Kentucky Derby Contenders, Point Leaders & Top Horses to Watch in 2024
Last updated: August 16, 2023
2023 Kentucky Derby Contenders
As horses enter the Derby trail, they get one shot to run in the Kentucky Derby in their lifetime.
Discover how horses earn the chance to run in the Kentucky Derby with information below; Information such as contender lists, race entries and point accumulation.
- 2022-23 U.S. Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard
- 2022-23 Europe Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard
- 2022-23 Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard
- 2023 Kentucky Derby contender pedigree profiles
- Quick runner facts and answers
- Full explanation on how horses earn points
- 2021 Kentucky Derby contenders
- 2022 Kentucky Derby contenders
Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Past Performances
Past Performances for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders show how each horse performed in their previous races.
2023-2024 Kentucky Derby Contender Point Leaders
Check out the latest standings of contenders who are hopeful to start the 2024 Kentucky Derby. Positions based on points earned along the Road to the Kentucky Derby trail and non-restricted stakes earnings. Please note that current standings represent only the horses that have been nominated for the Triple Crown races.
|Points||Horse||Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings||RTKD Races Won|
Breeders' Futurity, Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby
Los Alamitos Futurity, San Felipe Stakes, Santa Anita Derby
Angel of Empire
Risen Star Stakes, Arkansas Derby
Tampa Bay Derby, Blue Grass Stakes
Jeff Ruby Steaks
Derma Sotogake (JPN)
Holy Bull Stakes
Wild On Ice
Gun Runner Stakes
Mandarin Hero (JPN)
2022-2023 European Road to the Kentucky Derby Point Leaders
Check out the latest standings of contenders from the Euro series who are hopeful to start the 2023 Kentucky Derby. Positions based on points earned along the European Road to the Kentucky Derby trail.
|Points||Horse||RTKO Races Won|
Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes
2022-2023 Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby Point Leaders
Check out the latest standings of contenders from the Japan series who are hopeful to start the 2023 Kentucky Derby. Positions based on points earned along the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby trail.
|Points||Horse||RTKD Races Won|
Horses trained by an individual suspended from the 2022 or 2023 Kentucky Derby does not receive any qualification points. Cave Rock, National Treasure (for the American Pharoah, BC Juvenile & Sham Stakes), Hejazi (for the American Pharoah), Gandolfini, Newgate, Carmel Road, Fort Bragg (for the Los Alamitos Futurity), Arabian Lion, Reincarnate (for the Sham Stakes), Arabian Knight, Hard To Figure, Worcester, Gilmore & Nullarbor are trained by Bob Baffert who is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. through 2023.
Horses that ran with medication (Lasix) do not receive any points towards qualification. Wildatlanticstorm and Giant Mischief received no points from the Springboard Mile.
Originally Wild On Ice was not nominated for the Triple Crown events, but after his victory in the Sunland Derby connections paid the late nomination fee and hence, he is eligible for the Kentucky Derby.
Originally King Russell was not nominated for the Triple Crown events, but connections paid the late nomination fee and hence, he is eligible for the Kentucky Derby
Continuar (JPN) has accepted an invitation to compete in the Kentucky Derby for accruing 40 points in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
2023 Kentucky Derby Pedigree Profiles
Prevailing in the Run for the Roses requires a perfect blend of stamina and speed, plus an early-maturing profile sufficient to deliver a winning effort on the first Saturday in May. Learn more about the pedigree profiles of the leading contenders for the 2023 Kentucky Derby below. Use the quicklinks to jump to a specific horse:
FORTE | CURLY JACK | BLAZING SEVENS | INSTANT COFFEE | DUBYUHNELL | PRACTICAL MOVE | WILDATLANTICSTORM | JACE'S ROAD | VICTORY FORMATION | LUGAN KNIGHT | REINCARNATE | ARABIAN KNIGHT | ROCKET CAN | NEWGATE | HIT SHOW | CHASE THE CHAOS | LITIGATE | ANGEL OF EMPIRE | CONGRUENT | RAISE CAIN | TAPIT TRICE | WILD ON ICE | CONTINUAR | DERMA SOTOGAKE | KINGSBARNS | TWO PHIL'S | LORD MILES| MANARIN HERO | CYCLONE MISCHIEF | SKINNER | MAGE | DISARM | SUN THUNDER | VERIFYING | FIRST MISSION | KING RUSSELL
One of the most accomplished horses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is Forte, voted champion two-year-old male of 2022 after winning the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). He's been just as sharp in 2023, opening the season with an impressive victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2).
The question is, does Forte have the pedigree to shine racing 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby (G1)? His bloodlines give off mixed signals.
In 2018, reigning champion two-year-old male Good Magic ran a gallant race in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second behind Triple Crown winner Justify. Perhaps Good Magic’s son Curly Jack can go one better in 2023. Hailing from the first crop of foals sired by Good Magic, Curly Jack joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a stretch-running victory in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, showcasing a clear affinity for the Derby’s host track.
It’s no wonder why Blazing Sevens has enjoyed success running long on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The stretch-running Champagne Stakes winner has a strong pedigree for handling classic distances. Kentucky Derby fans likely remember Blazing Sevens' sire, Good Magic. A son of Preakness S winner and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Good Magic ran second behind Triple Crown winner Justify in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
If anyone was surprised to see Instant Coffee produce a fast-finishing victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, they shouldn’t have been. The talented 2-year-old has always had the pedigree to shine as an early-maturing Kentucky Derby contender. A subsequent stretch-running triumph in the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds has reiterated Instant Coffee's standing as a major player on the Derby scene.
Instant Coffee hails from the 1st crop of foals sired by Bolt d’Oro, whose excellent two-year-old campaign produced victories in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner plus a 3rd-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The Remsen proved Dubyuhnell can carry his pace-pressing speed over 1 1/8 miles, but is the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby within reach?
Practical Move joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with an upset victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) at Los Alamitos, sneaking up the inside to prevail by 3 1/4 lengths as a 10-1 longshot. He repeated the feat at shorter 4-1 odds in the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, saving ground every step of the way to score by 2 1/2 lengths.
These victories have established Practical Move as a contender for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1), but does he have the pedigree to thrive racing 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May? That’s a good question.
A perfect ground-saving trip carried Wildatlanticstorm to an upset victory in the Remington Springboard Mile S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It was a sharp victory accomplished in a fast time, but does Wildatlanticstorm have the pedigree to factor in the Kentucky Derby (G1)?
Jace’s Road couldn’t have been much more impressive in the Gun Runner S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The bay colt led all the way and drew off down the homestretch to dominate by 5 1/2 lengths.
Now handicappers are faced with a difficult question—does Jace’s Road have the pedigree to thrive racing 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby (G1)?
Pedigree handicappers weren’t surprised to see Victory Formation shine while stretching out in distance. The bay colt is bred top and bottom to thrive running long, and classic distances should be well within his wheelhouse.
You have to admire the tenacity Lugan Knight displayed to win the Jerome S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The bay colt was pressed every step of the way by heavy favorite Arctic Arrogance, but dug deep down the homestretch to prevail by a half-length.
However, the Jerome took place over one mile, a distance considerably shorter than the 1 1/4-mile trip of the Kentucky Derby (G1). And from a pedigree perspective, it’s fair to question whether Lugan Knight is bred to handle the Derby’s testing distance.
Dashing to the lead and refusing to yield proved a successful strategy for Reincarnate in the Sham (G3) at Santa Anita, as the hardy gray colt led all the way to prevail by a neck. The Sham marked Reincarnate’s first start on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, stamping the improving three-year-old as one to watch during the 2023 Triple Crown season.
He’s currently ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby (G1) qualification points since trainer Bob Baffert is suspended from competing in the 2023 Derby. He would need to move stables to have a chance at a Derby start, but the Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1) could be viable alternative goals for Reincarnate, who is bred to shine racing classic distances during the spring of his sophomore year.
An impressive victory from Arabian Knight in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park has launched the $2.3 million auction acquisition thoroughly into the Triple Crown picture, even if he’s currently ineligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Arabian Knight is 2-for-2 following his gate-to-wire Southwest win, in which he trounced a deep field (including Gun Runner S. winner Jace’s Road) by 5 1/2 lengths. Arabian Knight is trained by Bob Baffert, who is suspended from starting horses in the 2023 Kentucky Derby, so Arabian Knight failed to earn any of the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points up for grabs in the Southwest. But races like the Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1) are obvious spring targets for the talented colt.
It isn’t surprising to see Rocket Can enjoying success on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail. The gray colt boasts a pedigree combining speed with stamina, often a recipe for success in the Run for the Roses itself.
It’s taken a while for Newgate to find his best stride, but the bay colt took a big step forward when rallying to a determined victory in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita.
Newgate’s last-to-first surge to win by a neck ended a four-race losing streak encompassing such high-profile contests as the Del Mar Futurity (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and Sham (G3). Newgate is currently ineligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby (G1) since trainer Bob Baffert is suspended from starting horses in the 2023 Derby, but winning the Lewis in a quick time stamps Newgate as a viable contender for races like the Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1).
When Hit Show stormed down the Aqueduct homestretch to dominate the 1 1/8-mile Withers (G3), he fulfilled the promise of a pedigree geared top and bottom toward success running long.
The victory secured Hit Show 20 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, stamping the Brad Cox trainee as an exciting contender for the Kentucky Derby (G1) itself. And while it’s impossible to predict with certainty which horses will relish racing 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May, there’s no reason to think Hit Show lacks the breeding to shine over classic distances.
Chase the Chaos
It can be tricky to analyze horses who win Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers over synthetic racing surfaces. Success on synthetic doesn’t always translate to dominance on dirt, an important fact to remember since the Kentucky Derby (G1) takes place on dirt.
So what do we make of Chase the Chaos, who unleashed a giant homestretch rally to win the El Camino Real Derby over the synthetic Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields?
When Litigate rallied to a determined victory in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, it was confirmation the bay colt has been waiting for a chance to shine running long.
The Sam F. Davis took place over 1 1/16 miles and marked Litigate’s first start in a two-turn race. The configuration proved suitable and garnered Litigate 20 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, hardly a surprising outcome since his pedigree is geared unmistakably toward success over classic distances.
Angel of Empire
The bay colt is progressing in the right direction for trainer Brad Cox, who saddled Risen Star winner Mandaloun to victory via disqualification in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. But does Angel of Empire have the pedigree to succeed racing 1 1/4 miles in the Run for the Roses?
Congruent first emerged as a Kentucky Derby (G1) contender when rallying from last to first in the John Battaglia Memorial S. over the synthetic Tapeta track at Turfway Park. But don’t assume Congruent is a synthetic specialist; to the contrary, he’s a versatile young runner capable of performing well over any surface.
In 2012, a colt named Violence won the CashCall Futurity (G1) to emerge as an early contender for the 2013 Kentucky Derby (G1). An injury unfortunately led to Violence’s premature retirement, but 10 years after his last race, Violence is poised to seek Derby glory through his sons.
Violence is, of course, the son of champion two-year-old male and three-time Grade 1 winner Forte, an early favorite for the 2023 Kentucky Derby. But Violence picked up another possible Derby contender when his son Raise Cain unleashed a giant rally from behind a fast pace to dominate Aqueduct’s Gotham (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby by 7 1/2 lengths.
The 22-year-old stallion Tapit ranks among the most successful sires in North American racing history. He’s sired over 150 stakes winners, including four winners of the Belmont (G1). His progeny have earned nearly $200 million. He led all North American sires by progeny earnings three years in a row from 2014-16, and he’s sired acclaimed champions Flightline, Essential Quality, Untapable, Hansen, Stardom Bound, and Unique Bella.
Now Tapit’s up-and-coming son Tapit Trice has an opportunity to go where no son of Tapit has gone before: the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner’s circle. A powerful stretch-running victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) vaulted Tapit Trice into the Kentucky Derby picture, which means it’s time to revisit the unanswered question of whether Tapit can sire a Derby winner.
WILD ON ICE
An upset victory in the Sunland Park Derby (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby propelled Wild On Ice into the spotlight. The previously unheralded gelding has a chance to become the third Texas-bred Kentucky Derby (G1) winner following Assault (1946) and Middleground (1950).
But don’t let the Texas-bred designation fool you; Wild On Ice is bred much like the Kentucky colts who win the Derby more often than not. He’s a son of Tapizar, a Kentucky-bred runner who capped off a productive career with an upset victory in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
A victory in the Cattleya S. and a third-place finish in the UAE Derby (G2) earned Continuar enough Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points to secure a berth in the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).
The chestnut colt is conditioned by Yoshito Yahagi, whose perfect 2-for-2 record in North America is comprised of victories in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Can Continuar extend Yahagi’s record to 3-for-3 while tackling 1 1/4 miles on dirt in the Kentucky Derby?
A combination of speed and stamina carried Derma Sotogake to a runaway victory in the UAE Derby (G2) at Meydan. Setting the pace did nothing to tire the Japanese-bred colt, who kicked away impressively down the homestretch of the 1,900-meter Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier to win by 5 1/2 lengths.
It isn’t surprising to see Derma Sotogake display both speed and stamina. His pedigree contains both in roughly equal measures, suggesting he’s a threat to win the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).
A gate-to-wire victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2) has launched the undefeated Kingsbarns into the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture, and his pedigree suggests he’s well-suited to racing 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May.
Kingsbarns is a son of 2010 champion two-year-old male Uncle Mo, already the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and Belmont (G1) hero Mo Donegal. Running long on dirt is a strong suit for many of Uncle Mo’s top runners, and his progeny win at a lofty average distance of 7.5 furlongs.
Although Two Phil’s has shown talent on dirt, winning the Street Sense (G3) and placing in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2), he elevated his game to a new level when tackling a synthetic Tapeta track in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park.
The Jeff Ruby saw Two Phil’s settle off the pace before unleashing a strong outside rally to draw off and dominate the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier by 5 1/4 lengths. Clearly he handles synthetic as well or better than dirt, which isn’t surprising when you dig into his pedigree.
Few bettors expected Lord Miles to win the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, but the pace-tracking colt defied expectations to prevail by a nose at 59-1, stamping his ticket to the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).
The victory by Lord Miles may have come as a surprise on the day, but there was nothing in his pedigree to suggest the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial was an illogical target. To the contrary, Lord Miles is bred to relish running long on dirt.
Six starts, four wins, two seconds. Consistency is a strong suit for Mandarin Hero, and he has the talent to match. He joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a nose defeat in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), which stamped the Japanese-bred colt as a viable contender for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).
The question is, does Mandarin Hero have the breeding to shine racing 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May? His pedigree contains a mixture of U.S. and Japanese influences, so we’ll have to dig deep to come up with conclusions.
Can Cyclone Mischief become the third son of Into Mischief to win the Kentucky Derby (G1)? Third-place finishes behind champion Forte in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1) suggest Cyclone Mischief has the talent to factor, and his pedigree doesn’t disagree.
Rallying third-place finishes in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and San Felipe (G2) have stamped Skinner as a talented racehorse with the credentials to compete in the Kentucky Derby (G1). And if his pedigree is any indication, racing 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs may bring about a career-best performance from the bay colt.
It’s safe to say Mage hails from a family of Kentucky Derby (G1) veterans. His sire, grandsire, and dam sire all started in the Run for the Roses, giving Mage the pedigree to factor on the first Saturday in May.
Mage comes from the first crop of foals sired by Good Magic, the champion two-year-old male of 2017 after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). A son of two-time Horse of the Year and acclaimed classics sire Curlin (who placed third in the 2007 Kentucky Derby), Good Magic improved upon his own sire’s Kentucky Derby performance by finishing second in 2018, beaten only by future Triple Crown winner Justify.
Gun Runner is one of the hottest young sires in North America. Tapit is a veteran stallion who has topped the North American sire rankings three times. The cross of Gun Runner with Tapit mares has already produced several high-level racehorses, including 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Disarm.
Runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and third in the Lexington (G3), Disarm is a homebred racing in the colors of Winchell Thoroughbreds. Winchell Thoroughbreds raced both Gun Runner and Tapit, and now the stable is reaping dividends by mixing the bloodlines of their two star stallions.
Fourth in the Southwest (G3). Second in the Risen Star (G2). Fifth in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Fourth in the Blue Grass (G1). By picking up Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points in a quartet of prep races, Sun Thunder earned his ticket to the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Should Sun Thunder visit the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May, he’d be the third son of Into Mischief to win the Kentucky Derby. Though, presumably, he’d be the first to do so without extenuating circumstances.
There are many well-bred horses slated to start in the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1), but few—if any—can boast as blueblood a pedigree as Blue Grass (G1) runner-up Verifying.
Verifying likes to race close to the pace, a tendency he possibly inherited from his speedy sire, Justify. Five years ago, Justify stormed unbeaten through a six-start career culminating with a sweep of the 2018 Triple Crown.
First Mission’s rail-skimming run brought back memories of his sire, Street Sense. A powerful inside rally carried the son of Street Cry to victory in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), cementing his status as champion two-year-old male. The following year, Street Sense again rallied up the rail to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) over a terrific field including future two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.
King Russell required five starts to break his maiden, but wasted no time ascending the class ladder after doing so. One start after securing his initial victory, King Russell finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) to emerge as a contender for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).
The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, one day after the Kentucky Oaks (G1). The Derby and the Oaks run in King Russell’s family, so it’s not surprising to see King Russell peaking in the spring of his sophomore season.
Quick Kentucky Derby Contender Answers
- Q: How many total horses can run in the Kentucky Derby?
- A: 20 horses can be placed inside the Churchill Downs starting gate, which means 20 horses can run in the Kentucky Derby. There are typically two Also Eligible 'AE' horses who can find a chance to compete, if one of the original 20 horses scratches and cannot run in the race.
- Q: How do horses get to run in the Kentucky Derby?
- A: 18 entries are initially reserved for the top Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race point earners. These prep races are per-determined and if a horse is tied in points, then a specific type of purse earnings are used to assist.
- A: 2 entries in the Kentucky Derby are 'reserved' for runners from the European Road to the Kentucky Derby and the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby Hopeful Point Accumulation Process
One of the fascinating things about the build-up to the Kentucky Derby is watching the development of young Thoroughbreds. Still babyish as two-year-olds, the Derby hopefuls begin to grow up as three-year-olds -- a process often compared to junior high kids morphing into high school athletes.
Fans can track the horses' progress during the "Road to the Kentucky Derby," traditionally a series of 35 races that take place from the fall of their two-year-old campaign through the spring of their three-year-old year, culminating in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Horses earn their way into the Derby by scoring points in these races (the full schedule, along with the sliding scale of points available for a top-five finish in each race, is available here).
Just as major sports teams advance through playoffs, meeting stiffer competition as they get closer to the championship event, so do Derby aspirants aim to climb through each successive prep race. They might not have to win, but they do have to perform well enough -- and stay healthy -- to remain on the trail.
Because the competition gets tougher as the trail unfolds, the Derby points system awards the most points for the marquee preps in late March or April. The winners of the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, UAE Derby (in Dubai), Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, and Arkansas Derby each bank 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby, clinching a spot in the field.
So hop onto the Derby trail -- you might find a hot prospect!