"Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby"

Chapter 10 -- Etched in Stone?

As difficult as it is to win the Kentucky Derby from the standpoint of preparation, soundness, and the horse's natural ability, it is even more difficult when you consider the number of historical rules that must not be broken. The equine Ten Commandments of the Derby include the following:

--Thou shalt not run without having started at least once as a two-year-old.

--Thou shalt not have less than five career starts prior to the Derby.

--Thou shalt not have less than three starts as a three-year-old.

--Thou shalt not be cast as the favorite in the eyes of the public.

--Thou shalt not have had thy testicles removed.

--Thou shalt not have a dosage index of over 4.00.

Of course, the occasional sinner who failed to follow all the commandments still managed to emerge victorious. But these unrepentant runners have been few and far between. The dosage commandment, which we'll get into later, fell hard two years in succession, in 1998 and '99. And in 2000 the commandment regarding favorites also was broken. Others have come close to being broken in recent years, which brings up a good question: should we start thinking of writing a new testament?

The granddaddy rule of them all is having had at least one start as a two-year-old. You have to go all the way back to Apollo in 1882 to find a Derby winner who did not race at two. In the past forty-five years, for example, forty horses have attempted to rewrite the history books. Not only did they all fail, but only three of them managed even to finish in the money. And we're talking about some talented horses, such as Pulpit, Forego, Devil His Due, Big Spruce, Air Forbes Won, Corporate Report, Wavering Monarch, Disposal, and On the Sly.

The reason here is pretty simple. It is asking an awful lot of a young horse to beat the best three-year-olds in the country going a mile and a quarter in May without a foundation.