Kentucky Derby Prep Race Season Is Here; Wager Four Prep Stakes & the “Big Cap” Sat. March 5  

The best time of the year for horseplayers has arrived! 

The heart of Derby prep race season — when 3-year-old horses compete in major stakes most every weekend at tracks around the country — is in full swing. The action and drama all lead up to the annual “Run for the Roses” Saturday May 7 at Churchill Downs. The Triple Crown continues with the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico two weeks later on May 21 and the Belmont Stakes three weeks post-Preakness on June 11.

Bob Baffert’s Authentic won the 2020 Kentucky Derby. The 2022 edition will be May 7. Photo by Coady Photography.

Saturday March 5 is “Must See TV” because four Derby prep races are on the docket! Aqueduct hosts the Grade 3 Gotham, Gulfstream presents the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Santa Anita has the Grade 2 San Felipe and Turfway Park offers up the John Battaglia Stakes. Will the Derby winner come from this four-pack? We’ll find out soon enough.

Medina Spirit (inside) in deep stretch en route to a Kentucky Derby victory in 2021. Coady Photography.

That day, a total of 15 stakes will be contested between Gulfstream and Santa Anita alone with their respective “Fountain of Youth” and “Big Cap” showcase events. Two “Coast to Coast Pick-5’s will be offered at an attractive 12% takeout rate — one featuring all dirt stakes between the two ovals, while the other features all turf ones. An “unrivaled day” is how Gulfstream is billing their afternoon program.

Each Rosie’s has an OTB area which features live simulcasting from up to 20 tracks on a daily basis.

Key undercard stakes from March 5 action include a trio of Grade 1’s out west — the Santa Anita Handicap. Frank Kilroe Mile and Beholder Mile — along with a pair of other Grade 2 events. Gulfstream has a very similar slate. Grade 2’s that day include the Mac Diarmida, Davona Dale and Gulfstream Park Mile. Grade 3’s include the Honey Fox, Canadian Turf and The Very One. 

On the following Saturday, March 12, the Tampa Bay Derby (Gr. 2) shines by itself. Also on the card is the Grade 2 Hillsborough, Grade 3 Florida Oaks and Grade 3 Challenger Stakes.

Tampa Bay Downs stakes races for 3-year-olds include the Pasco and Sam Davis Stakes followed by the Tampa Bay Derby.

The stellar Louisiana Derby card at Fair Grounds March 26 features eight stakes including that $1 Million, Grade 2 Derby prep. A trio of Grade 2 stakes will precede the Derby itself — the Fair Grounds Oaks, New Orleans Classic and Muniz Memorial Classic. Earlier in the afternoon, fans can watch and wager the $12 million Dubai World Cup, second richest horse race in the world. A total of 25 U.S. horses have been nominated including Virginia-bred Chess Chief.  

The biggest of the Derby preps are traditionally reserved for the first two Saturdays in April and the same holds true in 2022. The $1 Million Florida Derby and $1,250,000 Arkansas Derby — both Grade 1’s — take place April 2 along with the $600,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks Stakes. The $1 Million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and $750,000 Santa Anita Derby — both Grade 1’s — and $750,000, Grade 2 Wood Memorial are a week later on April 9. A full slate of undercard stakes at all six venues make both days can’t miss events!

Buckets OTB in Chesapeake’s Great Bridge neighborhood is a great spot to watch and wager horses any time of year.

Bet all the seasonal action at Colonial Downs-Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums in New Kent, Richmond, Hampton, Vinton and Dumfries, at the Rosie’s Game Room in Collinsville, and at VA-Horseplay OTBs at Breakers Sports Grille in Henrico and Buckets Bar & Grill in Chesapeake. Online betting is available at,, and 

Want to make Derby prep days more fun and potentially profitable? Colonial Downs is offering a free handicapping contest called the “Pick ‘Em Classic” at all Rosie’s and VA-Horseplay OTBs on March 5. A total of $12,000 in prizes will be given away over the course of six contest Saturdays. Details are at Pick ‘Em Classic – Colonial Downs and Rosie’s Gaming Emporium (