The Kentucky Derby: A Look Ahead
There is less than two weeks to go before the running of the 149th Kentucky Derby. Called “The Run for the Roses” because of the 554-rose blanket that is draped around the neck of the winning horse, the Derby is the longest continuously running sporting event in the United States, racing on the first Saturday of each May. The September 2020 Derby was bumped to September during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is the first event of horse racing’s Triple Crown, and it is easily the biggest race of the three. Last year, there were 147,294 attendees at Churchill Downs, and $179 million was wagered on the race. The Preakness drew 60,000 fans last year, and the Belmont Stakes had just 43,000 attending. The betting handle for the second and third legs of the Triple Crown is typically less than $50 million at each race.
The tradition of the Derby, with its signature mint juleps, the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the famous hats of Churchill Downs, where bigger is better, are all part of the event’s vibe.
And there is, of course, the immortality achieved by the winner, who will have their name etched alongside the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and last year’s winner, Rich Strike, who at 80-1 crossed the finish line as the second-biggest longshot in Kentucky Derby history.
Favorites for 2023 Kentucky Derby
The field of 20 three-year-olds is determined by qualifying points. The leader in points with 190 is Forte, who is also the 11/4 favorite, according to BetOnline.ag. Forte was the winner at the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and is coming off an early April win at the Florida Derby.
Close behind on the odds board is Tapit Trice at 13/2. Both Forte and Tapit Trice are trained by Todd Pletcher, a two-time Derby winner, and like Forte, Tapit Trice is coming off an April win at the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Angel of Empire is third in qualifying points with 154, and is paying the third shortest odds at 8/1. In three starts in 2023, he has two wins and a place, and is coming off an April 1 win at the Arkansas Derby.
Practical Move is second in qualifying points, thanks to his recent win at the Santa Anita Derby, and he is tied for the fourth-shortest odds at 10/1. Joining the California-based horse at 10/1 is Derma Sotagake from Japan, who most recently raced and won in the UAE. Hidetaka Otonashi is trying to become the first Japanese trainer to win the Kentucky Derby.
It is worth noting that the Churchill Downs suspension of trainer Bob Baffert, a six-time Derby winner, won’t be lifted until after this year’s race. Baffert was suspended following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Other Horses of Note
At the Santa Anita Derby that was won by Practical Move, Skinner came in third, giving the Derby-hopeful 45 points and a 22nd ranking. Blazing Sevens, who ranks 17th in qualifying, is skipping the Derby to focus on the Preakness. That means that with one more defection, Skinner would get the invite. Skinner is currently on the Derby betting board at 28/1.
Disarm needed no worse than a third place finish at the Lexington Stakes to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He crossed the line in third, becoming the last of the horses to solidify his place in the top 20. He is currently paying 40/1.
The longest shot on the board is Wild On Ice at 100/1. He got all 50 of his qualifying points with a surprise win at the Sunland Park Derby on March 26th, where he was paying 40/1.
It was a surprise win to everyone, including Wild On Ice’s team. “To be honest, we were just thinking about the Sunland Derby and hoping we could improve off our previous [races],” said trainer Joel Marr.
Now Marr, along with the oldest jockey to ever ride at the Kentucky Derby, 60-year-old Ken Tohill, are going to race on the sport’s biggest stage.