Kentucky Derby 2023: Ranking the 5 strongest preps

Kentucky Derby 2023: Ranking the 5 strongest preps
Photo: Matt Wooley / Eclipse Sportswire

One important step to handicapping the 20-horse Kentucky Derby 2023 field is to decipher which prep races were the strongest. From there, handicappers can favor those horses and start tossing out ones from the weaker points races.

Out of the Kentucky Derby qualifiers, which races with 50 or 100 points to the winner looked the best visually and on paper?

Here is a ranking of the top 5 races from the series.  

1. Blue Grass Stakes (G1)

From a visual standpoint, this race made a great impression as the talented winner took an important step forward in his development.

Tapit Trice made a step forward in this race when he broke slightly better and put himself in a more up-close position around the first turn. From there, he went outside and steadily began to move forward.

On the front end, Verifying almost took over the lead on the far turn as the long shot Clear the Air folded. But at that point, Tapit Trice’s improved break led to him challenging Verifying immediately, and the two of them started to open up on the field and battle each other.

Tapit Trice won by only a neck, but the impressive part is that 5 3/4 lengths separated the runner-up Verifying and third-place Blazing Sevens.

The race also contained Risen Star Stakes (G2) runner-up Sun Thunder in fourth and Gotham Stakes (G3) winner Raise Cain in fifth.

Tapit Trice received with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure and 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. As suggested, the winner made a great visual impression and ran fast on the Beyer scale at least. Plus, Sun Thunder and Raise Cain gave the race credibility as proven graded-stakes runners. 

2. Risen Star Stakes

Although the fractions do not reflect it, this race fell apart from a visual standpoint as the closers took up the first four positions. But it still ended up as a good race, and the fast pace provided Derby practice. 

Angel of Empire won the race by one length over Sun Thunder, who had another 1 3/4 lengths on Two Phil’s in third. Upon retrospect, Two Phil’s made the first move toward the lead through the fast pace and deserves credit for striking first before he became tired in the stretch.

The speed figures might sound disappointing. Angel of Empire received only an 87 Beyer Speed Figure and 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure.

Overall, the race turned out strong when Angel of Empire captured the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Two Phil’s took the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) in their next starts. In fact, Angel of Empire and Two Phil’s dominated those races.  

3. UAE Derby (G2)

Given the race’s inability to produce a Kentucky Derby champion, its ranking on this list may seem high. But Mandarin Hero’s second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) puts UAE Derby winner Derma Sotogake in a new light since Mandarin Hero likely is not one of the best Japan-based 3-year-olds. Derma Sotogake belongs in that category.

Derma Sotogake controlled this race from start to finish with the switch to pacesetting tactics. The most visually pleasing part came when Derma Sotogake entered the stretch on the lead under a hand ride, and he continued on in mid-stretch under mild urging to earn his Derby spot. 


Derma Sotogake won by 5 1/2 lengths over Dura Erede.

Continuar and Perriere finished behind Dura Erede to round out the top 4 spots, which means runners based in Japan dominated the race. 

Given Mandarin Hero’s success in the west, maybe Derma Sotogake beat a quality field relative to the probable Kentucky Derby list of starters.

4. Santa Anita Derby (G1)

This one did not seem as great from a visual standpoint.

Practical Move received a perfect stalking trip from the inside and found an opening through the rail when he needed to move forward on the far turn. From there, he held off attacks from Mandarin Hero and Skinner.

Nevertheless, Practical Move earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure for this win, as did Mandarin Hero since he lost by a nose. Both runners also received a 121 TimeformUS Speed Figure, which is roughly the same as a 100 Beyer.

Because of the speed figures, this race and the top 2 finishers deserve respect heading into the Kentucky Derby. But at the same time, if bettors only went by the best figures in every race, they would lose fast.

5. Florida Derby (G1)

Because of his slower 95 Beyer Speed Figure and 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure, Forte does not receive enough credit for this effort.

With the gate positioned on the turn in two-turn dirt races at Gulfstream, overcoming a wide post is not easy. It's even harder for a horse who lacks the speed to clear in the moments after the break.

Because he drew Post 11, Forte needed to give up ground at the beginning and tuck in near the rear of the field to minimize the effects of taking the first turn wide. Under Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte accomplished that part.

When the leaders hit the far turn, Forte waited for a few moments and then tipped out the widest. From there, Forte took aim at the leader Mage, who took a step forward in this race even though he did not break very well.

Forte eventually caught Mage in a determined effort to win by one length.

From a trouble standpoint, Forte’s effort catches the eye. But it feels uncertain whether Forte beat a decent group or won because of a weak field.


Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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