Catching My Eye: Mornings with the Kentucky Derby and Oaks Runners

May 4th, 2023

Working on the Kentucky Derby notes team, I’ve been on the backside from the opening set at 5:15 a.m. until the final gallop at 10:00 a.m. every day for the last week.

I’ve been forming my opinions on how each horse is coming into the race, as well as gathering insights and stories from the barns. Here are my notes on the Derby and Oaks runners who have been catching my eye:


Up until Tuesday, Forte has not been flashy at all—his gallops have been workmanlike. His breeze on Saturday was solid, but most importantly to know is he pulled up from his gallop-out at the track kitchen. That’s way farther than most. When schooling Tuesday afternoon, the 2022 two-year-old champion began to tout himself with a Zenyatta-like dance for the crowd. This huge gallop-out combined with the peak in energy has moved him up my ladder from using him underneath to using him in the top two spots in my vertical exotic bets.

Confidence Game

There’s no doubt Confidence Game is happy and attentive, and he's matured impressively both physically and mentally since I spent time with him over the winter at Fair Grounds.

No colt has moved like Confidence Game did in his work on Saturday. Relaxed yet instantly into a full, long, powerful stride, he maintained this effort evenly throughout, firing the :59 five-furlong bullet and galloping out through 1 1/16 miles in 1:43. You couldn't hear his breath as he flew around the track.

The vibe around Desormeaux’s barn after Confidence Game’s workout was lively. Keith says he is honestly not concerned about the 10-week break, skipping the final prep. He says Confidence Game is fit and has plenty of works and races. He says the plan is for Confidence Game to use his tactical speed to be in position behind the front runners and get first run at them as they tire.

The Japanese entries

Derma Sotogake and Continuar worked together on April 26. Continuar started the move five or so lengths ahead of Derma Sotogake, which could be another piece to the pace puzzle. Although Derma won the UAE Derby (G2) on the lead, in his other races he's shown the ability to stalk, which is the signal I got from this work. Although he made a nice move on his own to engage Continuar in the turn, his rider was asking him through the wire. His unpublished work on Saturday was from the gate and he was only allowed to run for one furlong or so before his rider grabbed the reins and slowed him into a gallop.

Derma Sotogake has a tendency to throw his head around when galloping, and he did some of that in his April 26 and Saturday breezes. Over the weekend, I spent a while watching Derma Sotogake walking in the chute with his pony. He was head-bopping then, too, but I could see this is just a quirk in his personality. Talking with someone who was around him ahead of the UAE Derby, Derma Sotogake trained and acted the exact same way—important to know that this is just him and he is not fighting his rider. He is happy and shows every sign of feeling himself in a big way. 

Brad Cox quartet

Hit Show worked with Tapit’s Conquest. Verifying went with the impressive maiden Everso Mischievous. Angel of Empire and Jace’s Road worked together. Here’s the thing about Brad Cox’s horses in the morning: they are always fast and professional. They are within themselves and assassin-like. This was definitely true of these four. But ranking the works I’d give the nod to Angel of Empire, Verifying, Hit Show, and then Jace’s Road, which is likely exactly how the betting public already perceives them.

Sun Thunder

Sun Thunder is a monster. In his breeze on April 26, his first since finishing fourth in the Blue Grass and his first wearing blinkers, it took Brian Hernandez Jr. every ounce of his body weight to settle Sun Thunder at the start. In his work on Tuesday, he started a little slow but found a nice stride. Mixed signals on whether or not to use him underneath.


Mage has been moving professionally and in a nice rhythm. He’s been making the most of his mornings, galloping twice around the track and being allowed to open up more the farther he goes. Delgado is an expert long-distance trainer and I don’t have any questions about Mage getting the distance. But with his late running style, can he get the trip?


Disarm’s move was very nice on Monday, as was his bullet breeze a week prior. With Wilson Fabian up on Monday instead of Roberto Howell, Disarm found a beautiful rhythm soon into it and quickened nicely in the first turn. Timed at :49 1/5, do note that he traveled in the 3-4 path throughout most of it. Disarm has progressed in a big way since his time at Fair Grounds. Steve Asmussen is relaxed, talkative, and his Gun Runner colt seems like a legit contender.

Mandarin Hero

If Mandarin Hero draws in, he has done nothing wrong on the track since getting here, so I’d give him a second look.


Distracted and clunky is the best way to describe how Reincarnate has looked at times in his gallops.

Kentucky Oaks fillies

Defining Purpose is showing every sign of being able to run back to her win in the Ashland. Talking with her jockey, Brian Hernandez Jr., he was definitely impressed with her most recent works, going four furlongs in :47 (fastest of 149) on Saturday and 48 2/5 (sixth-fastest of 81) on April 23. Hernandez liked the way Defining Purpose put herself in that perfect position in the Ashland. She’s got the mind, she’s got the speed. Morning line has her at 12-1. 

There are a lot of fillies in the Kentucky Oaks who want a trip similar to Promiseher America, but I say she won the draw with post 8, especially given her company to the inside. She has a closer to her immediate inside who should vacate her early position out of the gate, and the front-runner Botanical drew in post 6. Promiseher America could be pressuring Botanical or Flying Connection throughout. 

Of the Cox trio, Botanical has been moving the best across the track, and physically, she’s touting herself. 

Pretty Mischievous will add blinkers, and Walsh is always dangerous when he adds blinkers. Walsh says she got lost when she passed Hoosier Philly in the stretch of the Fair Grounds Oaks and he’s hoping the blinkers keep her running through the wire. Walsh was not worried about the far outside draw. Pretty Mischievous is a very easy filly to ride and he has confidence in Tyler Gaffalione, rightfully so.

Southlawn is definitely selling herself in the mornings, all positives there.