contenders, he is providing some historical context.

Bourbonic earned his Kentucky Derby spot in a surprising manner, recording a 72-1 upset in the Wood Memorial S. (G2) at Aqueduct on April 3.

A $50,000 maiden claiming winner in early December, the Calumet Farm homebred son of Bernardini finished a non-threatening second in an entry-level allowance at Parx before making his stakes debut in the Wood.

Bourbonic is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has saddled a record 55 Kentucky Derby starters.

The soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee (eligible in 2021) has won twice, via Super Saver (2011) and Always Dreaming (2017), and Pletcher noted Bourbonic's sudden improvement.

“Sometimes the worst thing you can have is a hot hand in January and February,” Pletcher said after Bourbonic provided him with the highest-priced winner of his 15-year training career. “We were hoping something would come together, and we always thought he had potential to step up. It was good to see him do it.”

Along with a 109 Brisnet Late Pace rating, Bourbonic netted a career-best 94 Speed rating in the Wood. The confirmed closer will try to make an impact from far off the pace in the Kentucky Derby.

Since its first Kentucky Derby starter in 1935, Calumet Farm has undergone different ownership. Brad Kelley now heads the legendary breeding and racing operation in Lexington, Ky., and Calumet has won the Kentucky Derby a record eight times, twice as many as the second-leading owner (Col. E.R. Bradley). Past champions include Triple Crown winners Citation (1948) and Whirlaway (1941).

Calumet has also bred a record nine winners, campaigning all except Strike the Gold (1991).

Strike the Gold was a son of Alydar, whose second-place finish in the 1978 Kentucky Derby represents the best finish by a Calumet-owned horse since Forward Pass won in 1968.

Since Kelley took the helm, Calumet has been blanked from six starters, but Oxbow came back to win the Preakness S. (G1) two weeks after finishing sixth in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.

Bourbonic will try to reclaim Kentucky Derby glory for Calumet Farm.