A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
The countdown for the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is down to hours, not months. The first Saturday in May is on the horizon and the best dirt 3-year-olds in the country and the world will gather at Churchill Downs for a memorable showdown.
Initially, 2-year-old champion Forte topped the United States hopefuls, but a late flurry of scratches including Forte, Runhappy Santa Anita Derby winner Practical Move and third-place finisher Skinner, Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino winner Lord Miles, and UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis the Royal third-place finisher Continuar dramatically changed the complexion of the Derby field.
Favorites had been on a roll in recent years but after Rich Strike’s score at 80-1 odds last year, expecting the unexpected might be the wise thing to do on Saturday, especially given how much the race changes in the last 72 hours.
The odds listed below are current as of 6:30 p.m. on May 6.
1. Hit Show (24-1): Tough to like any horse breaking from the rail, but he’s not exceptionally fast away from the gate, heightening the chances of being shuffled back early. He showed some tenacity in losing by a nose after a bumpy stretch duel in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino and that grit will definitely be needed here.
JOCKEY: Manny Franco; TRAINER: Brad Cox
2. Verifying (14-1): Turned in a strong showing when beaten a neck by Tapit Trice in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Looks like a contender on paper, but the post is problematic.
JOCKEY: Tyler Gaffalione; TRAINER: Brad Cox
3. Two Phil’s (9-1): He earned his spot in the field through a big win in Jeff Ruby Steaks, but that was on a synthetic surface. He was an impressive winner of the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs in the slop last year, so rain will move him up. But on a dry track, he’s less appealing from an inside post.
JOCKEY: Jareth Loveberry; TRAINER: Larry Rivelli
4. Confidence Game (19-1): Looked good winning the Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track, but he hasn’t raced since then. Not racing for more two months is commonplace in the industry, but in a race like this would I would like to see a more recent effort.
JOCKEY: James Graham; TRAINER: Keith Desormeaux
5. Tapit Trice (9-2): Part of Todd Pletcher’s powerful hand. He was the second choice in the morning line and should vie for favortism after the May 6 scratch of champion Forte. After a loss in his debut, he’s reeled off four straight wins, capped by victories in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. A tardy break could be troublesome in this field but he certainly has the resume and speed figures to be a force here.
JOCKEY: Luis Saez; TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
6. Kingsbarns (11-1): Pletcher’s second option following the scratch May 6 of champion Forte, he passed his test of class, winning the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby in front-running style. He’s proven himself at 1 3/16 miles and is undefeated in three starts, but it’s questionable whether he can hold up at 1 ¼ miles in a field this tough with so little seasoning.
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz; TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
7. Reincarnate (14-1): Draw a line through his third last time out in the Arkansas Derby and you have an interesting contender who was a fast-closing third after encountering some traffic issues in the Rebel. At 5-1 he’s a tossout in terms of value, but at 30-1, after last year, he could be an interesting saver wager.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez; TRAINER: Tim Yakteen
8. Mage (17-1): Off a second to Forte in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa he’s a contender, but that was just his third career start. He also had first run on Forte and was caught, raising questions about the added furlong here.
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano; TRAINER: Gustavo Delgado
9. Skinner (SCRATCHED May 5)
10. Practical Move (SCRATCHED May 4)
11. Disarm (25-1): Needed to finish third three weeks ago in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes to qualify. He’s a longshot, but is worth a look as he was a rallying second in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and the Lexington was probably more of a paid workout with Derby ramifications than a hard race.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario; TRAINER: Steve Asmussen
12. Jace’s Road (31-1): He’ll be part of the early pace but it seems unlikely that he can last the entire 1 1/4-mile trip. He’s one of the few in the field who would be a tossout in the mud.
JOCKEY: Florent Geroux; TRAINER: Brad Cox
13. Sun Thunder (31-1): Fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and fifth in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby do not build a compelling case for him. Maybe the addition of blinkers will help.
JOCKEY: Brian Hernandez Jr.; TRAINER: Ken McPeek
14. Angel of Empire (7-2): The distance should be no problem for him, judging by the way he drew off to win the Arkansas Derby and the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford. Drew nicely in the field of 20 and looks like a major player, especially after the May 6 scratch of morning-line favorite Forte.
JOCKEY: Flavien Prat; TRAINER: Brad Cox
15. Forte (SCRATCHED May 6)
16. Raise Cain (31-1): Won the Gotham Stakes by more than seven lengths to qualify but then was a wide and distant fifth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Perhaps he moves forward after the regression in the Blue Grass, but he’s facing a tough challenge with his lone graded stakes win coming in a one-turn Grade 3 affair.
JOCKEY: Gerardo Corrales; TRAINER: Ben Colebrook
17. Derma Sotogake (8-1): Judging by their success all over the world, at some point a Japanese horse is going to be right there at the finish of the Kentucky Derby. So why not him? A very impressive winner of the UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis the Royal, he should be on or near the lead and if he doesn’t become embroiled in a wild speed duel like his countrymate, Crown Pride, did last year, he seems talented enough to have a big say in the outcome. Several key contenders getting scratched adds to his appeal.
JOCKEY: Christophe Lemaire; TRAINER: Hidetaka Otonashi
18. Rocket Can (28-1): Was second to Forte in the Fountain of Youth Stakes but then was a no-factor fourth in the Arkansas Derby. Not a lot to like here but he does add blinkers and is trained by one of the game’s best, Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
JOCKEY: Junior Alvarado; TRAINER: Bill Mott
19. Lord Miles (SCRATCHED May 4)
20. Continuar (SCRATCHED May 4)
21. Cyclone Mischief (27-1): He drew into the field on May 4 and will need some improvement from a third in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa.
JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr.; TRAINER: Dale Romans
22. Mandarin Hero (20-1): Japan-based runner drew into the field May 4, and he could be a contender off a nose loss in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in his U.S. debut.
JOCKEY: Kazushi Kimura; TRAINER: Terunobu Fujita
23. King Russell (31-1): Drawing in due to a scratch worked for Rich Strike last year. Can lightning strike twice? I'd say no. He probably used up his luck finishing second at 58.80-1 in the Arkansas Derby.
JOCKEY: Rafael Bejarano; TRAINER: Ron Moquett
THE PICK: Angel of Empire
LIVE LONGSHOT: Reincarnate