While being named North America's champion 2-year-old colt or gelding is a prestigious honor in its own right, recent history tells us it's no guarantee of success in the following spring's Kentucky Derby. In fact, since Spectacular Bid accomplished the feat in 1979, only one champion 2-year-old has gone on to win the next year's Kentucky Derby—that was Street Sense in 2007.

Prior to Spectacular Bid, it was much more common for a champion 2-year-old to go on and win the Kentucky Derby. In the 1970's alone, which is considered a “Golden Age” of Thoroughbred racing, no fewer than six juvenile champions won the Kentucky Derby. The list reads as a who's who of Thoroughbred greatness. It includes Riva Ridge, Secretariat, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid.

Recent 2-year-old champions, with the exception of Street Sense, have for the most part been unable to carry their top form all the way to that first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. In fact, only four of the last 11 2-year-old champions have even reached the gate for the Kentucky Derby, the last being Looking at Lucky in 2010.

The leading contenders for 2011 champion 2-year-old—undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and Union Rags—will attempt to buck that trend.

There are number of reasons why a champion 2-year-old doesn't make it to the Kentucky Derby. Horses at this age can, in human terms, be considered as teenagers. They are constantly maturing.

Much like in humans, some horses develop faster than their contemporaries and are therefore much likely to be standouts as 2-year-olds. But as the calendar turns and the weather begins to warm, some horses can grow by leaps and bounds, physically as well as mentally. At that point they may surpass their colleagues and become major contenders for the Derby.

Therefore as a handicapper or fan, when narrowing your list of Derby contenders, or perhaps even placing a “future” wager, it is paramount that you project how a horse will perform on Derby day, not necessarily what he was able to accomplish in December or January.

One of the most important factors to consider when assessing a horse’s chances for the Kentucky Derby is, pedigree. Some horses, including many of the recent 2-year-old champions, are bred to be at their best as youngsters and going shorter distances. Others are bred to be better as 3-year-olds and at longer distances.

All of this must be taken into account when looking at Kentucky Derby contenders.

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Author's Bio: 

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