Kentucky Derby Countdown

Kentucky Derby 2023

There are only four more days until the Kentucky Derby (and three to the Kentucky Oaks). With post positions announced yesterday, it’s time to look how the races might shape up. The new 20-horse starting gate installed by Churchill Downs in 2020 has changed the dynamic slightly. Before then, they used a 14-horse gate and an auxiliary 6-horse gate. The extra width, including the space between the two gates, squeezed the horses on the inside closer to the rail, making those post positions less desirable.

Let’s start with the Derby.

Kentucky Derby Post positions

The hands-down favorite coming into the big race is Forte, who is currently at 3-1. This impressive colt has six wins in seven starts, including four Grade 1 victories, which earned him top points in the Kentucky Derby leaderboard (190). Forte starts from post position #15. While it’s not the best post position in terms of historical victories, in 61 starts there have been 6 wins, 2 seconds and 1 third. The last horse to win from this spot was Authentic in 2020. Forte is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, who is chasing his first Derby win. Ortiz has won more than 3,500 races including the Belmont Stakes twice (2016 and 2022), and has won four Eclipse Awards. He’s ridden in six Derbies, but his best finish so far has been fourth, on Improbable in 2019.

Practical Move has the second highest number of Derby points (160). He will leave from post position #10, which has seen nine winners, six seconds and 10 thirds over 86 starts. Giacomo was the last horse to win from this post position and Zandon was third in 2022. Practical Move’s most recent win was in the Santa Anita Derby. He is trained by Tim Yakteen and ridden by Ramon Vazquez. His only other Derby ride was in 2015 where he finished on Mr. Z.

Angel of Empire has the third highest number of Derby points (154). He’s sitting post position #14, right next to Forte. Current odds are at 8-1. Only two horses have won the Derby from this post position and the last winner, Carry Back, was in 1961. Six horses have placed second and six have placed third. The most recent top three finish was Essential Quality, who finished third in 2021. Angel of Empire is trained by Brad Cox and will be ridden by Flavian Prat, who has ridden in six Derbies. He rode Country House to second place in 2019, but was later named the winner after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference.

This compilation video gives you a nice overview of the top 10 picks for the Derby.

Tapit Trice sits in fourth place in the standings with 150 Derby points. Tapit Trice has won all three starts as a three-year old, including the Tampa Bay Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes. Tapit Trice starts from post position #5, which has seen 10 wins, 8 seconds and 4 thirds over 93 starts. The colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Luis Saez, who has ridden in 9 Derbies. His best finish was on Essential Quality (2021) when he finished third.

Two Phil’s sits in fifth place with 123 Derby points. Two Phil’s is this year’s success story — after failing to sell either as a yearling or juvenile, breeder Phillip Sagan formed a partnership with Vince Foglia and put the colt in training. Anthony Sagan said the colt is named after his father Phillip and his friend Jerry La Sala’s father. After his inauspicious start, Two Phil’s most recently won the Jeff Ruby Steaks. Two Phil’s is trained by Larry Rivelli and ridden by Jareth Loveberry, who will be making his first Kentucky Derby start. Two Phil’s starts from post #3, which has seen 5 wins, 7 seconds, 8 thirds from 93 starts. The last horse to win from this post position was Real Quiet (1998) and Epicenter was second in 2022. Keep in mind, the new starting gate makes the positions near the rail less of a handicap.

Derma Sotogake is actually seventh on the leaderboard (Lord Miles has 105 Derby points while Derma Sotogake has 100), but is more highly favored to give a good performance. The Japanese colt most recently won the UAE Derby in Dubai and has worked well over American style dirt tracks. It appears that the track surface in Japan is a softer, sandy composite, which has meant that horses coming to the US are at a disadvantage. Derma Sotogake is trained by Hidetaka Otonashi and ridden by French jockey, Christophe Lemaire. Neither has ever had a runner in the Kentucky Derby before. He starts from post position #17 which does not have a commanding record of success: In 43 starts there have been no winners; Forty Niner had the best finish (2nd) in 1988 and two horses finished have finished third. However, current odds have him at 10:1, after only Forte, Tapit Trice, and Angel of Empire.

Stay tuned for more Derby info tomorrow!

4 thoughts on “Kentucky Derby Countdown

  1. Blood Horse Daily did a very comprehensive statistical analysis of all the post positions and the history of wins or not from them: as well as who raced how often in the leadup to the Derby and also covered foreign born horses. Post 17 has never, not once in the entire history of the Derby produced a winner. Now this may be a statistical artifact, I don’t know how often there were enough horses to fill post 17. But this year, the post 17 jinx would be doubled as it’s post 17 and the Japanese horse, Dermo Sagatake (goodness it’s going to ber difficult to for the race caller to pronounce) is in it.
    If it were me, and my horse was put in post 17, I’d think twice about even running him. Woujld I want a depressing loss? Or do I tempt fate? I’m not superstitious but a lot of bettors are. A jinx that ancient is a pretty permanent thing.
    So. Who did BH daily call to win and place? Forte, 1st. Practical Move, 2nd and for the long shot players, Skinner.

    I’d love to see Mandarin Hero, the other Japanese horse, actually get in, but…who knows. Look at last year when at the 11th hour, Rich Strike got into the race.
    Will that happen this year? Don’t know. But to be honest, I didn’t like Rich Strike’s people, taking Hot Rod Charlie’s crew to court claiming that they’d cheated by using toe grabs. Sort of like a former president who claimed he won when all the evidence proved him wrong.
    Hot Rod Charlie won that race fair and square, reaching down inside to get enough to get past Rich Strike.

    1. I agree, the issue about the toe clips (or not) rubbed me wrong. Forte certainly looks strong going into the race but with so many three year olds out there, I think the horse that wins will be the one that gets the best trip.

  2. I agree with you. Now i”ve read your most recent post. What a shakeup..Practical Move was VERY well placed and liked. Well, that little Mandarin Hero is in, I like how game he was in the Santa Anita. Forte still looks like the favorite.

    1. I can’t remember the last time there were three late scratches for the Derby. There goes all that planning! Look what happened when Rich Strike got called in at the last minute!

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