The potential field for this year’s Kentucky Derby at fabled Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 2 continues to take shape with the prep race season in full swing. The early results point to a few strong contenders.
The expected 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby is the largest of any major graded stakes race. The overall size and complexity of the starting gate positions tend to make the Derby one of the hardest horse races to handicap. The ‘best of the best’ in three-year old thoroughbreds will compete in a 1 ¼ mile run around Churchill Down’s dirt track, but only one will move on for a shot at horse racing’s biggest title; the elusive Triple Crown. Based on the early results from some of the other major graded stakes races that are part of the Triple Crown Trail as well as 5Dimes futures odds, the following is a look at a few of my top contenders to win this year’s Kentucky Derby.
The horse at the top of most horse racing expert’s list is American Pharoah. This three-year colt has been groomed to be a champion under the guidance of Bob Baffert and starting as a juvenile he broke onto the scene with victories in both the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita. In his only race this season, American Pharoah crushed the field in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 6 ¼ lengths with jockey Victor Espinoza along for the ride. His current odds to win the Kentucky Derby are the best on the board at +600.
The first of two second-favorites to win this year’s ‘Run for the Roses’ at +700 is Carpe Diem. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, this three-year old was victorious in his only race this year with a first-place finish in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7. He is expected to make one more start before heading to Kentucky to prepare for the Derby. As a two-year old, Carpe Diem won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park in November.
Dortmund is also listed as a +700 second favorite on various online sportsbooks for the Kentucky Derby futures. He also made a splash on March 7 with a victory in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. This three-year old colt is also trained by Bob Baffert and he was ridden by Marcia Garcia in that race. All told in his racing career, Dortmund has won all five events he has run and he has now finished first in three major stakes races. He started the 2015 prep race season with a win in the Grade 3 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in early February after winning the Los Alamitos Futurity as a two-year old in late December.
Another up and coming contender to keep an eye on come Derby time is properly named Upstart at +1400 betting odds. This three-year old got off to a fast start this year with a victory in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in late January while posting a Beyer Speed Figure of 105. He went on to win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 21, but he was later bumped to second after impeding with Itsaknockout. Trained by Rick Violette Jr, and ridden by Jose Ortiz, Upstart gave Materiality all it could handle in this past Saturday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream with a close second-place finish. These two horses bested the rest of the field by 12 ½ lengths.
My final horse to watch leading up the Kentucky Derby is International Star. His current odds to win are set at +2000, which offers some tremendous value at this point of the prep race season. This three-year old captured everyone’s attention this past Saturday by winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Racetrack. It was his third-straight prep race win at this track as a three-year old after finishing first in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in January the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes the following month. Trained by Mike Maker and ridden by Miguel Mena, this horse is only getting stronger after posting a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 in his last race.