Kentucky Derby 2024 Update (4-2-24)

Fierceness wins at Saratoga in 2023.
Fierceness is the Derby favorite after Florida Derby romp (Adam Coglianese Photo)

By Jarrod Horak

The UAE Derby, Florida Derby, and Arkansas Derby were the latest road to Kentucky Derby 2024 points races on Saturday, March 30. In this article, I will look back at those events and update my “Exceptional 11” Kentucky Derby contenders. The Grade 2 Wood Memorial, Grade 1 Blue Grass, and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby are the next points races on April 6. 

Kentucky Derby 2024 Points Race Recaps

UAE Derby – March 30 (Meydan)

Final Time: 1:57.89

Top 5 Finishers: Forever Young, Auto Bahn, Pandagate, Mendelssohn Bay, Navy Seal

Oasis Boy and Auto Bahn made the running in this 1 3/16 miles Derby prep, and strong favorite Forever Young was stalking wide from the outside post. The latter had to work early to establish position from his tough draw. He settle nicely on the backside and was by himself in fifth for a stretch. Oasis Boy was on the fence and Auto Bahn was to his outside and waiting to pounce. Auto Bahn hit the front approaching the home stretch and Forever Young moved up to confront the leader. It was a two-horse race from there and they separated themselves from the rest. Auto Bahn had the lead and tried to spurt away, but Forever Young straightened up in midstretch and kept on coming, and he was too much late and won by two lengths. Auto Bahn was clearly second best. The winner picked up 100 Derby points and will bring a perfect 5-for-5 record to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.  

Florida Derby – March 30 (Gulfstream Park)

Fractions: 24.06, 47.50, 1:11.31, 1:35.63, 1:48.22

Top 5 Finishers: Fierceness, Catalytic, Grand Mo the First, Conquest Warrior, Hades

This race was over after the opening quarter. Fierceness disappointed as the overwhelming favorite in the Holy Bull (G3). He had a troubled beginning that day in a race with no pace. Fast forward to March 30, and he was the favorite again and made the lead under John Velazquez through an opening fraction of 24.06. Game over. Fierceness widened throughout and won by a stunning 13 1/2 lengths. Catalytic chased the winner throughout and was clearly second best, and Grand Mo the First stalked the pace and held the show by a nose over Conquest Warrior. Front running Holy Bull hero Hades did not have the best start and never got seriously involved. Juvenile champ Fierceness is the clear Derby favorite after this romp, and Catalytic picked up 50 points and punched his Derby ticket as well.  

Arkansas Derby – March 30 (Oaklawn Park)

Fractions: 23.43, 47.46, 1:12.26, 1:37.25, 1:49.54 

Top 5 Finishers: Muth, Just Steel, Mystik Dan, Timberlake, Informed Patriot 

Longshot Time for Truth made the early running as expected, and Muth got into a nice rhythm chasing the pace. Timberlake was the post time favorite, and one of his nagging flaws came into clear focus. Timberlake did not always settle last year. He seemed to put that behind him in the Rebel, but he was too eager early in this race and went from stalking inside to hitting the front after a half-mile. Juan Hernandez aboard Muth just let Timberlake go and was content to chase from second. Just Steel was stalking wide and Mystik Dan was too far back early. Muth made his move turning for home and Timberlake started to weaken. Bob Baffert’s colt was in command in the lane and was best by two lengths. Just Steel stalked wide was clearly second best in a solid effort, and Mystik Dan came running for the show. Timberlake weakened to fourth. My 7-1 top choice Liberal Arts had everything go wrong. He was uncomfortable early and was rank and pulling, and Tyler Gaffalione could not get him to settle. He bothered two runners and steadied and dropped back on the backside, and was never able to get seriously involved. He made mild progress in the stretch and crossed the line in sixth, and was disqualified and placed eighth for causing interference. Muth is not eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby due to Bob Baffert’s ongoing Churchill Downs ban, so this was a Preakness and/or Belmont Stakes prep for him. Just Steel will run in the Derby next for Wayne Lukas, and Ken McPeek wants to run Mystik Dan in the Derby if he has enough points. Timberlake has more than enough points to run in the Derby but the 1 1/4 miles distance might be too much for him. It was just reported that Timberlake will not run in the Kentucky Derby. Brad Cox might cut him back in distance in upcoming starts.   

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)

Rebel (50-25-15-10-5) – Feb. 24 – Winner: Timberlake ($3.60)

Fountain of Youth (50-25-15-10-5) – March 2 – Winner: Dornoch ($2.40)

Gotham (50-25-15-10-5) – March 2 – Winner: Deterministic ($9.80)

John Battaglia Memorial (20-10-6-4-2) – March 2 – Winner: Encino ($13.38)

San Felipe (50-25-15-10-5) – March 2 – Winner: Imagination ($3.80) 

Tampa Bay Derby (50-25-15-10-5) – March 9 – Winner: Domestic Product (non-wagering event)

Jeff Ruby Steaks (100-50-25-15-10) – March 23 – Winner: Endlessly ($4.88)

Louisiana Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 23 – Winner: Catching Freedom ($8.60)

Florida Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 30 – Winner: Fierceness ($4.20)

UAE Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 30 – Winner: Forever Young ($3.20)

Arkansas Derby (100-50-25-15-10) – March 30 – Winner: Muth ($6.60)

Upcoming Points Races:

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 26 Kentucky Derby 2024 Points Leaders (thru 4-2-24)

T O Password (Japan Qualifier)

Fierceness (136 points)

Catching Freedom (125 points)

Forever Young (100 points)

Endlessly (100 points)

Track Phantom (70 points)

West Saratoga (67 points)

Just Steel, Honor Marie (65 points)

Dornoch, Domestic Product (60 points)

Sierra Leone (55 points)

Catalytic, Deterministic (50 points)

Mystik Dan (46 points)

No More Time (45 points)

Grand Mo the First (40 points)

Common Defense (37 points)

Hades, El Grande O (30 points)

Seize the Grey (27 points)

Stronghold, Le Dom Bro, Pandagate, Tuscan Gold, Just a Touch (25 points)

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2024 Contenders (4-2-24)

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

Comments: The $2.3 million yearling purchase has been my top ranked Derby contender for two months, and has shown plenty of ability in all three starts. He rallied to miss by a nose in the Remsen (G2) last year and that was a very productive race. His lone start this year was a closing victory as the favorite in the Risen Star (G2) on Feb. 17, and show finisher Catching Freedom 5th place finisher Honor Marie returned to finish first and second in the Louisiana Derby (G2). He has worked five times since the Risen Star including a half-mile breeze in 49.60 (12/47) at Payson Park on March 30. He has been targeting the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 6 for several weeks.  

2 – Fierceness (City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher – Last Ranking (3)

Comments: When he has a clean beginning and gets into a nice early-pressing rhythm, he is virtually unstoppable. That is exactly what happened in his debut and in the BC Juvenile (G1) and Florida Derby (G1). He thoroughly dominated all three of those races by a combined 31 lengths. Things did not go according to plan in the Champagne (G1) and Holy Bull (G3), and he was flat as the beaten chalk in both of those losses. His Florida Derby rebound was a thing of beauty, and they are all running for second at Churchill if he duplicates that tour de force. Mike Repole’s colt is the deserving Derby favorite but there are valid concerns. He needs everything to go his way and has yet to run two alike.   

3 – Catching Freedom (Constitution – Catch My Drift, by Pionnerof the Nile) – Trainer: Brad Cox – Last Ranking (5)

Comments: This Constitution colt will not have any problem handling 1 1/4 miles on May 4. He showed nice stretch energy in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 23. His dam sire Pioneerof the Nile was my Derby horse in 2009 and he finished second. He is a closer but does not need to come from the clouds, and he is a logical Derby contender if the race flow is in his favor.    

4 – Dornoch (Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown) – Trainer: Danny Gargan – Last Ranking (4)

Comments: He is a slower and less dominating version of Fierceness, and he had everything go perfectly in his two stakes wins. He made the lead, was passed by Sierra Leone, and came again to win the Remsen (G2) by a nose over a wet track last year. Early speed dominated at Aqueduct that day and he rode the track bias to victory. He had everything fall into place in the Fountain of Youth (G2). In that race, Locked, Merit, Speak Easy, and Victory Avenue scratched, and that left Dornoch as the controlling speed in a 5-horse field. He cruised up front at 20 cents on the dollar, turned away Le Dom Bro, and won by 1 3/4 lengths. He has breezed three times since the FOY including a half-mile bullet in 47.25 (1/35) at Palm Meadows on March 30. He goes next in the Blue Grass (G1) on April 6.  

5 – Forever Young (Real Steel – Forever Darling, by Congrats) – Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi – Last Ranking (18)

Comments: This one is a real world traveler, and all he does is win races. He won his first three starts in Japan, and shipped to Saudi Arabia and got up in the very late stages to take the Grade 3 Saudi Derby at one mile. He got more ground to work with in the Grade 2 UAE Derby at 1 3/16 miles, and he gradually wore down Auto Bahn to win by two lengths. It is on to America for the 5-for-5 colt, and he looks like a legit contender on the first Saturday in May.   

6 – Stronghold (Ghostzapper – Spectator, by Jimmy Creed) – Trainer: Phil D’Amato –  Last Ranking (7)

Comments: This one just shows up every time and is slowly getting faster. The tactical Ghostzapper colt was solid as the favorite in the Sunland Derby (G3) on Feb. 18. He has worked five times since his last start including a half-mile move in 48 (4/21) over the new all-weather training track at Santa Anita on April 1. He is scheduled to make his next start in the SA Derby (G1) on April 6. 

7 – Tuscan Sky (Vino Rosso – South Andros, by Sky Mesa) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher – Last Ranking (9)

Comments: We are going to find out how good this one is when he runs in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 6. He won both career starts this year including a smart victory over next-out stakes winner Nash at Fair Grounds on the Risen Star undercard on Feb. 17. He shows five morning breezes since his last start including a half-mile bullet in 48.78 (1/20) at Palm Beach Downs on March 30.  

8 – Deterministic (Liam’s Map – Giulio’s Jewel, by Speightstown) – Trainer: Christophe Clement – Last Ranking (10)

Comments: The lightly raced son of Liam’s Map captured both starts. He won his career debut in an extended sprint at Saratoga last summer, and returned with his running shoes on in the Grade 3 Gotham on March 2. He sports two works since the Gotham including a five panel bullet in 1:01.60 (1/5) at Payson Park on March 29. He will return to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 6. 

9 – Domestic Product (Practical Joke – Goods and Services, by Paynter) – Trainer: Chad Brown –  Last Ranking (11)

Comments: He might be a bit better than his recent speed ratings suggest. He rallied for the place in the Holy Bull (G3) and that was a slow early/fast late event. Chad Brown’s Practical Joke colt caught another slow early/fast late race shape in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3), and he stalked and scored by a neck. In two works since his last start on March 9, he went a half-mile in 49.20 (8/44) on March 24, and drilled a bullet in 48.40 (1/47) on March 30. Both of those workouts were at Payson Park in Florida. 

10 – Honor Marie (Honor Code – Dame Marie, by Smart Strike) – Trainer: D. Whitworth Beckman –  Last Ranking (13)

Comments: He looked good going last-to-first in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill last fall. He was left with too much work to do in the Risen Star (G2), and he made up ground late and ended up 5th of 12. The Louisiana Derby (G2) was his next start and he rallied for the place in an improved effort. This closer might be with considering from off the pace in the Kentucky Derby, especially if you are playing the exotics.  

11 – Just Steel (Justify – Irish Lights, by Fastnet Rock) – Trainer: Wayne Lukas –  Last Ranking (unranked)

Comments: He deserves a place on the list based on his overall body of work. He has plenty of experience with eleven starts and is more of a throwback Derby contender. In his last five stakes starts, he was first in the Ed Brown, second in the Smarty Jones and Southwest (G3), a wide seventh in the Rebel (G2), and a clear second in the Arkansas Derby (G1). His stalking running style might lead to a clean trip at Churchill Downs. 

Next Nine – (12) Track Phantom, (13) West Saratoga, (14) Mystik Dan, (15) No More Time, (16) Catalytic, (17) T O Password, (18) Endlessly, (19) Encino, (20) Just a Touch