Expert Picks: Who Will Win the 2023 Kentucky Derby
The horses in the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby are listed in order of post position, with comments by Joe Drape and Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times. The morning-line odds were set by Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., where the race will be held.
Practical Move, Lord Miles and Continuar were scratched Thursday, allowing Cyclone Mischief, Mandarin Hero and King Russell to enter the race. Skinner was scratched Friday, reducing the field to 19 horses. The last time four entrants were scratched from the Derby was 2015. Because of the scratches, more than half the horses in the field will break from post positions that don’t match their program numbers.
How to watch: Coverage begins Saturday at noon Eastern time on NBC. It will also be available on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.
Post time: 6:57 p.m.
Purse: $3 million guaranteed
Distance: 1¼ miles
Track record: 1:59⅖ (Secretariat, 1973)
Weight: 126 pounds
Joe Drape’s win-place-show picks: Verifying, Reincarnate, Forte
Melissa Hoppert’s picks: Tapit Trice, Forte, Angel of Empire
Here’s how we see the field:
1. Hit Show
Trainer: Brad Cox Jockey: Manny Franco Odds: 30-1
Drape: This gray has done little wrong but draw the No. 1 post. If he is lucky enough to survive being hemmed in against the rail, he probably isn’t fast enough to win.
Hoppert: He had a respectable showing at Aqueduct this year, winning the Withers Stakes there in February and losing by a nose in the Wood Memorial last month. But the only time he’s finished out of the money has been at Churchill Downs.
Trainer: Brad Cox Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione Odds: 15-1
Drape: He is inconsistent, alternating brilliant races with clunkers. If he shows up with his best, the colt has a chance.
Hoppert: This speedy son of the 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify lost by a neck in the Blue Grass Stakes last month, and he’ll have Gaffalione, who owns nine Churchill riding titles, on his back.
3. Two Phil’s
Trainer: Larry Rivelli Jockey: Jareth Loveberry Odds: 12-1
Drape: An intriguing colt who has raced well in Virginia, Louisiana, Minnesota and Kentucky. This well-traveled sort has a big shot.
Hoppert: He won the Jeff Ruby in March by an impressive five and a quarter lengths, but that was on a synthetic track. Still, he has won on dirt and at Churchill. A question mark, but I’m certain about one thing: His apostrophe is unnecessary.
4. Confidence Game
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Jockey: James Graham Odds: 20-1
Drape: This colt cost a bargain basement $25,000 and has made nearly $800,000. He loves the slop, so if you bet him, pray for rain.
Hoppert: He won the Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track in February and hasn’t raced since, raising the possibility of physical issues. But he has won twice at Churchill and has been generating buzz during training.
5. Tapit Trice
Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Luis Saez Odds: 5-1
Drape: All this lumbering sort of colt does is win, even when he misses the start as he did in the Tampa Bay Derby, or bounces off other horses as he did in the Blue Grass.
Hoppert: This gray son of the prolific sire Tapit has won four straight races. That run includes the Blue Grass, where his come-from-behind running style was on full display. He has looked like a million bucks in the morning, and good thing, too, because his owners shelled out $1.3 million for him.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Jose Ortiz Odds: 12-1
Drape: Like Mage, Kingsbarns is fast and impressive. But he did not race as a 2-year-old so every race now takes more out of him.
Hoppert: He’s gone 3 for 3, including pulling off a gate-to-wire victory in the Louisiana Derby in March. But only two horses have won the Derby without racing at 2, one being Justify, and he’s no Justify.
Trainer: Tim Yakteen Jockey: John Velazquez Odds: 50-1
Drape: I have a hunch that Reincarnate will run like an old soul and run big. His career started on grass, and it perhaps took some time to figure the colt out.
Hoppert: A freckled gray like his great-grandfather Holy Bull — hence the name — Reincarnate, the third-place Arkansas Derby finisher, has finished no worse than third in all seven of his starts. He’ll gun for the early lead, and Velazquez knows how to win a Derby that way.
Trainer: Gustavo Delgado Jockey: Javier Castellano Odds: 15-1
Drape: He did not race as a 2-year-old and lacks physical and mental foundation. That said, he almost beat Forte in the Florida Derby. If you like Forte, you should like him.
Hoppert: His name means magician — his sire is Good Magic — and while he is improving despite consistent trouble breaking from the gate, he’ll need some wizardry to pull off a win.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Joel Rosario Odds: 30-1
Drape: He was one of the last qualifiers on points, but this late runner is bred to go long and will be passing horses down the stretch.
Hoppert: He was the runner-up in the Lexington Stakes, the last-ditch stop to earn Derby points. There’s a reason only two horses have pulled off the Lexington-Derby double.
12. Jace’s Road
Trainer: Brad Cox Jockey: Florent Geroux Odds: 50-1
Drape: This son of Quality Road seems to be in a little too deep. But my buddy’s middle son is named Jace, and he will be sending some money in from Manhattan.
Hoppert: The third-place finisher in the Louisiana Derby, Jace’s Road will be close to the lead early, but he’s not fast enough to be around at the end.
13. Sun Thunder
Trainer: Kenny McPeek Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr. Odds: 30-1
Drape: Like Rich Strike last year, this late runner has won once. There’s a horseplayer’s saying: “Why go to the funeral when you missed the wedding?” Best to stay home.
Hoppert: The fourth-place Blue Grass finisher adds blinkers after a few troubled trips.
14. Angel of Empire
Trainer: Brad Cox Jockey: Flavien Prat Odds: 8-1
Drape: The Arkansas Derby winner will take money. The Pennsylvania-bred colt, however, hasn’t faced a field as deep as this. It will take a career effort.
Hoppert: There’s no doubt this steadily improving colt will be the shortest price of the four Cox horses. He needs a perfect trip to showcase his strong finishing kick, no easy feat in a 20-horse field.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. Odds: 3-1
Drape: He’s six of seven and was the 2-year-old champion. This colt is the deserving favorite, and if he gets past Saturday, we’ll probably see him at Belmont Park trying to complete a Triple Crown sweep.
Hoppert: He’s won five straight and has done absolutely nothing wrong, except winning the Florida Derby by only a length and giving bettors an excuse to seek value elsewhere.
16. Raise Cain
Trainer: Ben Colebrook Jockey: Gerardo Corrales Odds: 50-1
Drape: Another who will move up on a muddy track. He looked like he had skis on while winning the Gotham Stakes by seven and half lengths in wet conditions in New York.
Hoppert: He did not even hit the board in his last race, the Blue Grass, and he likely has distance limitations. Pass.
17. Derma Sotogake
Trainer: Hidetaka Otonashi Jockey: Christophe Lemaire Odds: 10-1
Drape: I want to like this Japanese challenger, but horses coming from the U.A.E. Derby (as he did) are 0 for 18 in the Derby. And his post position does him no favors.
Hoppert: I, for one, am shocked Drape isn’t jumping on his usual international bandwagon, especially with this strong of a contender. But he makes good points, despite the colt’s gate-to-wire romp in the United Arab Emirates, where Japan swept the top four spots.
18. Rocket Can
Trainer: Bill Mott Jockey: Junior Alvarado Odds: 50-1
Drape: Like Shirreffs, Mott doesn’t show up with a horse he does not believe in. This colt will outrun his odds.
Hoppert: He won the Holy Bull, then got outrun by Forte in the Fountain of Youth and didn’t even hit the board in the Arkansas Derby. Mott is hoping the addition of blinkers can turn it around, but he’s likely too slow to pull off an upset.
21. Cyclone Mischief
Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Corey Lanerie Odds: 30-1
Drape: This Romans colt will continue to underachieve.
Hoppert: He was third in both the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby. A third-place finish at Churchill Downs would be a miracle.
22. Mandarin Hero
Trainer: Terunobu Fujita Jockey: Kazushi Kimura Odds: 20-1
Drape: If you liked Practical Move, then use this one. He almost got past him in the Santa Anita Derby.
Hoppert: This is the also-eligible that I have been waiting for to draw in. He gives the Japanese a second contender and another stellar shot to elevate the race from America’s greatest dirt race to the world’s.
23. King Russell
Trainer: Ron Moquett Jockey: Rafael Bejarano Odds: 50-1
Drape: Late defections give this late-running colt a ticket to the Big Show.
Hoppert: The 58-1 shot rallied to a second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. He won’t be so lucky here.