Kentucky Derby 141 Selections

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") @J_Keelerman

After months of waiting and watching races and analyzing pedigrees, charts, speed figures, and statistics, the first Saturday in May has almost arrived! We’re just two days away from the 141st running on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and following a last-minute defection earlier today from Stanford, it looks like the field of twenty is set. Now, at long last, it’s time to take the opinions we have compiled over the months and use them to finalize our selections for the Derby! So without further ado, here are my thoughts on all twenty of the Derby starters, sorted into three separate groups of "Unlikely Contenders," "Superfecta Contenders," and—drumroll!—"Win Contenders."


#1 Ocho Ocho Ocho

This admirable colt went unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile, with the highlight being a victory over Mr. Z and Far Right in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III). He opened his three-year-old season with a poor showing in the San Felipe (gr. II) after a rough trip, but rebounded to finish a decent third in the Blue Grass (gr. I) after setting the pace. He might be sitting on another step forward in his third start off the layoff, but unfortunately, he has drawn the rail. Under the circumstances, I can’t really see him working out a good trip, as he will have to either gun from the gate and set the pace or take back and hope he doesn’t get trapped in traffic. I’m also not sure that he really wants to run a mile and a quarter, so this looks like a tough spot for him.

#7 El Kabeir

I really, really want to like his colt in the Derby, as his late-running style, proven affinity for Churchill Downs, and great post draw should set him up for a big effort. And of course, having three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel in the saddle can’t hurt either. But his Beyer speed figures are a cut below the top contenders, and after unexpected company caused him to breeze four furlongs on April 25th in :46 4/5—likely a bit too fast—I’ll be leaning against him on Saturday. That could change if the track is sloppy, as both El Kabeir and Calvin Borel are known to thrive on wet tracks, but with the forecast calling for a fast track, it probably won’t matter.

#10 Firing Line

There’s no doubt that this colt has talent—he lost both the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) to Dortmund by the combined margin of only a neck—and he was very impressive winning the Sunland Derby (gr. III) by 14 ¼ lengths in track-record time. However, the track was blazingly fast on Sunland Derby day, so his fractional splits and final time are not quite as impressive as they appear, and considering his performances to date and pedigree, I do wonder if he will find ten furlongs to be a bit beyond his best distance. He is training well, which is a positive, and he will definitely be a pace factor, but my gut feeling is that he’s going to run a bit too fast early on and tire in the final furlong.

#13 Itsaknockout

I can forgive his poor showing in the Florida Derby (gr. I), in which he was beaten 21 lengths over a very tiring track that he didn’t seem to enjoy, but even still, his career-best Beyer is only an 88, and I think he’s going to prove best at 8-8.5 furlongs rather than ten. It’s certainly not out of the question that he could rebound with a nice effort, and a fast pace could help set up his late run, but I’m afraid I’ll be siding with others in this deep field.

#14 Keen Ice

I’ve had my eye on this colt for a while as a live longshot, as his breeding suggests that he’ll relish ten furlongs, and a fast pace should be to his liking as well. Furthermore, his lone victory came at Churchill Downs, and he has trained pretty well at Churchill in preparation for this race. But like Itsaknockout, his highest Beyer speed figure is only an 88, and he has been soundly beaten by International Star, War Story, Upstart, Frosted, Carpe Diem, and Mr. Z in the past. In a field this deep, it would be a surprise to see him finish in the superfecta, but I might include him for third in a small trifecta just in case the pace gets really hot and he comes running to pick up the pieces.

#16 War Story

He hasn’t done much wrong in his first five starts, finishing in the top three each time and looming a win contender in all three of the Fair Grounds Derby preps. However, he did lose ground from the eighth pole to the wire in all three of those races, suggesting that he might not relish the extra distance of the Derby, and reports have it that he isn’t training particularly well at Churchill Downs. He will be running without blinkers for the first time, which could help him relax farther off the early pace, but he may be in for a tough trip from post 15 and will have to step up with a career-best effort to be in the mix.

#17 Mr. Z

He’s placed in seven stakes races and is clearly a talented horse, but has not been training very well in the lead-up to the Derby and appears to be more of a miler than a ten-furlong horse. I’m very fond of this colt and want to see him run well, but like War Story, he could be in for a wide trip from post 16 and will probably find the going a bit too deep.

#19 Upstart

I have been a fan of Upstart since last year, and he’s done very well to place in the top three in all seven of his races thus far. On three occasions, he’s earned Beyer speed figures in excess of 102, and he’s trained very well in the lead-up to the Derby. But I do have a few concerns—mainly, I wonder if his efforts over very tiring tracks in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby will cause him to regress in the Derby, and I’m a bit concerned about the slight fever that he had a couple of weeks ago, which caused him to miss a workout. I was debating whether to use him in the Derby exotics or leave him out of the mix, and since he will start from post 18—which could seriously hamper his chances of getting a ground-saving trip—I’m going to try and beat him in the trifecta and superfecta.


#2 Carpe Diem

He seems to have been forgotten a bit in the lead-up to the Derby, possibly because his speed figures aren’t the fastest and possibly because he’s been preparing for the Derby at Keeneland, away from the spotlight of Churchill Downs. Drawing post two certainly won’t help his chances, as this is a colt that has done his best running while stalking the pace outside of horses. Still, he did show in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that he can close from far back with success, and he also has enough tactical speed to secure good position if he breaks cleanly. Given that his speed figures are a bit slower than those of his primary rivals, drawing post two might prove to be a benefit, as it should allow him to save some ground and be right in the mix if he can avoid getting bumped around in the first quarter-mile. Despite the post, I still view him as a primary contender for a top-three finish, but I’m not quite as confident as I would have been otherwise.

#3 Materiality

He’s unbeaten in three starts and owns the highest Beyer speed figure in the field—a 110 earned while defeating Upstart in the Florida Derby (gr. I)—but he has only run at Gulfstream Park and didn’t race as a two-year-old, which means he must overcome the famed "Apollo Curse." His tactical speed and ability to rate should serve him well in the Derby, but he’s going to have to break sharply to work out a good trip from post three, as I don’t think he has quite as much early speed as some of his rivals and could potentially run into trouble in the first quarter-mile. On sheer talent, he must be considered, but given the obstacles, I’m leaning toward using him only at the bottom of trifectas and possibly the superfecta.

#4 Tencendur

Off his first four starts, it would be hard to endorse him in this race, but he stepped up last time out to finish a strong second in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) with a Beyer speed figure of 100. Since then, he has turned in a pair of bullet workouts, including a solid five-furlong breeze in company at Churchill on April 25th, and he has drawn pretty well in post four. We saw in his maiden victory that this colt isn’t afraid to run in between horses, a useful trait for the Derby and one that could serve him well and enable him to work out a ground-saving trip. At 30-1, he’s definitely worth a look for the bottom of the exotics.

#5 Danzig Moon

All reports have it that Danzig Moon has been training extremely well at Churchill Downs, and indeed, his two workouts over the track have been eye-catching. He ran very well at Churchill in a maiden race last year, finishing second after a slow start, and I really liked his effort last time out in the Blue Grass Stakes. In that race, he was wide throughout while sitting four lengths behind modest fractions, then put in a strong, sustained rally to finish just three lengths behind Carpe Diem. He’s got a great pedigree for the Derby distance, being by Malibu Moon out of a Danzig mare, and I think post five will enable him to settle in behind Carpe Diem and Materiality early on and secure a great ground-saving trip. I think he’s sitting on a huge effort this Saturday and is a major contender for the exotics at 30-1.

#6 Mubtaahij

I must admit that I’m not exactly sure what to think of Mubtaahij. He has been hugely impressive in Dubai, winning four of his five starts and romping to an eight-length victory in the UAE Derby (UAE-III), a race in which he demonstrated explosive acceleration and a strong finishing kick. But the trip from Dubai to the U.S. is a long one, and he’s going to have to try and adapt to a faster early pace than he is used to. UAE Derby winners have not historically fared well in the Kentucky Derby, but we know Mubtaahij can handle getting dirt in his face, and having drawn post six, I hope to see him settle behind horses early on while rating off the pace and then come running in the final three-eighths. Visually, he’s been impressive enough to suggest that winning the Derby is within his capabilities, but this is going to be a stiff challenge. I’ll definitely be using him on the bottom of the exotics, and might consider playing him on top of a small trifecta as well.

#12 International Star

He overcame a very slow early pace to win the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) with an exceptional late rally, running the final three furlongs in about :36 3/5 to triumph by a neck. That was his third straight victory at Fair Grounds following wins in the LeComte (gr. III) and Risen Star (gr. II), all three of them accomplished with strong rallies up the rail. It’s clear that this colt doesn’t mind racing inside and in between horses, which is very beneficial in the Derby, and if he can find an opening turning for home he should be rallying well in the homestretch. I consider him to be one of the primary contenders in this race—possibly even a win contender if the pace gets very fast—and will be using him for second and third in trifectas.

#15 Frosted

He unleashed a powerful late run in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) to defeat Tencendur by two lengths while running the final three furlongs in about :36 3/5. A tailwind in the homestretch may have enhanced the time of his late run, but this was still a very powerful and impressive performance, especially given that he raced wide throughout. However, it’s worth noting that most of Frosted’s best races—including both of his victories—have come at Aqueduct, and no Wood Memorial starter has finished better than fourth in the Derby in the last decade. In general, I like Frosted a lot, and greatly respect his chances in the Derby. But I have the feeling that he may be a better play for the bottom of the exotics than for the top spot.

#20 Far Right

He’s probably the truest and most talented deep closer in the Derby, having rallied from far back to win the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes (gr. III) before finishing second to American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). What’s particularly notable about his performance in the latter race is that he didn’t lose any ground against American Pharoah in the final furlong (which he ran in about :12 2/5 seconds) while not being urged particularly hard by Mike Smith. Starting from post 19 could make things tricky, as he’s going to have to drop way back and try to tuck in and save ground on the first turn, but a strong pace would help his chances and I think he can handle the extra distance.

#21 Frammento

The first also-eligible drew into the race following the scratch of Stanford and will start from post twenty, which isn’t ideal, but I think he’s got a fighting chance to get involved for the exotics. In the Blue Grass Stakes, he was compromised by racing over a slow rail while rating behind a modest pace, yet still put in a decent rally to finish fourth, beaten only 4 ¼ lengths for second by Danzig Moon. Trainer Nick Zito has a lot of confidence that Frammento is sitting on a big race, and the ten-furlong distance should be a positive. I think he’s one to consider for the bottom of the exotics.


#8 Dortmund

The unbeaten winner of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) looms as one of the major contenders to win the Derby, and in most years, he would be an overwhelming favorite to win. Speed figures? He’s good to go with a pair of triple-digit Beyers, including a 106 in the Santa Anita Derby. Versatility? He’s won while on the lead, tracking the pace, and coming from several lengths behind. Post position? He’s drawn well in post 8 and should be able to work out a great trip. As long as he’s able to stay out of trouble and utilize his long strides and excellent early speed, I think he’s going to give American Pharoah a real run for the money.

#9 Bolo

He’s going to be a big longshot, but I think that Bolo has a very live chance to win the Kentucky Derby. True, he’s never won on dirt, and he might prove to be better at a mile on grass than ten furlongs on dirt. But Churchill Downs has been known to play favorably toward turf/synthetic horses (Barbaro, Big Brown, Paddy O’Prado, Animal Kingdom, Dullahan, Went the Day Well, etc.), and a very wide trip in the Santa Anita Derby likely cost Bolo a runner-up finish. He’s trained well since that race, most recently breezing five furlongs in :59 3/5 on April 24th at Santa Anita, and in terms of Beyer speed figures, he fits well with figures of 101 and 95 in his last two starts. If he can settle in mid-pack behind a quick pace and avoid going too wide on the final turn, I think he has a legitimate chance to get into the mix for the exotics, and if he really takes to the track, I won’t be shocked to see him win the race.

#18 American Pharoah

The Derby favorite has done virtually nothing wrong in the lead-up to the Derby, winning the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) and Arkansas Derby (gr. I) in dominating fashion at Oaklawn Park. He’s trained spectacularly at Churchill Downs, breezing a bullet five furlongs in :58 2/5 on April 26th, matches well on speed figures, and showed in the Arkansas Derby that he doesn’t have to have the early lead to be successful. He will start from post 17, which has never produced a Derby winner, but I think that’s more of a statistical anomaly than anything else. From post 17, he should be able to stay out of trouble while racing outside of horses, and from there, I believe we’re going to see him hook up with stablemate Dortmund at the top of the stretch and prevail in a battle for supremacy of his own barn.

So having gone through the complete field and made my selection, now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?


In order to aid in handicapping the Derby, here are the race replays for every horse entered in the Kentucky Derby. Also, here are links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

Horse Points Last race
International Star 171

1st Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4th Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
9th Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Grey Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd With Anticipation Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Rockville Centre Stakes (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Dortmund 170

1st Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Carpe Diem 164

1st Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

American Pharoah 160 1st Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Frosted 113

1st Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4th Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Remsen Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Mubtaahij 100 1st UAE Derby (UAE-II) (VIDEO)
1st Al Bastakiya Stakes (replay posted below)
2nd UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) (replay posted below)
1st UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial
1st EGA Billet Trophy
7th Maiden Race
5th Maiden Race
Materiality 100 1st Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Islamorada Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
El Kabeir 95

3rd Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Jerome Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Nashua Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
4th Champagne Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3rd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Upstart 76 2nd Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd (DQ'd from 1st) Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3rd Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd Champagne Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Funny Cide Stakes (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Far Right 62 2nd Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)
3rd Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3rd Street Sense Stakes (VIDEO)
4th Futurity Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Itsaknockout 60 4th Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st (via DQ) Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Firing Line 58

1st Sunland Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Danzig Moon 45 2nd Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4th Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
4th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
War Story 44 3rd Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Tencendur 41 2nd Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5th Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4th Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3rd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Mr. Z 34

3rd Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
9th Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
3rd Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3rd Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)
3rd Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
5th Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5th Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Saratoga Special (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Sanford Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Ocho Ocho Ocho 30 3rd Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
8th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Juvenile Turf Sprint Stakes (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Bolo 30 3rd Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3rd San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Eddie Logan Stakes (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
5th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Keen Ice 22 4th Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
4th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
5th Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3rd Remsen Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
5th Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
4th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Frammento 20 4th Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3rd Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
6th Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
4th Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
4th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
Tale of Verve 0

1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
4th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
7th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3rd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3rd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Al Bastakiya Stakes

UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III)

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