amNY at the Track | Rating the next group of Kentucky Derby probable starters, ranked 6-14

Kentucky Derby contender Lord Miles wins Wood Memorial
Lord Miles (far right) puts his nose in front to win the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack on April 8, 2023, clinching his spot in the Kentucky Derby.
NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Last week, we examined the top five point-getters on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and their chances of parlaying their great prep performances into a garland of roses on the first Saturday in May.

We continue our look at this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders by taking a peek at the sixth through 14th top point-getters, and assess their chances of pulling off a big upset on Derby Day.

Top 5 (with our odds) 

  1. Forte 3-1

  2. Practical Move 8-1

  3. Angel of Empire 5-1

  4. Tapit Trice 5-1

  5. Two Phil’s 10-1

6. Lord Miles (105 points)

Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.
Jockey: Paco Lopez
Biggest Win: Wood Memorial 
Our odds: 35-1

Back in January, Lord Miles looked like a promising contender with a third-place effort in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But then he followed that effort up with two duds: a 5th place showing in the Holy Bull and a 6th place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, both of which were lethargic. But then, on April 8, Lord Miles came out of nowhere to nip Hit Show on the line in the Wood Memorial at odds of 59-1. And while he ran the fastest race of his career with that effort (a 92 Beyer figure), it still wasn’t nearly as fast as the top Derby contenders. Hard pass. 

7. Derma Sotogake (100)

Trainer: Hidetaka Otonashi
Jockey: Christophe Lemaire
Biggest Win: UAE Derby
Our odds: 20-1

If you watch the video above and didn’t know where the race was held, you’d swear that Derma Sotogake looked like a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. But the fact that the effort came in the UAE Derby is an automatic knock against Derma Sotogake because no winner since the race’s inception in 2000 has hit the Kentucky Derby board. It’s not so much the quality of the race, it’s the timing. Asking a young horse to beat America’s best three-year-old colts and geldings off a six-week break and a trip halfway around the world is almost too much. Someday a UAE Derby winner will win the Kentucky Derby, or at least hit the board. And this might be the year Japan finally breaks through, especially given the field’s general lack of front-running speed, and the incredible success Japanese horses have had internationally over the last year. Winning the Derby will be difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible, for Derma Sotogake.

8. Kingsbarns (100) 

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Biggest Win: Louisiana Derby
Our odds: 12-1

In a year where the best runners seem to be closers, Kingsbarns appears to be a legitimate exception to the rule. His front-running score in the Louisiana Derby, while not exactly fast, was authoritative, and he demonstrated the ability to relish the classic route distance. There are faster colts in this race, but the question is whether Kingsbarns can get out in front early and control the tempo. If Prat gets him to the lead, somehow doesn’t get him into a speed duel with a horse the likes of Derma Sotogake, and sets soft fractions up front, Kingsbarns is a genuine threat to lull the field to sleep and steal the Kentucky Derby. A lot will have to go right, but if you like front-runners, Kingsbarns might be your best Derby hope.

9. Raise Cain (64) 

Trainer: Ben Colebrook
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Biggest Win: Gotham Stakes
Our odds: 40-1

Raise Cain gave an uninspiring performance while finishing 6th in the Blue Grass Stakes last out on a fast track after a decent, yet skeptical looking win in the Gotham over a sloppy Aqueduct oval. His Blue Grass race was so bad that it’s difficult to justify why his connections are running him in the Kentucky Derby aside from the thrill of being part of it. Raise Cain would be better served in a lesser race, but we’re not his owners, so let’s grasp at two positives. His Gotham win showed he can run in the mud, so if the Derby track comes up wet on May 6, he might be upset material. And he’s got a new rider in Castellano, the fourth different rider in as many starts. Too much uncertainty with Raise Cain – pass.

10. Rocket Can (60)

Trainer: William Mott
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Biggest Win: Holy Bull Stakes
Our odds: 50-1

Rocket Can is Raise Cain but with a regular rider and without a win in the mud. His Holy Bull victory in February was in one of the race’s slowest runnings, earning him a lethargic 82 Beyer. Since then, Rocket Can has improved incrementally with a well-beaten second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes far behind Forte, and then a fourth-place dud in the Arkansas Derby last out. Regression heading into the Kentucky Derby is not a flattering characteristic for a horse. Mott should opt to run him in an allowance race on the undercard instead.

11. Hit Show (60) 

Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Manny Franco
Biggest Win: Withers Stakes
Our odds: 25-1 

The Wood Memorial was Hit Show’s race to lose – and he did. Coming out of a convincing Withers victory and facing a soft field, he wound up getting nosed out on the wire by the aforementioned longshot Lord Miles. Worse, the effort earned him a 92 Beyer figure, which wasn’t much faster as his Withers win two months earlier (a 91 Beyer). Can Hit Show turn around and suddenly gain the speed needed to pull a Derby upset? Anything’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely. But Hit Show fans can have some hope; the last time a horse won the Withers only to finish second in the Wood Memorial next out was 2022 with Early Voting, who went on to win the Preakness Stakes. It should be noted, however, that his trainer, Chad Brown, opted to skip the Kentucky Derby. If Cox gave Hit Show a similar break, he might have a serious shot in the Preakness.

12. Confidence Game (57)

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: James Graham
Biggest Win: Rebel Stakes
Our odds: 30-1

Confidence Game’s best career effort came in the Rebel Stakes back in February on a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park. While he appeared to be pointed to the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland as his final prep, trainer Desormeaux opted to sit Confidence Game out and continue training him up to the Kentucky Derby. In doing so, he’s taking a huge gamble, expecting Confidence Game to improve off a two-month layoff in the biggest race of his life. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen horses win the Derby off five- or six-week breaks; but eight weeks seems to be pushing it. He’s not my first choice, but if the track comes up wet on Derby Day, he’s got a chance at pulling off another mud-laden upset.

13. Verifying (54) 

Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Tyler Gaffialone
Best Performance: 2nd Blue Grass Stakes
Our odds: 15-1

After struggling in the Rebel Stakes with a fourth-place finish, Verifying bounced back nicely in the Blue Grass Stakes with his best career performance yet. He had engaged Tapit Trice in a struggle for the lead down the stretch at Keeneland, but did not have enough to hold the winner off. Verifying is a nice horse with a bright future, but I question whether that involves winning a classic race like the Kentucky Derby. His valiant battle in the Blue Grass showed off his heart, but it also potentially exposed that, at least right now, he’s just a cut below the best horses of his generation. That being said, if you’re looking for a Derby “wiseguy horse” at a good price, Verifying might be your choice.

14. Sun Thunder (54) 

Trainer: Ken McPeek
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Best Performance: 2nd Risen Star Stakes
Our odds: 50-1

If the Kentucky Derby were decided by name alone, Sun Thunder would be a heavy favorite. But performance matters most on the morning line, and there’s no reason to think he’ll be a threat to win the roses. He followed up his second-place effort in the Risen Star Stakes to Angel of Empire with an uninspiring fifth-place showing in the Louisiana Derby. Sun Thunder was marginally better two weeks later in the Blue Grass Stakes, finishing fourth. Having only a maiden win as a two-year-old to his credit, Sun Thunder is another horse along for the Kentucky Derby ride whose connections should focus instead on winning an allowance race before returning him to stakes company.

Next week: Spots 15-20, and some of the horses still on the Kentucky Derby bubble.