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Cox, Pletcher Trained Colts Lead Contenders in Derby

Expected Slower Pace Could Limit Longshot Chances

The 20-horse field, a longer distance than most horses have run and the overflow crowd at Churchill Downs can lead to surprise results in the Kentucky Derby.

No one could have legitimately had Mine That Bird in their picks to win the 2009 Derby. While Giacomo had some characteristics of a Derby winner, he was more than 50-1 odds, just like Mine That Bird when he won the race in 2005.

Cox, Pletcher Trained Colts Lead Contenders in Derby
Todd Pletcher | Andy lyons/getty images/afp

Then, there was last year, when Rich Strike snuck down the rail to run by everyone in the stretch and pay anyone betting on him $163.60 to win.

The common denominator in all those years was a torturous fast pace, causing the race to fall apart and allow deep closers to get there. That does not appear to be the scenario for the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 in Louisville.

While there are some horses that will want to lead the group down the backstretch, the prediction is they are not likely to be pushing each other. The outcome could be a winner that comes out of those near the lead and stalking in the middle of the pack. It looks like six to eight horses have the ability to get to the wire first – six of them trained by Todd Pletcher or Brad Cox. – and a few whose odds may be lower than they should be.

Strong Contenders in 2023

This may be one of the most talented fields for the Derby in many years, even though several highly-touted horses did not make the field for various reasons. According to horse racing news, that includes Arabian Knight, Cave Rock, Instant Coffee, and National Treasure.

Pletcher’s three horses all play prominently in the race. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Forte, the current favorite in the racebook at +250, boasts impressive wins in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby at Gulfstream. Kingsbarns went gate to wire to win the Louisiana Derby and Tapit Trice won the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Forte and Tapit Trice have every chance with a good trip if you are online gambling, and Kingsbarns may be on the lead or just behind it, ready to pounce.

Derma Sotogake, who could become the first Japanese horse to win the big race, might be the frontrunner and certainly showed he is hard to catch in his UAE Derby triumph. He must be considered, especially if his horse racing odds are in double figures, along with trainer Tim Yakteen’s Practical Move. The son of Practical Joke will most likely stay near Tapit Trice and Forte and try to beat them to the punch.

Cox’s three strong contenders all might have decent odds. Angel of Empire owns the best resume after roaring down the stretch to win the Risen Star Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Verifying could be on top or very close to a relatively slow pace after almost beating Tapit Trice in the Blue Grass. Hit Show is improving, can run all day and has closing ability.

On paper, those are the eight horses that have the best chance. But, of course, in this unique race, anything can happen.

A Few Derby Pretenders

Mine That Bird and Rich Strike did not seem to have any chance to win on the first Saturday in May. So no one can be thrown out entirely. But there are a few horses in this Derby who may be overbet.

Reincarnate, originally with trainer Bob Baffert and now with Yakteen, had a perfect trip in the Arkansas Derby and no punch in the stretch. Hard to figure he will do better in Louisville, even though his Kentucky Derby odds may be relatively low.

Two Phil’s (fifth in Derby points) is a plucky horse that will win more races down the road. However, the field he beat in the Jeff Ruby Steaks on the synthetic track at Turfway is not anywhere close to the caliber he’s facing at Churchill.

Confidence Game won the Rebel Stakes on Feb. 25 at Oaklawn, but that was on a sloppy track, and a few top contenders had rough trips. He was 5 ¼ lengths behind Two Phil’s in the Lecomte back in January on a fast track.

Lord Miles (sixth in Derby points) disappointed in the Holy Bull and Tampa Bay Derby before his shocking win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. But the last horse to win the Wood, followed by the Derby, was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

Disarm in Derby Field

Trainer Steve Asmussen announced Disarm will run in the Derby after gaining enough points with a third-place finish in the Lexington Stakes last weekend at Keeneland.

Disarm closed for second, despite a slow pace, in the Louisiana Derby last month and bumped Jace’s Road out of the projected field as of Friday with his effort in the Lexington. Joel Rosario is expected to ride Disarm.

Javier Castellano was named to ride Raise Cain, who won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct before settling for fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes two weeks ago.

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