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Kentucky Derby predictions and picks for Saturday at Churchill Downs. Horse racing handicapper Matthew DeSantis analyzes 149th Kentucky Derby and gives you his best bets for who will win the Run for the Roses.

Kentucky Derby 2023 Odds, Picks, Contenders: Our Expert's Best Bets for the Triple Crown Race

The 2023 Kentucky Derby features the most wide-open field in recent memory. There is not a standout colt in this year's crop and many in the field have taken turns beating each other in previous races. Additionally, the last 48 hours have seen a flurry of scratches and new horses being drawn into the field. As it stands, there will be 19 horses running for the title of Kentucky Derby Champion. It is a fantastic betting race that features several new faces in the sport. Let's dive into the field and talk through how the race might play out.

Kentucky Derby Picks 2023

Grade I Kentucky Derby

  • Post Time: 6:57 PM EDT
  • Distance: 1 1/4 miles
  • Field Size: 19

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Kentucky Derby Prediction 2023

Over the last 48 hours, Kentucky Derby entrants Practical Move, Lord Miles, Continuar, and Skinner have all scratched from the race with rumors of more potential scratches coming on Saturday. In their place Cyclone Mischief, Mandarin Hero, and King Russell have taken their place in the starting gate. While there might be a rotating cast of horses in the field, lets focus on permanent fixtures in the race.

The morning line favorite, Forte (3-1), has been subject to rumors of scratching since a video surfaced of him taking a misstep on the track during workouts on Thursday morning. However, he worked out well on Friday and appears to be good to go. He's a worthy favorite, but one I will gladly play against. The 2022 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Champion has not been quite as dominant as a three-year-old and the gap between him and his nearest competitors has evaporated. He will sit mid-pack for the race and give an honest effort. I would not be shocked to see him finish in the top three, but I will not be using him on my tickets.

One of the biggest topics of discussion around this year's Kentucky Derby is the pace. Talk to 10 different people and you will get 10 different answers about who will be on the lead going into the first turn. Horses like Verifying, Kingsbarns, Confidence Game, Reincarnate, Jace's Road, Derma Sotogake, and Cyclone Mischief all seem to be in the mix for taking the lead. In my opinion, it's between Verifying and Reincarnate up front early. They are both breaking from inside post positions and will want to get the advantageous rail trip to save as much ground as possible. I do not foresee the same blistering pace that was set last year by horses like Summer is Tomorrow and Crown Pride, but I do expect an honest pace up front that will allow horses sitting further back to close into the lead once they turn for home.

Of the horses sitting mid-pack, Angel of Empire (8-1) makes the most sense. He's a Pennsylvania-bred and had humble beginnings having broken his maiden at Horseshoe Indianapolis. However, he's really come into his own as a three-year-old and done nothing but improve as the races have gotten longer. His pedigree suggests that he should relish the 1 1/4 mile distance and his running style sets up well for the race. His trainer, Brad Cox, has a fleet of impressive Derby horses, but none of them have done what Angel of Empire has, which is to win Kentucky Derby prep races on multiple circuits having taken the Grade II Risen Star at the Fair Grounds and the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. He is a horse who has yet to run his best race and I think it comes Saturday.

Now, the most talented horse in the field might be Tapit Trice (5-1). You will hear a lot about this Todd Pletcher-trained colt who won the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes. However, he draws the #5 post position, which goes against his natural running style. Tapit Trice has a bad tendency of being a step slow out of the starting gate and his jockey Luis Saez likes to get him in the clear on the outside of horses. Breaking slow from the inside means he'll be trapped on the rail and taking kickback from most of the field. He's not going to have a great trip and I think it's too much for him to try and overcome.

One of the main storylines of this Kentucky Derby is the emergence of the Japanese entries. Both Derma Sotogake (10-1) and Mandarin Hero (20-1) represent a real chance for Japan to win their first Kentucky Derby. If you have not been paying attention to horse racing you may have missed that over the last decade the Japanese have started to dominate large international race days in Meydan as well as at our own Breeders' Cup. Two years ago, when they brought a large contingent of horses to Del Mar to compete in the Breeders' Cup and they emerged with their first two victories in the history of the event. They have been breeding for success on the dirt and in the Triple Crown for the last 40 years and it's finally paying off.

Derma Sotogake is the winner of the Grade I UAE Derby and did so in impressive fashion as he ran nearly seven seconds faster going the same distance than they ran in the Grade I Dubai World Cup later that night. He can go to the lead, but if you watch his races from Japan, he can also sit mid-pack and make a run late. His versatility is one of the key reasons to like his chances with superstar international jockey Christophe Lemaire in the irons. His countrymate, Mandarin Hero, took a different route to the Kentucky Derby as he came over to the United States and finished a close second in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. He is more of a deep closer and will be making up ground late in a race that should have a decent pace. Both horses should be viewed as serious win threats.

Perhaps the coolest story in the Kentucky Derby is Two Phil's (12-1) who is trained by longtime trainer Larry Rivelli and jockeyed by veteran Jareth Loveberry. This marks the first Kentucky Derby for the pair, but Two Phil's is a legit horse who has proven his worth on dirt and synthetic surfaces. He won the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks last time out while running a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, which is the highest any horse in the field has recorded as a three-year-old. He has the versatility to sit close to the lead or launch from the back of the pack. His trainer seems to believe he is best suited to follow Verifying, who is breaking from the post next to him, into the first turn and save ground. Two Phil's feels like an honest horse who does not run bad races and should be included in vertical exotics.

So, how do I ultimately see it playing out? Well, I think we'll see Verifying and Reincarnate on the lead early with Kingsbarns, Two Phil's, Cyclone Mischief, and Jace's Road not too far back. They'll be followed by major contenders Angel of Empire, Forte, Tapit Trice, and others going down the backstretch and into the far turn. Turning for home, I think you will see the speed horses start to fade and Angel of Empire will emerge from the crowd with jockey Flavien Prat aboard. Two Phil's and Derma Sotogake will both make a strong run toward the end, but Angel of Empire powers through down the stretch to win the 149th Kentucky Derby!

Kentucky Derby Picks

  • Win: Angel of Empire (8-1)
  • Place: Two Phil's (12-1)
  • Show: Derma Sotogake (10-1)

Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.


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