Kentucky Derby 2024 Contenders

Churchill Downs Twin Spires (Photo by Jarrod Horak)

By Jarrod Horak

The road to Kentucky Derby 2024 is in full swing. Eight points races have been run so far and it is time to unveil my first “Exceptional 11” Kentucky Derby contenders list. First, I will recap the points race action from the Iroquois on Sept. 16 through the Remsen on Dec. 2. 

Kentucky Derby 2024 Points Race Recaps

Grade 3 Iroquois – Sept. 16 (Churchill Downs)

The first Derby points race is rarely an indicator of Derby trail success. West Saratoga sat the right stalking trip and outkicked my top choice Risk It to score by 1 3/4 lengths. Liberal Arts rallied for the show and was followed by Seize the Grey, Edified, Patriot Spirit, Union Roll, and Market Street. Gettysburg Address scratched. The final time was 1:37.28 and Rafael Bejarano rode the winner for Larry Demeritte. 

Grade 1 Champagne – Oct. 7 (Aqueduct)

The track was sloppy (sealed), and I went with impressive maiden winner Fierceness, but he blew the break, moved early, and weakened in a disappointing try. Timberlake was clearly best in this race. I picked him on top in the Grade 1 Hopeful and he finished an uncomfortable 2nd that day. He got a clean outside stalking trip in this spot and dominated by 4 1/4 lengths. General Partner controlled the pace and was clearly second best, and Dancing Groom rallied from last to pick up the show. Gold Sweep, Air Cav, El Grande O, Fierceness, and Sweet Soddy J also ran. The final time was 1:35.90 and Florent Geroux guided home the winner for Brad Cox. 

Grade 1 American Pharoah – Oct. 7 (Santa Anita)

A Baffert trainee figured to set the pace, but almost everyone thought Muth was that runner. No so fast. Wine Me Up set sail for the lead under Ramon Vazquez. Heavy favorite Muth was showing 21 and change speed in sprints, and it was nice to see him relax early while stalking the pace under Juan Hernandez. Wine Me Up carved out splits of 23.30, 46.49, and 1:10.22. Raging Torrent chased from second and El Magnifico was forwardly placed from the outside post, but he was getting out on the backside under Hector Berrios, and he readily backed up. Muth saved ground stalking the pace and Todd Pletcher’s maiden shipper Be You was in a good spot in midpack. Next Level lost all chance after stumbling badly at the start. Wine Me Up was up by a half-length for the opening half mile and got clear by a length and a half after six panels. Muth was always traveling smoothly and as soon as he found some running room, he moved out, came after his stablemate, and kicked away to win by 3 3/4 lengths in a strong performance. Wine Me Up was 5 1/4 lengths in front of clear show finisher Be You. Raging Torrent was another 6 1/4 lengths in front of Rothschild. Indespensable, Next Level, and El Magnifico completed the order of finish. The final time was 1:42.45 and Muth qualified for the BC Juvenile with this victory.

Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity – Oct. 7 (Keeneland)

This was a tale of two trips and the one with the wide journey prevailed. The Wine Steward saved all the ground stalking the pace from the inside post, and Locked raced wide throughout from the outside post. Those two hooked up in the stretch and Locked scored by a half-length. The Wine Steward was clearly second best and Generous Tipper rallied from the back of the pack to land the show. Northern Flame, West Saratoga, Just Steel, my disappointing top choice Awesome Road, and 89-1 outsider Baytown Chatterbox completed the order of finish. The final time was 1:44.62 and Jose Ortiz rode the winner for Todd Pletcher.  

Grade 3 Street Sense – Oct. 29 (Churchill Downs)

This race featured a 5-horse field after three defections (Barksdale, Generous Tipper, Parchment Party). The track was sloppy (sealed) and Liberal Arts went last-to-first to score by 2 3/4 lengths over post time favorite Moonlight. Informed Patriot, early runner Gettysburg Address, and my fading top choice Northern Flame rounded out the order of finish. The final time was 1:46.50 and Cristian Torres guided home the winner for Robert Medina.  

Grade 1 BC Juvenile – Nov. 3 (Santa Anita)

This was the most impressive performance on the BC Friday program. Fierceness, a facile debut winner exiting a flop in the Grade 1 Champagne slop, bounced back in a big way for Todd Pletcher. The promising son of City of Light pressed General Partner, took over, and spurted away from my top choice Muth to win by a commanding 6 1/4 lengths under John Velazquez. Muth held off late running favorite Locked for the runner-up spot, and Timberlake and Prince of Monaco were next. The final time was a very good 1:41.90 and Mike Repole was the winning owner. 

Grade 2 Ky Jockey Club – Nov. 25 (Churchill Downs)

Honor Marie made a run from last place to win this 8-horse affair by two lengths. Real Men Violin stalked the pace and landed the place, and Stretch Ride was best of the rest in third. Risk It was next and Awesome Road burned me for the second time as my top choice. He was bet down and made a solid wide bid before flattening out. Dancing Groom, One Red Cent, and Nomos also ran. The final time was 1:44.31 and Rafael Bejarano booted home Honor Marie for trainer D. Whitworth Beckman.  

Grade 2 Remsen – Dec. 2 (Aqueduct)

The track was muddy (sealed) and very speed favoring. Seven horses wired the field on the day including Dornoch in this race. Sierra Leone rallied from last in the 10-horse field to make a race of it, and he actually grabbed a short lead in the stretch, but Dornoch fought back and won by a nose as the betting favorite for Danny Gargan. Sierra Leone ran a quality race and was 4 3/4 lengths in front of my 8-1 top choice Drum Roll Please. The latter rallied wide and was best of the rest. Moonlight, Where’s Chris, Copper Tax, Domestic Product, Billal, Le Dom Bro, and Private Desire also ran. The final time was 1:50.30 and Luis Saez was the winning pilot. Dornoch is Kentucky Derby 2023 winner Mage’s full brother.   

Kentucky Derby 2024 Contenders Points Race Results

Iroquois (10-5-3-2-1) – Sept. 16 – Winner: West Saratoga ($26.96)

Champagne (10-5-3-2-1) – Oct. 7 – Winner: Timberlake ($11.80)

American Pharoah (10-5-3-2-1) – Oct. 7 – Winner: Muth ($2.80)

Breeders’ Futurity (10-5-3-2-1) – Oct. 7 – Winner: Locked ($3.52)

Street Sense (10-5-3-2-1) – Oct. 29 – Winner: Liberal Arts ($14.18)

BC Juvenile (30-15-9-6-3) – Nov. 3 – Winner: Fierceness ($35.00)

Ky Jockey Club (10-5-3-2-1) – Nov. 25 – Winner: Honor Marie ($19.62)

Remsen (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 3 – Winner: Dornoch ($5.40)


Upcoming Derby Points Races:

Springboard Mile (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 15 

Los Al Futurity (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 16

Gun Runner (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 23 

Smarty Jones (10-5-3-2-1) – Jan. 1 

Jerome (10-5-3-2-1) – Jan. 6

Lecomte (20-10-6-4-2) – Jan. 20 

Southwest (20-10-6-4-2) – Jan. 27 

Holy Bull (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3 

Robert Lewis (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3 

Withers (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3

Sam F. Davis (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 10 

Risen Star (50-25-15-10-5) – Feb. 17 

Sunland Derby (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 18

Rebel (50-25-15-10-5) – Feb. 24 

Fountain of Youth (50-25-15-10-5) – March 2 

Gotham (50-25-15-10-5) – March 2 

John Battaglia Memorial (20-10-6-4-2) – March 2 

San Felipe (50-25-15-10-5) – March 2 

Tampa Bay Derby (50-25-15-10-5) – March 9 

Jeff Ruby Steaks (100-50-25-15-10) – March 23  

Louisiana Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 23

Florida Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 30

UAE Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 30

Arkansas Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 30 

Blue Grass (100-50-25-15-10) – April 6 

SA Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – April 6 

Wood Memorial (100-50-25-15-10) – April 6 

Lexington (20-10-6-4-2) – April 13 


Kentucky Derby 2024 Contenders Points Leaders

Fierceness (30 points)

Locked (19 points)

Timberlake (16 points)

Liberal Arts (13 points)

West Saratoga (11 points)

Honor Marie, Dornoch (10 points)

Risk It, Moonlight (7 points) 

The Wine Steward, General Partner, Real Men Violin, Sierra Leone (5 points) 

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2024 Contenders 

1 – Nash (Medaglia d’Oro – Sara Louise, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: Brad Cox

Comments: My initial top Kentucky Derby 2024 contender Nash really improved second time out. He chased fast Asmussen sprinter Booth in his bow and was clearly second best. In his second career start at 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 12, he broke on top and widened throughout in a visually impressive 10 length maiden score. He was geared down under Florent Geroux last time has worked twice since including a five panel move in 1:00.80 at Churchill on Dec. 8. I like his Dosage Profile (8-8-10-2-0) and am expecting big things from this one in 2024. He will spend the winter in New Orleans. 

2 – Fierceness (City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Comments: This one showed big time talent in his facile 11 length debut as the chalk in the mud at six panels. He was the favorite in the Champagne (G1) second time out but he lunged at the start, moved up, and faded in the slop (7th beaten 20 lengths). In the BC Juvenile, he was a 16-1 longshot and he pressed the pace, took over, and dusted Grade 1 winners Muth, Locked, Timberlake, and Prince of Monaco in a fast 6 1/4 length tally under John Velazquez. The presumptive juvenile champ is an exciting Triple Crown Series 2024 prospect.   

3 – Nysos (Nyquist – Zetta Z, by Bernardini) – Trainer: Bob Baffert

Comments: This $550k colt has a world of ability. He dueled and ran away from his rivals in a 10 1/2 length score in his bow. In the Grade 3 Bob Hope at seven panels second time out,  he was patiently handled from the outside post and spurted away from Stronghold to win by 8 3/4 lengths. Flavien Prat got acquainted with him last time and he worked an easy half-mile in 48.40 on Dec. 10. He is one of several Bob Baffert runners nominated to the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 16. We will see if he can handle two turns in the near future.  

4 – Locked (Gun Runner – Luna Rosa, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Comments: Broke 10th and last in his sprint bow and made up a ton of ground to land the show. He stretched out to a mile second time out and made short work of next-out winner Drum Roll Please. He traveled wide throughout from the outside post and beat ground saving stalker The Wine Steward by a half-length in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Last time, he found his best stride in the lane in a respectable show finish behind his stablemate Fierceness and Muth in the BC Juvenile. Todd Pletcher’s $425k Gun Runner colt owns some nice late pace ratings and should be able to handle longer distances next year. 

5 –  Knightsbridge (Nyquist – Tyburn Brook, by Bernardini) – Trainer: Bill Mott

Comments: Bill Mott’s Nyquist colt ran off the screen in his seven panel bow at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4. He was 5-2 that day and he stalked, led, and widened in a 10 length triumph. He has not worked since his bow but has been exercising in Kentucky and will spend the winter at Payson Park in Florida. I am looking forward to seeing what this Godolphin colt can do over a route of ground, but his pedigree says sprinter or miler. 

6 – Muth (Good Magic – Hoppa, by Uncle Mo) – Trainer: Bob Baffert

Comments: This $2 million colt romped in his five panel bow on June 18. He got caught up in a fast pace and was second best behind his stablemate Prince of Monaco in the Best Pal (G3) second time out. He stretched out and smartly scored in the American Pharoah (G1), and was no match for Fierceness in the BC Juvenile (G1). I like his early-pressing speed and he can carry it at least a mile and a sixteenth. He has worked three times since the BC including a five furlong bullet in 1:00.20 at Santa Anita on Dec. 9. He is nominated to the Los Al Futurity on Dec. 16. 

7 – Timberlake (Into Mischief – Pin Up-IRE, by Lookin At Lucky) – Trainer: Brad Cox

Comments: He has a nice juvenile foundation with five starts and a Grade 1 win in the Champagne. He was also 2nd in the Hopeful (G1) and 4th in the BC Juvenile (G1). One thing I like about his pedigree is the four points in the Solid Category in his Dosage Profile. That signifies the potential to handle longer distances. I would expect him to get some time off and run twice prior to the Derby.  

8 – Stronghold (Ghostzapper – Spectator, by Jimmy Creed) – Trainer: Phil D’Amato

Comments: Awesome Road looked good beating this one in his bow, and he was ten clear of the rest in a solid runner-up finish. He was the favorite at one mile second time out, and he stalked, led, and scored by 1 3/4 lengths. Track Phantom (see below) was third that day. He shipped to Del Mar and cut back a furlong in the Bob Hope (G3) on Nov. 19, and Nysos won that race by 8 3/4 lengths. This colt was clearly second best last time and he returned with a five furlong bullet at Los Alamitos on Dec. 10. I want to see what he can do around two turns. The Los Al Futurity might be his next assignment. 

9 – Pilot Commander (Justify – Rebuke, by Carson City) – Trainer: Bob Baffert

Comments: He was originally offered at the Keeneland January 2022 sales but only brought $145k (reserve not met). He was offered again in a two-year-olds in training sale in Ocala, Florida (March 2023), and sold for $700k. He made his debut at Del Mar on Nov. 11, and he dueled and scored by 2 1/4 lengths as the favorite in that six panel special weight event. He drilled a five furlong gate bullet at Santa Anita on Dec. 4 and could end up in the Los Al Futurity (G2) on Dec. 16 or the San Vicente (G2) at seven panels on Jan. 6.  

10 – Track Phantom (Quality Road – Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief) – Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Comments: They paid half a million for this colt and I like the steady progress he is making. He set the pace and was best of the rest in third in his bow, and made the lead and was miles clear of the show finisher second time out. Those two races were at one mile around one turn. In his last start at 1 1/16 miles, he battled on the pace and kicked away to graduate by 4 3/4 lengths as the favorite.  He worked five panels in 1:02 flat at Fair Grounds on Dec. 10 and might show up in the Gun Runner Stakes at that venue on Dec. 23.  

11 – Sierra Leone (Gun Runner – Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: Chad Brown

Comments: They paid $2.3 million for this one and he overcame a lack of pace to win his flat mile debut on Nov. 4. He made a big run from off the pace in the Remsen (G2), and it looked like he might win that one after getting past Dornoch, but the latter came back and scored by a nose. That was a speed favoring surface on Remsen Day and this one ran a decent race in his second career start. He should continue to develop. 

Next Nine – (12) Dornoch, (13) Coach Prime, (14) Parchment Party, (15) Prince of Monaco, (16) Drum Roll Please, (17) Lightline, (18) Otello, (19) Imagination, (20) Resilience