Jon White: A New Kentucky Derby No. 1, Plus Rebel Stakes Picks

There is a new No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Fierceness is relinquishing that position this week.

I wrote this last week: “I’m thinking that there is a good chance whoever wins the Risen Star will take over the top spot next week.”

Inasmuch as it was Sierra Leone who won Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star last Saturday (Feb. 17), he’s the new No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, right?


Look, I give Sierra Leone a lot of credit for his Risen Star victory. First of all, he won a 1 1/8-mile race while returning from a layoff. He was making his first start since Dec. 2. Second, it was just his third career start. Third, it’s not easy to win a race when rallying from far back when the pace isn’t fast, as was the case in the Risen Star. And fourth, he prevailed despite running on a sloppy track that was pretty much a mess.

It certainly appears to me that Sierra Leone will appreciate going a furlong longer in the 150th running of $5 million Kentucky Derby on May 4.

I think Sierra Leone is a very good colt. But is he a potential superstar? Maybe he is. But at this point, I’d say probably not.

Right now, the one 3-year-old in this country who has the look of a budding superstar to me is Nysos, who has won all three of his career starts by a combined 26 3/4 lengths. In his 2024 debut, Nysos was scintillating. He won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths on Feb. 3.

If Nysos were eligible for the Kentuckyj Derby, he would definitely be No. 1 on my Top 10. But he is not eligible.

Nysos is ranked No. 1 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. I’m one of the 28 voters who put him in the top spot in the poll. Sierra Leone received four first-place votes.

If I put Sierra Leone at No. 1 on my NTRA ballot this week, then why isn’t he No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10? Good question.

My NTRA votes from 1 to 10 are based primarily on what a horse has accomplished. I put Sierra Leone at No. 1 on my ballot because I think he deserves it after winning the Risen Star, which arguably attracted the strongest field in any graded stakes race for 3-year-olds so far in 2024.

My Kentucky Derby Top 10 is a ranking of how I currently see a horse’s chances of winning that particular race. In other words, if the Kentucky Derby were held this week, the horse I rank No 1 is the one I feel has the best chance at this moment in time of winning the roses, while No. 2 has the next-best chance, and so on.

It’s understandable that Sierra Leone is going to top many Kentucky Derby lists following his win in the Risen Star.

Heck, I very nearly put Sierra Leone at No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. But I didn’t.

If it’s not Sierra Leone, then who is the new No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10?

After giving it considerable thought, I have put Japan’s Forever Young (pictured above, center) in the top spot this week. That’s because as of right now, he is my choice to win the Kentucky Derby.

I wrote last week: “How good is Forever Young? I think he might be as good as, or possibly better than, Derma Sotogake, who as a 3-year-old last year finished second to White Abarrio in the Grade I BC Classic.”

Forever Young was three for three last year in Japan. I think the Real Steel colt is a potential superstar. Evidently I’m not the only one who believes this.

“Is Forever Young the next superstar for [trainer] Yoshito Yahagi?” Naohiro Goda wrote in a report from Japan posted this past Sunday on “The 3-year-old should give us the answer to this question at Riyadh Feb. 24, when he tries to extend his unbeaten record to four in the Grade III Saudi Derby at Riyadh.”

I think any Japanese racehorse being talked about as being a possible superstar should command considerable respect. That’s because of the tremendous success Japanese horses have exhibited in recent years when competing on the world stage.

Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh wrote this week: “Even as Japanese racehorses have ascended over the last decade, becoming the most powerful force in international competition, the race the Japanese most covet, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, has eluded them. In fact, a Japanese horse easily could win a Kentucky Derby before one wins an Arc. It could happen as soon as this year.

“Forever Young at this early stage of his career looks as strong as any Japanese 3-year-old with designs on the Derby. He has won all three of his starts in Japan, won them smashingly, and gets his first real class test Saturday at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia.”

How much of a force have the Japanese become in Thoroughbred racing? One need not look past the exploits of Japan’s Equinox, a fantastic equine athlete widely regarded as the best racehorse on the planet last year.

Why am I so bullish on Forever Young as a colt capable of winning the Kentucky Derby? One reason is the distance of his three races to date.

As a 2-year-old in Japan, Forever Young began his racing career with a four-length victory in a maiden race at about 1 1/8 miles. You read that right -- about 1 1/8 miles! In other words, much stamina was required on the part of Forever Young right off the bat.

In his next start, Forever Young won his stakes debut by 1 1/2 lengths in a race at the same distance of about 1 1/8 miles.

In his final race at 2, Forever Young crushed 11 foes when he won the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun by seven lengths at about one mile on Dec. 13. Now he will try to remain undefeated by adding the $1.5 million Saudi Derby to his list of victories.

“Last year’s Zen-Nippn Nisai Yushan winner, Derma Sotogake, went on to capture the Group II UAE Derby in Dubai before finishing sixth in the Grade I Kentucky Derby,” Goda wrote. “The connections of Forever Young have expressed interest in running their colt in the March 30 UAE Derby after the Saudi Derby with the hope of securing enough points to make the 2024 Kentucky Derby field.”

The DRF’s Hersh confirmed this week that Yahagi has the Kentucky Derby as an objective for Forever Young.

“If he can run well in Saudi and then in Dubai, which qualifies him for the Kentucky Derby, then yes, I would like to send him to America to compete in the Triple Crown races,” Yahagi said when answering written questions from Daily Racing Form through an interpreter.

Forever Young was being quoted as an odds-on Saudi Derby favorite at 4-5 in England this week by William Hill and most other betting shops. America’s Book’em Danno, who is four for five and won Tampa Bay Downs’ Pasco Stakes by 12 1/2 lengths on Jan. 13, was listed as a 7-1 second choice by William Hill.

As yet another indication of how Japanese horses should be taken very seriously nowadays, Mandarin Hero came over from Japan for last year’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby and lost by a scant nose when finishing second to a very good colt in Practical Move. Though Mandarin Hero could finish no better than 12th in the Kentucky Derby, I believe there is a very good chance that Forever Young is a considerably better horse than last year’s Santa Anita Derby runner-up.

There were many on the Derma Sotogake bandwagon in last year’s Kentucky Derby after his 5 1/2-length victory in the UAE Derby, but he ran sixth in the Churchill Downs classic. However, I think it’s fair to say Derma Sotogake later showed everyone that he is a top-drawer racehorse with his splendid runner-up effort to the older White Abarrio in the BC Classic.

Derma Sotogake is scheduled to have a rematch with White Abarrio this Saturday in the $20 million Saudi Cup. Derma Sotogake is still supposed to run despite suffering an injury to his right eye during his trip from Japan to Saudi Arabia, the Racing Post reported.

Another Saudi Cup contender is Grade I Pegasus World Cup winner National Treasure.

Post positions for the Saudi Cup were determined Wednesday. White Abarrio drew the rail in the field of 14. National Treasure got post No. 7, while Derma Sotogake drew the 13 spot in the starting gate.

Last year’s Saudi Cup was won by Japan’s Panthalassa. Who trained Panthalassa? It was none other than Forever Young’s trainer.

In addition to Derma Sotogake, Japan is seeking to win this year’s Saudi Cup with Ushba Tesora (last year’s Group I Dubai World Cup winner who finished fifth in the BC Classic) and Japanese champion dirt horse Lemon Pop, plus Crown Pride and Meisho Hario.

Along with White Abarrio and National Treasure, the U.S. is represented in the Saudi Cup by Senor Buscador (seventh in the BC Classic before finishing second in the Pegasus World Cup) and Saudi Crown (recent winner of the Grade III Louisiana Stakes after finishing 10th in the BC Classic).

As yet another example of Japan’s increasingly strong presence internationally, not only did Derma Sotogake win the UAE Derby last year, Japanese horses dominated. Derma Sotogake led a 1-2-3-4 finish by Japanese horses.

Considering Japan’s prowess all over the globe these days, I can’t help thinking it’s only a matter of time before a Japanese horse does win the Kentucky Derby. And I think Forever Young just might be the one to finally do it.

Another Japanese horse eyeing this year’s Kentucky Derby is Ramjet, who won the one-mile Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse last Sunday (Feb. 18). Dismissed at 12-1, he was far back at the top of the stretch and closed with gusto to mow them all down.

Ramjet looks like he’s a good 3-year-old, but it appears to me that Forever Young might be a special colt.

If Forever Young shows up in the Kentucky Derby with an unblemished record, you can bet there will be lots of people on his bandwagon, a la Derma Sotogake last year. Adding to Forever Young’s chances to win the Run for the Roses is he wouldn’t have to face Nysos or any other talented 3-year-old trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who has been banned by Churchill Downs Inc. from running horses at any of the tracks it owns.

Baffert sent out Medina Spirit to win the 2021 Kentucky Derby. However, the colt was disqualified after he tested positive for the presence of betamethasone, a medication that was legal to use, but not on race day. Following Medina Spirit’s DQ, Churchill Downs banned Baffert from participating at any of its tracks in 2022 and 2023. The suspension was then extended through 2024.

As I wrote recently, Churchill Downs’ original two-year suspension of Baffert was, in my view, a whole lot more than a slap on the wrist. It was a severe penalty. Insofar as I’m not aware of Baffert having a single medication violation anywhere during 2022 and 2023, I feel that Churchill’s decision to extend the trainer’s ban through 2024 was grossly unfair.

In any case, what about this as a possibility? An undefeated Forever Young wins the Kentucky Derby and then has a showdown with an undefeated Nysos in the Preakness Stakes. What a Preakness that would be!

By the way, I consider Forever Young’s trainer to be a huge plus in terms of a possible Kentucky Derby appearance and triumph. Clearly, Yahagi is a great -- I repeat, great -- horseman. A noted earlier, he won last year’s Saudi Cup with Panthalassa. It was quite a feat on Yahagi’s part to have won the world’s richest race with a horse racing on the dirt for the first time.

What Yahagi achieved during the Breeders’ Cup was nothing less than extraordinary. He shocked the racing world by winning the BC Distaff with 49-1 longshot Marche Lorraine. Yahagi also won the BC Filly & Mare Turf with 4-1 Loves Only You.

Loves Only You then closed out her career by defeating males to win the Group I Hong Kong Cup.

Deep Impact, Loves Only You’s sire, won 12 of 14 lifetime starts, earned $7,806,474 and swept the 2005 Japanese Triple Crown.

Forever Young is a grandson of Deep Impact.

Deep Impact’s sire, Sunday Silence, won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1989 before having his attempt at Triple Crown glory thwarted when he ran second to Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes. And then, with the 1989 Horse of the Year title on the line, Sunday Silence won a Breeders’ Cup Classic for the ages by a neck over Easy Goer.

And so Forever Young not only debuts on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, he does so at No. 1.

Maybe Forever Young will go out there and get beat in the Saudi Derby. What then for my Kentucky Derby Top 10? That’s easy. If Forever Young has his bubble of invincibility burst in Saturday’s Saudi Derby, I’ll just put someone else in the top spot on my Top 10 next week. But the feeling here is I won’t have to do that.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leone, who was ranked No. 5 last week, moves up to No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.

Dornach, No. 6 last week, is No. 3 this week. He is a full brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage. Don’t forget, when Dornach won Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen Stakes, he did nose out future Risen Star winner Sierra Leone.

Fierceness, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male who finished third as a 1-5 favorite when making his 2024 debut in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes, tumbles to No. 4 this week after being No. 1 last week.

Track Phantom, who acquitted himself well to finish second in the Risen Star, moves up to No. 5 this week after being No. 8 last week.

Exiting the Top 10 this week is Hall of Fame, who finished seventh in the Risen Star.

Below is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:

 1. Forever Young
 2. Sierra Leone
 3. Dornoch
 4. Fierceness
 5. Track Phantom
 6. Hades
 7. Mystik Dan
 8. Locked
 9. Timberlake
10. Born Noble

Bubbling Under My Top 10: Catching Freedom, Conquest Warrior, Drip, Domestic Product, El Grande O, Epic Ride, Hall of Fame, Honor Marie, Just a Touch, Just Steel, Liberal Arts, Lightline, Nash, No More Time, Ramjet, Real Macho, Resilience, Scatify, Snead, Speak Easy, Stretch Ride, Stronghold, The Wine Steward, Tuscan Gold, Tuscan Sky, Uncle Heavy and Victory Avenue.


Timberlake, winner of last year’ Grade I Champagne Stakes, heads a field of 13 entered in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes, which will be contested at 1 1/16 miles this Saturday (Feb. 24).

I’ll try to put this as kindly as I can. It appears that Timberlake’s opposition is not particularly strong, especially considering this race has a purse of $1.25 million.

Muth, runner-up in the BC Juvenile and winner of this year’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes, is glaringly absent after having been listed among the expected entrants. Trainer Bob Baffert decided to keep Muth home at Santa Anita rather than ship him to Arkansas for the Rebel.

This year’s Rebel is a race that does not call for considerable analysis. On paper, even though Timberlake hasn’t raced since finishing fourth in the BC Juvenile, he is a standout. Quite simply, it’s his race to lose. Appropriately, he is a short price on the morning line.

Below are my Rebel Stakes selections:

1. Timberlake (6-5 morning-line favorite)
2. Just Steel (7-2)
3. Dimatic (8-1)
4. Northern Flame (5-1)

I will say that while I didn’t pick Carbone first, second, third or fourth, I do think he might be worth putting a few dollars on. He’s 15-1 on the morning line.

Yes, Carbone finished seventh in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on a muddy track Feb. 3. But keep in mind he was the 9-5 favorite in the Southwest after winning the first two starts of his career by eight and four lengths.

After Carbone got beat by nearly 22 lengths in the Southwest, he goes from being a 9-5 favorite to 15-1 on the morning line. I wouldn’t bet him in the Rebel at low odds. But I am willing to make a smallish wager on him at around 15-1.

As I’ve said it many times, don’t judge a horse too harshly for one bad race.


In the wake of his victory in the Risen Star Stakes, Sierra Leone was the 6-1 favorite among 39 individual horses in Pool 4 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) when betting closed last Sunday (Feb 18).

The “all other 3-year-olds” option ended up being the actual 5-1 favorite. Interestingly, this option closed as the 2-1 favorite last year in Pool 4 when Forte was the 8-1 favorite among the 39 individual horses.

Mage closed at 48-1 in Pool 4 last year. He went on to win the Kentucky Derby at odds of 15-1 on race day.

It was in Pool 4 last year that I put $200 on Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity winner Practical Move.

“I was not about to miss the boat with Practical Move at a mouth-watering 83-1 in Pool 4, especially after he fired a bullet five-furlong workout in :59.00 at Santa Anita last Saturday,” I wrote for

At the time of my Practical Move future wager, he had not made his 2023 debut yet. It looked like an extremely shrewd bet at 83-1 when Practical Move went on to win Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes and Grade I Santa Anita Derby.

I had $200 at 83-1 on a horse eventually listed at 10-1 on the Kentucky Derby morning line. If Practical Move had won the roses, I would have made nearly $17,000. Talk about value.

But Practical Move didn’t make it to the Kentucky Derby starting gate. He was scratched due to an elevated temperature, according to trainer Tim Yakteen. Talk about disappointment.

It turned out that I was more involved with this year’s Pool 4 than I had expected.

I put money on Forever Young at 21-1, Mystik Dan also at 21-1, Tuscan Sky at 31-1, Hades at 32-1, Tuscan Gold at 92-1 and Capital Idea at 131-1. Even though I had played Born Noble previously, when I saw him at such a big price, I decided to put more money on him at 79-1.

Tuscan Sky, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, is two for two. He won a six-furlong maiden sprint by a widening 5 1/4 lengths when debuting on a muddy track Jan. 13 at Aqueduct. He recorded an 89 Beyer Speed Figure.

Last Saturday on a sloppy strip, Tuscan Sky splashed home to a two-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the Risen Star undercard. The colt by 2019 BC Classic victor Vino Rosso came away from that performance with a 95 Beyer, while Sierra Leone recorded a 90 Beyer for his Risen Star win later in the day.

Tuscan Gold, who like Sierra Leone is conditioned by Chad Brown, launched his racing career with a fourth in a one-mile maiden contest at Aqueduct on Nov. 4. The winner of that race was Sierra Leone.

In his only other start thus far, Tuscan Gold rolled to a 6 1/4-length win in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Gulfstream on Jan. 31.

I love having money on Capital Idea at 131-1. I regard it as being similar to the mouth-watering price I got on Practical Move in Pool 4 last year.

In his first career start, Capital Idea finished third in a one-mile maiden race at Aqueduct on Dec. 31. The Classic Empire colt subsequently won by 8 1/4 lengths when competing at one mile on a sloppy surface Jan. 28 at the Big A.

After recording a 69 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut, Capital Idea improved to an 84 in his maiden graduation.

What I find so interesting about Capital Idea are his Thoro-Graph numbers.

While I consider Beyer Speed Figures to be a useful tool for horseplayers, I do believe that Thoro-Graph numbers are superior to the Beyers. That’s because Thoro-Graph takes more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”

In the case of the Thoro-Graph numbers, a horse who finished second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the reasons I believe that Thoro-Graph is better than the Beyers. I consider a Thoro-Graph number to be a much truer reflection of a horse’s performance than a Beyer. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the reality that the winner is not necessarily the horse who ran the best race.

The winner of a race never gets a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second never gets a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.

For Capital Idea’s first race, he was assigned a 10 1/4 Thoro-Graph number. He then registered an excellent 2 3/4 in his maiden score. The 2 3/4 figure stacks up quite well against other members of his class. For instance, when Sierra Leone finished second in the Remsen, his Thoro-Graph fig was 4. And that 4 was a much better Thoro-Graph number than Remsen winner Dornach’s 6 for that race.

Capital Idea’s 2 3/4 Thoro-Graph number compares favorably to Timberlake, who is expected to be a strong favorite in this Saturday’s Rebel Stakes. Timberlake recorded a 2 when he won the Grade I Champagne Stakes, then matched that number when fourth in the BC Juvenile.

Timberlake closed at 15-1 in KDFW Pool 4, which makes Capital Idea’s price of 131-1 look so enticing to me.

Below are the final odds reported by Churchill Downs for Pool 4 of the 2024 KDFW:

   5-1 All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings
   6-1 Sierra Leone
   9-1 Dornoch
 15-1 Timberlake
 16-1 Fierceness
 16-1 Locked
 20-1 Track Phantom
 21-1 Forever Young
 21-1 Mystik Dan
 23-1 Knightsbridge
 27-1 Just Touch
 29-1 Conquest Warrior
 31-1 Catching Freedom
 31-1 Tuscan Sky
 32-1 Hades
 33-1 Hall of Fame
 36-1 Honor Marie
 37-1 Agate Road
 41-1 Speak Easy
 57-1 Imperial Gun
 57-1 Liberal Arts
 69-1 Nash
 72-1 Uncle Heavy
 79-1 Born Noble
 79-1 Just Steel
 80-1 Domestic Product
 83-1 Resilience
 92-1 Tuscan Gold
 93-1 Deterministic
 99-1 Stronghold
105-1 Epic Ride
120-1 Dimatic
121-1 Amante Bianco
131-1 Capital Idea
131-1 Lucky Jeremy
148-1 No More Time
171-1 Real Men Violin
207-1 West Saratoga
220-1 El Grande O
428-1 Lat Long

Two more KDFW pools will be conducted this year: March 15-17 (Pool 5) and April 4-6 (Pool 6). The lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager will coincide with KDFW Pool 5.


Four horses on the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll are entered in the $20 million Saudi Cup this Saturday. They are National Treasure (No. 1), White Abarrio (No. 2), Senor Buscador (tied for No. 3) and Saudi Crown (No. 5).

Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 299 National Treasure (19)
 2. 260 White Abarrio (10)
 3. 187 Idiomatic (2)
 3. 187 Senior Buscador
 5. 177 Saudi Crown
 6. 109 Newgrange
 7.   87 Warm Heart
 8.   85 Didia
 9.   64 Speed Boat Beach
10.   41 Arabian Knight


After winning the Risen Star Stakes last Saturday, Sierra Leone climbs all the way up to No. 2 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll after being No. 9 last week. Undefeated Nysos maintains his hold on the top spot.

Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 316 Nysos (28)
 2. 280 Sierra Leone (4)
 3. 169 Track Phantom
 4. 157 Muth
 5. 145 Fierceness
 6. 131 Hades
 7. 116 Locked
 8. 104 Mystik Dan
 9.   95 Dornoch
10.   37 Maymun

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