Big Al's 2023 Kentucky Derby Preview

by Al McMordie

Wednesday, May 03, 2023
After 2022 when an 80-1 horse -- who wasn't even in the field until a couple of days before the race -- crossed the finish line first, the question for the 149th Kentucky Derby is simply what will it do for an encore?  With a pretty wide-open field of runners only one thing appears certain: there won't be an 80-1 winner this Saturday.  And that's not to say that the longest shot in the starting gate doesn't have a chance, but rather that the "Rich Strike Effect" as it's been known to be called now, will ensure that every horse in the field gets bet to some extent.  So with that, here is a preview of some of the field for the most exciting two minutes in sports -- including the contenders, pretenders, and live longshots.


#15 - Forte.  The most accomplished horse in the race will deserve to the be the favorite come post time.  The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Violence has done little wrong in his career and an exciting Florida Derby win cemented his status as the one to beat.  But that doesn't mean there aren't reasons to take a stand against Forte.  For one thing, his running style -- while fine for a race like the the one at Gulfstream Park with 11 horses -- is not generally conducive to the Kentucky Derby.  Forte might be near the back of the pack early on, and that means having to navigate his way through a much larger field than any he's faced before.  He could win, but at a likely price of around 5-2, it might not be worth jumping on board to find out. 

#5 - Tapit Trice.  Another Pletcher trainee, this grey son of Tapit is likely to get you twice the odds of his stable mate.  But he took an easier road to the Derby than Forte, winning the Tampa Bay Derby and Toyota Blue Grass in his prior two races and winners of those generally don't come back to win the Derby.  Plus Tapit Trice is even slower early on in his races than Forte is, so you will have the same concerns with him regarding traffic and his ability to navigate his way home.  Add to that his post position being on the inside and he could have a lot more horses crowding him around the first turn.  But you can't deny his talent and he has seemingly gotten better with every race.  No one would blame you if you said Tapit Trice was your horse at a likely 5-1 closing odds.

#14 - Angel of Empire.  The only trainer with more bullets in his holster this weekend than Pletcher is Brad Cox, who will send four horses to post on Saturday.  Of these, the standout is this son of Classic Empire.  Like Forte and Tapit Trice, he's done almost nothing wrong in getting here and you could argue that he's faced tougher competition in better races than those two.  It's hard to separate his performances from those of Forte but you'll be getting better odds on Angel of Empire, so that may make the decision easier.  There's been buzz on the track in the mornings due to Angel of Empire's impressive workouts and he likely will be bet below his 8-1 odds.  If there was concern that he's a cheap ($70K) PA-bred he's put those to rest by now.  And besides, we remember a PA-bred who did pretty well here a while ago (Smarty Jones). 

Pretenders (likely over-bet horses): 

#17 - Derma Sotogake.  The Japanese invader has garnered a ton of interest since winning the UAE Derby in dominating style back in March.  Many are saying he may be the horse that finally breaks the curse of winners coming over from that Dubai race and in fact he may get bet like it as well.  The problem is that there IS such a drought and the numbers are quite staggering.  Winners of the UAE Derby are 0 for 18 in the Run for the Roses and in two previous tries by Japanese runners, the best finish was Master Fencer who came in sixth after the Maximum Security DQ in 2019.  Some are saying this horse could be different.  Let's see it first before we commit our dollars at the windows.

#6 - Kingsbarns.  He's an undefeated Pletcher runner with a 12-1 morning line.  Think he'll get bet?  Of course he will and his final odds will probably be below 10-1.  That may sound like a bargain, but the problem is two-fold.  The first is that he's too lightly raced with only three starts to his credit and none as a two-year old last year.  The second -- and probably bigger -- problem is that he just looks too slow.  He won the Louisiana Derby in his last race in gate-to-wire fashion but he faced a field of slow horses and the split times that he ran would put him well back in this field.  Like many Pletcher runners who aren't fully developed this time of year, Kingsbarns may have a bright future, but it will likely be later this year and beyond -- not on Saturday.

#10 - Practical Move.  Not that long ago, horses from California were coming to Kentucky and owning the Derby.  But most of those were the result of one trainer -- Bob Baffert.  And Baffert showed he could take his horses away from the West Coast and win with them in Derby preps in Arkansas, Illinois, and other places.  Practical Move has run all his preps in California, and that's by design.  His trainer Tim Yakteen is based there and runs almost exclusively in the Golden State.  His record when he ships to other places is much worse than it is in his home base.  But this son of Practical Joke will get plenty of interest on Saturday as he won the premier event in California, the Santa Anita Derby and because he has the proper running style for the race.  He won't be a favorite for the win money but will be heavily used in the exotics.

Live Longshots: 

#2 - Verifying.  The likely second-most bet Brad Cox runner battled like a champ with Tapit Trice all the way down the stretch in the Blue Grass only to lose by a nose.  But that loss may have unveiled a bona-fide star in the making.  This sun of Justify has gotten better with every race and if he does his Blue Grass performance one better, he should be right there on Saturday.  He also gets Churchill's leading rider of late, Tyler Gaffalione, and that's another plus in his column.  And he's been turning heads big time in his morning workouts.  So what's the problem?  His post position draw of #2 in a 20 horse field is horrible.  He may be fast enough to be near the lead but not on it and that could put him in a very difficult position.  But Verifying is 15-1 and with that #2 post, his odds could go up from there making him a very tempting proposition.

#11 - Disarm.  In years past we've heard about the exploits of Steve Asmussen and the fact that despite being North America's winningest trainer, he's 0-for-twenty something in the Derby.  Last year turning for home it appeared Epicenter would give him his first blanket of roses but it was not to be.  So this year with only one horse in the race -- and a 30-1 outsider at that -- hardly anyone is talking about him.  And Asmussen just might prefer it this way.  But this son of Gun Runner who needed a third place finish in the recent Lexington Stakes just to get enough points to be here should not be dismissed.  He just might have the longest stride of any horse in the field and that could serve him very well on Saturday.  Leave him out of your exactas and trifectas at your own risk.

#4 - Confidence Game.  More people familiar with racing have no doubt heard of jockey Kent Desormeaux than his brother the trainer.  But it's Keith and not Kent who will have a hand in this year's Derby with this son of Candy Ride.  He only cost $25,000 at auction and he went on to win the Grade II Rebel Stakes. So Confidence Game's owners -- how can you not root for a group called "Don't Tell My Wife Stables" -- are playing with house money at this point.  You'll get every bit of his 20-1 odds come post time and jockey James Graham has been known to ride a longshot or two to victory in Kentucky before.  If the track comes up muddy or sloppy on Saturday, elevate this one in your wagering.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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