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Fewer preps now the norm

Twelve years after the fact, Elliott Walden can still recall the words of the critics in the weeks leading up to the 1998 Kentucky Derby.

"I remember with (Derby runner-up) Victory Gallop, everyone was saying we only had two preps and there was no way he could run well," the former trainer and current racing manager for WinStar Farm said.

Had Victory Gallop been part of the 2010 Kentucky Derby trail, that limited schedule would have probably garnered favoritism rather than skepticism.

It wasn't long ago that the idea of having fewer than three prep races heading into the Derby was sound enough reason to toss a horse off of a list of contenders.

Ever since 2007 Derby winner Street Sense became the first to wear the roses after just two prep starts since Sunny's Halo in 1983, the lighter schedule has become the more successful trend.

The past two years have also seen Derby winners Big Brown and Mine That Bird use the two-prep schedule, thus it's no coincidence a number of this year's top contenders are leaning the same way.

Trainer Bob Baffert has said 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky would probably make only two starts before the Derby and the same is expected of graded stakes winners Noble's Promise, Buddy's Saint, Rule and Super Saver.

While the recent success of the two-prep schedule has given trainers who prefer more time between races reason to embrace it, it is still the form and foundation of each horse that determines their path to Churchill Downs

"I think it depends on the trainer and it depends on the horse and where they were in their 2-year-old career. There are a lot of variables," said Rick Porter, owner of Grade III winner Winslow Homer, who dropped off the Kentucky Derby trail last week because of a stress fracture in his cannon bone.

"Take a horse like Buddy's Saint. He appears to be a nice horse and he had a couple big 2-year-old starts so he's only going to use a couple starts. But I think it's different for every horse and I don't get involved with giving the trainer a certain number of prep races to follow."

Whether or not the two-prep trend continues its success this year, the stigma behind it has at least temporarily been removed.

"That's what happens with the Derby, you'll have an opinion about something and it will get blown out of the water and go away," Walden said.