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2024 Kentucky Derby Horses Explained

Who do you have in the Kentucky Derby?

As post time approaches for Saturday’s 150e Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs, casual fans and hardcore handicappers will crunch the numbers before placing their bets.

Florida Derby winner Fierceness is the morning line favorite at odds of 5-2, and Blue Grass Stakes winner Sierra Leone is the second choice at 3-1.

But as Rich Strike showed in 2022 – winning at odds of 80-1 – anything can happen on the first Saturday in May.

With that in mind, The Courier Journal offers an annual look at the reasons why each horse can and cannot win the Kentucky Derby. Many serious horses, a few ironic ones, one destined to be right.

Click on a horse’s name for more information:

Why he can win: He has early speed and jockey Luis Saez will be forced to leave hole 1 early. Maybe he takes the lead entering the first corner and never relinquishes it.

Why he can’t win: Based on his Beyer speed numbers, he hasn’t been as good this year as he was when he was two years old. He may have to use too much at first to avoid being crushed out of the gate.

Why he can win: This $2.3 million horse is just a nose away from an undefeated start in four careers. If anyone can navigate traffic he’ll likely face as a deep closer, it’s jockey Tyler Gaffalione.

Why he can’t win: There are so many variables going towards Sierra Leone as he will probably have to pass 17 or 18 horses to win. Do you trust that he will be able to do that?

Why he can win: Maybe it will rain and he can repeat his great performance from the South West, when he raced 8 lengths around a muddy track to post a career-best 101 Beyer.

Why he can’t win: His performance on fast circuits does not indicate that he can compete with the best in this field.

Why he can win: That Louisiana Derby win was sneaky good, and this colt has improved his Beyer numbers in every race. If this trend continues, watch out.

Why he can’t win: Like Sierra Leone, he is a late runner who needs a near-perfect setup. Is there reason to believe he can handle the late closer role better than Sierra Leone?

Why he can win: Lightly raced colt was “best of the rest” in the Florida Derby, 13 ½ lengths behind Fierceness. Post No. 5 has produced the most Derby winners (10) since 1930.

Why he can’t win: Finishing 13 ½ lengths behind the winner in his final race is a dubious distinction at best. Hard to see him gaining so much ground this time.

Why he can win: He is always in the mix and has finished in the top three in five of his last six races. Posted a career-best 95 Beyer in the Arkansas Derby and could move forward.

Why he can’t win: He has ridden eleven times in his career, the most of any horse in the current starting gate. Is it possible he’s out of gas?

Why he can win: He was bred to run all day and took a big step forward in the Louisiana Derby. As a two-year-old he won the Churchill Downs twice.

Why he can’t win: It looks like he’s getting wise-guy pick status, and the wise-guy pick never wins.

Why he can win: Maybe he’s the next Magician: unridden as a 2-year-old, finishing second in the final prep race and winning the Derby in his fourth career start. Could be in for a huge race.

Why he can’t win: That lack of experience could cost him. The lead turned home in the Blue Grass before Sierra Leone surged past.

Why he can win: In two years of life he has never gotten lost. Figures to challenge for the lead early and see how far he can go.

Why he can’t win: Leonatus (1883) is the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby with only two career starts before the race.

Why he can win: He is 5 for 5, and many believe he is the best colt Japan has sent to the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps this is the year Japan gets its first Derby victory.

Why he can’t win: The UAE Derby winners are 0 for 19 all-time in the Kentucky Derby and have never finished better than fifth. That’s quite a bit of history to overcome.

Why he can win: He will be out front early and trainer Steve Asmussen is adding blinders in the hope that Track will help Phantom step forward.

Why he can’t win: In his last two races the lead returned home and could not hold on. Seems to have distance restrictions.

Why he can win: There is no better story in this Derby than trainer Larry Demeritte, a native of the Bahamas who is battling cancer. Perhaps the “Derby gods” will shine down on him.

Why he can’t win: His best Beyer speed figure (85) came on a synthetic track and is the slowest horse in the race.

Why he can win: Throw away last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and this horse is undefeated in five career starts. He clearly knows how to win, and his Beyer numbers are on the rise.

Why he can’t win: If a trainer tells you he would rather compete in another race on Derby Day, listen to him. He has never ridden on a dirt track.

Why he can win: Well rested since winning the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. Adds a top-tier jockey in Irad Ortiz Jr.

Why he can’t win: Rest or rust? That eight-week layoff since the Tampa Bay Derby raises some questions. He will have to take a big step forward to compete with the best here.

Why he can win: Perhaps he can earn some redemption for his father, Uncle Mo, who would have been the Derby favorite in 2011 but had to scratch due to illness.

Why he can’t win: Four consecutive third places do not inspire confidence.

Why he can win: He is the fastest horse, and if he gets anywhere close to his Florida Derby form, no one will beat him. Owner Mike Repole is experiencing Derby luck.

Why he can’t win: Good breed, bad breed, good breed, bad breed, good breed. He’s having a bad race.

Why he can win: May be overlooked here. He has never been worse than second in six career starts and defeated a top horse owned by Bob Baffert (Imagination) to win the Santa Anita Derby.

Why he can’t win: His speed numbers just aren’t up there with the best, and that No. 17 post won’t do him any favors.

Why he can win: Distance doesn’t seem to be an issue, and he has improved in every start of his career. Could surprise with a new step forward.

Why he can’t win: The Wood Memorial hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Funny Cide in 2003. Losing jockey John Velazquez to Fierceness doesn’t help.

Why he can win: He continued to make progress, shockingly finishing second in the Wood Memorial at odds of 106-1. Maybe jockey Frankie Dettori can work some magic?

Why he can’t win: There’s a reason he was 106-1 in his last race. Wasn’t close to victory in any of his graded stakes runs.

Why he can win: Turfway Park specialist finished a respectable third in the Blue Grass, his debut on dirt. Beyer’s speed figures are moving in the right direction.

Why he can’t win: Wants to be at the front early, but finds it difficult to see him hanging between the more talented horses in this field.

22. Mugatu (also eligible)

Why he can win: Because you believe in miracles?

Why he can’t win: Has not finished in the top two in any of his last seven races. If he draws, the odds might be 100-1.

More Kentucky Derby: Check out the winners and losers of Saturday night’s draw

Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; [email protected]. Follow on X @KentuckyDerbyCJ.