TDN Derby Top 20: Final Answers

Here are the final TDN Top 20 rankings, listed in “likeliest winner” order for the main field (also-eligibles noted separately below).

1) PRACTICAL MOVE (c, Practical Joke–Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex) O-Leslie & Pierre Jean Amestoy & Roger Beasley; B-Chad Brown & Head of Plains Partners (KY); T-Tim Yakteen. Sales history: $90,000 RNA yrl ’21 KEESEP; $230,000 2yo ’22 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: GISW, 7-4-1-2, $884,200. Last Start: 1st Apr. 8 GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Morning Line Odds: 10-1.

Practical Move rates as the likeliest winner of the Derby and represents a sound investment at anything close to his 10-1 odds as co-fourth choice on the morning line.

Turn the clock back five months to when this son of Practical Joke was disregarded at the same price in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity. He upset the field with a sustained inside move, then continued his winning ways into 2023 by surging up the rail twice more for assertive, back-to-back scores in the GII San Felipe S. and GI Santa Anita Derby.

A strapping sort who is not easily discouraged, Practical Move at age two started five times over four months, but ran into a combination of hot competition and bad racing luck. He didn’t even cross the wire first until the Los Al Futurity, having been put up on DQ in one of his three trip-troubled MSW races.

Since then he’s led all Derby contenders with the two fastest 1 1/16-miles qualifying stakes in 2022-23, running a full :1.04 seconds faster than the third-fastest time. In the Santa Anita Derby, his winning clocking there was also quickest of all the nine-furlong stakes preps. He earned 100 Beyer Speed Figures for both efforts.

But it’s not just the numbers. Practical Move has more than enough tactical speed to be placed within the first flight, which is a plus in a 20-horse race. And he has repeatedly demonstrated he doesn’t shy from slicing through tight passages while keeping ample torque in reserve to sustain his stretch bids.

2) FORTE (c, Violence–Queen Caroline, by Blame) ‘TDN Rising Star’ O-Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable; B-South Gate Farm (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $80,000 Wlg ’20 KEENOV; $110,000 Ylg ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt, MGISW, 7-6-0-0, $1,833,230. Last start: 1st GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Apr. 1. Morning Line Odds: 3-1.

‘TDN Rising Star’ and 2-year-old champ Forte arrives at the Derby commanding 3-1 morning-line favoritism after an authoritative victory in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and having sailed through a two-race sophomore prep season.

What we saw at age two was a level-headed colt capable of carving out fortuitous trips while uncorking precise, far-turn bids and leaving the impression there was more in the tank.

What Forte has delivered at age three are wins in the GII Fountain of Youth S. (in which he always had an overmatched field at his mercy) and in the weak-on-paper GI Florida Derby (where Forte looked beaten on the far turn, yet snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, gliding home with his ears pricked).

There’s no question this 6-for-7 son of Violence merits respect. But how much improvement he’s made in the last six months is difficult to quantify.

In neither sophomore stakes did Forte fight A-list competition, and his inability to attain a forward position through the first turn of the Florida Derby forced Irad Ortiz, Jr., to call an off-the-pace audible that might be harder to execute in a crowded race like the Derby.

In addition, Forte’s Beyers have backslid, from 100 in last November’s Breeders’ Cup to 98 and then 95. It’s tough enough to win the Juvenile and then the Derby–only two horses have done it in 38 years (Nyquist and Street Sense). It will be even more difficult for a colt who has declined numerically from age two to three.

We might end up finding out Forte’s athletic mojo renders speed numbers and historical comparisons meaningless. He’s a “push-button” horse who willingly jumps into the bit, and he relishes reeling in the competition. Just because we’ve yet to see the full-tilt version of Forte at age three doesn’t mean we won’t be treated to it on Derby day.

3) SKINNER (c, Curlin–Winding Way, by Malibu Moon) O-C R K Stable LLC; B-Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC (Ky); T-John Shirreffs. Sales history: $40,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP; $510,000 2yo ’22 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: MGISP, 6-1-0-3, $216,300. Last Start: 3rd GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby Apr. 8. Morning Line Odds: 20-1.

For Skinner, there will be no shortage of pre-race comparisons to the late-striding Giacomo, who, off just a maiden win, was trained to a 50-1 Derby upset in 2005 by John Shirreffs. This colt is attempting the same pattern for the same conditioner.

But Skinner belongs in the Derby on his own merits. And he belongs this high in the rankings because, as a 20-1 shot, he represents a sweet spot in value where his considerable upside is likely not to be reflected in the mutuels.

This son of Curlin has been a patient work in progress for Shirreffs, with an eye toward longer races. Skinner twice raced as a maiden against Grade I company last year, then after a four-month break came back with discernibly more far-turn punch.

A maiden win at a mile followed by a pair of thirds behind No. 1-ranked Practical Move has Skinner poised for further progression while riding a 95-94-99 Beyer arc. He was only beaten half a length in the Santa Anita Derby, rallying wide while the winner drove inside.

As part of a stated strategy of wanting to save more ground after a series of loop-the-group rides, Shirreffs is taking a chance by replacing Victor Espinoza (and his experience of three Derby wins) with Juan Hernandez, who has never had a Derby mount, but has been tearing up the SoCal standings since relocating to that circuit in 2020.

4) VERIFYING (c, Justify–Diva Delite, by Repent) O-Westerberg, Mrs John Magnier, Jonathan Poulin, Derrick Smith & Michael Tabor; B-Hunter Valley & Mountmellick Farm (Ky); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $775,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGISP, 6-2-2-0, $489,900. Last start: 2nd GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland Apr. 8. Morning Line Odds: 15-1.

Post two in a field of 20 doesn’t compromise Verifying as much as it might have hurt others in this year’s Derby. But the inner draw almost certainly compels his participation as a pacemaker.

Verifying has never outbroken the field in six races, but he’s usually second or third out of the gate, and will have to leverage that quickness to escape the inevitable inside crowding.

This May 11 foal is a half-brother to 2019 champion distaffer Midnight Bisou. He’s had a few growing pains at age three by not being able to put together back-to-back strong races, but a little polishing in the aftermath of his tenacious second in the GI Blue Grass S, just a neck behind ‘TDN Rising Star’ Tapit Trice (Tapit), puts this colt in it to win it.

In the Blue Grass, Verifying broke forwardly, conceded the lead, then re-seized control five-sixteenths out. Bracing for the quarter-pole challenge of favored Tapit Trice, Gaffalione deftly floated that favorite to the five path, then the two colts slugged down the length of the Keeneland stretch, bumping and brushing with Verifying twice clawing back the lead before Tapit Trice snatched it away at the wire. The two co-earned 99 Beyers.

5) TAPIT TRICE (c, Tapit–Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) ‘TDN Rising Star. O-Whisper Hill Farm LLC and Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck); B-Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd. (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $1,300,000 Ylg ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 5-4-0-1, $100,150. Last start: 1st GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland Apr. 8. Morning Line Odds: 5-1.

If these rankings were intended to reflect which colt might end up at the top of the crop by the end of the year, this ‘TDN Rising Star’ by Tapit would be rated higher than No. 5. He has a bullish demeanor, is capable of sustaining a prolonged run from six furlongs out, and has the look of a take-no-prisoners heavyweight who could get scary-good with a little more seasoning.

Unfortunately for Tapit Trice, the purpose of this assessment is to gauge his ability to negotiate a field of 20 in a historically chaotic race that is traditionally not kind to deep closers.

Considering that Tapit Trice has been so slow into stride leaving the gate that jockey Luis Saez has had to scrub on him to get going in both two-turn tries, the fear of this colt’s come-from-the-clouds tactics working against him in the Derby are very real.

In all four of his victories, Tapit Trice has given up ground and come around horses to win. He rumbled to victory from off the tailgate when vastly outclassing the field at 1-2 odds in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby, and looked beaten five-sixteenths out in the Blue Grass S. before outmuscling a determined Verifying.

In that Keeneland race, Tapit Trice closed with authority through a final furlong timed in :12.40, which is the fastest final eighth in the Blue Grass since Keeneland switched back to dirt in the fall of 2014.

6) REINCARNATE (c, Good Magic–Allanah, by Scat Daddy) O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital LLC & Catherine Donovan; B-Woods Edge Farm (KY); Tim Yakteen. Sales history: $775,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 6-2-3-1, $231,900. Last Start: 3rd in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Apr. 1. Morning Line Odds: 50-1.

Reincarnate at 50-1 is a price that really leaps out on the morning line. This long-striding son of Good Magic has the speed-oriented profile that wins Derbies, and he’ll be ridden by John Velazquez, America’s premier big-money rider when partnering with horses that can control the pace. Velazquez has crossed the finish wire first in three of the last six Derbies. All were on frontrunners. One was 12-1 and another was 8-1.

Reincarnate has never been out of the money from seven starts, all at a mile or longer. He debuted on grass at Del Mar and Santa Anita, transitioned to dirt, and broke through with a 95-Beyer win in the GIII Sham S. Jan. 8, after which Velazquez said he was “still learning how to run.”

In the Feb. 25 GII Rebel S., Reincarnate caught a sloppy, sealed track for the first time. Shuffled at the start, he advanced into contention, then lost momentum late when checking out of a tight spot. He finished third (90 Beyer).

Reincarnate enjoyed a no-excuse stalking trip in the GI Arkansas Derby, but couldn’t capitalize on that ideal setup. He was second and bearing down on a sacrificial speedster, but never flashed true spark, managing third (86 Beyer).

7) KINGSBARNS (c, Uncle Mo–Lady Tapit, by Tapit) O-Spendthrift Farm; B-Parks Investment Group (KY); Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $250,000 yrl ’21 FTSAR; $800,000 2yo ’22 FTMAR. Lifetime Record: 3-3-0-0, $657,300. Last Start: 1st GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Mar. 25. Morning Line Odds: 12-1.

This 3-for-3 son of Uncle Mo led at every call through moderate fractions and light pressure to wire the GII Louisiana Derby by 3 1/2 lengths.

Although light on experience, Kingsbarns is developing a no-nonsense way of carrying himself, and will ride an upward Beyer progression (74-85-95) into a Derby where he will almost certainly have to find seven or eight more points of improvement to win.

Only two horses have won the Louisiana Derby and then the Kentucky Derby: Grindstone in 1996 and Black Gold in 1924.

From 1900 to the present, nine horses have attempted the Derby with exactly 3-for-3 records. Justify (2018), Big Brown (2008) and the filly Regret (1915) were the only ones to emerge from the Derby with undefeated status intact.

8) DISARM (c, Gun Runner–Easy Tap, by Tapit) ‘TDN Rising Star. O/B-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (KY); T-Steve Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-1-2-1, $290,350. Last Start: 3rd in the GIII Lexington S. at Keeneland Apr. 15. Morning  Line Odds: 30-1.

‘TDN Rising Star’ Disarm didn’t have the most favorable timing or circumstances leading up to the Derby. But this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred made the cut, and is highly likeable based on potential alone.

Disarm debuted while still green at Churchill last June, broke out with a MSW win at Saratoga, then was then shelved until a second-place try in a Feb. 19 Oaklawn allowance. He was second again, with inside trip trouble, in the Louisiana Derby. On both occasions he tried to rally against the grain of speed-conducive tracks.

To ensure he had enough qualifying points, Disarm started in the Apr. 15 GIII Lexington S. and secured third without being asked for an all-out effort.

“He’s a very durable horse and I think the best is yet to come from him,” trainer Steve Asmussen said Tuesday. “I think it’s very obvious that the major players in this year’s race lack a lot of early speed. I see a lot of jockeying in the first eighth of a mile.”

9) HIT SHOW (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Actress, by Tapit) O/B-Gary & Mary West (KY); T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-3-1-0, $404,375. Last Start: 2nd in GII Wood Memorial S. at Aqueduct Apr. 8. Morning Line Odds: 30-1.

Hit Show had been ranked as highly as No. 3 on this list after his second-place try in the roughly run stretch drive of the GII Wood Memorial. His unfortunate post draw of the innermost gate has relegated him to ninth-most-likely winner. No horse has won the Derby from post one since Ferdinand in 1986.

This homebred for Gary and Mary West went off as the 17-10 Wood favorite from post 12, and was in the hunt five wide on the clubhouse turn before settling in fourth, Hit Show got bottled up off the far bend, had to be switched off heels in upper stretch, then absorbed repeated jostling in the middle of a three-way scrum through the final furlong.

This May 9 foal has already won at nine furlongs. His Beyers, although still short of what it will take to win the Derby, are moving in the right direction, with an 60-71-82-91-93 pattern through five career tries.

10) ANGEL OF EMPIRE (c, Classic Empire–Armony’s Angel, by To Honor And Serve) O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC; B-Forgotten Land Investment Inc & Black Diamond Equine Corp (PA); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $32,000 RNA wlg ’20 KEENOV, $70,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 6-4-1-0, $1,069,375. Last Start: 1st in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Apr. 1. Morning Line Odds: 8-1.

Angel of Empire owns a 4-for-6 lifetime record. Along the way, he’s picked up two nine-furlong victories, and he closed with purpose through a final eighth in :12.12 in the Arkansas Derby, the fastest final furlong out of the nine stakes at 1 1/18 miles from the 2022-23 qualifying races.

His GII Risen Star S. win at 13-1 seemed like a fluke because this closer benefitted from a pace meltdown and got an inside trip in a stretch run that featured eight horses stacked across the track. That win initially got rated an 87 on the Beyer scale, but was subsequently upgraded to an 89.

This Pennsylvania-bred’s win at Oaklawn was substantially more aggressive. He didn’t wait for the speed to come back to him. Instead, he overpowered the pacemaker while getting the jump on two favorites who could not match his move (94 Beyer).

The only horses to pull off the Arkansas/Kentucky Derby double since 1980 have been American Pharoah (2015), Smarty Jones (2004) and Sunny’s Halo (1983). This colt’s sire, Classic Empire, won the 2017 Arkansas Derby, then endured a brutal trip to manage an admirable fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

11) TWO PHIL’S (c, Hard Spun–Mia Torri, by General Quarters) O-Patricia’s Hope LLC and Phillip Sagan; B-Phillip Sagan; T-Larry Rivelli. Sales History: $150,000 RNA Ylg ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 8-4-1-1, $683,450. Last start: 1st GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Mar. 25. Morning Line Odds: 12-1.

Two Phil’s the 101-Beyer winner of the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks, started as his career far off the national radar at Colonial Downs and Canterbury Park. He’s only run two off-the-board races, and he had legit excuses for both. One was a trip-troubled seventh at 68-1 in the key GI Breeders’ Futurity S. at Keeneland behind eventual champ Forte.

Two Phil’s then won the GIII Street Sense S. at Churchill by 5 1/4 lengths at 7-1 odds over a wet, sealed track. He was later second in the GIII Lecomte S. and third in the Risen Star S.

The crossover back to dirt from Tapeta is the major unknown for a colt who took a 15-point leap off his previous-race Beyer. But his sire, Hard Spun, was adept at moving between a synthetic surface and dirt: He won Turfway’s sophomore stakes in 2007 (then over Polytrack) and finished 2-3-4 in the Triple Crown races.

12) MAGE (c, Good Magic–Puca, by Big Brown) O-OGMA Investments, LLC, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH; B-Grandview Equine (KY); T-Gustavo Delgado. Sales history: $235,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP; $290,000 2yo ’22 EASMAY. Lifetime Record: GISP, 3-1-1-0, $247,200. Last Start: 2nd GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Apr. 1. Morning Line Odds: 15-1.

Mage’s claim to fame through a three-race career was his big, swooping move in the Florida Derby that catapulted him to the lead before he was collared late by odds-on divisional champ Forte. He was second, beaten a length, with a 94 Beyer.

This son of Good Magic isn’t the cleanest of breakers, but having to make up for lost ground hasn’t really deterred him. You could argue that he’ll be a transformed colt if jockey Javier Castellano gets him away cleanly from post eight with three potential speed horses drawn to his inside.

From 1900 to the present, 25 horses have attempted to win the Derby with exactly three lifetime starts. Three have won (see the write-up on Kingsbarns), but more dauntingly, only one of the remaining 22 even managed to hit the board (Curlin, third in 2007).

Rounding Out the Starting Gate:

13) Rocket Can (Into  Mischief)

Rocket Can, an Into Mischief gray ($245,000 FTSAUG RNA) with six starts, took a big step forward on Oct. 30 when first tasked with two-turn races. He ran 1-2-1-2 in four consecutive routes while taking the Florida path to the graded stakes level. But he hit a developmental wall when fourth as the beaten fave in the Arkansas Derby.

His trainer, Bill Mott, and jockey, Junior Alvarado, have been candid about Rocket Can needing to grow up a bit before he can advance further. He’s been hot and bothered in the post parade, and Mott has repeated several times that Rocket Can projects “the feeling there’s a little more there, but he’s just not quite giving it all to you yet.”

Mott will experiment with blinkers on for the Derby. He’s 13-for-116 (11%) overall with that move over the last five years, with a subset of 1-for-7 (14%) in graded stakes.

14) Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits)

Derma Sotogake wired the G2 UAE Derby, a race in which

the first four horses across the finish barely changed positions from the backstraight on home. Even though that Meydan race had a “conveyor belt” flow, it was clear that this colt had cracked his competitors while still in hand before widening his margin to the wire under light encouragement.

Since 2000, 12 winners of the UAE Derby have competed in the Kentucky Derby, and the best finish among them was sixth (along with two DNF’s and a 20th-place try). But the global racing scene is shifting, with Japanese horses increasingly rising to the occasion in important graded stakes, so that statistic might not be as relevant as it seems at face value.

15) Sun Thunder (Into Mischief)

This late-running Into Mischief colt ($400,000 KEENOV; $495,000 RNA FTSAUG) has a second, two fourths, and a fifth in graded stakes this year while chasing robust company lines. But he’s still winless beyond the maiden ranks.

Trainer Ken McPeek will add blinkers for the Derby, which is a 12-for-83 (14%) move for him over a five-year span. In that same time frame, he’s made that equipment change five times in graded stakes, but it has yet to produce a win.

A career-best Beyer of 89 (twice) suggests Sun Thunder needs to run the race of his life to win the Derby while a significant portion of the field would have to throw in clunkers.

16) Lord Miles (Curlin)

Lord Miles shocked the Wood Memorial with a 59-1 win. While most handicappers focused on his slam-dance stretch run (with this Curlin colt dishing out his share of roughhousing), his early-race trip under Paco Lopez was just as notable.

Lord Miles broke adeptly, pressed the pacemaker, then backed off to fourth. It looked for a few strides like he was starting to disengage into the far turn, but by the head of the lane this Vesgo Racing Stable homebred regained steam, winning a three-way bob at the finish by a nostril.

The effort was a big step up-huge even, in terms of Beyers, from 79 to 93. But horses rarely get a chance to make two distinct runs in the Derby after falling back. A 30-1 morning-line price says Lord Miles can repeat. Yet realistically, even that double-digit mutuel seems like an underlay considering this colt’s disadvantageous draw in post 19.

17) Jace’s Road (Quality Road)

‘TDN Rising Star’ Jace’s Road, a $510,000 KEESEP son of Quality Road, is winless in two tries since a Dec. 26 frontrunning score in the Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds. He most recently faded to third in the late stages of the Louisiana Derby after pressing (but never truly threatening) Kingsbarns.

18) Confidence Game (Candy Ride {Arg})

Confidence Game, the 18-1 upsetter of the Rebel S., cost just $25,000 as a late-sale KEESEP bargain despite his dam, Eblouissante, being a half-sister to Hall-of-Famer Zenyatta. Somewhat unconventionally, he hasn’t raced since that start 10 weeks ago. Since 1929 (the advent of complete records), the longest winning layoff for a (regularly scheduled in May) Derby was 42 days, equaled by Needles in 1956 and Animal Kingdom in 2011. Trainer Keith Desormeaux over the last five years has a 6-for-36 record with all layoff returnees between 9 and 11 weeks, and an 0-for-2 subset counting just his graded stakes starters.

19) Raise Cain (Violence)

This son of Violence ($180,000 KEESEP; $65,000 RNA OBSOPN) is 0-for-3 around two turns, but ran a crackerjack one-turn mile in the Mar. 4 GIII Gotham S. over a muddy, sealed track. Raise Can won by 7 1/2 lengths and earned a 90 Beyer at 23-1 odds. Horses exiting that race have been a collective 1-for-7 in their next starts, including a no-impact fifth that this colt delivered in the Blue Grass S.

20) Continuar (Jpn) (Drefong)

This son of 2016 Eclipse Award sprint champ Drefong accepted an invitation to Churchill for earning 40 points in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series when he won the Cattleya S. at Tokyo last Nov. 26. A ¥70,000,000 JRHJUL yearling purchase with a 2-for-5 lifetime record, he’s been winless since. His draw of gate 20 is just slightly preferable to getting buried down at the rail; only Big Brown and Rich Strike have overcome that wide post out of the 18 Derby entrants who’ve tried it.


21) Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief)

A $450,000 KEESEP son of Into Mischief who started the year with promise by winning a Gulfstream allowance by open lengths, he’s been luckless since and most recently checked in third in the Florida Derby.

22) Mandarin Hero (Jpn) (Shanghai Bobby)

This son of Shanghai Bobby hit the winner’s circle in four of five starts in Japan (only loss by a neck), but he’s the standout among the three also-eligibles after an impressive 8-1 runner-up try in the Santa Anita Derby.

23) King Russell (Creative Cause)

A $60,000 FTKOCT gray by Creative Cause who broke his maiden in start number five, then ran a 58-1 second in the Arkansas Derby.

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