Kentucky Derby Preview 2023


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Horses are some of the most beautiful creatures in the world and there’s something majestic about them. Last year’s Kentucky Derby was absolutely inexplicable. A horse that quite frankly didn’t belong in the race, and only got in two days before the race because another horse was scratched, Rich Strike, defied the odds and logic and pulled off possibly the biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history. It was better than the movie “Rudy!” Even if you are not much of a racing fan, I implore you to watch this 9 minute video. I can’t even get through four minutes of this video without tearing up a bit.

If you ever need more evidence of the beauty of horses, Cody’s Wish races in Saturday’s Grade 1 Churchill Downs (10th Race). If you don’t root for him and shed a happy tear from this video, “Cody Dorman and his Namesake Cody’s Wish”, you may not be human!

The 2023 Kentucky Derby is a well matched and wide open race. It’s been a crazy week already with five horses already scratching (including the favorite, Forte) and three horses not originally in the race are now in. As we learned last year with Rich Strike, anyone can win the Derby. The outcome this year, like last year, will be very dependent on the early pace scenario. Last year, they went lightning fast early on and it set up for runners at the back of the pack to pass tiring horses late. This year there doesn’t seem to be a ton of early speed in the race and if they set pedestrian fractions the first 3/4s of a mile, it will make it tougher for the closers. Very interesting race. I urge you to watch some of the videos provided below to give you a better feel for some of the top contenders. Use this as a guide to decide whatever tickets you decide to build.

#1 - HIT SHOW - Speed figures have improved with each race. Won the Withers at Aqueduct with a golden ground saving trip but was ridden out strongly through stretch. Came back as the favorite in the Wood Memorial and avoided congestion early from 13 post, had a decent stalking trip while on the outside, kicked into gear in stretch but seemed uncomfortable sandwiched between two contenders and got nosed out by a 59-1 shot, Lord Miles, and settled for 2nd. Has been favored in all 5 lifetime starts but will be far from it here. One of four horses in here trained by Brad Cox. Real tough post position in a 20 horse field. Should be able to handle the distance and should get a rail hugging trip near the back of the pack. One of four Brad Cox horses in the Derby.

#2 - VERIFYING - Another Brad Cox runner. Scary moment midweek as Verifying got loose while training but the outrider was able to corral him without major incident. Disappointed in last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile. Has yet to win a major race. Was a solid second in the Bluegrass at Keeneland going off at 2-1 (See Tapit Trice video below). Was flanked right behind a longshot leader entering the final turn. Captured the lead and then was tackled by Tapit Trice (who had a much more difficult trip) in a powerhouse stretch duel and was beaten a head. Two back in the Grade 2 Rebel (see video in Confidence Game’s bio) was compromised in a fast pace, jammed in, had to alter course several times in the stretch and still finished strongly despite being 4th. Has good tactical early speed to avoid trouble early on. With such an inside post and his tactics, he will be forced fire out early and should be on or close to the early lead. There’s not a ton of supreme early speed horses in here. Distance could be a concern but he’s definitely one to consider. If the pace is moderate and he’s on or near the lead, he will be a major factor.

#3 - TWO PHIL’S - Many struggling to figure out why this horse has an apostrophe in his name. LOL. Steadily improving horse from Louisiana. Won the Grade 3 Street Sense on this Churchill track in October in the slop by 5 1/4 lengths. Won the Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway Park on a synthetic surface with an excellent speed figure, handily by 5 1/4 lengths, 3 wide around both turns after failing to hold the lead previously in the Grade 2 Risen Star where he made an early move but was beaten by both Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder in the longer stretch at the Fairgrounds. Prior to the win in his last race, his speed figures were too slow but he made a gigantic leap on the synthetic surface to the point that the single race figure is the top Beyer Speed Rating of anyone in this race. Will that translate to the Churchill dirt surface? Last year’s shocking Derby winner, Rich Strike, came into the race from Turfway Park as did 2011 winner, Animal Kingdom. Mid-pack horse needs to avoid traffic and time his move correctly; with the right trip. could contend. Low profile jockey, Jareth Loveberry tackles the big boys. Minor point: Take note that yesterday, Botanical in the Kentucky Oaks came in from the Turfway synthetic surface to Churchill and finished 13th. Can’t completely ignore Phil off the eye popping figure last out on the synthetic surface but his dirt figures make him a minor player.

#4 - CONFIDENCE GAME - Coming in off a 70 day layoff after winning the Grade 2 Rebel on a wet track in what was by far his best race but came off a perfect pace setup. Tried new tactics in that race coming from behind. That figure wasn’t even fast enough to win this and his other races don’t make him even close to a contender. Race allegedly took a lot out of him to cause the layoff. Not horrible but tough for me to use.

#5 - TAPIT TRICE - A seven figure yearling purchase, who hasn’t disappointed with 4 wins in 5 races and $883,000 in the bank. His speed figures have improved in each race but he has a propensity of somewhat slow starts and wide trips. Won the Bluegrass last out despite being 4 wide across the backstretch and entering the final turn before engaging in an exciting two horse stretch duel with Hit Show, ultimately winning by a neck. His sheet figure in the Bluegrass is the best in the best sheet figure in the field. However, you have to go back to 1991 for the last time the Bluegrass winner won the Derby. He’s quirky yet very talented but his mid-race acceleration is average and because of that, he’s the type who needs to swing wide to go around horses to avoid traffic. Not a great draw for him as he doesn’t seem to like to be inside of horses. He’s definitely a contender but I’d like him better if this was the mile and a half Belmont Stakes.

#6 - KINGSBARNS - Undefeated in three lifetime starts. Has to overcome the “Curse of Apollo” as only two horses (Justified did it) since Apollo in 1882 have won the Kentucky Derby having not run as a two year old. Has to improve to win. Wired the field in the Louisiana Derby. Shot right to the lead, set a slow pace, 1:14:69 for 6 furlongs and pulled away to an easy win. It was impressive but it couldn’t have been gift wrapped any better for him. Has good tactical early speed but has also won from off the pace his first two times.

#7 - REINCARNATE - Pushed the pace last out in the Arkansas Derby, a field which to me wasn’t overly impressive and he came up empty late. This race is a an 1/8th mile longer. Looks like he may have digressed slightly since switching from Bob Baffert two races ago. Only has one figure that would come anywhere close to the top horses here and that was a win in the Grade 3 Sham in California where he pretty much went wire to wire in a 5 horse field. Should be part of the early pace and if the pace is moderate, he could get a piece. Velasquez has won 3 Derbies.

#8 - MAGE - Another with the curse of Apollo having not raced a two year old. Broke slowly in the Grade 2 Fountain of the Youth, rushed up quickly 5-wide into the first turn, was 3 wide the entire backstretch sitting 4th, got bumped and compromised in the stretch, finished decently but lost by 6 3/4 lengths and was no match for Forte, who had a much better trip. After slow start and sitting last in the Grade 1 Florida Derby (see Forte video), made a premature eye-popping move around the run to seize the lead but got rundown late by Forte and lost by a length. Switches back to Javier Castellano. Needs a cleaner start and better timing of his powerful move. Definitely a wild card today.


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#11 - DISARM - Got caught in the slow paced Grade 2 Louisiana Derby (See Kingsbarns video above) with a rail hugging mid-pack position and finished 2nd with no chance to run down Kingsbarns. races early on that were difficult to close into. Ran in the Lexington three weeks ago as he needed the points to get into the Derby. Did just enough cutting back an 1/8th of mile but wasn’t impressive. Best race was the Louisiana Derby going a distance. Not horrible but tough to use outside of maybe the bottom of a superfecta ticket.

#12 - JACE’S ROAD - Another Brad Cox trained horse. Has some early tactical speed. Will be interesting to see the plan, as Cox won’t want two of his horses (Verifying) battling against each other early on. Broke through the gate in the Louisiana Derby and had to be reloaded. It might have used up some energy. Six career races with two wins, two thirds and two flops on sloppy tracks. Speed figures are not overly impressive. Has yet to win a graded stakes race. He’s not horrible and could hit bottom of ticket with his best effort and some luck but nothing to get excited about.

#13 - SUN THUNDER - Stone cold closer adding blinkers today for more focus. Not the best of trips in the Louisiana Derby where he got shuffled back and closed for 4th. Was impressive in the Risen Star where he came from way back and took the lead in the stretch but was run down by Angel of Empire and lost by a length. Lone win came in a maiden race while on lasix (which is not allowed here). Figures are well below some of the top horses in here. Would need to take a huge step forward to contend.

#14 - ANGEL OF EMPIRE - Another Brad Cox runner. Improving horse prone to wide trips. Two good races at a mile and an eighth. Beaten only once on dirt where he was severely compromised. Won the Grade 2 Risen Star hugging the rail early and coming out late in a race that set up for a closer. Won the Arkansas Derby with a clear trip across the backstretch sitting mid-pack. Swung wide late and stormed past the leaders. Ran on a bit greenly but powerfully. Arkansas Derby field was a bit suspect but he still won impressively. His style could get him into trouble and he will need a solid pace early on to set him up. He’s a contender if the race sets up well for him but will need things to go his way.


#16 - RAISE CAIN - Won the one turn Gotham on a wet track with a very favorable trip where the pace collapsed. Was able to save a lot of ground by hugging the rail around the final turn in a race that setup nicely for him. Was ok in the Bluegrass but was no match for Tapit Trice. Prone to slow starts. Will have to get a lucky trip, Will be a big price. Could get a small check.

#17 - DERMA SOTOGAKE - Japanese bred. Has already earned $1.16 million. Japan is becoming one of the racing powers in the industry. They methodically imported top horses from around the world to breed and their strategic foresight is beginning to come to fruition. Went wire to wire and crushed the field in a super fast time in the $1 million UAE Derby in the Emirates in an eye popping manner. Trying to become the first off ever to hit the board after prepping in the UAE (18 have tried). This horse is a descendant of Sunday Silence, who won the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Post 15 doesn’t help so he has to hope not to get hung wide on the first turn. Horse might be something special. In 2018, Mendelssohn came into the Derby from the UAE with lots of fanfare. However, Mendelssohn became seriously agitated in the walk over from the stable area to the saddling enclosure and again during the post parade and ending up losing by 70 lengths. This horse comes in with possibly even more fanfare and has the style to win it if he can get on or near the lead into the first turn. Changed tactics in the UAE Derby by going for the early lead but that may have been because of the inside draw. However, remember that in last year’s Derby, this jockey, Christophe Lemaire fired out with Crown Pride, another Japanese runner, to the front in outrageously lightning-like early fractions of 21:78, 45:36 and 1:10;34 and had the lead around the final turn before throwing in the towel. So I’m inclined to think this horse will be on or close to the early lead. They don’t give Beyer Speed Figures for UAE races but experts have said that his figure in that race would probably be 5-6 points higher than any other horse’s single race figure in this race.

#18 - ROCKET CAN - Interesting to note that he was favored in the Arkansas Derby. Was forwardly placed early and bided time sitting 5th 4-wide most of the backstretch. Never truly fired and didn’t like that he got beat by King Russell but he never gave up and still at energy at the wire. Previously had won the Grade 2 Holy Bull with a similar trip as the Arkansas Derby. Has some tactical early speed to sit closer up so might be able to avoid traffic later on. Not completely out of the question for a check. Won the Grade 3 Holy Bull with a similar trip as the Arkansas Derby.



#21 - CYCLONE MISCHIEF - Got in race Thursday when Practical Move scratched. Has developed since his two year campaign but would need to improve a lot more to be a factor here. Has some tactical early speed but with a bad post, can’t like his chances.

#22 - MANDARIN HERO - Draws in due to scratches. Japanese runner is intriguing. 6 career races with 4 wins and two seconds. Ran a solid 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby in lone race in the United States although it wasn’t a stellar field other than the winner. Wish he had a better post position. Far from horrible and could contend for a minor check.

#23 - KING RUSSELL - Another that is fortunate to get into the race due to a scratch. Took him 5 starts to get his first win and that lone win came in the slop while on lasix in a slow figured race. Made a major leap in the Arkansas Derby (see Angel of Empire video) and finished 2nd after swinging 5-wide. Even if he duplicates that race, he isn’t fast enough and the post position makes him a pass.
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As for me, #17 Derma Sotogake can either run his race and they won’t catch him or there are scenarios where he may not be found. I am inclined to believe he will run his race. I think #2 Verifying will be positioned upfront early and if the pace is moderate, he will avoid trouble and have a say in the outcome. #5 Tapit Trice is certainly capable of winning if things go his way but his style is conducive to finding some road trouble and he’s more of a grinder so he’s more likely to hit the board than to win. #1 Hit Show can definitely hit the ticket if he avoids trouble and doesn’t get completely swallowed up on the rail at the start. #14 Angel of Empire should be flying late and can get a piece of this as can #8 Mage. I don’t love #6 Kingsbarns or #7 Reincarnate but both could be forwardly placed early and can hit the ticket.

My selections:







This isn’t an exact science. I will be playing my top two choices as keys in exactas, triples and superfectas. I will then use some of my other selections on top of my top 2 choices and then a small saver boxing my selections.

Best of luck to everyone!
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