04/26/2012 1:53PM

History challenge: Derby Trial a major prep in its heyday

This Belmont Stakes winner won the first of Woody Stephens’s three straight Derby Trials from 1983-85. Can you name the three?

From the 1930’s through the 1970’s, the parking lots at Churchill Downs were filled with tour buses the Tuesday of Kentucky Derby week, bringing people from as far away as St. Louis, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Attendance on that afternoon would soar, at times in the 1940’s and 1950’s rivaling the crowds that would attend the Kentucky Oaks three days later.

The travelers, most of whom did not have seating for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, were there in hopes of seeing their Derby favorite or the potential Derby winner in that afternoon’s Derby Trial.

As late as the 1950’s, their chances were good. Starters in the Derby Trial – begun as an overnight purse in 1924 and made a stakes race in 1938 – included Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, Assault, and Citation, as well as 10 other Derby winners. This, despite – or perhaps because – the race was run just four days before the Derby.

When trainers began choosing to give their horses more rest between starts, the Derby Trial was moved 30 years ago to opening day, one week before the big race.

With the 88th Derby Trial Stakes set for Saturday, test your knowledge of this once important prep race.

1. The inaugural Kentucky Derby in 1875 was contested on opening day, and that tradition continued through 1922, ensuring that no 3-year-old would have a prep over the Churchill Downs surface.

With the Derby moved later in the meeting in 1923, Churchill began offering the Derby Trial Purse in 1924. No race could have been more of an instant success. This black Cinderella colt won the first running of the race and four days later captured the 50th edition of the Kentucky Derby. Name the horse.

2. After the first Derby Trial in 1924, it was nearly a quarter century before another colt would complete the Derby Trial-Derby double. The immortal Citation won both races in 1948 for Calumet Farm, which won a remarkable seven runnings of the Derby Trial in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Calumet won another Triple Crown with a Derby Trial starter, Whirlaway in 1941, but he finished second in the Trial to Blue Pair. That year marked the third time in four years that a Derby Trial runner-up won the Derby. Name the other two.

3. Fred W. Hooper won the Kentucky Derby with the first horse he ever bought, Hoop Jr., in 1945. Four years later, he seemed poised to win the garland of roses for the second time when he sent this horse postward as the 4-5 favorite in the 75th Derby.

Four days earlier, the bay colt had won the Derby Trial Stakes against a field that, as it turned out, included the winners of all three Triple Crown races. Name the horses.

4. The 1950’s proved the glory days for the Derby Trial − an incredible six Derby winners between 1950 and 1958 made their final prep in the Tuesday event on Derby week.

Even more incredible is the fact that almost overnight everything then changed. No horse who has competed in the Derby Trial since 1958 has been able to finish better than second in the Derby. That’s more than half a century.

Name the five Derby Trial contestants since 1958 to finish second in the Derby.

5. Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens is best remembered for winning five consecutive runnings of the Belmont Stakes from 1982-1986.

During that period, Stephens won three consecutive runnings of the Derby Trial Stakes. Two of the three were part of his Belmont Stakes quintuplet.

The one that wasn’t didn’t start in the Derby, but Stephens won the Derby and Belmont Stakes with his backup horse that year. Name Stephens’s three Trial winners and his backup Derby-Belmont winner.

Get the answers HERE.