Run for the Roses: Previewing the Top Contenders in the 2023 Kentucky Derby

The 2023 Kentucky Derby will be Race 12 on May 6th at Churchill Downs. Post time is set for 5:57 PM CT. This Grade I race is one and 1/4 miles and has a purse of $3,000,000. There are nineteen horses in the field this year after hearing that Continuar will be scratched. Last year’s winner was Rich Strike.

Let’s take a look at the field.

Forte is the deserving favorite this year. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile back in November and has rolled on to win both of his Kentucky Derby preps at Gulfstream Park: the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby. He really had to rally from five wide around the far turn to run down Mage and Cyclone Mischief to win that Florida Derby.

He’s run consistently around a 100-speed figure over his last three starts, but some don’t think he’s improving as much as some of the other three-year-olds. He also tends to run late and had to go five wide in his last. There is a chance he will have trouble getting to the spot he wants.

Angel of Empire comes off wins in the Risen Star and Arkansas Derby. He had a 10-point spike in his speed figure in that race and looks to be running as well as ever.

Derma Sotogake is the wildcard here. He ships in from Japan for his 1st race on US soil. He won the UAE Derby back on March 25th to qualify. The distance shouldn’t be an issue for him, but the 17 post could pose some problems.

Tapit Trice comes in off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes. His only loss was in his debut, a 3rd place last November. He’s 4-0 since at four different tracks. The question on him is that he tends to break slow and if he breaks slow in the Derby he might get trapped and his chances could be over.

Verifying finished a close second to Tapit Trice in the Blue Grass after going off at 2-1. He did throw his rider Thursday morning while working and had to be tracked down by outriders, not something you usually see with a Derby horse. The 2 position could also be an issue if he doesn’t break well and get out on the lead early.

Kingsbarns is the only undefeated horse in the field. He’s coming off a win in the Louisiana Derby; where he faced graded stakes company for the first time. This will be yet another step up in competition for Kingsbarns.

Reincarnate finished 3rd in both the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby in his last two after winning the Sham Stakes back on January 8th. He didn’t show the closing kick needed in his last, but definitely shouldn’t be 50-1. He’s got John Velasquez aboard. Velasquez will likely want to get him to the front and hope to hang on similarly to what he did with Medina Spirit in this race a few years back.

Disarm had finished in the top 3 in all five of his career races, but his speed figures don’t suggest he’ll be able to run with the top horses here. Confidence Game won the Rebel Stakes in his last, but hasn’t raced since then (February 25th). That is a longer layoff then we usually see in the Derby, but he did run a competitive speed figure in that win.

Mage is the another horse that deserves a look. He finished 2nd in the Florida Derby after getting run down by Forte in his last and has improved his speed figure in every start he’s had.

Two Phil’s is a horse I want to touch on. The winner of the Jeff Ruby Steaks will represent trainer Larry Rivelli as his first ever Kentucky Derby horse. The long-time trainer won nine training titles at Arlington Park before it closed two years ago. Two Phils trains out of Rivelli’s barn at Hawthorne and is the first Chicago-based horse in the Derby since War Emblem in 2002. Arlington Park fans will notice another connection with Jareth Loveberry taking the mount for what is also his first Kentucky Derby appearance.

Also Eligibles Drawing in:

We learned last year to not ignore the also eligibles when Rich Strike drew in and went on to win the Derby. This year, Practical Move and Lord Miles are now out for the Derby, which means Cyclone Mischief and Mandarin Hero draw in. And as of this morning, Skinner is out as well. That means King Russell also draws in.

These two are listed and 30-1 and 20-1 respectively, but they are better than a lot of the horses in this field. They will have to break from the far post but should not be discounted. Mandarin Hero was a close second to Practical Move in the Santa Anita Derby. He should absolutely be able to hit the board. Cyclone Mischief comes off back-to-back 3rd place finishes in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. Mandarin Hero is definitely my favorite of these two, but they are both capable horses.

King Russell is lesser known and is listed with a 50-1 morning line. He finished second to Angel of Empire in the Arkansas Derby in his only stakes competition. He ran a career best speed figure in that one and would need another improvement here.

Below we take a look at each horse’s last three speed figures.

I’ve ran the Kentucky Derby 1,000 times in simulations. Below are the results of those races.

Quick Wrap and Betting Strategies

Most Likely to Win: 15 Forte

My Bet: 17, 22 to Place, 17-14/15/17/22-8/14/15/17/22 Tri

Superfecta: 15-17/22-14/17/22-14/17/22

Longshot Superfecta: 8/17-8/15/17/22-5/8/22-7/22

Long Shot: Winner 17 Derma Sotogake (10-1), 22 Mandarin Hero (20-1)

Forte is 3-1 morning line, but could go off as low as 2-1. He is the best horse here. Derma Sotogake and Mandarin Hero are both wildcards in this one. Keep an eye on how much Mandarin Hero gets bet as an also eligible. If he’s near the 20-1 that he is now, he’s worth a bet. Mage is a real interesting horse too. Forte ran him down in his last but has improved in every start of his career. Angel of Empire should be right in the mix and Tapit Trice and Cyclone Mischief should be around too.

As always with the Derby, the fact that’s there’s twenty horses (nineteen this year) will affect things and potentially take out a few of the contenders. A horse may break bad or get stuck behind a group, forcing him to make a longer trip or prevent him from getting to the position the jockey wants. Last year the pace was so fast that many got tired and Rich Strike was able to pick up the pieces. I don’t see the same type of frontrunning speed in this one, but who knows.

Emotionally, as someone who loved Arlington Park, I will be rooting for Two Phil’s and the Arlington Park contingent. But horses coming from Turfway Park and the Jeff Ruby Steaks have never fared too well in the Derby (maybe due to Synthetic surface at Turfway and Dirt in the Derby). No matter how it shakes out, it’s another interesting field for the Kentucky Derby.

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