Kentucky Derby 2024 Update (2-20-24)

Stronghold wins 2024 Sunland Park Derby (Coady Photography)

By Jarrod Horak

The Risen Star Stakes and Sunland Park Derby were the latest road to Kentucky Derby 2024 points races. In this article, I will look back at those events and update my “Exceptional 11” Kentucky Derby contenders. The next points race is the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Risen Star – Feb. 17 (Fair Grounds)

Fractions: 24.32, 49.67, 1:14.74, 1:39.40, 1:52.13

Top 5 Finishers: Sierra Leone, Track Phantom, Catching Freedom, Resilience, Honor Marie

The pace was slow to develop and Track Phantom was in complete control for the opening six panels. Resilience stalked the pace and cut into the lead, but Track Phantom was just cantering up front and let it out a notch. The lead was a length and a half in the lane and Catching Freedom and Sierra Leone were on the move. The latter was moving best of all and found his best stride late to secure the victory by a half-length. Track Phantom was the clear runner-up and Catching Freedom raced wide, stayed on his left lead, and was put in a tight spot between horses late. He was 1 3/4 lengths clear of weakening stalker Resilience. Honor Marie was near the back of the pack for the opening six furlongs or so, and he improved his position in the stretch to finish a clear 5th. Sierra Leone and Track Phantom have accumulated 55 points and both are virtually assured a starting spot in the 2024 Kentucky Derby. I will talk more about the top two Risen Star finishers in my “Exceptional 11” writeup below.  

Sunland Derby (Sunland Park)

Fractions: 23.69, 47.45, 1:11.32, 1:36.01, 1:42.64

Top 5 Finishers: Stronghold, Alotaluck, Lucky Jeremy, Curlin’s Kaos, Informed Patriot

Lucky Jeremy had a short early lead but Stronghold would not allow him to get a breather. Antonio Fresu rode the latter for Phil D’Amato, and he was always moving like a winner. The Ghostzapper colt started to get control of the race around the far turn and heading into the lane, and he wandered out to the middle of the track in the stretch. He straightened out and crossed the line 2 1/2 lengths in front of Alotaluck. The latter was in a good stalking spot and nipped Lucky Jeremy for the place. The top three were well clear of the rest. 

Kentucky Derby 2024 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)

Springboard Mile (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 15 – Winner: Otto the Conqueror ($4.80)

Los Al Futurity (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 16 – Winner: Wynstock ($29.40)

Gun Runner (10-5-3-2-1) – Dec. 23 – Winner: Track Phantom ($11.80)

Smarty Jones (10-5-3-2-1) – Jan. 1- Winner: Catching Freedom ($5.40)

Jerome (10-5-3-2-1) – Jan. 6 – Winner: Drum Roll Please ($3.20)

Lecomte (20-10-6-4-2) – Jan. 20 – Winner: Track Phantom ($4.80)

Withers (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3 – Uncle Heavy ($20.60)

Robert Lewis (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3 – Winner: Nysos ($2.20) 

Southwest (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3 – Winner: Mystik Dan ($24.80)

Holy Bull (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 3 – Winner: Hades ($20.20)

Sam F. Davis (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 10 – Winner: No More Time ($8.60)

Risen Star (50-25-15-10-5) – Feb. 17 – Winner: Sierra Leone ($7.40)

Sunland Derby (20-10-6-4-2) – Feb. 18 – Winner: Stronghold ($4.40)

Upcoming Points Races: 

Rebel Stakes (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 


Top 25 Kentucky Derby 2024 Points Leaders (thru 2-20-24)

Sierra Leone (55 points)

Track Phantom (55 points)

Fierceness (36 points)

Stronghold, Catching Freedom (25 points)

Mystik Dan (21 points)

Hades, Uncle Heavy, No More Time (20 points)

Locked, Liberal Arts (19 points)

West Saratoga (17 points)

Timberlake (16 points)

Just Steel, Honor Marie, El Grande O (15 points)

Nash (13 points)

Agate Road, Otto the Conqueror, Dornoch, Alotaluck, Domestic Product, Resilience (10 points)

Informed Patriot (8 points)

Moonlight (7 points)

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2024 Contenders (2-20-24)

1 – Sierra Leone (Gun Runner – Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: Chad Brown – Last Ranking (1)

Comments: Everything is falling into place for this $2.3 million purchase. His form very much resembles Kentucky Derby 2022 show finisher Zandon (also Chad Brown). Both won their career debuts in New York, and both just missed in the Remsen second time out. Zandon started his sophomore campaign with a show finish in the Risen Star, and Sierra Leone ran down Track Phantom to win the 2024 Risen Star (G2) by a half-length. Zandon won the Blue Grass (G1) prior to the Derby, and that 1 1/8 miles Keeneland event is next for Sierra Leone. Chad Brown’s promising colt packs a nice late kick and can seemingly run all day. 

2 – Timberlake (Into Mischief – Pin Up-IRE, by Lookin At Lucky) – Trainer: Brad Cox –  Last Ranking (2)

Comments: I liked him as a juvenile and his stock is on the rise again. He had an uncomfortable trip in a runner-up finish as my top choice in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga last summer, and broke through with his first stakes win in the Grade 1 Champagne last fall. He ended his 2023 campaign with an even 4th of 9 in the BC Juvenile (G1). He has worked five times at Fair Grounds this winter and his Feb. 10 move was especially impressive (5f in 59.40 – best of 46 bullet). He breezed 5f again on Feb. 16 (1:00.20 – 3rd best of 45), and he is entered in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 24. 

3 – Locked (Gun Runner – Luna Rosa, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher –  Last Ranking (5)

Comments: Last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity hero spiked a fever and was forced to miss the Sam F. Davis (G3) on Feb. 10. He returned to the worktab with a half-mile move in 49.68 (12/24) at Palm Beach Downs on Feb. 16, and his new target is the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 2. 

4 – Fierceness (City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher – Last Ranking (4)

Comments: The 2023 BC Juvenile (G1) winner lost his luster in a flat show finish in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on Feb. 3. The original idea was to win the Holy Bull, skip the Fountain of Youth, and wrap up his Kentucky Derby preparations in the Florida Derby. Let’s see if they stick to that plan. He has not worked since the Holy Bull. He is difficult to beat when he gets an alert start and a strong early-pressing position. That was the case in his two fast victories. In his two losses, he had uncomfortable starts and was as flat as a pancake.   

5 – Dornoch (Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown) – Trainer: Danny Gargan – Last Ranking (6)

Comments: His stock rose following Sierra Leone’s victory in the Risen Star (G2). This one came again to beat Chad Brown’s colt by a nose in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct last December. He has breezed four times at Palm Meadows this year. His most recent move was a relative fast half-mile breeze in 48.80 (2/33) on Feb. 16. He is gearing up for his seasonal bow in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on March 2.  

6 – Track Phantom (Quality Road – Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief) – Trainer: Steve Asmussen –  Last Ranking (3)

Comments: He was excellent in the Gun Runner and did what he had to do in the Lecomte (G3). The Risen Star (G2) at 1 1/8 miles was his toughest career test, and he set a controlled tempo over a wet track and was clearly second best behind strong closer Sierra Leone. He has accumulated enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby. I believe the Gun Runner was his best effort, and he was solid but not quite as good in his last two points races. He will make his next start in the Grade 2 LA Derby at Fair Grounds on March 23.

7 – Conquest Warrior (City of Light – Tea Time, by Pulpit) – Trainer: Shug McGaughey – Last Ranking (8)

Comments: He sure was visually impressive in his flat mile maiden win at Gulfstream on Jan. 13. It was not a fast race but he overcame some things and was getting stronger as the race wore on. His trainer Shug McGaughey is hoping for an allowance race to fill later this month. If that plan fails to materialize, the Fountain of Youth on March 2 is the backup. He has worked four times since his last start including a half-mile move in 49.40 (15/81) at Payson Park on Feb. 17.  

8 – Stronghold (Ghostzapper – Spectator, by Jimmy Creed) – Trainer: Phil D’Amato –  Last Ranking (10)

Comments: He needed to win the Grade 3 Sunland Derby to remain on my list, and he came through with a solid 2 1/2 length victory as the favorite. This one is just so consistent with two wins and a trio of runner-up finishes from five starts. I like his tactical speed and his numbers are slowly improving. He will need to step up again to make an impact in a race like the SA Derby (G1) in April.  

9 – Liberal Arts (Arrogate – Ismene, by Tribal Rule) – Trainer: Robert Medina –  Last Ranking (14)

Comments: This one fired in all three Derby points race attempts. He landed the show in the Iroquois (G3) last September, and rallied from last to win the Street Sense (G3) in the slop at Churchill in October. The Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn on Feb. 3 was his first start this year, and he rallied to finish a clear third and galloped out in front of romping winner Mystik Dan. He got back to work with a 3f move at Oaklawn on Feb. 16 and is training up to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on March 30. 

10 – Tuscan Sky (Vino Rosso – South Andros, by Sky Mesa) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher – Last Ranking (unranked)

Comments: Stalked the pace and rolled to a 5 1/4 length win at 7-2 odds in his 6f bow at Aqueduct on Jan. 13. He shipped to Fair Grounds and stretched out on the Risen Star undercard on Feb. 17, and he stalked race favorite Nash, caught that one, and edged away late to win by two lengths. That 3-horse optional-claiming event was run in the slop and the top two ran quality races. This late bloomer will almost certainly show up in a Derby points race next time.  

11 – Nash (Medaglia d’Oro – Sara Louise, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: Brad Cox –  Last Ranking (9)

Comments: His stock has really taken a hit since his fast maiden route win at Churchill in November. Track Phantom beat him in the Gun Runner and Lecomte (G3), and he set the pace and settled for the place behind Tuscan Sky as the beaten 1-2 favorite at Fair Grounds on Feb. 17. I am not sure what they have planned for this one. If they back off and decide that he is not really a Derby horse, I can see them targeting the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland on April 13. That could lead to a start in the Preakness, but all of that is pure speculation on my part. 

Next Nine – (12) Catching Freedom, (13) Mystic Dan, (14) Resilience, (15) Uncle Heavy, (16) Hades, (17) No More Time, (18) Snead, (19) Speak Easy, (20) Honor Marie