The Skinny On the Derby Field: Posts 11-20

Apr 29, 2023; Louisville, KY, USA; Kentucky Derby contenders Angel of Empire, on the outside, and Jace’s Road, inside, breeze together at the track Saturday, April 29, 2023, the week before the Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Both horses are trained by Brad Cox, who has four total contending in the Kentucky Derby May 6, 2023. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stone-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny On the Derby Field: Posts 11-20

Mattress Mack has an awesome promo where if the Kentucky Derby favorite wins you get your furniture free. Check out the flyer below, then let’s look at Posts 11-20 of the Derby field and the also-eligibles:

The preps are done, the major works finished, and the draw has taken place for the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1). All that is left for horsemen to do is to try their darndest to keep their 3-year-olds fit and happy on the backside of Churchill Downs for a few days and then lead them over to the paddock late Saturday afternoon.

From top to bottom, we’ll run through the field giving good reasons why they could win the Derby, and, on the flip side, why they won’t win the Derby. Yesterday’s column featured post positions 1-10. Today we’ll cover 11-20 and the also-eligibles. Let’s continue.

As the program reads, “Race 12, 1 ¼ MILES (1:59 2/5) THE KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY WOODFORD RESERVE. Grade I. Purse $3,000,000 For Three-year-olds, With An Entry Fee Of $25,000 Each And A Starting Fee Of $25,000 Each.”

Post 11 – Disarm – 30-1

(Gun Runner—Easy Tap, by Tapit)

Why he can win: Hails from a top outfit – trainer Steve Asmussen has won more races than anyone on the continent, and he nabs one of the best riders around, Joel Rosario, to ride a 30-1 shot. Colt is from the first crop of Gun Runner, who lit up the sires list last year. He had to fight his way in with a third-place finish in the April 15 Lexington Stakes but has plenty of upside. Also, has looked great on the track in the mornings Derby week, firing a lights-out work April 24. He has a healthy glow and his chestnut coat looks like a new penny. He’s apparently feeling good and improving at the right time. He’s one of the “buzz” horses of Derby week.

Why he can’t win: He had to back his way into the Derby, scooping up just a few points in the final race of the series with a third-place finish in the Lexington, the last of the Derby points races. Has only one win in five starts; was second to Kingsbarns in his only other stakes effort. Back-to-back Beyer Speed Figures of 90 … is there room to grow here, or has he peaked? Great trainer, but he’s 0-for-24 in the Run for the Roses. His sire was stellar as an older horse but was third in the 2016 Derby.

Post 12 – Jace’s Road – 50-1

(Quality Road—Out Post, by Silver Deputy)

Why he can win: There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of blazing speed in this year’s Derby, and he has proved to have tactical speed in Louisiana and Arkansas … an attribute for the 20-horse field. He’s knocked heads in five successive stakes races, so he’s been sized up with this bunch and has held his own. Won ungraded Gun Runner Stakes last Dec. 26, then flopped in the Southwest Stakes (G3), and improved in the Louisiana Derby, running third after breaking through the gate prior to the start – that’s never a good sign …however, the fact he still ran on shows talent and heart. His two worst efforts came on off tracks. He has the best post position of trainer Brad Cox’s three players. 

Why he can’t win: A lone Beyer Speed Figure of 90 or higher hardly instills confidence. Hard to like the fact he flattened out two back in the Southwest. He wore front bandages in his last try and finished behind Disarm (see post 11). There’s just not enough “pop” in his past performances.

Post 13 – Sun Thunder – 50-1

Into Mischief—Greenfield d’Oro, by Medaglia d’Oro

Why he can win: Colt’s best effort came back in mid-February when he was second to Angel of Empire in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. Finished mid-pack in last two leading up to Derby. As a closer, he’ll need to speed up front to completely collapse to get into the frame. Has drawn a nice post – Nyquist came from lucky 13 to win in 2016. Into Mischief has been the leading sire for four years running. Sun Thunder’s pedigree has plenty of stamina; his second dam, Maryfield, won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) in 2007.

Why he can’t win: Has finished behind too many of his rivals lately: in his last three starts finished behind six fellow Derby competitors. Lack of a Beyer Speed Figure above 89 suggests he’s not fast enough at this level. Trainer has one second in the Derby from eight previous starters, and that was with his first in 1995. 

Post 14 – Angel of Empire – 8-1

Classic Empire—Armony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve

Why he can win: All three of his starts this year have been stellar, including his last two in which he won the Risen Star Stakes (G2) by a length over Sun Thunder and Two Phil’s, then blowing the doors off the competition in the Arkansas Derby (G1). The last was a 4 ¼-length romp over King Russell (also eligible) and Reincarnate. He has a top rider in Flavien Prat, who won the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Country House. Angel of Empire drew raves from horsemen with his good looks during his April 29 drill in which he covered five furlongs in 1:01. Dapples were mentioned yesterday, and he’s got plenty, a display he’s feeling really good. He hasn’t gotten the respect at the windows he deserves and merits his third choice on the morning line.

Why he can’t win: Will have to negotiate his way through traffic as he’s not that keen early on. His Beyer Speed Figure pattern is moving in the right direction, but a lifetime high of 94 is below some of the others. Two of his four wins came with the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, which is not allowed in the Kentucky Derby. Has little “buzz” on the backstretch.

Post 15 – Forte – 3-1

(Violence—Queen Caroline, by Blame)

Why he can win: He’s the early favorite for a reason: he’s two for two this year while facing the best bunch of runners in South Florida, and he’s the defending 2-year-old champion. He doesn’t “wow” you with his speed but clicks off solid :12 furlongs better than anyone else in the cast, which if he can replicate, he’ll be a bear in the stretch. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won two Derbys and prefers to have a solid break between races, especially the five weeks Forte had from his come-from-behind win in the Florida Derby to May 6. He’s making his third start off a layoff, another preferred Pletcher move that typically shows a good effort off the break, followed by a slight regression, followed by a peak performance. His Beyer Speed Figure pattern displays that as Forte earned a 98 in the Fountain of Youth, then regressed with a 95 in the Florida Derby. The expectation is that he’ll “bounce” forward in the Derby. His rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., has won four of the last five Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding jockey. The boss of the Pletcher shedrow on appearance. He’s the horse to beat, no doubt.

Why he can’t win: Doesn’t have the explosive “turn of foot” horsemen say they want to see. He only has one triple-digit Beyer Speed Fig to his resume which he earned in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G,1) and has not reached that so far at 3. His work prior to the Derby, a :49 4/5 drill April 29, was sold, but not the “wow” kind of work that points to the Derby winner. As a closer, traffic and/or a wide trip could be his undoing.

Post 16 – Raise Cain – 50-1

(Violence—Lemon Belle, by Lemon Drop Kid)

Why he can win: Closer has bounced around as his last four starts have come at four different tracks. Stepped up in the mud at Aqueduct in New York to win the one-mile Gotham Stakes (G3) by 7 ½ lengths. Has been stabled at Keeneland, away from the hubbub of the Derby backstretch. Finished fifth in the Blue Grass, but did pass five others in the stretch. He’ll need some help with a healthy pace up front. Has an under-the-radar trainer in Ben Colebrook, who is a solid, hardboot horseman.

Why he can’t win: Has a 2-1-1 mark in seven starts while not facing the top of the crop. Highest Beyer Speed Figure of 90 suggests he’s not as fast as his contemporaries. He was off the board in his lone grade 1 appearance. 

Post 17 – Derma Sotogake – 10-1

(Mind Your Biscuits-Amour Poesie, by Neo Universe)

Why he can win: He was a runaway winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai in late March, one of the few Derby preps that are run at a closer distance to the Derby’s 1 ¼ miles. Japan-bred horses have proved over the last few years they can compete anywhere and at any level. Two Japan-bred, Japan-based horses won Breeders’ Cup races two years ago, and they have dominated the top racing during the Dubai Racing Carnival the past two winters at Meydan. In his wake, he won by 5 ½ lengths over Continuar, another Japan runner who will break from post 20. Has a world-class rider in C. Lemaire aboard. Has the speed to take control or force the issue with Kingsbarns and others. Many astute horsemen believe he’s a player in this year’s running.

Why he can’t win: Heard a stat during the draw that 18 horses have tried the Derby after running in the UAE Derby in Dubai … none have won, including Mendelssohn, who ran last in 2018 after taking the UAE Derby by 18 ½ lengths. Racing in Japan and Dubai … that’s a lot of miles on a young horse. 

Post 18 – Rocket Can – 30-1

(Into Mischief—Tension, by Tapit)

Why he can win: He sports a win in a key Derby prep, the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) in South Florida, and ran second behind Forte in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). He’s trained by one of the greats, Bill Mott, who won the 2019 Derby with Country House and has a solid rider in Junior Alvarado. He’s making his fourth start off a break with a favorable Beyer Speed Figure pattern that signifies a move forward in his next start. He has a pedigree built for the Derby, and above all, he’s cut a dashing figure on the backstretch all week. He ripped off a :59 4/5 five-furlong drill on Sunday. Yet another gray on the track that has plenty of dapples to signify he’s “doing good.” At 30-1, he’s a solid horse to use in any spot in exactas, tris, or the superfecta. 

Why he can’t win: After finishing 4 ½ lengths behind Forte in Florida, shipped to Oaklawn where he was fourth behind Angel of Empire, King Russell, and Reincarnate in the Arkansas Derby. He’s way outside in post 18 and will have to exert a lot of energy early to get to the rail. His top Beyer Speed Figure of 91 doesn’t match up well with several of the others. 

Post 19 – Lord Miles – 30-1

(Curlin—Lady Esme, by Majestic Warrior)

Why he can win: Exits an exciting victory over Derby rival Hit Show in the April 8 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) in New York. Is a son of super sire Curlin. He has one of the strongest jocks in the country, Paco Lopez, aboard. Showed he belonged with the South Florida contingent with a third-place finish in the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man Stakes (beaten just three-quarters of a length). Outside post shouldn’t bother him; he’ll likely get tucked in behind the others into the first turn and make one run.

Why he can’t win: Wood Memorial time was ordinary compared to other preps. Was beaten handily by Rocket Can (post 17) in the Holy Bull and Tapit Trice (post 4) in the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Won the Wood at 59-1 … and hasn’t garnered much in the way of hype since then.

Posts 20 – Continuar – 50-1

(Drefong-Pan de Ring, by King Kamehameha)

Why he can win: Like Derma Sotogake, hails from Japan, and Japan-based runners have been strong internationally over the last few years. He won last fall’s Cattleya Stakes in Tokyo, getting a mile in a good 1:36 3/5. He has an off-the-pace style that suits the outside post. Was behind Derma Sotogake last time out in the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai but closed ground to the top of the lane over a notoriously speed-favoring racing surface.

Why he can’t win: Worked in company with Derma Sotogake the other day and got smoked. His chestnut coat doesn’t have that shiny glow that it needs to have this time of year in Central Kentucky. His sire, Drefong, was a sprinter, taking the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) several years ago at Santa Anita.


Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief—Areyoucominghere, by Bernardini) was based at Gulfstream Park this winter and came away with a win in an optional claiming race, but then was seventh, third, and third in stakes company facing the likes of Forte, Mage, and Rocket Can. He’s an in-and-outer, meaning sometimes he flashes speed, other times tracks the pace—too many inconsistencies here to get excited about.

Mandarin Hero (Shanghai Bobby—Namura Nadeshiko, by Fugi Kiseki) is yet another Japan-based runner, but he brought his game to the U.S. and ran a bang-up race in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), beaten just a nose by Practical Move (post 10). About the only downside is he only earned 40 points for that, not enough to get into the main portion of the Derby field. Will draw attention should he somehow get in.

King Russell (Creative Cause—Believe You Will, by Proud Citizen) was a surprising second behind Angel of Empire (post 14) in his first stakes try after taking six attempts to break his maiden. His toughest assignment will be drawing in as the third also-eligible.

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