The final stretch of the 2012 Kentucky Derby prep season is well underway, and already there have been some major shocks that once again have handicappers and racing fans alike throwing their hands up in the air, asking the pleading question, “Will a clear Kentucky Derby favorite please show himself?”  So far, the answer is no.  

The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby is set for Saturday, May 5, 2012, with a post time of 6:24 PM EDT at venerable Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.  The Derby may not be the richest race in the world or North America, but it is by far the most prestigious, and since it’s also the first leg of the Triple Crown, which is the absolute crown jewel of American thoroughbred horse racing, it’s easy to see why owners, trainers, and jockeys are all clamoring for a shot at winning this race on the first Saturday in May.  

Since the Kentucky Derby is a race that, with its long history and tradition, attracts so much national media attention, it would seem only right that we provide you with a quick rundown on the Kentucky Derby qualifications that each of the twenty horses that ultimately are chosen must have before they can secure themselves a place in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses.

First, only three-year-old thoroughbred racehorses are allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby.  These three-year-olds can either colts or fillies, and can also be geldings or roans.  In the history of the race, nine geldings have won (most recently Mine That Bird in 2009), three fillies have won (last was Winning Colors in 1988), while no roans have ever won.  The overwhelming majority of the winners of this race have been colts.

Thoroughbreds are eligible to compete in races at the juvenile age of two years old.  They typically run in a special category of races called maiden special weights (MSW) until they win their first race.  The usual move is to then have the horse run in an allowance race.  Once a horse wins an allowance race in good form, a good horse is then sent to run in graded stakes races, and it’s here where the key to Kentucky Derby qualifications lies.  Hundreds of racehorses compete in graded stakes races when they are two and three-years-old, but only the top twenty horses on that list are able to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby and, therefore, a chance at immortality for the owner, trainer, jockey, and of course, the horse.

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