With the announcement that 2022 Kentucky Derby long shot winner Rich Strike was skipping the Preakness in favor of the Belmont Stakes, many were surprised … but should we have been? Is skipping the Preakness that out of the ordinary? It has probably happened more than you think.
A grand total of 72 steeds have skipped the Preakness after winning the Kentucky Derby… 72!
That said, I went and looked from 1932 to the present day. Twelve Derby winners — including three in recent years — have skipped the Preakness for various reasons.
Before 1932, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness had several reasons for skewed statistics. For example, there were years when the Preakness ran before the Derby, on the same day or a week after.
History of Derby winners to skip the Preakness
1938: Lawrin was the only classic winner bred in Kansas and the first to skip the Preakness. In fact, he skipped both the Preakness and Belmont, as owner Herbert Woolf accidentally did not nominate him for either. Instead, Lawrin spent the summer at the newly opened Hollywood Park in California.
1951: Like Lawrin 13 years earlier, Count Turf’s owner did not nominate him for the Preakness. The next three Derby finishers that year weren’t nominated either. However, several weeks later, Count Turf went on to finish seventh in the Belmont.
1952: After manhandling his competition in Chicago and Kentucky prior, Hill Gail, who was jockey Eddie Arcaro’s fifth Derby winner, had developed osselets (calcium deposits) in one of his ankles. Trainer Jimmy Jones ruled him out of the Preakness and Belmont. After winning nine of his first 15 starts, the son of Bull Lea, one of the most successful sires in the history of the sport, won just two of his last 17 races.
1954: Determine became the first gray horse to win the Derby. According to trainer Bill Molter, the 3-year-old colt’s nine starts pushed him too hard. Molter decided not to go to Baltimore for the Preakness. As a result, Determine missed a Belmont nomination, and his Triple Crown campaign ended after the Derby.
1955: Swaps fended off Nashua in one of racing’s most stirring stretch duels of all time, on his way to becoming just the second horse bred in California to win the Derby (the other was Morvich in 1922). However, owner Rex Ellsworth was still another who did not nominate his colt for the Preakness or the Belmont. Even if he had been eligible, Swaps reinjured a hoof in the Derby, so he wouldn’t have run anyway.
1959: Like Rich Strike, Tomy Lee got a break from trainer Frank Childs, who said the Preakness and Belmont came “up too soon.”
1982: Gato del Sol remains one of my greatest handicapping achievements when, at 17 years old, I predicted victory for this gray colt at 21-1. However, trainer Eddie Gregson decided not to go to Baltimore. Gato del Sol ran in the Blue Grass Stakes (and finished second) just nine days prior. “The way I prepared the horse for the Derby, using the Blue Grass as a prep, dictates that we don’t go on to the Preakness,” Gregson said. This colt, whose name means “cat of the sun,” would wind up finishing a distance to gorgeous runaway winner Conquistador Cielo in the Belmont Stakes.
1985: Angel Cordero Jr. rode Spend A Buck to a 5 3/4-length win in the Derby for trainer Cam Gambolati. However, instead of going to Baltimore, owner Dennis Díaz accepted an offer he couldn’t refuse. Robert Brennan, Garden State Park owner, offered a $2 million bonus to any horse who could sweep the Cherry Hill Mile, the Garden State Stakes, the Derby and the Jersey Derby. “This was an extremely difficult decision to make but one we’re very happy with,” Díaz said. With the final race scheduled for May 27, one week after the Preakness, Spend A Buck went to New Jersey. He won the race.
1996: Grindstone, sired by 1990 Derby winner Unbridled, won an absolutely thrilling Kentucky Derby by a nose over Cavonnier in 1996. However, discovering a bone chip five days later in Grindstone’s right-front knee led Overbrook Farm owner Bill Young to retire his colt immediately.
2019: Maximum Security crossed the finish line first in the Derby, but his victory lasted only 22 minutes. The Churchill Downs stewards disqualified him for interference on the turn for home. 65-1 long shot Country House moved up as the winner. Three days later, trainer Bill Mott said the Lookin At Lucky colt had come down with a respiratory infection. He would have to skip the Preakness. In fact, Country House never raced again after the Derby.
2021: This one is convoluted. When the Preakness was run, Medina Spirit was considered the Derby winner, with Mandaloun second. Six days after the Derby, Medina Spirit reportedly failed a drug test. Nine months later, he was disqualified as the Derby winner, and Mandaloun was moved up. However, trainer Brad Cox skipped the Preakness Stakes to “rest him for the second half of his 2022 season,” which ended oddly with — you guessed it — another “finished second but moved up to the win” slot, this time in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.
2022: Rich Strike owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed said the Preakness “didn’t fit” their chestnut colt. They also wanted to keep the Keen Ice colt on the same schedule (running every six weeks). For his connections, the Preakness simply comes up too quickly for the 80-1 winner of the Derby. They are aiming for Belmont Stakes next month.