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Analyzing the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Date: 05/02/2023

Using historical trends and the past performances for the 23 Kentucky Derby entrants by points, we have weighted several factors to develop the following ranked list. Each horse was given points for his conformation to a Derby winners profile. Of course this does not guarantee that the horse with the most points will win, but it does give you a good idea who to eliminate from the winning position. It follows that if a horse doesn't fit the winner's profile, he may still finish in the money, much like how handicappers might bet anti-bias horses on the bottom of exotics. We also recommend checking workout patterns in the final week since these are a good indicator of who is ready. Preferably you're looking for horses that have at least two workouts over the Churchill Downs surface and at least one bullet work, and also consider post positions, as some positions are known to be unfavorable such as the rail and the 17, however with the 20-stall gate which debuted in 2020, this trend may change this over time, as there is no longer a gap between 14 and 15, and post 1 is positioned slightly further off the rail than before.

As there weren't as many drop-offs as in past years, the cutoff to make the main body of the field was 45 points (earned by Skinner as well as first also-eligible Cyclone Mischief), while the second and third also-eligibles Mandarin Hero and King Russell had 40 points. It is worth noting that the system was tweaked this year to award points down to fifth place which may have inflated the totals, as in past years the cut-off was closer to 20 points. Last year's winner Rich Strike drew in as an also-eligible with only 21 points.

As observed the last several years, we have an unusually tight group under our analysis, suggesting that the points system is more effective at weeding out pretenders compared to the former graded earnings scheme. We will use the Derby points ranking list as our tiebreaker when horses scored equally in the analysis, rather than merely calling it a tie between x number of horses, this will be noted when this tiebreaker was used. We are looking for 100+ BRIS speed figures this year, and 90+ figures last year (2-year-old races). For horses with foreign races in their past performances, the Racing Post ratings if available were converted to BRIS figures using Steve Roman's equivalency chart (Dr. Roman has "retired" from racing and his website is no longer available). Dr. Roman's departure from the business will affect this analysis in future years as the "chefs" list will no longer be updated; this is seen by the lack of dosage profile points as the final list of chefs drop further back in the pedigrees. Almost every horse in the field qualified on Dosage (Index 4.00 or less, Center of Distribution 1.00 or less). Given the reduction in accuracy we may soon remove this from the analysis but we will retain it until we consistently see the entire field qualify; this year two horses failed on Index and one failed on CD. The Jockey Club discontinued its Experimental Free Handicap (renamed the "Top 2-Year-Old Rankings" for its final edition in 2018) marking the end of the Dual Qualifier angle which made use of the handicap in combination with Dosage.

For more information on the trends and statistics used in this analysis, check out my article on Handicapping the Derby, the book Betting the Kentucky Derby by Dean Keppler, and Triple Crown Handicapper by Jim Mazur. This is an older article on angles from American Turf Monthly. This is the most over-analyzed race on the planet, so there are lots of trends and angles you can use. You can get free past performances for the Derby contenders here and here (look for Forte) from BrisNet.com.

Here are the contenders presented in order of preference.

Tapit Trice leads this year's analysis, which shouldn't surprise as he is the 5-1 second choice on the morning line, however, unlike in past years, no horse "ran the table" and hit on every factor. He comes here off his win in the Blue Grass, a sharp prep 4 weeks out, in which he ran a 102 BRIS figure. Despite BRIS listing him as an "P 4" (presser) we consider him a closer as he won both the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass from 8 lengths off the pace; he pressed the pace in his earlier races but rallied when it mattered. He raced twice last year and three times this year, both meeting our pars. His only knocks were his lack of stakes competition as a juvenile (he did meet the juvenile par with his 96 in December) and he has never raced at Churchill Downs. Regular rider Luis Saez retains the mount from post 5 for trainer Todd Pletcher.

The next 3 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

Two Phil's is 12-1 morning line but by our analysis is a contender. He won the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park by 5 1/4 lengths, earning a 107 figure, clearly a sharp prep in his third start as a 3-year-old, but outside the 4 week window. As a juvenile he won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs scoring a 93 figure. However that was his 5th start at 2 (the target range is 1-3 starts), and he presses the pace rather than rallies. Regular rider Jareth Loveberry retains the mount from post 3 for trainer Larry Rivelli.

Verifying comes here off a close second in the Blue Grass Stakes, a sharp prep in his third start and 4 weeks out, with a qualifying BRIS figure of 102. As a juvenile he broke his maiden with a 97 effort, before losing the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, so he qualifies on number of starts and stakes competition. On the downside he races on or very close to the lead, lacks a stakes win this year, and has never run at Churchill. Tyler Gaffalione, who rode him for the first time in the Blue Grass, will be in the irons Saturday aboard the 15-1 shot from post 2 for trainer Brad Cox.

Skinner finished a close third in the Santa Anita Derby giving him a sharp prep 4 weeks out in his third start this year, after finishing third in the San Felipe. As a juvenile he raced 3 times as well, including 3rd in the Del Mar Futurity where he ran a 92 figure. He is a confirmed deep closer, usually at least 5 lengths off the pace; when he attempted to press the pace he faded badly. However he did not break 100 this year, has not won in stakes company, and has never raced at Churchill Downs. The 20-1 shot gets new jockey Juan Hernandez (replacing regular rider Victor Espinoza) from post 9 for trainer John Shirreffs. He was scratched on Friday morning due to an elevated temperature.

The next 5 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

Practical Move comes to Louisville off three stakes wins each of which broke 100 BRIS, the first of which was the Los Alamitos Futurity to close out his juvenile campaign. For his final prep he won the Santa Anita Derby by a nose, a sharp prep 4 weeks out. However he was overraced as a juvenile with 5 starts, underraced this year with just 2 starts, has not raced at Churchill Downs, and consistently presses the pace no more than 2 lengths off. Regular rider Ramon Vazquez makes his Derby debut aboard the 10-1 shot from post 10 for trainer Tim Yakteen. Update: he was scratched on Thursday afternoon.

Derma Sotogake is the first of three Japanese horses entered, and drew into the race by winning the UAE Derby, a sharp prep that was rated 120 by Racing Post, equivalent to a 104 BRIS, which meets our par. He also competed (and won) in stakes company as a juvenile with a best figure of Racing Post 101 which is a BRIS 94, meeting the 90 par. On the negative side, he was overraced (6 starts) last year and underraced (just 2 starts) this year, has never raced at Churchill Downs, and runs close to the pace (front-running effort in Dubai, pressed the pace for his other starts). Christophe Lemaire, who rode at Meydan, retains the ride aboard the 10-1 shot from post 17 for trainer Hidetaka Otonashi.

Raise Cain is a 50-1 outsider on the morning line but ranks much higher than those odds suggest. He finished a disappointing 5th in the Blue Grass, not a sharp prep but inside the 4 week window, and his third start as a 3-year-old. He did have a stakes win this year, the Gotham back in March, and ran in two stakes races as a juvenile, including a 90 BRIS figure when second in the Gun Runner at Fair Grounds. On the downside, his best figure in 2023 was a 94 in the Blue Grass, he raced 4 times last year (the limit is 3), and he is a confirmed presser. Gerardo Corrales, who rode him in his first 3 starts, gets the ride back for trainer Ben Colebrook from post 16.

Confidence Game won the Rebel Stakes for his final prep, a sharp prep but well beyond 4 weeks and rated 95 by BRIS, short of par. He was overraced at 2 with 5 starts, and a race short this year with just 2. His best figure as a juvenile was a qualifying 92 at Churchill Downs in November, after he ran in the Iroquois in September. He usually races on or close to the lead. Regular rider James Graham will be in the irons from post 4 aboard the 20-1 shot for trainer Keith Desormeaux.

Disarm was third in the Lexington Stakes, a sharp prep 3 weeks out which got him the points he needed to draw into the field. He raced twice as a juvenile (his debut at Churchill) including a 91 at Saratoga, and three times this year. However his best figure this year was a 97 at Keeneland, he did not compete in stakes last year, and he presses the pace. Joel Rosario rides the 30-1 shot for trainer Steve Asmussen from post 11.

The next 7 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

Forte is the 3-1 morning line favorite and has been the shortest odds single horse in every pool of the Future Wager, but he definitely has some knocks unlike heavy favorites in past years who "run the table" and meet all the criteria. He comes here off 5 straight wins, 3 of which (including the Hopeful as a juvenile) scored triple digit BRIS figures. The negatives include: too many starts (5) as a juvenile, too few (2) this year, coming off a 5 week layoff (Florida Derby), a "presser" (P 3) runstyle (his Florida Derby could be called a rally but it's not his preferred style), and this will be his first race at Churchill Downs. Irad Ortiz Jr., who has been aboard for all 7 of his starts, rides again for Todd Pletcher from post 15. Derby morning, favorite Forte was scratched by trainer Todd Pletcher due to a bruised right front foot.

Lord Miles was the upset victor of the Wood Memorial, a sharp prep 4 weeks out in his 4th start at 3, but just short of par with a 99 BRIS. He raced once as a juvenile which meets par, but ran an 85, five points slow, and not in stakes company, so he fails on speed figures both years. He has never raced at Churchill Downs, and he presses the pace rather than rallies. Regular rider Paco Lopez retains the mount aboard the 30-1 shot from post 19 for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Thursday afternoon, all Saffie Joseph Jr. horses were scratched at Churchill Downs for safety reasons, including Lord Miles in the Derby, allowing Mandarin Hero in the race.

Hit Show drew the rail as a 30-1 outsider, after just missing in the Wood Memorial, a sharp prep 4 weeks out but with a 99, just a point short of par. He won the Withers giving him the required stakes win at 3, and did run once at Churchill back in November. He did not race in stakes last year (with a best figure of just 89 in his third start), only ran twice so far in 2023, and presses the pace about 3 lengths off rather than rally. Regular rider Manny Franco gets the call for trainer Brad Cox.

Sun Thunder is a 50-1 longshot on the morning line off a distant 4th place finish in the Blue Grass, not a sharp prep but 4 weeks out. His best figure this year is a 96 when second in the Risen Star, to go with his juvenile best 88 at Oaklawn, both failing to meet par. He has not won a stakes, and did not compete in stakes company last year. Among the few positives, he is a confirmed closer and ran at Churchill in his debut. Brian Hernandez Jr. rides the Ken McPeek trainee from post 13.

Cyclone Mischief is the first also-eligible and it's worth noting all three AE's tied in the analysis so they are ranked in eligibility order as well. The Dale Romans trainee lacks a stakes win, but did finish third in the Florida Derby (a sharp prep but 5 weeks out) and Fountain of Youth, after starting 2023 with an allowance win where he ran a career best 99 (1 point short of the BRIS par). Last year he did compete in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in his third start, after debuting with a juvenile best of 84, so he failed to meet either figure requirement. Should he draw in, new jockey Joel Rosario is scheduled to ride for trainer Dale Romans aboard the 30-1 shot.

Mandarin Hero is the second also-eligible, and just missed in the Santa Anita Derby earning a 100 BRIS figure, a sharp prep meeting par, however he needed to win in order to draw into the field as it was his first start outside Japan. He started 4 times as a juvenile (1 more than the limit) and just twice this year (1 race short). Unfortunately his juvenile races were not rated by Racing Post, so we cannot award him the point for meeting par. He rallied from 5 lengths off the pace at Santa Anita so we will consider him a closer and award that point. Should he draw in, Kazushi Kimura, who rode him at Santa Anita, is scheduled to ride again for trainer Terunobu Fujita aboard the 20-1 shot.

King Russell is the third also-eligible, and after finishing second in the Arkansas Derby for his only career stakes performance (career best 96 figure, but off a 5 week layoff), probably should have run in the Lexington for extra points to guarantee a start. He ran 3 times at 2 and 3 times at 3, both qualifying, but his best figure last uyear was 80, so he failed to meet par in either year. He is a confirmed closer, coming "from the clouds". Should he draw in, regular jockey Rafael Bejarano is scheduled to ride for trainer Ron Moquett aboard the 50-1 shot.

The next 4 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

Angel Of Empire is the only horse in the field to fully fail on Dosage, as his Index is 9.00 and his Center of Distribution is 1.20, and as the third-ranked horse in the Road to the Derby Points, is the 8-1 morning line third choice. He won the Arkansas Derby, a sharp prep but 5 weeks out, scoring a 101 BRIS, meeting par. He is a confirmed closer (BRIS runstyle "S 2") closing from well off the pace. He ran 3 times so far this year after running 3 times last year, so his foundation requirements are met, but his best figure last year (none in stakes was a slow 76. Flavien Prat, aboard for the first time in the Arkansas Derby win, rides again from post 14 for trainer Brad Cox.

Mage has only raced three times, all this year, so he meets the par for 3 but fails to score any of the juvenile points (starts, stakes, figure). He won his debut scoring an over-par 101, before finishing 4th in the Fountain of Youth then second to Forte in the Florida Derby, a sharp prep but 5 weeks out, and meaning he failed to win a stakes race. He has never run at Churchill Downs, and is officially an early-presser (BRIS "E/P 5") although he did try to rally from 8 lengths out in the Florida Derby. Javier Castellano, who rode him in the Fountain of Youth, will be in the irons aboard the 15-1 shot from post 8 for trainer Gustavo Delgado.

Reincarnate kicked off his 3-year-old campaign winning the Sham Stakes (98 BRIS) for trainer Bob Baffert before finishing third in both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby for "new" trainer Tim Yakteen, giving him 3 starts this season. He raced 4 times as a juvenile (one more than the limit), none in stakes, with a best figure of 92 at Santa Anita. He also has never raced at Churchill Downs, and he races on or very close to the lead. Regular rider John Velazquez rides the 50-1 longshot from post 7.

Jace's Road finished third in the Louisiana Derby, so a sharp prep but 6 weeks out and well short of par at 91, his best figure as a 3-year-old. He failed to win a stakes this year, but did compete in the Iroquois and Street Sense at Churchill last year. As a juvenile he made 4 starts (one more than the limit), but ran a 96 in December. He usually runs on or close to the lead. Regular rider Florent Geroux rides the 50-1 longshot for trainer Brad Cox from post 12.

The last 3 contenders tied and are presented in Derby points order:

Kingsbarns, like Mage has only raced 3 times, all this year, so he also misses out on all the juvenile factors, but he is undefeated including the Louisiana Derby, giving him a sharp prep but short of par with a 98 BRIS, and 6 weeks out. He also has not run at Churchill Downs (also as a result of lacking a juvenile campaign, as CD does not run in winter or early spring). New jockey Jose Ortiz takes over the ride for trainer Todd Pletcher aboard the 12-1 shot from post 6.

Rocket Can is the other horse to fail on Dosage; his Index just misses at 4.33 but his Center of Distribution actually qualifies at 0.75. He finished 4th in the Arkansas Derby, not a sharp prep but also 5 weeks out, and his best figure this year is a 98 when second in the Fountain of Youth, but he did win the Holy Bull which is a very important factor (stakes win at 3). As a juvenile he did not compete in stakes company but did score a 96 in a Churchill Downs allowance race. He usually presses the pace by 2 or 3 lengths. Regular rider Junior Alvarado retains the mount aboard the 30-1 shot from post 18 for trainer Bill Mott.

Continuar drew the far outside post 20 and is the Japan Road invitee, after finishing third in the UAE Derby, a sharp prep but 6 weeks out and only his second start this year. He earned a slow Racing Post rating of just 96 in that race (91 BRIS), but ran a 103 rating (95 BRIS) in the Saudi Derby, both short of par and also he lacks a 3-year-old stakes win. Unfortunately, like for Mandarin Hero, his juvenile races were not rated by Racing Post, so we cannot award him the point for meeting par, but he did win the Cattleya Stakes in November. He usually presses the pace as he did in both Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Regular rider Ryusei Sakai will be in the irons aboard the 50-1 longshot for trainer Yoshito Yahagi. Update - he was scratched on Thursday evening.

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