The 149th Kentucky Derby is Saturday with 20 of the best athletes in the world facing off in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs. They have been bred for speed and distance, trained since birth by the best in the world. For them, this moment is three years in the making, a chance to not only win the Kentucky Derby but possibly the Triple Crown, one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in sport. The distance is 1¼ miles, and within 2 minutes, a champion will be crowned, a blanket of 554 red roses draped upon them and, from that day forth, they’ll be recognized as one of the champions of the sport.
While legal sports betting is still nascent or prohibited in most states, betting on the ponies has a long history in this country, whether at the track of through off-track betting outlets. Still, there are plenty of people new to the activity, or who bet on only the big races. If that describes you, welcome, you’re in the right place. I grew up watching Triple Crown races with my grandfather but got more into the sport when I moved to Baltimore in 2006, and attended the Preakness. Today, I share a percentage of horses with the Final Furlong Racing Stables through the Stake in Stardom program created by America’s Best Racing. In this column, I’ll give you the basics you need to bet the Derby, and some insight into some of the bets I like for Saturday’s race.
What to know about the 2023 Kentucky Derby
The 2023 Kentucky Derby will be race No. 12 on Saturday. Post time is 6:57 p.m. ET.
A purse of $3 million — the most lucrative of the three Triple Crown races — will be awarded to the top five horses, with the winner taking home $1.86 million (the jockey $186,000). Second place earns $600,000, third $300,000, fourth $150,000 and fifth $90,000.
This year’s Derby does not have a true head-and-shoulders-above-any-other horse, therefore the race will have more parity, and this truly could be anyone’s race.
Two of the best trainers in the world each have three horses in the race. Todd Pletcher has the No. 15 horse Forte, who enters the weekend as the favorite. He also trained No. 5 Tapit Trice and No. 6 Kingsbarns. Brad Cox has No. 1 Hit Show, No. 2 Verifying, and No. 14 Angel Of Empire.
No. 17 Derma Sotogake is looking to make history by becoming the first Japan-based horse to win the Derby.
Four horses have died this week at Churchill Downs, two suddenly for unknown reasons and two after sustaining injuries. This is very unusual, and Churchill Downs Racetrack is investigating. Wild On Ice was one of the horses euthanized after being injured, therefore the No. 9 horse, Skinner, took his place. Skinner was then scratched on Friday due to a fever, bringing the field down to 19 horses.
On Thursday, No. 10 Practical Move was also withdrawn because of a fever, so No. 21 Cyclone Mischief was added to the field
Two horses trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, who were not in the field for the Derby, were the ones who died suddenly for unknown reasons. Joseph was suspended Thursday and his horse, No. 19, Lord Miles, withdrawn, bringing in No. 22 Mandarin Hero..
No. 20, Continuar, also scratched on Thursday, made room for No. 23 King Russell to enter the field as the final eligible horse. Any further scratches will continue to reduce the field.
Want to know more? Check out our 2023 Kentucky Derby FAQ
Betting on one or more horses
It’s important to know horse racing odds are determined by a pari-mutuel system, which means you’re betting against everyone else: the more people bet on the same horse you do, the more ways the pot gets split. If you’re one of few people to bet on a long shot, there are fewer bettors to share the winnings with, so your payout is much larger. The odds are therefore determined by the bettors. Morning line odds were originally set by the track handicappers, but those odds have since changed based on how much is bet on each horse. The odds will change throughout the week, and are not locked in once your bet is made: Your potential payout is determined right before post time.
Because this Derby is so wide open, I suggest you go to the window with a $1 trifecta with a five-horse box, which will cost you $60. What does that mean? You are selecting five horses, and if three of the five finish first (win), second (place) and third (show), you win. The longer the odds on the horses that finish in the top three, the more money you win.
Morning Line odds displayed. Check here for the latest
15. Forte (3-1) Trainer – Todd Pletcher; Jockey – Irad Ortiz Jr.; 7 starts and 6 wins
Forte is the horse to beat. He was the Breeder’s Cup juvenile winner at age 2, and has won 5 straight races, including the Florida Derby.
5. Tapit Trice (5-1) Trainer – Todd Pletcher; Jockey – Luis Saez; 5 starts, 4 wins and a show
Looks the part as a beautiful gray horse that sold for $1.3 million at auction. This horse has stamina, and has won Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
14. Angel Of Empire (8-1) Trainer – Brad Cox; Jockey – Flavien Prat; 6 starts, four wins and a place
Won the Arkansas Derby with an impressive time and still had gas in the tank. He possesses great closing speed.
17. Derma Sotogake (10-1) Trainer – Hidetaka Otonashi, Jockey – Christophe Lemaire; 8 starts, 4 wins and 2 shows
Fresh off a win in Dubai at the UAE Derby, this Japan-based horse was bred specifically to win the Kentucky Derby. With good speed and a strong front foot, if he gets the right trip, he could pull off the upset!
6. Kingsbarns (12-1) Trainer – Todd Pletcher; Jockey – Jose Ortiz; 3 starts and 3 wins
The only horse entering the Derby undefeated, including a win at the Louisiana Derby. Sire is Uncle Mo. He breaks well but did not race as a 2-year-old, which is rare and the only concern.
3. Two Phil’s (12-1) Trainer – Larry Rivelli; Jockey – Jareth Loveberry; 8 starts with 4 wins, 1 place and 1 show
He has won on this track before at the Street Sense Stakes.
2. Verifying (15-1) Trainer – Brad Cox; Jockey – Tyler Gaffalione; 6 starts with 2 wins and 2 places
Sire is Justify, who won the Triple Crown in 2018. Has great stamina and closing speed.
8. Mage (15-1) Trainer – Gustavo Delgado; Jockey – Javier Castellano; 3 starts with 1 win and 1 place
A South Florida-based contender that came in second to Forte in the Florida Derby.
The long shots
4. Confidence Game (20-1) Trainer – Keith Desormeaux; Jockey – James Graham, 7 starts with 3 wins, 1 place and 2 shows
Son of Candy Ride and bred for distance. He won the Rebel Stakes.
11. Disarm (30-1) Trainer – Steve Asmussen, Jockey – Joel Rosario; 5 starts with 1 win, 2 places and 2 shows
Has been bred for this distance. Rosario won the Derby in 2013.
7. Reincarnate (50-1) Trainer -Tim Yakteen (transferred by Bob Baffert); Jockey – John Velazquez; 7 starts with 2 wins, 3 places and 2 shows
Likes to get to the front and won’t let many horses get past him. He has an experienced rider in Velazquez, a three-time Derby-winning jockey.
Other horses in the field
1. Hit Show (30-1)
12. Jace’s Road (50-1)
13. Sun Thunder (50-1)
16. Raise Cain (50-1)
18. Rocket Can 30-1)
21. Cyclone Mischief (65-1)
22. Mandarin Hero (62-1)
23. King Russell (50-1)
$1 / 5-horse trifecta box – $60 (60 possible combinations)
14. Angel Of Empire
17. Derma Sotogake
5. Tapit Trice
$1 / 6-horse trifecta box – $120 (120 possible combinations)
Take the same five and include No. 2 Verifying
$1 / 7-horse trifecta box – $210 (210 possible combinations)
Include No. 3 Two Phil’s