The 149th Kentucky Derby as per Geo Sette

May 3, 2023

If there is one thing we can count on for any big racing day it is the Geo Sette has done his homework, and that he will eagerly share his opinion with all of us on Past the Wire. The past performances show that Geo hits more than his fair share of winners and excels in his deep dive analysis in the big races. Well The Kentucky Derby is as big as they get so here we go!

Geo Sette with Peter Walder at Saratoga
Geo with trainer Peter Walder at Saratoga

Time is fleeting, and with each passing year the sports world embraces the first Saturday in May like a special holiday, as it should be. No other sporting event has as much history and tradition as the Kentucky Derby. The always greatly anticipated “ Run for the Roses” is the most exciting 2 minutes in sports.

Inaugurated back in 1875, we are now embracing the 149th running. It’s a day not only for those who are passionate about thoroughbred racing, but for all sports fans. 

Churchill Downs again will be filled, expect over 160,000 people live at the track and millions of others gathered around the world in front of their TV screens. 

Last year over 175 million dollars was wagered on the race, with over 300 million on the collective card at Churchill Downs, both established records in handle. It’s quite possible those numbers can be surpassed again this year.   One can argue that this big Derby dance attracts just as much interest, if not more than the Super Bowl.

It’s a special collection of the very best three-year-old horses, saddled by the very best trainers and ridden by the very best jockeys.

The Kentucky Derby is the sports ultimate dogfight, with desire playing a huge part in the outcome.

To quote the great Bill Shoemaker “Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete”.

Spanning greater than four decades as a handicapper; I can attest that the Kentucky Derby always presents the most intriguing challenge. It’s not only the magnitude of the field size, but what seems like a myriad of things to consider.

As I have shared often with my readers, followers and young aspiring handicappers, you must approach every new race as a brand-new event and opportunity. The best thing to do is draw a picture in your mind as to how you see the race unfolding.  Having a defined understanding regarding the pace of the race will always prove to be beneficial.

To quote 4-time Kentucky Derby winning legendary trainer D Wayne Lucas, “The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack”.

 I am extremely scientific with my approach, so trust that I have done my homework to prepare this guide for you.

Yes, overall experience and knowledge of the sport helps greatly, but the specific work you put in is essentially important in positioning you for greater success at the windows. My routine is a compilation of extensive film study, detailed past performance and pedigree analysis, and a very careful look at each horses progression, or lack of leading to the race.

I’m always prepared, then of course it’s up to getting a great trip, coupled with the much-needed racing luck. It’s what makes any race so compelling, especially one like the Kentucky Derby.

In this field of 20 I believe only 8 of the horses are good enough to win, another 7 good enough to hit the board and 5 starters that would need to improve greatly to even make their presence felt.

As I often tell my readers, use my analysis as a guide for you to make an informed decision at the window or to get the most for your enjoyment when watching the race on TV.

This is my precise first to last order of finish, are you ready? Let’s go!

#11 Disarm (Projected PT odds 18-1)   After careful consideration, I concluded that this wonderfully tuned colt is primed to upset this field at a very generous price. He began his career as a juvenile with a sprint over this same Churchill downs soil where he showed his initial promise, finishing a strong 3rd in his debut. Three weeks later he was visually impressive in graduating at 7 furlongs vs a solid MSW group at Saratoga, running off to a 6+ length victory.

His 3 starts as a three-year-old have not been spectacular, but with each, over three different tacks, I consider them seasoning and rather defining, hitting the board in each, while not being a threat to emerge victorious. In the Louisiana Derby, he exhibited a combination of patience and maturity. He saved ground on the rail, fully loaded facing a rather pedestrian pace, and finished with great urgency a solid 2nd to Kingsbarns. He comes into this race as the only horse having raced just 3 weeks ago in the Lexington where many feel his effort was rather ordinary, but I saw it as merely an exercise in turning back to the 8 and ½ furlong distance.  Following that 3rd place finish he came back to Churchill and breezed 5 furlongs in 1:00 flat, the best of the day, an indication that he’s fresh and fit.

This son of Gun Runner is built for the distance, Joel Rosario is riding him for the 2nd time (Louisiana Derby) and he is saddled by Steven Asmussen who has done everything in the sport besides winning the Kentucky Derby. He narrowly missed last year with Epicenter who was passed in the final strides by Rich Strike.

In his 5 career starts he has hit the board at 5 different distances over 5 different racetracks. All things considered, I feel he is sitting on a big race, and to me his post position will accommodate his needed positioning to fire his very best down the lane. I trust Rosario, who always carries big race day swagger and has proven himself in many top grade-one races over the years, inclusive with splashing home to victory with Orb in 2013 for Shug McGaughey.  I am expecting a fast pace up front. If that happens, this guy will be primed for a powerful close. Of course, like most in the field, he’ll need a good trip, but I see him being forwardly placed as they turn for home, then it’s up to the fight in the stretch, one that I am confident he’ll be part of. I said this a few weeks ago, this colt is going to win a triple crown race, so I’m hoping he brings home the roses.

Disarm trains for The Kentucky Derby, Jenny Photo, Past The Wire
Disarm trains for The Kentucky Derby, Jenny Photo, Past The Wire

#15 Forte (Projected PT odds 2-1)   This colt’s resume stands alone in this field. He’s a 4-time Grade One winner, no other horse is this field has more than one. He’s won 6 times in his 7 career starts. I think that’s a great starting point with him. He’s been consistent and reliable. The juvenile champ, and his two races this year have been fabulous, both at Gulfstream Park (The Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby.) The connections of trainer Todd Pletcher, jockey Irad Ortiz and the Repole stable add to his appeal.  You cannot argue with success.  Irad in many ways has established himself as arguably the most confident rider in the business, and the post 15 was not a perfect draw, but a very good one considering this colt’s running style.  To be honest with you, I originally had him as my 4th choice, mainly because of my concerns in watching his effort in the Florida Derby, where yes, he emerged victorious, but he had to work exceptionally hard to get there. The question to me was can he go forward from that race 5 weeks later. The Beyers numbers say he lost a step, and his works over the Churchill soil appear to be rather ordinary, so my concerns linger, but a 4-time grade one winner is who he is, and he’s proven to have world-class acceleration when urged by his jockey. I feel he can be beaten, but he and his connections simply deserve your respect.

Forte breezes for the Kentucky Derby, Jenny Photo, Past the Wire
Forte breezes for the Kentucky Derby, Jenny Photo, Past the Wire

Here is what Irad had to say about Forte’s last workout heading into the Kentucky Derby:

Irad Ortiz on Forte’s workout and his chances in The Kentucky Derby

# 5 Tapit Trice (Projected PT Odds 4-1)   This guy is the big and beautiful gray colt, stablemate of Forte trained by Todd Pletcher.  He’s been as solid as you will find in the division and comes into the race on a 4-race winning streak.  Purchased as a yearling for $1,300,000 this son of Tapit is without any question built for the distance, in fact he’s been # 1 on my radar for the ultimate test of a champion, the Belmont Stakes, the 3rd jewel of the triple crown.  His jockey Luis Saez has also established himself as one of the best riders in the jockey colony. He’s strong armed, decisive, intelligent and strong willed, many benefits you get, and we’ll need for this race.  In the Tampa Bay Derby he started awfully slow and was still good enough to run that field down. In the Grade One Blue Grass he was wide into the stretch, and dueled for a few hundred yards to get up over the gutty Verifying.

He gets the # 5 hole, not the best draw for him, as he’s got lots of speed to his inside and outside, so that gives you a clear indication that he will need to close from far back, but if the pace is as fast as I project it to be, he’ll have plenty to close into.

This guy has been in the mix several times, and has shown to be a true fighter. This will no doubt benefit him in a race like the Kentucky Derby, where often, a “fight” is inevitable.  He comes into the race with a pair of solid breezes over the Churchill Downs soil as he’s making his debut over the track.  This colt is full of muscle and if he moves forward off his last effort, and gets a great trip, he’s capable of taking it all. He’s my 3rd choice, but make no mistakes, a top win contender in this race.

#9 Skinner (projected PT Odds 17-1) This guy in a word appears to be dangerous.  Purchased for $510,000 as a yearling, this son of Curlin began his career with lofty expectations, but as a juvenile on the West Coast he was a slow developer. It showed in his body frame too. He wasn’t backed at all at the windows, but he was ambitiously placed into a pair of grade one stakes races as a maiden, something you don’t see often. He made his three-year-old debut by trouncing a MSW field at Santa Anita.  Now he comes into this Derby with two much improved efforts, visually appealing and with very competitive Beyers, his last a 99 in the Santa Anita Derby where he raced powerfully but didn’t have the best of trips.  He comes into the race with two smart 6 furlong works, although they were in California and not over the Churchill Downs soil.  His trainer John Shirreffs, who won this race in 2005 with Giacomo is no stranger to the biggest stages, and he now switches over to Juan Hernandez who can flat-out ride and to me is under appreciated when it comes to nationally recognized jockeys.  This is a considerable move when you think of Victor Espinosa being taken off the horse as he is a three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey who often rides for this barn.  Look for this guy to break clean and most importantly get into favorable position during the first quarter of a mile.  This guy’s progress and his pedigree make him a threat in this race at what will be a very generous price. I would also watch the board if he’s taking money late. He’s one of the few horses who have done all of their racing on the West Coast.

#3 Two Phils (projected PT Odds 14-1)  This is a great looking son of Hard Spun who comes into the race as one of the two horses with the most racing experience, 8 starts.  He’s won 4 of them over 3 different racing surfaces. Additionally, he comes into the race with the best Beyer figure at 101; albeit over the synthetic track at Turfway Park.  In that race, the Jeff Ruby Stakes (Grade 3) he looked visually impressive. He’s been training in Chicago, where his workouts have been absolutely razor sharp. He has had a pair of bullet breezes going 5 panels in :59 and 1:00 flat, so to me there’s little doubt that he’s fresh and very fit. His rider Jareth Loveberry has been aboard him for all his races with exception of his career debut.  He’s a capable rider for trainer Larry Rivelli, a barn I have always respected.  This colt has some tactical speed, but I’m convinced the horse inside of him, Verifying will be faster out of the gate, and he’s got lots of speed to his outside, so it’s likely he will need to save ground inside and then move up after the first turn. There are some big question marks, such as was his last race so awesome due to the surface? Has he just been getting better?  I see this colt as one who is versatile, consistent, reliable and should be considered a contender in this race.  Don’t ignore and he should be used in many of your exotics too.  Last, keep in mind he’s one of the few horses in the field that has won a race at Churchill Downs, winning very powerfully in the slop last October.

#10 Practical Move (Projected PT Odds 9-1)  He’s my 6th choice and owns the right to be considered a contender on the win end, even though  I have reservations of him being a true 10-furlong horse.  Jockey Ramon Vasquez is up for Tim Yakteen, and this horse is another who has done all of his racing on the West Coast. This includes his morning drills as well, which by the way were impressive too, giving me confidence that he came out of his tough, game battle in the Santa Anita Derby still with some kick to his step.  He’s on a 3-race winning streak, and in each race, he seriously was the benefiter of a near perfect trip. This guy has some style and swagger about him, and he’s tactical as well, so with him drawing the #10 hole, it will work in his favor. He’ll be able to save ground on the inside with about 7 or 8 horses in front of him, maybe less, but that’s what I see as their game plan, as he’s got flashier speed to his inside and outside.   He’s the only horse in the race with back-to-back triple digit Beyers, at 100 each time. Originally, I had him listed as my 8th choice, but moved him up to 6th because he’s tactical and very consistent. He is 7 for 7 lifetime in the money on fast dirt surfaces.

#14 Angel of Empire (Projected PT Odds 7-1) This son of Classic Empire is a beautiful colt who possesses a sweet turn of foot.  He raced twice as a juvenile in the slop and on the lawn. He showed some promise but was nothing to write home about. Now as a three-year old, he has shown continuous improvement leading to his absolutely smashing, rather effortlessly looking win in the Arkansas Derby. He is one of 4 starters in the race from the widely successful Brad Cox barn, and now for the 2nd time he gets the services of top pilot Flavian Pratt.  He’s making his Churchill Downs debut, but he does have three solid works over the track.  He’s won 3 of his 4 races this year and looms to be a big threat if he can get a great trip. He’s another that will benefit greatly from a rapid pace. His numbers on paper put him right in the thick of things, I just don’t know if he has reached his ceiling yet. The one thing I know for sure, is based on the presence of the connections you will not get double digit value on him. He may very well be the 3rd choice on the board. A win contender only if he runs a career best race while all of my horses listed above fail to fire their best.

# 2 Verifying ( Projected PT Odds 15-1)  This guy I consider the race wildcard,  He draws the # 2 hole, so it kind of forces his hand since he’s equipped with  solid tactical speed. I will be surprised if they don’t send him with a swift break from the gate. He doesn’t need the lead entirely but he needs to be up there early, close to the pace, where I figure the #17 Derma Sotogake and # 4 Confidence Game will be if I am drawing the pace well in my head early on.  This guy was well backed by yours truly in the Blue Grass Stakes, where I had my heart broken by a neck as he lost his stretch duel to the big grey Tapit Trice. This guy is no joke. This son of Justify who won the Triple Crown will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione who is not only rock solid, but clearly one of the better riders over the Churchill Downs strip.  He’s one of 4 in the race from the Brad Cox barn and he comes into this race with a pair of impressive workouts for this race.  He makes my top 8 and the last of what I would call win contenders mostly because of the grit he showed in his last. He was a fighter, a good sign, but I’m not entirely sure that race didn’t take something out of him. That’s why he’s the wildcard of this race to me. I wouldn’t ignore him completely and he should be used in your gimmicks too, but the others I have listed above appear to be more appealing.  

# 4 Confidence Game (Projected PT odds 33-1)   This guy is coming into the race off of a long layoff considering it is The Kentucky Derby. He hasn’t raced in 70 days.  James Graham is back up for Keith Desormeaux and this son of Candy Ride possesses a world of natural speed. In fact since his draw was the # 4 hole, I am fully expecting him to be 1st or 2nd around the first turn, likely with #17 the horse from Japan I mentioned earlier.  He’s a horse for the course. The only one in the race with multiple wins at Churchill Downs, so with his speed, that must be respected. Additionally, he comes into this race with a fabulous bullet breeze on the Churchill Downs soil in 59 flat. He’s my 9th choice and although it’s not likely he could wire the field, his speed must be respected just in case the fractions come up moderate instead of fast. If so he’s got a punchers chance, more likely to hang on for a share in your deeper gimmicks. The major question is can he take his speed through 10 furlongs. That is not a likely scenario.

#17 Derma Sotogake (Projected PT Odds: 11-1)   So what do we do about this colt from Japan?  Well I had to insert him as my 10th choice to round up my top 10. The way he looked winning the UAE Derby was impressive. He not only toyed with the field, but he opened up in the stretch, simply running like the wind blows.  He draws the #17 hole which I believe is like 0 for 42 in Kentucky Derby history. The only post that has never won. Sure that can be a coincidence, but it is still a fact.  This horse is fast and talented. He’s the son of Mind your Biscuits, and with high speed you can always be dangerous. I feel the Japanese connections can only go one way with him and that is break swiftly and ask him to go get the lead and that’s where he’ll be until he tires. If he wins I lose, for all the reasons I mentioned above. I’m hoping he contributes to a fast pace, fingers crossed.

#1 Hit Show (Projected PT odds 27-1)  A solid gray colt. Another son of Candy Ride with NY Jockey Manny Franco riding for Brad Cox.  This guy has been exceptionally impressive in all 5 of his starts, winning 3, his best the Grade 3 Withers At Aqueduct. He also raced over the track as a juvenile, and he’s working very well since his nose defeat to Lord Miles in the Wood Memorial.  One thing that struck a cord to me is that this guy has never been at 2-1 or greater at the windows. He’s been the betting favorite in every race he has run, and now it’s likely he be 20-1 or greater in this Derby field.  He did draw a post that will compromise his chances, but there’s no doubt based on his connections and ability he’ll carry great value for those that are betting him and using him in exotics. I don’t think he can win from this post, but he can possibly hit the board at a nice price.

#8 Mage  (Projected  PT Odds 20-1)  A flashy colt. The son of Good Magic who won the million dollar Haskell Stakes has shown nice speed and a strong closing punch, but he’s lightly raced with only 3 starts. He never raced as a juvenile and as we know horses starting in the Kentucky Derby that did not race as a two-year-old are 1 for 71, and now 0 for 8 since Justify broke the Apollo curse which went on since 1882.  I feel this guy will get better as the year rolls on, but this is simply too much to ask for a horse with such limited experience.

#6 Kingsbarns (Projected PT Odds 11-1) He’s unbeaten, comes from the Todd Pletcher stable and has very reliable Jockey Jose Ortiz as his pilot. All very impressive to speak of. However his 3 for 3 is tainted to me. Yes he defeated my top choice Disarm in the Louisiana Derby, but he benefitted from a pedestrian pace as he waltzed on the lead to victory.  A nice colt, but just as my thoughts above for Mage, he did not race as a two-year-old, so this to me is a far reach for him. Expect him to be a pace factor and likely tire late in the race.

The following horses round up my bottom 7 all of which I will not be using in any level of exotics wagering, and I will offer a few bullet points for each.

 #12 Jace’s Road (Projected PT Odds 20-1) The 4th of the Brad Cox starters who is actually 4 for 4 in the money over dry fast tracks and has a race over the track at Churchill. He’s got tactical speed to perhaps be in the mix early in the top 7 around the first turn, just think he’s a cut below many of these in the field.

#7 Reincarnate (Projected PT Odds 37-1)  Johnny V up for Tim Yakteen is appealing and this guy was a very expensive yearling purchase at 775,000. He’s 7 for 7 career in the money. He has a nice work for the race and pretty good tactical speed, but this son of Good Magic has been an underachiever. The bloodlines are there, but his heart hasn’t been. He’s had many chances to shine bright in weaker fields but didn’t seize the opportunity and only collected a minor share of the purse. He needs to improve greatly to hit the board here.

#19 Lord Miles (Projected PT odds 38-1)  Paco Lopez up for Saffie Joseph,  this guy blew up the tote board at the Wood Memorial, winning by a nose at 59-1. He’s got to get better to hit the board here. He’ll be closing but this is too much to ask.

 #18 Rocket Can  (Projected PT Odds 35-1)  This guy has two nice efforts over the track at Churchill and comes into the race with strong morning drills. I love Bill Mott as a conditioner, and now he adds blinkers, but this guy needs to improve dramatically to contend at all here.

#16 Raise Cain (Projected PT odds 65-1)  He is a slow starter. His best race was over a muddy track at Aqueduct. He really seems up against it in this spot. He is a strong closer, but there are 10 others who are better closers in this field.

#13 Sun Thunder (Projected PT Odds 53-1)  I have always appreciated Brain Hernandez in the saddle. This guy gets blinkers too, but he just seems to be too slow to be competitive in this Derby.

#20 Continuar (Projected PT Odds 80-1)  This guy should have stayed in Japan. I can’t recommend in any capacity. If he wins the Kentucky Derby, I will quit the game.

Well, there you have it, I want to thank you for your continued readership and following. If you have any comments or questions, all will be fully embraced and answered.

Good luck to all, now let’s go make some money.

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Geo Sette, Past The Wire
Geo, Game Face!

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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