It is the end of January which means that the Derby Prep season is starting to gain momentum. This weekend is the Sam F Davis and San Vicente Stakes, while neither offer points to get into the starting gate they both are stepping stones to getting to Churchill Downs.
Something weird that the thoroughbred industry does is make all horses’ birthdays January 1. It doesn’t matter if they were born on January 1st or June 26th, come the new year they will all be one year old officially. This is so make races such as the Kentucky Derby simpler to qualify for, and so June-babies don’t run in it when they are actually three but physically much bigger and mature than the others.
In North America foals start coming out right on January 1 and go until about May but sometimes they do get late into June. You’d think that logically you’d want to aim your horses to be born as early as possible. But with places like Kentucky being where the vast majority of horses are born and raised, do you really want your newborn to start his life in the middle of winter? Or would you rather him be a little younger than some, but have a much stronger foundation in the spring with the weather much warmer.
I’ll Have Another’s birthday is April 1. Always known as a prankster, his biggest joke he pulled was his Triple Crown attempt.
After thinking about that for a while, I wanted to look into when all the Derby winners were born and when is it best for them to start. In the 2012 Media Guide for the Kentucky Derby they have a list of all the Derby winners (through 2011) and when they were born. Some years are not recorded their birthdate. Proud Clarion, Tomy Lee, Johnstown, and Lawrin do not have their birth date on record. Neither do most horses between 1875 and 1934 with some exceptions (Gallant Fox, Black Gold, Sir Barton, Exterminator and Vagrant). Out of 140 winners, only 79 have the birthdate recorded.
Now of those that do, here are some interesting things I noticed.
- Grindstone is the oldest horses to ever win, and the only one who was born in January on the 23rd.
- No Derby winner has been born in June.
- The youngest Derby winner is Exterminator, who barley made the cut for May and was born on the 30th.
- The month that has produced the most winners is March, with 28 winners
- March 23 has the most winners born on that day with three–Foolish Pleasure, Venetian Way, and Gallant Fox
- Gallant Fox and Omaha are the only father-son combo to win the Triple Crown, and their birthdays are a day apart, March 23 and March 24.
- March 24 is the birthday of two winners, and both won the Triple Crown. Omaha and Count Fleet.
- There are 10 days where winners share a birthday. February 15 (Genuine Risk and Seattle Slew), February 17 (Spectacular Bid and Black Gold), February 23 (Street Sense and Gato Del Sol), March 4 (Sea Hero and Bold Venture), March 23 (Foolish Pleasure, Venetian Way, and Gallant Fox), March 24 (Count Fleet and Omaha), March 29 (Lil E. Tee and Jet Pilot), April 19 (Tim Tam and Hill Gail), April 29 (Barbaro and Needles) and May 2 (Lucky Debonair and War Admiral)
- The best week to be born is the week of March 23nd through 30th, with 11 born in that span.
- Seven horses had not had their third birthday when they won the race. Mine That Bird, Thunder Gulch, Spend a Buck, Cannonade, Northern Dancer, Exterminator and Vagrant.
Heres a breakdown on how many were born per month (and the year the horse won):
- January: 1 (1996)
- February: 19 (2014, 2013, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1997, 1983, 1982, 1980, 1979, 1978, 1977, 1970, 1963, 1944, 1942, and 1924)
- March: 28 (2011, 2010, 1999, 1998, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1993, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1976, 1975, 1973, 1969, 1968, 1960, 1957, 1955, 1947, 1946, 1945, 1943, 1940, 1936, 1935, and 1930)
- April: 21 (2012, 2008, 2006, 2003, 2000, 1994, 1984, 1972, 1971, 1966, 1961, 1958, 1956, 1954, 1952, 1951, 1950, 1949, 1948, 1941, and 1919)
- May: 10 (2009, 1995, 1985, 1981, 1974, 1965, 1964, 1937, 1918 and 1876)
Orb’s birthday is February 24
What about those born in warmer climates like Florida, California, or Texas? Since they don’t get harsh winters like Kentucky, New York or Maryland, did they aim for early birthdates? Short answer, not really.
Florida has six Derby winners: Needles (April 29), Carry Back (April 16), Foolish Pleasure (March 23), Affirmed (February 21), Unbridled (March 5), and Silver Charm (February 22).
California has four winners: Morvich (unrecorded), Swaps (March 1), Decidedly (unrecorded) and California Chrome (February 18).
Texas has two winners: Assault (March 26) and Middleground is unrecorded.
California and Texas only have three horses between them on record, but of those three there was not much of a difference with everyone else. Florida has a bit more, and a bit on the early side but still pretty evenly spread out.
What about Canada? Its pretty cold up there so surely they aim for a bit later. Their two winners are Northern Dancer, the second youngest colt who was born on May 27 and Sunny’s Halo on February 11. So, no real difference but it is only a two horse sample size.
The grumpy gelding Funny Cide surprised the state of Kentucky when he announced he would be the spokeshorse for the Legalize It campaign, as his birthday is April 20. His family in friends in New York were less surprised.
After looking at this for a while it is pretty much what was expected. Late March is the ideal time for a Derby winner to be born, but anytime between February and April works well. But there is no point that is clearly the absolute best time to foal out.
It is worth remembering that this year the Derby falls on May 2, which is the birthday of two winners, Lucky Debonair and War Admiral.
Side note: Here are the birthdays of the current Top 10 point earners for the 2015 Kentucky Derby, kind of cool that seven share it with a past winner.
- El Kabeir: March 18 (same as Super Saver)
- International Star: March 14 (same as Winning Colors)
- Upstart: April 13 (same as Riva Ridge)
- Carpe Diem: February 29 (leap year, same as Chateaugay)
- Calculator: April 5
- Texas Red: March 15 (same as Hoop Jr)
- Mr. Z: January 12 (will be oldest horse to ever win the Derby if he does)
- Far Right: March 4 (same as Sea Hero and Bold Venture)
- Ocho Ocho Ocho: April 2 (same as Whirlaway)
- American Pharoah: February 2