And down the stretch they come!

It is time for the most exciting two minutes in sports as we are ready for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby!

The race is set for Saturday and is the 12th race on the Derby Day card. Post time is scheduled for 3:57 p.m. PDT.

Over the years I have gotten extensive in my preview, looking at every single horse in the race, giving my honest thoughts on their prep races and their chances to win.

What it does for me is eliminate the chance of overlooking something in one of the horses. By looking at everything it allows me to be fully confident of my selections before making a bet.

I have also had readers thank me for being so thorough in that can validate their feelings on certain horses and protects them from missing something.

As usual, I will place the horses into groups that reflect my feelings if they have a chance to win.


Sierra Leone (Chad Brown/Tyler Gaffalione/3-1) is a horse I like very much. I love watching those stretch runs when someone comes from the back and weaves through the field. It does make me nervous that if he chooses to sit in the back he will have 19 horses – some who will be unpredictable in the lane – to go by. That win in the Blue Grass was ultra-impressive given that he fought being loaded into the gate. The No. 2 draw doesn’t make me worry as it will be easy to take the horse back and stay out of trouble. Absolutely will close from the parking lot. Big player

Fierceness (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez/5-2) is your morning line favorite. The 2-year-old champ was on the shelf for three months following the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win and came back to run third in the Holy Bull.

If there was any doubt as to his talent, he put it to rest with a resounding 13-length win in the Florida Derby. It was a visually stunning win, but he did get the ideal trip with modest splits, leaving him with a full tank of gas for the lane. He will get pressured on the front end here. That doesn’t mean he can’t wire the field, but it will be interesting to see how fast they go and if it will set up for the deep closers.

Can Get There

Catching Freedom (Brad Cox/Flavian Prat/8-1) is getting a lot of talk this week. He was third to Sierra Leone in the Risen Star and when the winner came north for the Blue Grass, he took full advantage, crossing the line first in the Louisiana Derby. I think he is a notch below Sierra Leone but this closer sits a little bit tighter to the leaders so won’t have as many horses to pass. I would be shocked if he was more than 4-1 when the gates open.

Just a Touch (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux/10-1) might be the most lightly raced horses that I think could win the race. Three career starts and all have been quality. Will be leading or pressing the pace meaning the key will be not getting locked in a speed duel with other speed horses. A quick pace will set up for the bevy of closers like Sierra Leone, who ran down Just a Touch in the Bluegrass. If the Derby turns into a tactical race, I believe you must look here, at the very least as part of your ticket. Speed figures have gotten better each start, and he could be sitting on a big one.

Value Plays

Stronghold (Philip D’Amato/Antonio Fresu/20-1) is easily my favorite value play this year. I don’t usually endorse a winner of the Sunland Derby, but this guy came back to win the Santa Anita Derby, showing a ton of heart to hold off Bob Baffert’s Imagination.

Those types of guts cannot be trained – either a horse has it or they don’t. He’s got it.

Turned in a big work at Santa Anita on April 20 before shipping back to Kentucky. This one reminds me of Thunder Gulch, a horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 1995 at 24-1.

Mystik Dan (Kenny McPeek/Brian Hernandez Jr./20) is an intriguing runner that if it’s rainy on race day, you will need to make sure you have somewhere on your ticket. His 8-length win on a muddy Oaklawn track was awesome. He came back in the Arkansas Derby on a fast track and ran third behind Muth – Bob Baffert’s top 3-year-old – and Just Steel. Big work on April 20 over the Churchill track, then followed with a solid maintenance work.


Dornoch (Danny Gargan/Luis Saez/20-1) was a disappointing fourth in the Florida Derby, going off at 5-1. He appeared to come up empty when asked. He didn’t get the break he needed and was not able to go to his front running style that he used to win the Fountain of Youth. In fact, all three of his wins have come from the front end. Not happy with the rail draw but if he is pushed early, he could be an influence on Fierceness that figures to be crashing in from the outside at the break.

Catalytic (Saffie Joseph/Jose Ortiz/30-1) was the second-place finisher in the Florida Derby although that means he was 13-lengths back of Fierceness. I have read some chatter on X that this might be the wise guy horse and at 30-1, it would be tempting but I can’t get out of my head what Fierceness did to him in Florida.

Just Steel (D Wayne Lukas/Keith Asmussen/20-1) is one I would like to see run well for Lukas and his last race – a second in the Arkansas Derby was a big one. But in the Rebel, he was 7th, beaten by 10 lengths. In the Arkansas Derby he went off 32-1 and there was a reason for that. He has won 2-of-11 starts but suppose he could get up and run third or fourth for the trifecta or the super.

Honor Marie (D. Whitworth Beckham/Ben Curtis/20-1) is another that had a big close in the Louisiana Derby but got outkicked by Catching Freedom, finishing second by a length. The race before in the Risen Star he had the misfortune of trying to close better than Sierra Leone but got better than fifth. Will be interesting to see if the connections keep him closer so he can get first run on Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom. Trying to close alongside those two hasn’t worked so time to try something new.

Forever Young (Yoshito Yahagi/Ryusei Sakai/10-1) was the winner of the UAE Derby and that means he’s a toss for me. One day the winner of the UAE will ship in and win the Kentucky Derby but it’s not going to be this year. I believe it’s too big of an ask for a horse to run in the Middle East in late March, then ship to the United States and race a little over a month later. If the race was a month earlier, then maybe.

Track Phantom (Steve Asmussen/Joel Rosario/20-1) is a horse I was very big on after he won the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds back in January. His front running style was very appealing, but as the races got longer, he didn’t seem to appreciate the increased distance. In the Risen Star, Sierra Leone blew by him late to get the win, then in the Louisiana Derby it was Catching Freedom turning the trick. I thought he would scratch the Derby and run in the Pat Day Mile earlier on Derby Day. I think he will be a big-time miler and respect the connections for taking a chance. I think the best possible scenario is he doesn’t get caught in a freakish pace, then holds on for a spot in the top four. He just looked like he was going backwards at the end of his last start, and now he gets added distance.

Endlessly (Michael McCarthy/Umberto Rispoli/30-1) is a horse that screams to run on the turf. He has five wins in six starts and not one has come on the dirt. In fact, Endlessly has not even started on the dirt. Three of the wins have come on the grass with the other two on synthetic surfaces. The big one came at Turfway Park in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, a Grade II race that got the horse into the Derby Field. I thought this horse was going to the American Turf on the Derby undercard. The connections wanted a Derby runner so here we are. Barring an upset win, this will likely be his last – and only dirt start. He did win the El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields which got him a berth in the Preakness, so we may see a second dirt race.

Domestic Product (Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz/30-1) is a horse where I love the connections but just don’t love the horse. Won the Tampa Bay Derby with a lunge at the finish. It was one of the weirdest races I have seen as the tote went down and after a lengthy delay for the start, the race was run as a non-wagering race. Did finish a spot in front of Fierceness in the Holy Bull, but that was the first start after a lengthy layoff for the Derby favorite.

Epic Ride (John Ennis/Adam Beschizza/30-1) the last horse to draw into the field when Encino scratched. Ran an even third in the Blue Grass at 51-1. He chased Just a Touch throughout the race, then both got passed by Sierra Leone.

He could warrant a look based on his ability to stay close to the front leaving a lot fewer horses to work through. My big concern would be that in the lane in the Bluegrass he didn’t look like he had the gear to go by anyone.

There is a sense of irony that he gets in by Encino scratching. Encino was the horse that outkicked him in the Battaglia in March at Turfway Park.

Resilience (Bill Mott/Junior Alvarado/20-1) is a horse that has bounced around during his six-race career.  He started at Saratoga, went to Churchill Dowds, then to Gulfstream, the Fair Grounds, and finally Aqueduct.

After running fourth in the Risen Star behind three horses that are in the Derby it looks like the decision was made to go from Louisiana to New York and the Wood Memorial as it would be a softer spot than trying the Louisiana Derby.

The move paid off big time as Resilience won the Wood at 9-2 odds and got the 100 qualifying points that came with the win, guaranteeing a Derby spot.

He does have a pair of starts over Churchill with a second and a third in straight maiden races on his resume. He stalks the pace and then tries to pounce in the lane. I have a hard time endorsing as there are three horses that have run at the Fair Grounds that are better runners.

Stay Out of the Way

T O Password (Daisuke Takayanagi/Kazushi Kimura/30-1) never been a fan of horses that ship in from outside the United States and I am not starting now. He has two career starts and here I am hoping the horse stays out of the way of the contenders and does not cause any issues. Might be a horse that is sent hard out of the gate.

Grand Mo the First (Victor Barboza Jr/Emisael Jaramillo/50-1) drew into the field and is a horse that excels at running third, picking up the show money in all three starts this year. The races have gotten better each time but there is a good reason the horse is 50-1.

West Saratoga (Larry Demeritte/Jesus Castanon/50-1) came out of nowhere to run second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at 36-1. He sits closer to the pace than the other late runners, almost in a stalking position. What concerns me the most here is that he might get in the way of the big closers, forcing them to check up or bounce outside, altering their momentum.

Society Man (Danny Gargan/Frankie Dettori/50-1) ran second to Resilience in the Wood at 106-1. His lone win came in a straight maiden race in the mud at Aqueduct. One big positive is Frankie Dettori takes the mount which means he should be able to keep the horse out of trouble.

My tickets: I am going to play Sierra Leone on the win end. I really think it’s a two-horse race for the win between Sierra Leone and Fierceness. After that I need to get some price horses in to enhance the payoffs.

For the exacta I will play 2-17 with 2-4-8-17-18. On a $1 exacta that is an $8 wager.

In the trifecta I will play 2-17 with 2-4-8-17-18 with 2-4-8-17-18. On a $.50 cent trifecta that is a $6 wager.

As long as Sierra Leone or Fierceness wins the Derby, I feel very confident on getting some nice wins on the exotics!

By Dennis Miller