2023 Kentucky Derby Contender Profile – Skinner


Skinner made his way into the Kentucky Derby field with the unfortunate defection of Wild on Ice. His two strong performances in Southern California’s final major preps earned him 45 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and he will now be the sole representative from the region not trained by Tim Yakteen.

He made three starts as a juvenile and was aggressively placed in a couple. He was green as grass on debut, covering good ground late over 5 furlongs when finishing fifth, beaten 7 lengths. Skinner then reappeared in the Del Mar Futurity [G1], a lofty jump, but he ran very credibly to be third beaten 9 lengths. His two year old campaign wrapped up after one more shot at a top level event, running a well beaten sixth in the American Pharoah Stakes [G1] at Santa Anita.

Freshened up for his sophomore season, he made his 2023 debut in a one mile maiden special weight at Santa Anita. Taken back on that day, he confidently moved up four wide on the turn before stretching away to a comfortable victory. He then made the move back to stakes company for the San Felipe Stakes [G2], where he went off at 5/2. This colt made up considerable ground after being taken back to last on that day, but was no match for Practical Move or Geaux Rocket Ride. In his final prep for the Derby, he was a very game third in the Santa Anita Derby [G1]. Once again taken well off the pace, he travelled wide throughout, threatened at the top of the lane, and ran astride with the eventual top two finishers to only lose by a half length. He gained 45 total points for those show efforts and will be one of the last few horses, if not the last, on points in this year’s Derby.


There is reason to think Skinner could fire well in the 2023 Kentucky Derby. Despite the aforementioned two year old form, he should be considered in every sense a late developing type. His outings in stakes as a three year old are excuse-filled, most notably the fact he lost tons of ground in both starts. It’s hard to say the same won’t happen on Derby day with his running style, but nevertheless a case can be made he was the best horse in the Santa Anita Derby on that front. At the same time, he had every opportunity to get by Practical Move and Mandarin Hero down the stretch of the Santa Anita Derby, but could not muster that final punch. I could see arguments made that this son of Curlin is an easy toss, or that he’s a must-use in exotics. Winning is the only category that feels like a stretch.

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Skinner is trained by John Shirreffs, best known in these parts for training the longshot winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Giacomo. You could draw similarities to that runner and our subject here as one run, late developing types who are always putting forward credible performances. Shirreffs last appeared in the Derby in 2020 with Honor A.P., who finished 4th. That colt was owned by C R K Stables, who also campaign Skinner.

Some jockey dramatics occurred in this camp shortly after it was confirmed he would make the body of the Derby field. After being ridden by Victor Espinoza in his last five starts, it was announced that leading California rider Juan Hernandez would be aboard for the Derby. Espinoza had been criticized for wide trips on Skinner in his last two starts, and according to quotes from trainer Shirreffs, it seemed like owners wanted to try something different with their prized colt. It is probably the right move at the end of the day. While Espinoza is a three-time Kentucky Derby winner, he has recently been in a career-low slump. At the time of this profile, he only has two winners in 2023. Compare that to Juan Hernandez who was a runaway winner of Santa Anita’s riders title at their recently concluded winter meet. It will be his first mount in the Kentucky Derby.

Skinner is by Curlin, an alum of the Triple Crown and best known for his offspring succeeding at the classic distance. The dam side is a little bit more sprinter-based, as his dam Winding Way did her best work in shorter races. The same can be said for her siblings, most notably the ultra-talented, graded stakes winning filly, Kauai Katie. Nevertheless, Skinner presents himself as one of the best suited horses to handle the Derby distance in this year’s field.


As previously stated, cases can be made either way for Skinner’s success in the Kentucky Derby. He has a strong closing kick that has room to be even better if he can save some ground in the big race. He should get the Derby distance just fine, has one of the hottest jockeys in the country doing the steering, and his trainer knows how to win this race. The biggest knock is that he is yet to fully finish off a competitive race. In the Santa Anita Derby, he was well within contention for the lead at the top of the lane but failed to move beyond his competition. A horse that makes sense in exotics, at most.

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