Jon White: Kentucky Derby Final Selections

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jon White's original top selection for Kentucky Derby 149, Santa Anita Derby winner Practical Move, was declared a scratch Thursday afternoon after spiking a temperature. His analysis has been updated to reflect that change.

Oh my goodness. It appears that Saturday’s $3 million Kentucky Derby is loaded with viable candidates that possess the credentials to be posing in the winner’s circle after around two minutes of equine combat is over.

The way it’s shaping up in terms of looking to be so competitive, I think this year’s Kentucky Derby is something for horseplayers to savor beforehand. I see it as an absolutely fascinating handicapping puzzle that presents quite a challenge to try and solve.

I wrote the two paragraphs above for prior to the 2022 Kentucky Derby. And it appears to me that the 2023 renewal looks much the same way.

And what happened last year? Rich Strike pulled off a shocking victory at the humongous odds of 80-1. It was the second-biggest upset in the history of this country’s longest continuously run sporting event, topped only by 91-1 Donerail in 1913.

Rich Strike, who got the job done by three-quarters of a length last year, returned $163.60 for each $2 bet on him to win. His $2 win payoff has been exceeded only by Donerail’s $184.90 in 1913.

As for this year’s Kentucky Derby, my selections are below:

1. Kingsbarns (12-1 morning line)
2. Tapit Trice (5-1)
3. Angel of Empire (8-1)
4. Forte (3-1)

Rounding out my final Kentucky Derby Top 10:

5. Derma Sotogake (10-1)
6. Skinner (20-1)
7. Two Phil’s (12-1)
8. Veryifying (15-1)
9. Disarm (30-1)
10. Confidence Game (20-1)

My Kentucky Derby Top 10 is a ranking of how I see the horses in terms of the likeliest winner. It’s not an attempt to forecast the order of finish.

Below is a horse-by-horse look at my final Kentucky Derby Top 10.

KINGSBARNS. Ranked No. 1. Post position 6. Morning line 12-1. Jockey: Jose Ortiz. Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

As in the case of Practical Move, I put money on Kingsbarns in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager on Feb. 12. I bet $200 on Kingsbarns at 35-1 to win $7,000. He is a much shorter price on the Kentucky Derby morning line at 12-1.

Kingsbarns is undefeated in three career starts. He’s the only entrant in this year’s Kentucky Derby with a perfect record.

Considering Kingsbarns has won three races at three different tracks by margins of 1 3/4, 7 3/4 and 3 1/2 lengths, we really don’t know how good he is at this point. Maybe he’s a superstar. Until he gets beat, that is a possibility.

It’s also impressive that Kingsbarns not only had the sheer zip to work a quarter-mile in :20 4/5 last year before fetching a final bid of $800,000 at a 2-year-olds in training sale, he had the stamina to win this year’s Grade II Louisiana Derby at 1 3/16 miles.

It’s true that Kingsbarns was allowed to get away with setting a slow early pace in the Louisiana Derby. But he does not need the early lead in order to win. He was victorious in his first two races from off the pace.

It’s not easy to win a career debut going one mile, which Kingsbarns did. He also didn’t have the best of trips in his first race.

Most expect Kingsbarns to race forwardly in the early furlongs this Saturday. Like Practical Move, I think Kingsbarns has a very good chance to be first or second with a furlong left to run. Again, this is extremely important in that 56 of the last 60 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second a furlong out.

Kingsbarns’ sire, Uncle Mo, sired 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.

One thing going against Kingsbarns is only two horses have ever won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. They were Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. I think Kingsbarns will have to be a special colt in order to become the third horse to achieve this feat. But as I mentioned earlier, until Kingsbarns tastes defeat, there is a possibility he is a superstar.

It is a bit of a concern to me that it’s been musical jockeys for Kingsbarns. With Flavien Prat opting for Angel of Empire in the Kentucky Derby, Jose Ortiz gets the call on Kingsbarns, who was ridden in his three races before this by Luis Saez, Antonio Gallardo and Prat.

Something to keep in mind, though: A jockey does not always make the right decision. While there are a zillion examples of a jockey taking off a horse who then wins, I will cite two that come to mind regarding the Kentucky Derby.

In the 1995 Kentucky Derby, Mike Smith rode Talkin Man instead of Thunder Gulch. Talkin Man finished 12th as the 4-1 favorite, while Thunder Gulch won in a 24-1 upset.

Trainer Horatio Luro asked legendary Bill Shoemaker to ride Northern Dancer in the 1964 Kentucky Derby. Shoemaker’s preference was to ride Hill Rise. Hill Rise finished a close second as the 7-5 Kentucky Derby favorite, while 3-1 Northern Dancer and jockey Bill Hartack won by a neck. Northern Dancer ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:00 flat to set a Churchill Downs track record that stood until Secretariat won the race in 1:59 2/5, establishing a mark that still stands 50 years later.

Speaking of Secretariat, the perception is that the 1973 Triple Crown winner was a dud at stud. Did he fulfill the unrealistic expectations for him as a sire? No. Was he a flop? No, as evidenced by the fact that he sired a female Horse of the Year in Lady’s Secret, a Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner in Risen Star, plus a Travers Stakes track record setter in General Assembly. Secretariat’s daughter Weekend Surprise produced A.P. Indy, the 1992 Horse of the Year who became an extremely successful sire. Secretariat also sired the exceedingly swift Terlingua, who became the dam of super sire Storm Cat.

If Secretariat was such a failure as a sire, then how come his name appears in the pedigree of 22 of the 23 horses entered in this year’s Kentucky Derby, according to’s Steve Haskin? The only one of the 23 without Secretariat in his bloodlines is Derma Sotogake. You even will find Secretariat showing up in the pedigrees of Japan’s Continuar and Mandarin Hero.

TAPIT TRICE. Ranked No. 2. Post position 5. Morning line 5-1. Jockey: Luis Saez. Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

I think Tapit Trice will be sent off as the second choice in the betting. As I said Monday morning on Steve Byk’s SiriuxXM radio program At the Races, I actually wouldn’t rule out Tapit Trice giving Forte a run for Kentucky Derby favoritism. In my odds, as I said to Byk, I have Forte at 3-1 and Tapit Trice at 4-1.

Tapit Trice has reeled off four consecutive victories after finishing third when unveiled in a one-mile maiden special weight contest at Aqueduct last Nov. 6.

In his most recent two starts, Tapit Trice rallied to win the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths and Grade I Blue Grass Stakes by a neck.

Tapit Trice has been sluggish leaving the gate, which could prove problematic in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby. I did like the way the Tapit colt made his move much earlier in the Blue Grass than at Tampa. I also think it’s important that Tapit Trice was a close second with a furlong to go in the Blue Grass. That indicates to me that the $1.3 million auction purchase does have a chance to be first or second a furlong out in the Kentucky Derby.

I would have preferred that Tapit Trice to have drawn a post position much farther out than post 5. Starting from post 5 could possibly lead to some traffic issues for him with his come-from-behind style.

ANGEL OF EMPIRE. Ranked No. 3. Post position 13 (saddle 14). Jockey Flavien Prat. Trainer Brad Cox.

Angel of Empire, like Tapit Trice, has a come-from-behind running style. I like Angel of Empire breaking from post 14 a lot better than Tapit Trice beginning from the 5 hole. I think Prat has a better chance to keep Angel of Empire out of traffic trouble than Saez does aboard Tapit Trice.

Then why do I have Tapit Trice picked third and Angel of Empire fourth? The main reason is Tapit Trice has run faster than Angel of Empire. Tapit Trice reached 99 on the Beyer Speed Figure scale when he won the Blue Grass. Angel of Empire’s top Beyer to date is his 94 when he won the Grade I Arkansas Derby.

I do love Angel of Empire’s Beyer Speed Figure pattern in his last five starts. He recorded a 51, then a 74, then an 85, then an 89, then the aforementioned 94.

Angel of Empire followed in the footsteps of his sire, Classic Empire, as an Arkansas Derby winner. Something else I love about Angel of Empire is the way he swept past rivals on the far turn in the Arkansas Derby to put himself in front by 2 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go en route to a dominating 4 1/4-length victory.

It was back on New Year’s Day when Angel of Empire first appeared on my radar, even though he didn’t win that day. Cox sent out undefeated Victory Formation to prove a punctual 1-5 favorite in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. While Cox obviously was pleased with Victory Formation’s performance, I noticed how he talked up Angel of Empire, who finished second at 18-1. Cox warned everyone that he felt Angel of Empire would do better when getting an opportunity to go farther.

In Angel of Empire’s next start, he did go farther. Sent away at 13-1, he won Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles as a 13-1 shot. Victory Formation finished ninth as the 9-5 favorite.

Among the vanquished in Angel of Empire’s Risen Star was Two Phil’s, who would go on to win the Grade III Jeff Ruby by 5 1/4 lengths.

Proving that his Risen Star was no fluke, Angel of Empire then trounced his foes in the Arkansas Derby.

Angel of Empire’s paternal grandsire is Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second as my top pick in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, which was won by 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird. Pioneerof the Nile would go on to sire American Pharoah, who swept the 2015 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought.

FORTE. Ranked No. 4. Post position 14 (saddle 15). Morning Line 3-1. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Trainer Todd Pletcher.

Can Forte win the Kentucky Derby? Of course he can. After all, he is the 3-1 morning-line favorite.

Forte is a champion. He was the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2022. He’s lost just once in seven career starts. He is a four-time Grade I winner. He’s perfect in two starts this year, taking the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes and Grade I Florida Derby.

In my opinion, based on Forte’s excellent record, he is a deserving Kentucky Derby favorite. It is appropriate that he’s been installed as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line crafted by Mike Battaglia, who first made the morning-line odds for the Kentucky Derby all the way back in 1974. In his initial year in the job, Battaglia pegged the coupled entry of Cannonade and Judger as the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby. Cannonade, brilliantly ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., won in a record field of 23. Judger finished eighth.

With Forte boasting such an impressive resume, why don’t I have him ranked higher than No. 5? There are two primary reasons. First, his Beyer Speed Figures are going in the wrong direction. Second, I have a major concern as to whether Forte can be first or second with a furlong to go in the Kentucky Derby.

After Forte’s 100 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he registered a 98 Beyer in the Fountain of Youth, then slid further down to a 95 Beyer in the Florida Derby.

Forte’s declining pattern piqued my curiosity. I wondered, “Has any Kentucky Derby winner during the Beyer Speed Figure era had a declining pattern in his final three starts prior to the Kentucky Derby, a la Forte?”

The Beyer Speed Figures were first published in Daily Racing Form’s Kentucky Derby past performances in 1992.

Only once from 1992 to the present has a Kentucky Derby winner had a declining Beyer pattern similar to Forte’s. That one horse was 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, who like Forte was the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion.

Street Sense recorded a 108 Beyer when he won the BC Juvenile by 10 lengths at Churchill Downs in his final start as a 2-year-old. Next, he dropped to a 102 Beyer when he won the Tampa Bay Derby by a nose in his first start at 3. He then declined further to only a 93 Beyer in his nose defeat when second in the Blue Grass Stakes.

After Street Sense’s 93 Beyer in the Blue Grass, he took a giant leap to a 110 Beyer when he won the 2007 Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths.

The fact that only one of the last 31 Kentucky Derby winners went into the race with a declining Beyer Speed Figure pattern similar to Forte’s is, to me, a big red flag for Forte.

I also think it’s a big negative for Forte that he’s been unable to be first or second a furlong out in both of his last two starts. This suggests that he might not be first or second with a furlong left to run in the Kentucky Derby. And if he’s not first or second with a furlong to go in the Kentucky Derby, it greatly reduces his chances of winning insofar as 56 of the last 60 Kentucky Derby winners were first or second a furlong out.

Additionally, while I don’t consider this to be a deal-breaker, the BC Juvenile winner has gone on to capture the Kentucky Derby just twice since the Breeders’ Cup came on the scene in 1984. Those two were 2007 Derby winner Street Sense and 2016 Derby winner Nyquist.

DERMA SOTOGAKE. Ranked No. 5. Post position 16 (saddle 17). Morning line 10-1. Jockey Christophe Lemaire. Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi.

To start with, UAE Derby winner Derma Sotogake drew post 17 for the Kentucky Derby. According to the Kentucky Derby media guide, going all the way back to when a starting gate was first used in 1930, post 17 is 0 for 43 in the Kentucky Derby.

On top of that, there is the abysmal record by UAE starters in the Kentucky Derby. The best finish of 18 UAE starters in the Kentucky Derby was fifth by Master of Hounds in 2011.

The best finish by a winner of the UAE Derby was sixth by China Visit in 2000.

Derma Sotogake officially will be carrying 126 pounds in the Kentucky Derby, just like all the other starters.

But the truth is that Derma Sotogake will have to pack a lot more weight than 126 pounds. He will be burdened with more weight than if he were being ridden by a sumo wrestler. That’s because he is Andy Beyer’s pick to win the Kentucky Derby.

As mentioned earlier, Beyer himself readily admits that the record of his top pick in the three Triple Crown events is awful.

In one of the most woeful exhibitions of public handicapping ever seen, Beyer’s top pick in each of the 2015 Triple Crown races was badly outrun.

Before the 2015 Kentucky Derby, I stated in the Louisville Courier-Journal that American Pharoah “reminds me of Seattle Slew” and “just might sweep the Triple Crown.” Did Beyer pick American Pharoah? No, Beyer thought that American Pharoah was overrated.

On Steve Byk’s radio program At the Races that year, Beyer made it clear that he didn’t think that American Pharoah deserved the hype he was getting prior to the Kentucky Derby. Beyer picked Upstart to win. American Pharoah won by one length. Upstart? He was eased and finished 60 1/2 lengths behind American Pharoah.

Firing Line then was Beyer’s top pick in the Preakness. American Pharoah won by seven lengths. Firing Line? He stumbled at the start, was eased and finished 45 lengths behind American Pharoah.

After what happened in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, you might think Beyer finally had learned his lesson and picked American Pharoah to win the Belmont Stakes, right? Nope. Beyer’s top pick was Materiality. American Pharoah won by 5 1/2 lengths to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought. Materiality? He finished last, 22 1/4 lengths behind American Pharoah.

That means that while American Pharoah was running his way into the history books by sweeping the Triple Crown, Beyer’s top pick lost the three races by a combined 127 3/4 lengths.

Despite Derma Sotogake’s post position, the poor record of UAE Derby runners and being Andy Beyer’s top pick, I do believe a Kentucky Derby triumph by him could happen.

Japanese horses have been running big races all over the globe. Not only did Derma Sotogake win the UAE Derby emphatically by 5 1/2 lengths, he led a 1-2-3-4 sweep in the Grade II event by Japanese runners.

Japan’s Mandarin Hero posted a 100 Beyer Speed Figure when he came within a whisker of winning the Santa Anita Derby despite having previously raced exclusively at a so-called B track in Japan.

Derma Sotogake is considered to be superior to Mandarin Hero. In light of what a fine race Mandarin Hero ran in defeat in the Santa Anita Derby, it’s perfectly understandable why so many think Derma Sotogake has a huge chance to win the Kentucky Derby.

This year’s UAE Derby and Group I Dubai World Cup for older horses do not have official Beyer Speed Figures. However, Randy Moss of the Beyer Speed Figure-making team has said that Derma Sotogake is estimated to not only have run a 106 or 107 Beyer in the UAE Derby, his figure would have been higher than that of the older Ushba Tesora for his win in the Dubai World Cup.

Derma Sotogake’s final time in the UAE Derby was 1:55.81, making it the second-fastest since the race’s distance was changed to 1,900 meters, or about 1 3/16 miles, in 2010. The fastest time at this distance was Mendelssohn’s 1:55.18 when he won by 18 1/2 lengths in 2018.

Andy Beyer discussed Derma Sotogake when speaking to Byk on his SiriusXM radio program Wednesday (May 3).

“I’m hesitant to give a specific number to Derma Sotogake [for the UAE Derby], because the one year we did that was 2018, when Mendelsson won by a mile,” Beyer said Wednesday. “We’ve got enough data to try to calculate figures and we thought Mendelssohn was a 106. We went public with it. He had the standout figure [in the Kentucky Derby] and lost by about 70 lengths. So, that has chastened me a little bit about making Dubai figures. But I would say that, from everything that we can tell, the UAE Derby [won by Derma Sotogake] was the fastest of all the [Kentucky] Derby prep races.

“Derma Sotogake’s record is exemplary. His Dubai race, if you look at his final time and compare it with the last 10 years of UAE Derbies, it’s like there’s no comparison…Maybe this will be another big UAE Derby figure that loses by 80 lengths, but I can’t really make a case for anybody else in this field that I feel comfortable about.”

It does appear to me that Derma Sotogake is a very talented equine athlete. And like Practical Move and Kingsbarns, Derma Sotogake’s ability to race forwardly early should play well in this year’s Kentucky Derby, which doesn’t seem to have tons of early speed in it.

But can Derma Sotogake overcome his post position, the UAE Derby jinx and, most especially, being Andy Beyer’s choice to win the race?

SKINNER. Ranked No. 6. Post position 9. Morning Line 20-1. Jockey Juan Hernandez. Trainer John Shirreffs.

What makes Skinner look scary to me as a possible Kentucky Derby victor is he’s in the hands of a master horseman who excels at being able to have a horse primed for a big effort on the day of an important event.

Best known as trainer of the great Zenyatta, Shirreffs won the 2005 Kentucky Derby in an upset with Giacomo. I think Skinner might well be better than Giacomo.

Giacomo finished second in the San Felipe, then fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, then peaked on the first Saturday in May to pull off a Kentucky Derby upset. His Beyers in those three races were 93, then 95, then 100.

Skinner finished third in the San Felipe, then a much closer third in the Santa Anita Derby. His Beyers in those two races were 94, then 99.

If Skinner’s Beyer trend continues, he stands a good chance to record a triple-digit Beyer in the Kentucky Derby. That makes him a big threat at what should be a very nice price, though probably nowhere close to Giacomo’s Kentucky Derby odds of 50-1. Skinner likely will end up being somewhere around his 20-1 odds on the morning line.

TWO PHIL’S. Ranked No. 7. Post position 3. Morning line 12-1. Jockey Jareth Loveberry. Trainer Larry Rivelli.

The 101 Beyer Speed Figure that Two Phil’s produced in the Grade III Jeff Ruby is the highest official Beyer Speed Figure recorded by any of the entrants in this year’s Kentucky Derby. As noted earlier, Derma Sotogake has been credited with an unofficial Beyer of 106 or 107 by Randy Moss of the Beyer-making team.

The rub is that the 101 Beyer by Two Phil’s came on a synthetic surface and the Kentucky Derby is run on dirt. Did Two Phil’s look so terrific and get that 101 Beyer in the Jeff Ruby because of the synthetic surface?

The main reason I don’t have Two Phil’s ranked higher than No. 8 is the top Beyer that he’s recorded on dirt is only an 88.

I admit to holding a grudge against Two Phil’s after he let me down as my top pick for in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. He loomed menacingly in upper stretch, then lacked the needed late punch and finished third to Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder. It’s hard for me to endorse Two Phil’s going 1 1/4 miles off that performance on dirt at 1 1/8 miles.

But there is a possibility that Two Phil’s came up with such a sparkling performance in the Jeff Ruby because he is blossoming at this time of the year, a boy turning into a man. A 3-year-old sometimes does that at this time of the year, such as Charismatic in 1999.

VERIFYING. Ranked No. 8. Post position 2. Morning line 15-1. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione. Trainer Brad Cox.

Right off the bat, I like Veryifying’s pilot. I am a big fan of Gaffalione. I think he is tremendous.

Largely because of Verifying’s pedigree, I have had my eye on him ever since he won a six-furlong maiden special weight race when unveiled at Saratoga last summer.

Verifying, whose sire is 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, is a half-brother to Midnight Bisou, who was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion older female dirt champion.

In his first 2023 start, Verifying won a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest at Oaklawn by 5 1/4 lengths. But he then finished fourth in Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel. I think a line can be drawn through that race due to the sloppy track and a trip that wasn’t ideal.

When Verifying was back on dry land in the Grade I Blue Grass, he rebounded and finished second. At the end of a fierce battle with Tapit Trice in the final furlong, Verifying lost the Blue Grass by only a neck.

A lot of people like Tapit Trice, who is the 5-1 second choice on the Kentucky Derby morning line at 5-1, whereas Verifying is a much better price at 15-1. That 15-1 price seemingly is good value in view of the fact that the two colts finished so close together in the Blue Grass.

DISARM. Ranked No. 9. Post position 10 (saddle 11). Morning Line 30-1. Jockey Joel Rosario. Trainer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen has won more races in North America racing history than any other trainer (10,082 through May 2), but the Hall of Famer is 0 for 24 in the Kentucky Derby.

It’s widely acknowledged that Asmussen was unlucky not to win the 2022 Kentucky Derby. He sent out Epicenter to finish second as the 4-1 favorite to 80-1 Rich Strike.

Rich Strike is 0 for 5 since the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter would go on to win the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes and Grade I Travers Stakes en route to being voted a 2022 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

Gun Runner, Disarm’s sire, finished third to Nyquist and Exaggerator in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Gun Runner would go on to be voted 2017 Horse of the Year following a string of Grade I wins in the Stephen Foster Handicap, Whitney Stakes, Woodward Stakes and BC Classic.

Disarm is winless in three starts this year. But a closer look at the circumstances of those races suggests he should not be cavalierly dismissed in the Kentucky Derby.

In Disarm’s 2023 debut, he was returning from a long layoff and pretty much had no chance to catch a loose-on-the-early-lead Two Eagles River.

Next, Disarm actually did well to finish second in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby in that he had just one 2023 race under his belt and again he pretty much had no chance to catch a loose-on-the-early-lead Kingsbarns.

Disarm then started in the Grade III Lexington Stakes. At first glance, that seemed to be a disappointing performance. But the reason he was in the race was to just finish third or better, which would earn him sufficient points to get into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Thus, while Disarm did not finish first or second in the Lexington, the goal for him was achieved in that he finished third.

The way Disarm has looked in his training since the Lexington indicates to me that he is live in the Kentucky Derby as a 30-1 longshot on the morning line.

By the way, I think the best 3-year-old colt in the Asmussen barn might well be running in the first race on the Kentucky Derby card rather than Disarm. That’s Extra Anejo, who I remain sky high on.

Extra Anejo looked awesome when he won his career debut by 9 1/2 lengths at Keeneland last Oct. 13. As noted in his past performance line for that race, he “galloped.” Unfortunately, the $1.35 million auction purchase subsequently was sidelined. He reportedly had a small hind ankle chip that required surgery.

In Saturday’s first race at Churchill Downs, a 6 1/2-furlong allowance/optional claiming affair, Extra Anejo breaks from the rail as the 6-5 morning-line favorite. After Extra Anejo’s marvelous five-furlong drill in :59 at Churchill last Sunday (April 30), an usually fast time for an Asmussen trainee, it appears it’s all systems go for the Into Mischief colt off the bench.

However, it looks like Extra Anejo does have a tough foe in Federal Judge, who zipped six furlongs at Oaklawn Park on April 1 in 1:09.87 to win a maiden race by 4 1/2 lengths at first asking. He recorded a snazzy 97 Beyer Speed Figure. Rudy Brisset trains the 3-year-old colt, a son of the exceptionally swift Army Mule.

Federal Judge is the 2-1 second choice on the morning line in Saturday’s race.

CONFIDENCE GAME. Ranked No. 10. Post position 4. Morning Line 20-1. Jockey James Graham. Trainer Keith Desormeaux.

Confidence Game didn’t quite crack my Top 10, but I think he is intriguing. Granted, he’s coming off a 10-week layoff. But I have much respect for his trainer, Keith Desormeaux, who finished second with Exaggerator when Nyquist won the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

This will be Confidence Game’s first start since he splashed home to a one-length victory in the Grade II Rebel Stakes on Feb. 25. Not long after that race, Desormeaux said that he might train the Candy Ride colt up to the Kentucky Derby.

I think it helps Confidence Game that he figures to be racing forwardly early Saturday for jockey James Graham. Also, Confidence Game seems to have trained splendidly for this assignment, including a one-mile stamina-building workout in 1:38.20 at Churchill Downs on April 14, followed by a five-furlong bullet drill in :59.00 beneath the Twin Spires on April 29.

While Confidence Game sold for a mere $25,000 at public auction, keep in mind his dam, Eblouissante, is a half-sister Zenyatta, one of the greatest female Thoroughbreds of all time. In 2009, Zenyatta became the first -- and still only -- filly or mare to win the BC Classic. She was 19-0 before losing her career finale by a head when runner-up to Blame in the 2010 BC Classic.

Watch out for Confidence Game, who is 20-1 on the Kentucky Derby morning line.


I developed my Derby Strikes System (DSS) back in 1999. Its purpose is to try and identify those horses having the best chance to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives.

Various “rules” for the Kentucky Derby were quite popular for many years. A “Derby rule” meant that a horse needed to have done this or that, or not done this or that, in order to win the Kentucky Derby. But when many of the “Derby rules” were broken through the years, their popularity waned.

I think it’s the marriage of both the TACTICAL with the HISTORICAL that makes the Derby Strikes System better than any single “Derby rule.”

A number of the categories in the Derby Strikes System are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. Thus, when the 2020 running was changed from May 2 to Sept. 5 because of COVID, the Derby Strikes System was unworkable that year. But when the Kentucky Derby returned to its traditional date of the first Saturday in May in 2021 and 2022, the Derby Strikes System again was viable.

The DSS consists of eight categories. When a horse does not qualify in one of the eight categories, the horse receives a strike.

The eight categories are listed further below in this blog.

History shows that a horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. According to the DSS, excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (40 out of 49) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.

The eight Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018), Country House (2019) and Rich Strike (2022).

Only one horse, Mine That Bird in 2009, has had more than two strikes. He had four.


Both Sun Thunder and Rocket Can are listed to have blinkers added to their equipment for the Kentucky Derby. Neither colt has raced with blinkers previously.

Category 6 in my Derby Strikes System has to do with blinkers. A horse gets a strike if blinkers are added or removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby. The reason for this strike is if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer generally would not be tinkering with equipment so late in the game. Going all the way back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.

Sun Thunder and Rocket Can do not get a strike for adding blinkers in the Kentucky Derby. Why? Because the Derby Strikes System is designed to determine a horse’s chances of winning the Kentucky Derby based on his or her races BEFORE the Kentucky Derby.

While Sun Thunder and Rocket Can are listed to have blinkers added for the Kentucky Derby and it’s probably going to happen, that’s not set in stone. There are countless examples of a horse having an equipment change of blinkers on or off listed in the past performances, yet it doesn’t happen.

Even though Sun Thunder and Rocket Can don’t get a strike for adding blinkers Saturday, the principle is the same in that if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, a trainer typically would not be tinkering with the horse’s equipment so late in the game.

Sun Thunder officially has two strikes, while Rocket Can officially has one strike.

If Sun Thunder and Rocket Can do in fact add blinkers in the Kentucky Derby, I will consider it being an unofficial strike for them both.

The strikes for the Kentucky Derby entrants are listed below:


Angel of Empire
Derma Sotogake
Hit Show
Tapit Trice


Confidence Game (Category 5)
Forte (Category 3)
Kingsbarns (Category 7)
Lord Miles (Category 3)
Raise Cain (Category 5)
Reincarnate (Category 4)
Rocket Can (Category 5)
Two Phil’s (Category 4)


Cyclone Mischief (Categories 2 and 4)
Disarm (Categories 2 and 3)
Jace’s Road (Categories 2 and 4)
Mandarin Hero (Categories 1 and 2)
Skinner (Categories 2 and 3)
Sun Thunder (Categories 2 and 3)
Verifying (Categories 2 and 4)


Continuar (Categories 2, 3 and 4)
King Russell (Categories 1, 2 and 3)
Mage (Categories 2, 4 and 7)


Because stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973, I can’t go further back than that year when calculating the number of strikes for Kentucky Derby winners. That’s because two of my eight categories deal with graded stakes races.

Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. Country House was declared the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But Medina Spirit was disqualified due to testing positive for traces of betamethasone, a medication that is legal to use but not on race day.

The strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are listed below:

2022 Rich Strike (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3)
2021 Mandaloun (1 strike) Category 4*
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3**
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)

*Medina Spirit (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified from purse money

**Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and placed 17th


With this year’s Kentucky Derby attracting additional attention because of it being the 50th anniversary of Secretariat, the strikes in my Derby Strikes System for each of the 13 runners in that renewal are listed below:


Angle Light (0 strikes)
Our Native (1 strike, Category 4)
Restless Jet (1 strike, Category 1)
Royal and Regal (1 strike, Category 4)
Secretariat (0 strikes)
Sham (0 strikes)
Twice a Prince (1 strike, Category 7)

My Gallant (Categories 3 and 4)
Shecky Greene (Categories 4 and 5)

Forego (Categories 2, 7 and 8)
Gold Bag (Categories 2, 4 and 5)
Navajo (Categories 1, 2 and 3)
Warbucks (Categories 1, 2 and 3)


What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:

1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Going back to the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)

2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003, Giacomo in 2005 and Rich Strike in 2022 are the only exceptions going back to the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)

3. THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 56 of the last 60 Kentucky Derby winners through 2022 have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only four Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; Animal Kingdom, third a furlong out in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; and Rich Strike, third with a furlong to go in 2022. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second a furlong from the finish in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990, Sea Hero in 1993 and Rich Strike in 2022, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)

4. THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 and Mandaloun in 2021, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)

5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)

6. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Going back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)

7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Going back to 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old now are a combined 1 for 67 in the Kentucky Derby through 2022. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)

8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)


Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 286 Elite Power (24)
 2. 195 Proxy (3)
 3. 192 Art Collector (4)
 4. 168 Clairiere
 5. 138 West Will Power
 6. 131 Stilleto Boy
 7. 111 Last Samurai
 8. 110 Defunded
 9.   88 Goodnight Olive
10.   79 Secret Oath


Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 321 Forte (28)
 2. 269 Tapit Trice (2)
 3. 245 Angel of Empire
 4. 244 Practical Move (1)
 5. 173 Kingsbarns (1)
 6. 106 Derma Sotogake (1)
 7.   83 Verifying
 8.   77 Two Phil’s
 9.   65 Mage
10.   64 Confidence Game

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