Inside the Kentucky Derby, America's greatest racing party

Kentucky Confidential

Profile: Derby Kitten

Derby Kitten after winning the Lexington Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Derby Kitten enters the Kentucky Derby in the best form of his nine-race career, but he is going to be one of the field’s biggest long shots because of class and surface concerns.

Derby Kitten’s 2-year-old form was not Derby material. He raced five times in 2010 and did not visit the winner’s circle. He finished seventh, beaten 27 1/2 lengths by future graded stakes winner To Honor and Serve in his only dirt race. In that 1 1/16-mile race at Belmont Park, Derby Kitten stalked the pace for six furlongs before slowly fading out of the picture.

His poor dirt effort was sandwiched between a third on the turf at Monmouth Park and a second on the turf at Belmont. Derby Kitten was significantly better last year on turf.

Derby Kitten broke his maiden in a $75,000 maiden claiming race on the turf Jan. 5 at Gulfstream Park. Next came two second-place finishes in turf stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park. In the latter, Derby Kitten put in a big stretch run (a final quarter-mile in about 22.20 seconds), but he was too far back behind a slow pace.

Derby Kitten tried running on a synthetic surface April 23 in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, and he successfully transferred his late move to Polytrack. Last of six on the far turn, Derby Kitten ran his final five-sixteenths of a mile in about 29.17 seconds to vault past the leaders and win by 1 1 /2 lengths.

Derby Kitten has learned to relax and finish as a 3-year-old, and his late fractions in his most recent two races were exceptional. However, his lone poor dirt effort looms large in his past performances. It requires a leap of faith to expect him to transfer his improving form to dirt.

The Lexington was only two weeks ago, and the Kentucky Derby will be Derby Kitten’s third race in five weeks.

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Author PhotoAn award winning newspaper journalist from Chicago’s south side, Pete Denk moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 2005. He wrote for Thoroughbred Times for five years, as a staff reporter and later as sales editor. Denk headed up the Times’ auction coverage for three years. Still based in horse country, he now works as a freelance journalist and consultant. More by  ›