It’s the first Saturday in May, and in Louisville, Ky., that can only mean one thing: it’s Kentucky Derby Day.
Steeped in tradition, the Kentucky Derby is the first leg in American racing’s Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes in Maryland two weeks later and the Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks after that. Only 13 horses in history have achieved the feat of sweeping all three races, and only two have done so since 1978.
But before a horse has a shot at etching his name in the Triple Crown history books, he must first overcome the greatest two minutes in sports: the Kentucky Derby.
This year—after multiple scratches in the final days leading up to the race, including the forced scratch of Lord Miles as a result of the suspension of trainer Saffie Joseph and the scratch of morning line favorite Forte this morning—the field will feature 18 horses. Just shy of its full capacity of 20 horses, all three also-eligible entries drew in as a result of the scratches. Of course, an also-eligible upset the Derby last year when Rich Strike shocked the world at 80-1 odds from the #21 post.
The 2023 Kentucky Derby Field
Will another long shot take everyone by surprise at the Churchill Downs finish line this year?
Any horse that breaks from the starting gate has a shot—and that’s what creates so much anticipation, excitement, and, of course, betting strategies. Let’s take a look at each horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
1. Hit Show (30-1)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Manuel Franco
Race Record: 5 starts: 3 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $404,375
Second by just a nose last out in the Wood Memorial, Hit Show is one of four entrants for trainer Brad Cox. His only finish out of the money did come at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old, but this long shot is on the improve.
2. Verifying (15-1)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione
Race Record: 6 starts: 2 wins, 2 seconds, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $489,900
In his last start, Verifying finished only a neck behind morning line second choice Tapit Trice in the Blue Grass. He has yet to achieve a win in graded stakes company, but at the best of his game, his speed figures are among the best in the field. He will need that kind of effort to stay with the best here.
3. Two Phil’s (12-1)
Trainer: Larry Rivelli
Jockey: Jareth Loveberry
Race Record: 8 starts: 4 wins, 1 second, 1 third
Career Earnings: $683,450
Among the six entering the Derby off of a win, Two Phil’s was a dominant winner of his final prep, but that came on a synthetic surface. He has finished behind the likes of fellow contenders Forte, Confidence Game, Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder. He will need to repeat the level of his last effort, but he will have many fans cheering for him.
4. Confidence Game (20-1)
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: James Graham
Race Record: 7 starts: 3 wins, 1 second, 2 thirds
Career Earnings: $785,525
Out of a half-sister to the great race mare Zenyatta, Confidence Game has not run since February 25, but that race resulted in a win in the Rebel Stakes. He has won twice in four starts at Churchill, but with over two months since his last race and speed figures that show room for improvement, a win would take a lifetime best effort.
5. Tapit Trice (5-1)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Luis Saez
Race Record: 5 starts: 4 wins, 0 seconds, 1 third
Career Earnings: $883,650
The second choice on the morning line, Tapit Trice is the stablemate of scratched morning line favorite Forte. Undefeated in 2023, the gray colt enters the Derby off of wins in the Blue Grass Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby. He has done nothing wrong this year.
6. Kingsbarns (12-1)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Race Record: 3 starts: 3 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $657,300
One of the most lightly raced horses in this field with only three starts, all of which have been as a 3-year-old, he is nonetheless defeated in each of those. An easy winner of the Louisiana Derby last out, it’s difficult to knock this colt for anything other than his lack of experience.
7. Reincarnate (50-1)
Trainer: Tim Yakteen
Jockey: John Velazquez
Race Record: 7 starts: 2 wins, 3 seconds, 2 thirds
Career Earnings: $345,650
Third behind Angel of Empire and King Russell last out in the Arkansas Derby, Reincarnate has not won since the Sham Stakes in January. As his races have gotten longer, his speed figures have dropped, which is cause for concern.
8. Mage (15-1)
Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Race Record: 3 starts: 1 win, 1 second, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $247,200
Another contender with only three lifetime starts, Mage enters the Derby after nearly dethroning Champion 2-Year-Old and Derby morning line favorite Forte in the Florida Derby. Second there, this is a colt full of potential.
11. Disarm (30-1)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Race Record: 5 starts: 1 win, 2 seconds, 2 thirds
Career Earnings: $327,850
Trained by racing’s all-time winningest trainer Steve Asmussen, Disarm is a spitting image of his champion sire, Gun Runner. He has only won in maiden company and despite twice finishing in the money in graded Derby preps, it will take a large jump in performance for Disarm to upset the Derby.
12. Jace’s Road (50-1)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Race Record: 6 starts: 2 wins, 0 seconds, 2 thirds
Career Earnings: $238,050
Jace’s Road has a very hit-or-miss race record, and has not won since a black-type stakes win as a 2-year-old in December. Effectively defeated in the Southwest Stakes and Louisiana Derby, Jace’s Road has the highest odds of the four Brad Cox entrants.
13. Sun Thunder (50-1)
Trainer: Kenny McPeek
Jockey: Brian Hernandez, Jr.
Race Record: 6 starts: 1 win, 1 second, 1 third
Career Earnings: $247,500
Out of the money in his last two starts and out of the winner’s circle since his maiden win as a 2-year-old on New Year’s Eve, Sun Thunder has been soundly defeated by a number of fellow Derby contenders. He does get blinkers added for this race to try to get him focused on the race earlier, but the question is if that will make enough difference.
14. Angel of Empire (8-1)
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Race Record: 6 starts: 4 wins, 1 seconds, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $1,069,375
Angel of Empire enters off of two Derby prep wins, including a dominant victory in the April 1 Arkansas Derby. This colt has steadily improved over the course of his career, and seems to be peaking at the right time.
16. Raise Cain (50-1)
Trainer: Ben Colebrook
Jockey: Gerardo Corrales
Race Record: 7 starts: 2 wins, 1 second, 1 third
Career Earnings: $296,328
Raise Cain dominated the Gotham Stakes in the mud two starts back, but was a disappointing fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes behind Tapit Trice next out. His only other win came in maiden company, hence the 50-1 odds.
17. Derma Sotogake (10-1)
Trainer: Hidetaka Otonashi
Race Record: 8 starts: 4 wins, 0 seconds, 2 thirds
Career Earnings: $1,162,164
Despite the scratch of Continuar, Japan is still represented by two runners in Derma Sotogake and Mandarin Hero. A runaway winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai last out, Derma Sotogake looks to continue the wave of Japanese success on the world’s biggest racing stage. A Derby win eludes the country, but this colt looks like he just may have the chance to make history.
18. Rocket Can (30-1)
Trainer: Bill Mott
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Race Record: 7 starts: 2 wins, 2 seconds, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $383,413
Although Rocket Can kicked off the year with a win in the Holy Bull Stakes, he has regressed since then. Most recently fourth as the beaten favorite in the Arkansas Derby, Rocket Can has the expertise of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott on his side but may be past his peak.
21. Cycle Mischief (30-1)
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Race Record: 7 starts: 2 wins, 0 seconds, 3 thirds
Career Earnings: $246,350
Drawing in as an also-eligible, Cycle Mischief has never won a stakes race. He has, however, been third behind favorite Forte in his last two starts so has proven he can be competitive against the best. However, to defeat them, it will take his best performance yet.
22. Mandarin Hero (20-1)
Trainer: Terunobu Fujita
Jockey: Kazushi Kimura
Race Record: 6 starts: 4 wins, 2 seconds, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $386,854
The other contender for Japan, Mandarin Hero was second by just a nose in the Santa Anita Derby behind the scratched Practical Move in his most recent start—which was also his first race stateside. His only other loss also came at a narrow margin, and his Santa Anita speed figure is among the best in the field. Could it be fate that he drew into the race?
23. King Russell (50-1)
Trainer: Ron Moquett
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Race Record: 6 starts: 1 win, 3 seconds, 0 thirds
Career Earnings: $322,350
It took this colt five tries to finally break his maiden, but he seemed to have figured it out then, as he finished second in the grade one Arkansas Derby in his very next start. He’d have to make another massive leap here to spring the upset.
Regardless of who you pick, this year’s Run for the Roses is sure to be full of excitement. If you don’t want to miss a second of the action, tune in to NBC today from 12:00 to 7:30 p.m. ET, with various other races on the undercard throughout the day before the Derby starting gates open at 6:57 ET. Coverage is also available to stream live on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.
This preview of the 2023 Kentucky Derby is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!