Hanson: How I will bet the 2023 Kentucky Derby

May 6th, 2023

A busy day of developments on Thursday resulted in three defections from the main body of the Kentucky Derby (G1) field, and now all three also-eligible entrants have made the race. Among them is the horse who had been my selection for much of the past month, but one I had basically lost hope of making the field: #22 Mandarin Hero (20-1).

Unlike his Japanese compatriot Derma Sotogate, who has received a fair amount of support from some quarters, Mandarin Hero actually has the benefit of a prep run in the United States. And it was a highly commendable performance, given the uncertainty of whether Mandarin Hero could replicate the outstanding form of his homeland to new surroundings while facing a couple of the fastest U.S. three-year-olds. He nearly won it, too, finishing a nose short of Practical Move while having a half-length margin on the improving Skinner.

That effort, if he's able to repeat or better it, puts Mandarin Hero squarely in the mix against his Kentucky Derby rivals, none of whom have consistently asserted their superiority from a speed figure perspective. Mandarin Hero's odds may drop a little from his morning line price, but I think he should still offer excellent value.

I will bet Mandarin Hero to win and key him on top of an exacta wheel with several others. The Todd Pletcher duo of champion #15 Forte (3-1) and #5 Tapit Trice (5-1), if they run to the ability they've shown all winter and spring, are must-use contenders. I'm less bullish on Forte to win than I had been all winter since his hard-fought Florida Derby (G1) performance, while Blue Grass (G1) winner Tapit Trice has a tendency to start slow and thus I worry about the trip he's going to receive.

#14 Angel of Empire (8-1) could have another peak effort in him following back-to-back wins in the Risen Star (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1). He's shown a tremendous ability to settle and arguably has one of the best turns-of-foot of anyone in the field. However, he'll be facing much better rivals here and feel he's best used underneath.

Kentucky Derby bets

  • $20 to win on #22 Mandarin Hero
  • $5 Exacta: 22 with 5,14,15 ($15)
    Total: $35