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Separating contenders, pretenders in 150th Kentucky Derby

Updated May 2, 2024 - 10:55 am

Michael Kipness, aka “The Wizard,” has been a professional horse racing handicapper since 1986.

Here is his analysis on the 20-horse field for Saturday’s 150th Kentucky Derby, including whether each horse is a contender or a pretender.

Kipness considers contenders to be viable candidates to run first, second or third.

Visit Wizardraceandsports.com for his full card of selections and wagering strategies for Friday’s Oaks Day (13 races) and Saturday’s Derby Day (14 races).

Note: No. 9 Encino was scratched and replaced by No. 21 Epic Ride.

Post position, horse, jockey, morning-line odds:

1. Dornoch, Saez, 20-1

His Blue Grass Stakes effort was very disappointing April 6. Has not developed from 2 to 3 years old. Will be hard-used early to press the pace from the dreaded rail post. Pretender.

2. Sierra Leone, Gaffalione, 3-1

Deep closer will have to navigate through traffic to win the Derby. Would be 4-for-4 if not for a nose defeat. The $2.3 million yearling purchase should have no problem with the distance. Contender.

3. Mystik Dan, Hernandez, 20-1

Huge win in the mud in Southwest Stakes in February. Finished third last time out in Arkansas Derby in March. Broke maiden sprinting at Churchill Downs. Seems overmatched here. Pretender.

4. Catching Freedom, Prat, 8-1

One of three horses in Derby trained by Brad Cox. Has steadily improved in all five starts. Broke his maiden at Churchill. Big win in Louisiana Derby in March switching to Prat, who has had a lot of success in this race. Contender.

5. Catalytic, J. Ortiz, 30-1

Only one win, and that came sprinting. Well-beaten in Florida Derby in March. Pretender.

6. Just Steel, Asmussen, 20-1

Most experienced runner in field with 11 starts. Had career-best race in Arkansas Derby, placing second. Still feel he’s overmatched here. Pretender.

7. Honor Marie, Curtis, 20-1

Bought for only $40,000, he was a solid second in Louisiana Derby. One-run closer managed beautifully by former assistant to Chad Brown. Ran three times at Churchill, winning twice. Jockey has won more than 1,000 races overseas. Contender.

8. Just a Touch, Geroux, 10-1

Lightly raced colt trained by Cox has steadily improved in all three starts. Huge second in Blue Grass after pressing quick fractions from the start. Distance should pose no problem. Must overcome his inexperience. Quality colt. Contender.

10. T O Password, Kimura, 30-1

Japanese invader is 2-for-2, but faced rivals far inferior to what he meets in Derby. Has early speed, but figures to back up in the stretch. Pretender.

11. Forever Young, Sakai, 10-1

Five wins in five races at five racetracks. A classy colt from a trainer who has had success winning Breeders’ Cup races. Will be kept wide to avoid kick back of dirt in his face, which he dislikes. Versatile. The distance suits. Contender.

12. Track Phantom, Rosario, 20-1

Will set pace with blinkers on. Cannot envision him carrying his speed the distance. Sets up the closers. Pretender.

13. West Saratoga, Castanon, 50-1

Clearly needs weaker opposition and a shorter distance. Pretender.

14. Endlessly, Rispoli, 30-1

Too tough a spot to make his first dirt start after running on turf and synthetic surfaces in all six outings. Has five wins, all going shorter. Pretender.

15. Domestic Product, I. Ortiz, 30-1

All signs point to a much-improved race in the Derby. Been victimized by slow fractions in both starts this year. Will be much more forwardly placed early than his barn-mate Sierra Leone, both trained by Brown. Contender.

16. Grand Mo the First, Jaramillo, 50-1

Well-beaten in Florida Derby. Belongs in much softer spot. Pretender.

17. Fierceness, Velazquez, 5-2

When he shows up with his “A” game, the Derby favorite is awfully tough to beat. Post is a good draw. Velazquez, who is riding in career-best form, will position him in perfect striking position early on. Will likely have the lead turning for home, and it will be up to the closers to outfinish him. Contender.

18. Stronghold, Fresu, 20-1

Went all out to win weak Santa Anita Derby. Tough post with his style. Pretender.

19. Resilience, Alvarado, 20-1

Decisive win in weak Wood Memorial in April adding blinkers. Good tactical speed at a distance he should handle. Stalking style hurt by outside post. Pretender.

20. Society Man, Dettori, 50-1

Ran second to Resilience in Wood at 106-1. Outclassed from this post. Pretender.

21. Epic Ride, Beschizza, 50-1

Finished third in Blue Grass and wasn’t a threat to win. Tactical speed. Outclassed. Bad post. Pretender.

Also eligible: Mugatu, Talamo, 50-1

Record is 1-for-12, 0-for-3 on dirt. Closer would have no shot from post. Pretender.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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