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Where to Travel Before the Derby: The Prep Races

The anticipation for the “Run for the Roses” is palpable. Every year, thoroughbred hopefuls embark on a rigorous journey towards the ultimate challenge – the Kentucky Derby. But before the grand spectacle at Churchill Downs, these young athletes face a series of crucial stepping stones: the Kentucky Derby prep races.

These races, scattered across the United States, offer a thrilling prelude to the Derby. Not only do they grant the coveted points needed for Derby qualification, but they also serve as a testing ground.

Showcasing the emerging talent and shaping the narrative leading up to the big event.  For the dedicated horse racing enthusiast, the Kentucky Derby prep races present a unique opportunity to witness these future stars in action and experience the electrifying atmosphere firsthand.

A Journey Through the Prep Season:

The Kentucky Derby prep season stretches from September of the preceding year to the spring, culminating in the Derby itself.  This extended period allows trainers to strategically plan their horses’ campaigns, ensuring they peak at the right time.

Early Battles in the East and South:

The prep season kicks off on the East Coast with the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York, typically held in late December. This Grade II race for 2-year-old marks the initial test for hopefuls. As winter descends, the focus shifts southward to tracks like Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida.

Here, the journey truly begins:

West Coast Enters the Fray:

Come February, the West Coast joins the fray. California’s Santa Anita Park plays host to the prestigious San Felipe Stakes, while Arizona’s Turf Paradise Race Course stages the Sunland Derby. These races attract top contenders vying for valuable points and a chance to solidify their Derby aspirations.

The East Coast Heats Up:

March signals a flurry of activity on the East Coast. Aqueduct witnesses the Wood Memorial Stakes, while the Florida Derby takes center stage at Gulfstream Park. These Grade I events are major stepping stones, often featuring Derby favorites and generating significant national attention.

The Championship Series: A Final Push

As spring unfolds, the Kentucky Derby Championship Series intensifies the competition. Races like the TwinSpires Louisiana Derby (Fair Grounds) and the Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park) offer the final opportunity for horses to accumulate points and secure their place in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Experiencing the Thrill: Top Destinations for Prep Race Travel

Planning a trip around the Kentucky Derby prep races allows you to witness the sport’s rising stars and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of horse-racing’s lesser-known venues. Here are some additional top destinations to consider:

Beyond the Races: Exploring the Local Culture

Each location on the Kentucky Derby prep race circuit offers a distinct cultural experience:

Tips for the Savvy Traveler:

Attending the Kentucky Derby prep races is an enriching experience for any horse racing aficionado. Witnessing future stars in action, soaking in the unique atmosphere of each venue, and exploring the surrounding cities creates a memorable journey on the road to the “Run for the Roses.”Remember: While the Kentucky Derby is the ultimate goal, the prep races offer a chance to witness the development of these young athletes and gain valuable insights into the contenders vying for horse racing’s biggest prize. So, pack your bags, plan your itinerary, and embark on an unforgettable adventure following the trail to the Kentucky Derby.

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