07 May 2005, Louisville, Kentucky, USA --- The field of 20 horses round the first turn during the 131st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Winner, Giacomo, ridden by Mike E. Smith, is on the far left in the pink and green silks. --- Image by © Steve Boyle/NewSport/Corbis

Can Forte hold off the field in the Kentucky Derby!!!


The Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports. It’s a statement that has been in place for years and is one that is validated each year when the first Saturday in May rolls around.

That’s Saturday, May 6 in 2023! At 3:57 p.m. PDT when the gate opens and the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place and two minutes later, another race that will be talked about for the next year will be in the books.

If you haven’t seen one of my in depth previews before, get ready for one of the most complete previews you will see, as we dissect every horse in the field.

As of Friday morning, four horses have scratched from the original 20-horse field. Skinner, Practical Move, Lord Miles, and Continuar have been scratched, with Cyclone Mischief, Mandarin Hero, and King Russell have gotten spots in the race. Because only three horses were on the ‘also eligible’ list, the field – as of Friday morning – is 19.

We start with the Favorites and how they got to that status. Next up comes the Value Plays, the runners, while not the favorites, certainly warrant a look as possibly the best bets for your money. That is followed by Longshots, which of course are some of the longer priced shots on the board and just don’t look like they have what it takes to win. Finally, our last category is Not Going to Pull A Rich Strike, named after the 2022 Derby winner Rich Strike that went off a 80-1 and won the race. That won’t happen with these runners.

Let’s go through the field.



Forte (Todd Pletcher, trainer/Irad Ortiz Jr., jockey/3-1): The deserving favorite. After losing his second career start – his first graded stakes start – back in July, he has not lost since, running off five straight. After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, he was off until March. He has returned to win the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby. The Florida Derby score was amazing as he was fifth, over two-lengths out as they turned for home. The dramatic stretch run saw Forte get up late for the win in a race he had no business winning. That heart is what makes Derby winners and is something that cannot be trained. An amazing run. Will come from off the pace and needs good positioning as 11 horses are easier to navigate than 18.

Angel of Empire (Brad Cox/Flavian Prat/8-1): After finishing second in the Smarty Jones back in January, he has come back to win the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds at 13-1, then followed up back at Oaklawn, winning the Arkansas Derby by over four lengths. Another hard closer that seems able to find that high gear rather quickly. Will be interesting to see with a lot of high powered closers, who gets a clear lane and first run. Will get a lot of love at the betting windows.

Tapit Trice (Pletcher/Luis Saez/5-1): One of the Pletcher army, this one came through what appears to be an easier route, winning the Tampa Bay Derby and the Blue Grass. Those two are his lone stakes races at this point. Lightly raced but does show he can sit close or come from well back. He looked done in the Tampa race but hit the nitrous in the lane and ran down the field.


Dermo Sotogake (Hidetaka Otonashi/Christophe Lemaire/10-1): This figures to be one of the wise-guy horses and I figure he will get bet well. I usually take the winner of the UAE Derby and toss them out because of the travel so close to the race. Not this year. He was so much the best in the UAE and has been training well. Let’s be honest, the Japanese horses have been so strong around the world, it could be time for one to take the Derby. I will take a stand against here but could pay for it.

Verifying (Cox/Tyler Gaffalione/15-1): I don’t think any chance on the win end, but he certainly could find his way on to a winning exotics ticket. Ran a solid race in the Blue Grass, chasing the front runner around the track. Took the lead for a second in the lane but got passed late by Tapit Trice. Could see a Derby trip where he runs around the top four throughout the race, then hangs on for a minor share.

Two Phil’s (Larry Rivelli/Jareth Loveberry/12-1): Looked like a champ in the Jeff Ruby but that was the first win since last October. A second in the Lecomte and a third in the Risen Star are sandwiched in between the two races. The Jeff Ruby was not the toughest field, but that was an impressive move mid-race. Will look at others.

Kingsbarns (Pletcher/Jose Ortiz/12-1): Probably the most unknown quantity in the field. Made his first start Jan. 14 and has won all three career starts, all pretty much on the front end. The only graded stakes was the Louisiana Derby where he set the pace and drew off winning by over three lengths. Figures to be on or near the lead, and if it is an easy lead, may be tough one to run down in the lane. Serious spot on all my tickets.

Mage (Gustavo Delgado/Javier Castellano/15-11): Have heard from many that if you like Forte, then you must like Mage at much more value. That comes from the Florida Derby where he made a late, big run, taking the lead in the lane before getting run down by Forte in the final strides. There is only three starts in his resume, a solid win in the debut, followed by a troubled trip in the Fountain of Youth where he ended fourth. The Florida Derby run is intriguing. If that was the real Mage – go back and watch the race – then he is a must on all tickets. The move was so big and effortless that I could not help but be a fan. But he is so inexperienced that his fourth career start could be a step backwards in such a big field that unless you get a ride like Rich Strike last year, you are not getting through 19 horses. I have a lot of confidence that Castellano will give a great ride, but how much will he have to use to get position.

Jace’s Road (Cox/Florent Geroux/15-1): Not big on this one but others whom I respect seem to think there is a chance. Not sure where the love comes from. Got used by Kingsbarns in the Louisiana Derby as he tried to keep pace with the front runners, then faded in the lane. Before that was fifth in the Southwest against some runners that are not in this field. Two wins in six career starts with some of those starts not coming against a field not even half as strong as here. A toss out for me.

Mandarin Hero (Kazushi Kimura/Terunobu Fujita/20-1): There were a lot of people who hoped this horse scratched into the race, which happened Thursday. After the first start in the United States – the Santa Anita Derby – it’s easy to see why. Sitting in the middle of the pack, he waited until the top of the lane to go and ended up second, a nose behind Practical Move, a horse that scratched Thursday afternoon. The third Japanese horse in the race, but there are plenty may be the best of the lot at this point.


Alright, here are the key horses if you want that healthy ticket to cash. Can they win? Perhaps some, but they can surely run in the top four, sending the vertical tickets possibly to the IRS window!

Hit Show (Cox/Manny Franco/30-0): Two wins and a second in last three starts, but they all came in New York preps, of which I am not a big fan. Horses that stay and train in New York deal with much tougher winters, something that must take a toll overall. These can be some big runners as the summer rolls on but May seems a little early. This is why you see trainers like Pletcher or Cox send so many of their horses south to Florida, or even New Orleans. Also is breaking from the rail, another bad sign. On the positive, doesn’t need the lead so you could just fall back on the break and pick a nice stalking position. If he finds some clear running, may get the first run on the closers. Probably not for me.

Rocket Can (William Mott/Junior Alvarado/15-1): After a pair of solid runs in Florida – first in the Holy Bull, second in Fountain of Youth – the connections chose the Arkansas Derby, rather than face Forte in the Florida Derby. The result was a sluggish fourth where he seemed neutral throughout much of the race. I will look elsewhere.

Raise Cain (Ben Colebrook/Gerardo Corrales/15-1): Not sure why this one rates a 15-1 morning line. He looks more like a 30-1 runner. Has one win since his maiden win back in October and that came at 24-1 in the Gotham. Came back in the Blue Grass and finished a well-beaten fifth, running wide throughout in only an 11-horse field. Not sure where the love is coming from.

Reincarnate (Yakteen/John Velazquez/50-1): This my headscratcher for the race. First, I do not think he goes off anywhere close to 50-1. That’s not to say he has a shot to win the race, but there are other horses with better morning line odds that do not deserve them. He looked great in winning the Sham early in January, but then had a pair of thirds, first in the Rebel, then in Arkansas Derby. There just didn’t seem to be too much at the end of either start, and now in the Derby faces added distance.

Cyclone Mischief (Dale Romans/Joel Rosario/30-1): Solid runs but easily handled in the last two starts – the Fountain of Youth, followed by the Florida Derby. Both races saw him third to Forte, but he was beaten by three lengths in the Florida Derby and over five lengths in the FOY. Two wins in seven starts.



Confidence Game (Keith Desormeaux/James Graham/20-1): Has been off since winning the Rebel on February 25at 19-1. The track was sloppy that day and if it was expected to rain on the Derby, he might be worth an extended look. Has had some nice works over the track and does have a pair of wins over the surface – a maiden score and an optional claimer. Perhaps you want to make a case, but I choose to toss out.

Disarm (Steve Asmussen/Joel Rosario/30-1): That was a nice run in the Louisiana Derby, finishing second after a nice closing run. Then came the Lexington where he ran third against a field that was not very strong. Now he turns for his third race in like six weeks, and only three weeks after the Lexington. Just think it would be a huge ask leading to hope to my belief he probably should not run in the race.

Sun Thunder (Kenneth McPeek/Brian Hernandez/30-1): There is one win in six starts, that coming in a maiden race back in December. The second place run in the Risen Star, finishing behind only Angel of Empire was solid and looked good. Very mediocre efforts in the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass left me not feeling too good about his chances. Looks way over his head in here.

King Russell (Ron Moquett/Rafael Bejarano/50-1): Did not win until his fifth start, then followed that with a second place finish in the Arkansas Derby at almost 60-1. The furious finish leaves the question – “did a light go off finally or was it a one off.” I’ll go with the one off.


So, what happens when the gate opens?

Yep, that’s the question to be sure. I have run the race through my head several times, seeing a lot of different scenarios playing out.

The one factor you can’t envision is the horse turning right or left out of the gate, putting other horses’ chances way behind in the first steps of the race.

You also cannot plan for a horse to move in front of another runner suddenly, forcing a horse to check and disrupt their momentum.

You put toGether a ticket based on the information right in front of you but always knowing it can all be gone in a matter of seconds.

Here is what I am playing, and then praying my horses have unimpeded trips!


I can’t move past Forte – the favorite – as the one to beat. He has done everything asked of him and even won the Florida Derby in a race where he had every excuse to lose. The horse does not want to get beat. This is where my win money will go, but I will box him in the exacta and trifecta wagers as it could get messy from here.

Something that occurs every year in the 20-horse field is there are jockeys riding one of the contenders – a horse likely on your ticket – that know they are not going to win by the time they hit the stretch, and they will lay off the horse, rather than beat the crap out of the runner for no better than 7th place. They know the horse has a bright future, but just didn’t have it in the Derby.

Conversely, there are higher priced horses that had no chance to win, that will see their jockeys keep working to get the horse a top 10 finish. It’s something they can have in their resumes for the rest of their lives – a top 10 finish in the Derby.

These are the emotional roller coasters of the stretch run that can make or break a big ticket and leave you with lasting memories or nightmares!

So, we have Forte on the win end, but who do we throw underneath – or in a box?

I think here the top horses by virtue of the tote are the best horses in the field and leaving them out of your ticket would very likely be your undoing.

To start I am adding Angel of Empire, Kingsbarns, and Tapit Trice to the ticket.

Angel of Empire is one monster of a horse at the end and will be a factor in the race for the line. Throw out the one turf effort in his career and he has four wins in five starts, with a second place finish as the non-winning race.

Kingsbarns may turn out to be the best of this lot by the end of the year as he comes in with just three starts. Will be on or near the lead and should have a clean lane when they turn for home.

I was on the fringe of leaving Tapit Trice off the ticket, but every time I looked at the charts, all that would come to mind is – why? The horse just keeps winning. I am hoping to see a little closer to the pace to avoid weaving through most of the field.

I have to add price-horses to the mix that I think have a shot at hitting the top three, and that adds Mandarin Hero and Reincarnate.

I heard so much buzz surrounding Mandarin Hero heading into the Santa Anita Derby and by the loss by a nose to Practical Move, everything I heard was validated. The horse bumped twice during the race, easily costing the horse a nose.

Finally, the big ticket item will be Reincarnate. The horse may only have two wins in seven starts, but I don’t need him to win, just finish in the top three, something he has done in all seven starts. This horse loves to compete, usually sitting close to the pace. In the one start where he got shuffled to the back, fought to get back and finished third when he could have easily finished 7-10th.

The cost for the tickets – A $1, 6-horse box for an exacta is $30. A 6-horse box for the trifecta on a $.50 bet, is a $60 bet. These are not wise bets in your normal 10-12 horse field, but with a 19-horse field, the payoffs can get big time.

Enjoy another great race and good luck with your wagers.

By Dennis Miller