The Kentucky Derby 2023 is edging ever closer, and we are learning more about the runners that will be lining up in the race at Churchill Downs with every passing week. The top performers on the leaderboard will automatically ensure their spot in the Triple Crown race, but even those outside the top 20 may manage to squeeze into the field.
All prep races on the schedule are important, which was evident only 12 months ago when Rich Strike landed a place into the race following late scratches despite not winning once on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
You can find more information about the road to the Derby here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/road-to-the-derby
However, positive performances at this stage go a long way in helping to discover whom the solid contender comes Derby day will be. But, who have been some of the star performers on the Road to the Kentucky Derby so far?
It would be hard to ignore the horse at the top of the current standings, despite the fact that we are still yet to see Forte re-appear as a three-year-old. The Todd Pletcher-trained runner was in excellent form throughout 2022, and was able to pick up three straight victories following a debut defeat at Saratoga.
He finally broke his maiden over seven furlongs at the same track, beating Gulfport by three lengths. Following that effort, he immediately stepped up into graded company, landing the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland by a neck from Loggins.
However, it was his display in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that took him to the top of the leaderboard, as he managed to see off Bob Baffert-trained Cave Rock by a length and a half. It will be fascinating to see how Forte performs when he returns to the track as a three-year-old.
Instant Coffee appears to be a very strong chance this season for the Kentucky Derby. The Brad Cox-trained runner has won three from four starts, with his only career defeat being suffered in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at the hands of Forte. Since then, he has bounced back to form in excellent style.
The standout win for many was scored over 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs in late November, as he managed to score victory in the G2 Kentucky Club Stakes. It was the manner of his performance that would have been most pleasing, as he travelled smoothly throughout the race, before kicking clear to finish a length and a quarter clear of Curly Jack.
Instant Coffee looked to make a noticeable step up when we next saw him on track at Fair Grounds at the end of January, as he landed victory in the G3 Lecomte Stakes over 1 1/16 miles. It remains to be seen how good that form turns out to be, but there is every chance that Two Phil’s, who finished two lengths back, could turn out to be a decent Derby contender in his own right.
It would be hard to talk about the Kentucky Derby any year without mentioning Bob Baffert, given the trainer’s excellent record in the race. But, as it stands, the Hall of Famer will once again be banned from making entries for the race at Churchill Downs. That hasn’t stopped some fans from taking a chance on a Baffert runner in the betting, as Arabian Knight has always been near the top when it comes to leading contenders.
If connections wish to go down the Derby route, then it is likely that the three-year-old will be transferred to a different yard to pick up qualifying points, but a decision will need to be made very soon. Arabian Knight was an excellent winner on debut at Keeneland, beating subsequent winner Determinedly by eight lengths.
However, it was his display when stepped up in grade and distance that have got fans very excited that a Triple Crown winner could be on the horizon. Arabian Knight was sensational in tricky conditions in the G3 Southwest Stakes, but he still scored a speed figure of 97 when winning over 1 1/16 miles for the first time. It will be fascinating to see what happens with this three-year-old before an expected run in the G2 Rebel Stakes.
William Mott appears to have an excellent chance of landing a second Kentucky Derby victory this year, as son of Into Mischief, Rocket Can looks to follow in the footsteps of Country House. The talented three-year-old has won two from five career starts, but his defeats suffered have come against some incredibly talented rivals. Back in September, he was beaten over seven furlongs by Instant Coffee, before he broke his maiden at the third attempt on his first start over 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs to score a speed figure of 89.
He was beaten over course and distance on his following start, but few would be surprised to see him reverse that form with Confidence Game given that there was less than a length between the two rivals. The Mott-trained runner has an excellent closing speed, and that aided him in getting over the line in the Derby prep race at Gulfstream Park at the start of February. His performance throughout was assured, and many were surprised that the three-year-old wasn’t actually sent off as favorite.
However, he made light work of the field, and eventually finished three-quarters of a length clear of Shadow Dragon. But, Rocket Can will still need to show considerable improvement between now and the Derby to be seen as a leading contender by many.
To date, his best-recorded speed figure was the 91 when second behind Confidence Game, while many of the leading dangers for Derby glory have already reached a peak figure of 100 in their career. Still, the extra distance could suit him more than most, and it will be extremely interesting to see how he contends when stepped up in grade for the future races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.