Welcome to In the Money Media’s 2023 Kentucky Derby Trail Contender Tracker. This will be your one-stop-shop for every horse pointing towards the upcoming Run for The Roses.

Is there any additional information you want to see on the contenders? Comment below or reach out to @ericdecoster_ on Twitter. 

The Field

1 – Hit Show (60 Points)

Candy Ride (ARG) – Actress (by Tapit)

  • Last start: 2nd – G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (04/08)
  • Jockey: Manny Franco
  • Trainer: Brad Cox
  • Top Beyer: 93 (04/08)
  • Top TFUS: 116 (02/11)

Hit Show finished a desperately close second in the G2 Wood Memorial as the favorite. From a wide draw and a wide trip throughout, he often looked a winner but failed to put away eventual longshot winner, Lord Miles. Prior to that, he broke through for his first graded stakes win in the G3 Withers S. at Aqueduct (02/11). His first time going 9 furlongs truly displayed his affinity for a route of ground, travelling well throughout before kicking home strongly to win by open lengths. He is bred to appreciate added ground and will be in favor of adding an extra furlong in the Kentucky Derby. Needs to fully figure out how to put his competition away though.

2 – Verifying (54 Points)

Justify – Diva Delite (by Repent)

  • Last start: 2nd – G1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (04/08)
  • Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione
  • Trainer: Brad Cox
  • Top Beyer: 99 (04/08)
  • Top TFUS: 115 (04/08)

Verifying re-established himself as one of the better runners in this crop with a close second in the G1 Blue Grass S.. He sat an excellent stalking trip before moving to the lead at the top of the stretch, only to be grinded down late by Tapit Trice. Despite losing, it was a very encouraging run for this son of Justify who disappointed as the favorite in the G2 Rebel S. two starts ago. When he’s been at his best, he’s proven to handle elite company, but the valleys have been as bad as the peaks, such as in the Rebel or in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall. No matter what, he will certainly be entering the Derby with the best form of his life.

3 – Two Phil’s (123 Points)

Hard Spun – Mia Torri (by General Quarters)

  • Last start: 1st – G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park (03/25)
  • Jockey: Jareth Loveberry
  • Trainer: Larry Rivelli
  • Top Beyer: 101 (03/25)
  • Top TFUS: 121 (03/25)

Two Phil’s has continually proven to be one of the most consistent runners in this crop, and he proved this in a major way when winning the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks. Sitting a perfect stalking trip while traveling widest of all, he made a bold move on the turn that he sustained through the stretch and powered away to a convincing win. While the field might not have been filled with many other Derby hopefuls, he won with ease, and last year’s Jeff Ruby Steaks was a perfect example that we never really know the quality of a prep until after the Kentucky Derby is over. Two Phil’s possesses excellent back class, with strong underneath performances coming in the G3 Lecomte S. and the G2 Risen Star S.. A horse with great overlapping form, a strong final prep, and an affinity for Churchill Downs. 

4 – Confidence Game (57 Points)

Candy Ride (ARG) – Eblouissante (by Bernardini)

  • Last start: 1st – G2 Rebel S. at Oaklawn Park (02/25)
  • Jockey: James Graham
  • Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
  • Top Beyer: 94 (02/25)
  • Top TFUS: 117 (02/25)

A continued trend of improvement vaulted Confidence Game into the Derby starting gate on points with a win in the G2 Rebel S.. For the first time in his career, this colt was asked to come from off the pace and he took it all in stride, moving well from mid-pack to lead into the lane and hold off some hard trying horses at lower odds. He has additionally strong back class with quite a few Derby starters in many of his previous starts. Back class, versatility, and a trainer who knows how to get a horse into the Derby; there are some intriguing qualities to Confidence Game. He passed on many of the major preps and will train up to the Kentucky Derby, which will be a big attempt to buck history as no horse has won the Derby with more than 7 weeks between starts.  

5 – Tapit Tric(150 Points)

Tapit – Danzatrice (by Dunkirk)

  • Last start: 1st – G1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (04/08)
  • Jockey: Luis Saez
  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher
  • Top Beyer: 99 (04/08)
  • Top Timeform US: 115 (04/08)

Tapit Trice has continued to improve with every career start and will ride a four race win streak into the Kentucky Derby. He made the leap to graded stakes company two back and established himself as one of the East’s top Derby prospects with a win in the G3 Tampa Bay Derby. He followed that up with his G1 Blue Grass score, beating the talented Verifying and finishing six lengths clear of third. Although Tapit Trice is yet to dazzle with open length scores or huge figures, there is no denying this son of Tapit has a strong will to win.

6 – Kingsbarns (100 Points)

Uncle Mo – Lady Tapit (by Tapit)

  • Last start: 1st – G2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds (03/25)
  • Jockey: Jose Ortiz
  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher
  • Top Beyer: 95 (03/25)
  • Top TFUS: 109 (03/25)

Kingsbarns took the leap from enticing upstart to bona fide contender when winning the G2 Louisiana Derby. He entered that spot two-for-two, working through maiden and allowance conditions with ease and professionalism. A lack of early pace allowed Flavien Prat to hustle his mount out to the lead, where he never looked back and won comfortably. While that race may have played out perfectly, his prior two efforts did not, meaning this colt has plenty of adaptability and can use that asset come Derby time. Todd Pletcher has had similar types to this in the race before. Will Kingsbarns be a late blooming Derby winner, a la Always Dreaming, or will his lack of overall experience hurt him at a lower price, like Magnum Moon? 

7 – Reincarnate (45 Points)

Good Magic – Allanah (by Scat Daddy)

  • Last start: 3rd – G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: John Velazquez
  • Trainer: Tim Yakteen
  • Top Beyer: 95 (01/08)
  • Top TFUS: 115 (01/08)

The best of the remaining ex-Bafferts, Reincarnate has ran third in back-to-back Oaklawn Derby preps to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The winner of the G3 Sham S. in January, he first ran in Arkansas in the G2 Rebel S., where he endured plenty of trouble and was forced well off the pace but still picked up well for third. Expected to move up big time off that effort, this colt sat a perfect trip right off the leaders in the G1 Arkansas Derby, yet was unable to pick up when the rest did and could only muster up mild show honors. An excuse could be made that he was too close to the pace, but fact of the matter is he has been well beaten in two straight outings. 

8 – Mage (50 Points)

Good Magic – Puca (by Big Brown)

  • Last start: 2nd – G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: Javier Castellano
  • Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
  • Top Beyer: 94 (04/01)
  • Top TFUS: 114 (04/01)

A lightly raced son of Good Magic, Mage has proved his ability with two tough-luck Derby prep performances. He comes out of a strong second place finish in the G1 Florida Derby behind Forte, where he botched the break yet made up a ton of ground to only lose by about a length to the likely Derby favorite. Similar circumstances hurt him two back, but he was still able to run a very respectable fourth in only his second career start. Trainer Gustavo Delgado continues his solid record of getting late developers into the Derby. Majesto (2016) and Bodexpress (2019) both ran second in the G1 Florida Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, just like Mage has now done.

9 – Skinner (45 Points)

Curlin – Winding Way (by Malibu Moon)

  • Last start: 3rd – G1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita (04/08)
  • Jockey: Juan Hernandez
  • Trainer: John Shirreffs
  • Top Beyer: 99 (04/08)
  • Top TFUS: 120 (04/08)

Skinner is a strong developing colt who looks to run in the Derby for connections familiar with success in this race. His record does not match his true ability, as he’s only 1-for-6 lfietime, but he just barely missed when third last out in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. That run was on the heels of another show effort when finishing behind Practical Move again in the G2 San Felipe S.. While he certainly is rising up the ranks leading into the Derby, it is also fair to question his penchant for winning given how unwilling he was to blow by foes in the Santa Anita Derby. A horse who could also benefit from a hot pace. 

10 – Practical Move (160 Points)

Practical Joke – Ack Naughty (by Afleet Alex)

    • Last start: 1st – G1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita (04/08)
    • Jockey: Ramon Vazquez
    • Trainer: Tim Yakteen
    • Top Beyer: 100 twice (04/08 & 03/04)
    • Top TimeformUS: 121 (04/08)

Practical Move was the one to beat leading into the G1 Santa Anita Derby and he fulfilled expectations with a narrow victory in that spot. It was his third graded stakes win in a row, having impressively scored in the G2 Los Alamitos Futurity and G2 San Felipe S. prior to that last start. He had to work hard to get his first career Grade 1 win, just holding off the oncoming Mandarin Hero and Skinner, but was fairly close to a quick early pace and remained resolute despite the tough race shape. Represents the best chance for a West Coast Derby winner this year. 

11 – Disarm (46 Points)

Gun Runner – Easy Tap (by Tapit) 

  • Last start: 3rd – G3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland (04/15)
  • Jockey: Joel Rosario
  • Trainer: Steve Asmussen
  • Top Beyer: 90 twice (03/25 & 04/15)
  • Top TFUS: 103 (03/25)

Disarm snuck into the last U.S. Derby slot when third in the G3 Lexington S.. Lightly raced but oozing with potential, the only excuse one could make for him is that the cutback in distance played against him, but all things considered it wasn’t what you’d want to see as a final Derby prep. After breaking his maiden impressively at Saratoga he was put on the shelf for months and returned to be second in an Oaklawn allowance. He then made his graded stakes debut in the G2 Louisiana Derby, a tough spot given he was stretching out to 9.5 furlongs in just his second run of the year. After being shuffled back up the backstretch, he made a strong move up the rail down the stretch to be a clear second.

12 – Jace’s Road (45 Points)

Quality Road – Out Post (by Silver Deputy)

  • Last start: 3rd – G2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds (03/25)
  • Jockey: Florent Geroux
  • Trainer: Brad Cox
  • Top Beyer: 90 (12/26)
  • Top TFUS: 111 (12/26)

Jace’s Road was last third in the G3 Louisiana Derby. He pressed the pace set by eventual winner Kingsbarns, and although he couldn’t finish up as nicely as that runaway leader, he put forward a quality performance to set himself up for a try on the First Saturday in May. He is a very one-dimensional horse – he likes a dry track and he likes being forwardly placed. The times neither of those things occurred, he was pummeled in the G3 Southwest S. and the G3 Street Sense S.. But if he gets things his way, like he did when winning the LS Gun Runner S. and his most recent effort, he is a horse worth respecting. Don’t know how many excuses he can get away with in the Derby, however.

13 – Sun Thunder (54 Points)

Into Mischief – Greenfield d’Oro (by Medaglia d’Oro)

  • Last start: 4th – G1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (04/08)
  • Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.
  • Trainer: Ken McPeek
  • Top Beyer: 89 twice (04/08 & 02/18)
  • Top TFUS: 108 (02/18)

Sun Thunder’s stacked prep schedule has given him enough points to make a Kentucky Derby start. After a maiden win at the end of 2022, he jumped into stakes company when well beaten in the G3 Southwest S.. He then shipped to Fair Grounds where he received a dream ride inside of traffic and into a hot pace to run second in the G2 Risen Star S.. In his penultimate prep he was dealt the opposite terms, as no pace developed in front of him, yet he still finished up best of the closers to run a solid fifth behind Kingsbarns in the G2 Louisiana Derby. With more toe into the race, it is very likely he could have gone one or two better. The same could be said about the G1 Blue Grass S. on a quick turnaround. A horse with ability who is also pace dependent, which could be a big issue in this year’s Derby. 

14 – Angel of Empire (154 Points)

Classic Empire – Armony’s Angel (by To Honor and Serve)

  • Last start: 1st – G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: Flavien Prat
  • Trainer: Brad Cox
  • Top Beyer: 94 (04/01)
  • Top TFUS: 117 (04/01)

Angel of Empire came in to 2023 as one of the B-types in the Brad Cox barn, but he’ll now head into the Kentucky Derby his leading hope on the heels of a big win in the G1 Arkansas Derby. He entered that spot off a win in the G2 Risen Star S., that also featured G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks winner, Two Phils, yet was disrespected at the windows and went off the fourth choice. He made no doubt who the best runner was though, coming from off the pace and drawing off to a convincing victory. This win not only established Angel of Empire as a strong contender in this year’s race, but also gave us a glimpse into the strength of each region in this division with top runners coming from Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kentucky. 

15 – Forte (190 Points)

Violence – Queen Caroline (by Blame)

  • Last start: 1st – G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher
  • Top Beyer: 100 (11/04)
  • Top TFUS: 118 (03/04)

What is there to say? The Two-Year Old champ continues to make no doubt who the best sophomore in the crop is with a stellar win in the G1 Florida Derby. He often looked beaten, but under a rousing Irad Ortiz ride this colt lifted to win in the final yards. He is undefeated this year and is on a five race winning streak, which spans back to last September and features four Grade 1 wins. He is plenty versatile and can come from anywhere as long as he has a target. Despite being by a stallion who typically throws sprinter types, Forte has given no indication 10 furlongs will be out of his wheelhouse. The only knock could be that he regressed on figures last time out, but can you really blame him with that trip?

16 – Raise Cain (64 Points)

Violence – Lemon Belle (by Lemon Drop Kid)

  • Last start: 5th – G1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (04/08)
  • Jockey: Gerardo Corrales
  • Trainer: Ben Colebrook
  • Top Beyer: 90 (03/04)
  • Top TFUS: 111 (03/04)

Raise Cain shocked many with an open length upset of the G3 Gotham S.. Taken well off in that spot, he rallied well into the strong pace before burying everyone early on in the stretch. He entered that one mile event on the heels of three stakes starts, which included placings in the Bowman Mill and Gun Runner S. before an off-the-board performance in the Leonatus S. at Turfway. But the return to dirt and the run of the race moved him up wonders. He made his final prep in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes, where the pace didn’t back up into him at all and he could only manage a mild fifth. Given his physical build and parts of his pedigree I question his willingness to get a true route of ground.

17 – Derma Sotogake (JPN) (100 Points)

Mind Your Biscuits – Amour Poesie (JPN) (by Neo Universe (JPN))

  • Last start: 1st – G2 UAE Derby at Meydan (03/25)
  • Jockey: Christophe Lemaire
  • Trainer: Hidetaka Otanashi
  • Top TimeForm Rating: 109 (03/25)

Derma Sotogake stamped his passport to Louisville with a win in the G2 UAE Derby. Japanese bred and based, this son of Mind Your Biscuits has made both starts in 2023 in the Middle East after winning twice in Japan on dirt. He first placed well in the Saudi Derby when cutting back to a mile, but when re-stretching out in the UAE Derby relished the added distance. Christophe Lemaire aggressively sent him to the lead and never turned a hair the wrong way, coasting clear in what turned out to be a Japanese superfecta. Foreign raiders have tended to struggle in the Kentucky Derby, but with Japan’s incredible international momentum it’s hard to say this colt won’t have a chance. 

18 – Rocket Can (60 Points)

Into Mischief – Tension (by Tapit)

  • Last start: 4th – G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: Junior Alvarado
  • Trainer: Bill Mott
  • Top Beyer: 91 (03/04)
  • Top TFUS: 114 (03/04)

The G1 Arkansas Derby favorite could only manage a fourth in that spot. He’s put himself in position to have enough Derby points after a runner-up effort in the G2 Fountain of Youth behind Forte and a win in the G3 Holy Bull. In Arkansas, he sat an excellent stalking trip, and although the top two finishers in that spot came from well off the pace there was still reason to think this colt could have run better. He’s been ultra battle tested throughout his career, with many losses coming to Derby starters.

19 – Lord Miles (105 Points)

Curlin – Lady Esme (by Majestic Warrior)

  • Last start: G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (04/08)
  • Jockey: Paco Lopez
  • Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.
  • Top Beyer: 93 (04/08)
  • Top TFUS: 109 (04/08)

Lord Miles posted a 59-1 upset to win the G2 Wood Memorial to make his way into the Derby starting gate. He entered that spot off two extremely dull efforts in the G3 Tampa Bay Derby (5th) and G3 Holy Bull Stakes (6th), as well as a mild third in a weak rendition of the Listed Mucho Macho Man Stakes. What changed at Aqueduct? It was the most involved he’d been early on in a race this year, which I imagine woke him up a little bit. While he’d been closer than usual in the G3 Tampa Bay Derby, the pace faltered hard there and likely drug him out as well. A steady, clear ride by Paco Lopez seemed to be the difference maker as Lord Miles outfought Hit Show and Dreamlike. Will need to show continual improvement over the next month to be a serious Derby contender.

20 – Continuar (JPN) (Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby)

Drefong – Pan de Ring (JPN) (by King Kamehameha (JPN))

  • Last start: 3rd – G2 UAE Derby at Meydan (03/25)
  • Jockey: Ryusei Sakai
  • Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi
  • Top TimeForm Rating: 90 (03/25)

Continuar has accepted the bid from the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby on the heels of two strong efforts in the Middle East. He ran a good closing fifth in the Saudi Derby, his seasonal debut, before chasing Derma Sotogake and Dura Erede for 9.5 furlongs in Dubai to end up third. Neither race shaped out in a way that benefitted him, as the speed never backed up in those spots for this colt who likes to make off the pace runs. His last win came in the Cattleya Sho in November at Tokyo Racecourse, which is where he garnered the points to be eligible on the Japan RTKD. Racing fans should be very familiar with Continuar’s trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, as he was the campaigner of both Loves Only You and Marche Lorraine when they scored in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup. 

Bet the 2023 Kentucky Derby at TwinSpires

Also Eligibles

#21 Cyclone Mischief , #22 Mandarin Hero, & #23 King Russell draw in

21 – Cyclone Mischief (45 Points)

Into Mischief – Areyoucominghere (by Bernardini) 

  • Last start: 3rd – G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: Corey Lanerie
  • Trainer: Dale Romans
  • Top Beyer: 91 (04/01)
  • Top TFUS: 114 (04/01)

Two straight thirds at Gulfstream Park got Cyclone Mischief close to make the Derby starting gate. He ran a game third in the G1 Florida Derby when forced fairly wide and further off the pace than he’d ever been. Prior to that he chased Forte home once more, as well as Rocket Can, when he set the pace in the G2 Fountain of Youth. He’s been very game throughout his three total graded stakes starts but has always found a few horses to be better. Will need to improve plenty. 

22 – Mandarin Hero – (40 Points)

Shanghai Bobby – Namura Nadeshiko (JPN) (by Fuji Kiseki (JPN))

  • Last start: 2nd – G1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita (04/08)
  • Jockey: Kazushi Kimura
  • Trainer: Terunobu Fujita
  • Top Beyer: 100 (04/08)
  • Top TFUS: 121 (04/08)

The feel good story of Mandarin Hero nearly reached the happiest of endings when finishing a desperate second to Practical Move in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. His first U.S. start, he picked up well into a swift early pace and was outlasted late by his streaking foe. It’s very easy to think he could step up even more so should he crack the Derby line up when he makes his second start stateside. 4-for-6 lifetime, all of this colt’s victories have come at Oi Racecourse, a track on Japanese’s secondary circuit. 

23 – King Russell (40 Points)

Creative Cause – Believe You Will (by Proud Citizen) 

  • Last start: 2nd – G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (04/01)
  • Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
  • Trainer: Ron Moquett
  • Top Beyer: 87 (04/01)
  • Top TFUS: 112 (04/01)

A huge ascent has King Russell on the cusp of a Derby start thanks to a runner-up effort in the G1 Arkansas Derby. It took this colt five tries to break his maiden, and when he finally broke through it was a mundane score by just a neck in very mediocre time. He turned right around for a start in the Arkansas Derby, where he was sent off as the longest shot on the board (58-1). Coming from second to last in the field of ten, King Russell sustained a wide bid and finished a clear second. Will have to improve leaps and bounds to factor in the Derby. 

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    • There hasn’t been official word from Cox, but reading between the lines on his comments post-Southwest he has some stuff to figure out with the colt. If he found a lighter prep next out I could see him playing but I don’t think Louisiana or Arkansas will be a place he can pick up points right now.

    • I think she’s very legitimate and Amoss isn’t overshooting there. She’ll be on the tracker (and likely in the top 10) should she take care of business in Saturday’s Rachel Alexandra.

  • Eric, whats your take on the mess of a race Hoosier Philly ran in RA. I think Morales destroyed all chances coming out of gate awkwardly, then putting the horse in tight with slight bump, then trying to get clear. When clear she was 5 -r more wide on turn and stretch. I think it was too much for a young horse to overcome. I hope they give her a shot against the boys to get points for Derby after all they paid to nominate her as a late entry . She prob has enough points for Oaks.

    • Agreed Ron, the ride was a bit too conservative for a young horse like herself. Doesn’t help that she probably wasn’t fully fit for the run given she only had three works heading in. I think a try against the boys next out is definitely still warranted.

  • Eric Can you settle a question. When a 3 yr old trained by BB is transfered to another trainer will that horse now get any points he has earned in the Prep races. thanks

    • Yes, as soon as a horse that had been running under Baffert’s name appears under somebody else they’re eligible for points. We saw the first instance last weekend with Harlocap in the Risen Star and we’ll see more with Reincarnate in the Rebel under Yakteen.

  • hey Eric

    one of my original top 5 horses won a race . I liked Confidence Game after his 11/26 race at CD.Hopeing he makes it to Derby, I have lost 2 of my 5 so far Corona Bolt and Extra Anjeno. My other 2 horses are Tapit Trice and Recruiter.

    • Haven’t heard much since her last out and haven’t seen her listed as a probable for any preps. Would imagine the Fair Grounds Oaks is next.

    • Wonderful idea, Jim. I’ll backlog from this weekend with the early arrivals and update up to race day.

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