2023 Derby Rankings – Week 1

Don’t panic at the length of the first Derby Rankings. There are so many horses to sort through and so few that have really stood out, especially at the stakes level. As is often the case, the ‘wow’ performances have been mostly in maiden races and we all know that horses often leave those races far behind when they move up in class and face winners. But as you will see, some of these impressive maiden winners have the foundation, running style, and pedigree to suggest they will keep improving. This is a long one, but we tried to cover as many as possible. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Jan. 23, 2023 – Week 1

By Steve Haskin

1— Forte (Todd Pletcher, Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame)

He had his first work this past weekend, breezing three-eighths in :38 1/5. It is way too early to get a decent line on this crop of 3-year-olds, but as of now I feel Forte stands far above the others based on proven class, accomplishments, and pedigree. The only horse who has come close to beating him in his last three starts, Loggins, is sidelined with no sign of an imminent return. Of course we all know things can change quickly on the Derby trail, but I can’t find any flaws in this colt. He has a strong stretch kick, can win going away, as he did despite the short stretch of the Breeders’ Cup, or fighting to the wire. He has triple-digit Brisnet middle and late pace figures, so he has been at his strongest in different parts of the race, and has two triple-digit Brisnet final speed figures. Also, he is on a strong upward pattern on his Thoro-Graph numbers, He’s won from five furlongs to 1 1/16 miles on fast and sloppy tracks and has won on the rail and going very wide. Until he shows he has any weakness or some freakishly talented horse emerges he has to be a clear-cut No. 1.

2—Cave Rock (Bob Baffert for now, Arrogate – Georgie’s Angel, by Bellamy Road)

He’s still a couple of weeks from his first breeze, but there’s no rush with him. He has plenty of bottom and Baffert will get him fit pretty quickly. As we know, he will have to be turned over to another trainer before the Derby. He is an immensely talented colt with a ton of speed and is bred to go long. This colt’s first three races were brilliant and dominating, much like his sire Arrogate, and I love the way he reaches out with that low action. I am giving him a pass for the Breeders’ Cup. He seemed to be in control of the race at the three-eighths pole, but turning for home he appeared to lose his action, as he tried to lug in, turning his head out, and failed to change leads. After he finally did change leads at the sixteenth pole he got back in stride and was running strongly to the wire, but Forte already had the race won. Despite suffering his first defeat Cave Rock actually ran his fastest Thoro-Graph number, getting a “2 1/4″ following three consecutive “3’s.” If he does come back in top shape and keeps progressing and gets sent to Tim Yakteen before the Derby like last year’s Baffert horses, don’t go by last year’s poor efforts by Taiba and Messier at Churchill Downs. Taiba wasn’t ready for the Derby with only two lifetime starts and Messier didn’t run again for six months, and when he came back he ran horribly twice for Baffert. Cave Rock would be a great legacy for Arrogate, who we lost way too soon.

3—Practical Move (Tim Yakteen, Practical Joke – Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex)

Can a horse who once looked like another Bob Baffert patsy turn out to be his kryptonite? In Practical Move’s first four races he was beaten by four different Baffert horses. In his third start, however, going two turns for the first time, he overcame a poor start, going five-wide into the first turn and racing wide throughout, to challenge the heavy favorite Fort Bragg, who drifted very wide into his path turning for home, causing him to take up briefly. He cut sharply to the inside and looked like a winner in midstretch until Fort Bragg ducked in under a right-hand whip and bumped him soundly. He still regained the lead, but Fort Bragg came back and beat him, only to be disqualified, giving Practical Move his first official victory over Baffert. But then he dropped back to a sprint in the Bob Hope Stakes and ran into one of Baffert’s speediest bullets, Havnameltdown, and could only finish third. Then came the Los Alamitos Futurity at 1 1/16 miles, and of his four opponents, three were trained by Baffert, including the notorious Fort Bragg. But this time he needed no help from the stewards and crushed them all, drawing off to a 3 3/4-length score, earning a whopping 105 Brisnet speed figure and improving to a “3 3/4″ Thoro-Graph number. This colt has a lot of bottom, having run at four different distances from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1  1/16 miles and is at his best going two turns. He returned to the work tab Saturday with a strong half in :47 4/5. Who knows which Baffert horses Yakteen will get for the Derby this year, but he may very well have the best one already. And this one is all his.


4—Giant Mischief (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Vertical Oak, by Giant Oak)

There is a lot to like about this colt. He did debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Horseshoe Indianapolis, which is not your typical launch pad for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. However, Cox does use that track to look for a softer spot. That said, it appeared he had little shot to finish in the money at the quarter pole and no shot to win at the eighth pole, but he suddenly took off at the sixteenth pole and blew right by the leader. Off that race he wound up next in a seven-furlong allowance race on the Breeders’ Cup card facing Bob Baffert’s 3-5 shipper Arabian Lion, an impressive debut winner in 1:09 3/5. Sent off at 6-1 and breaking from the rail he showed good speed moving quickly into third just inside Arabian Lion. Nearing the top of the stretch, Arabian Lion moved outside the leader, while Giant Mischief took the inside route. They hooked up in a stretch battle and to most everyone’s surprise it was Giant Mischief who began to inch away, winning by three-quarters of a length in 1:22 1/5 with Arabian Lion 17 lengths ahead of the third horse. Giant Mischief’s Brisnet speed figure catapulted from a 70 to a 99. He closed out the year in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park and got left cold at the break, dropping far back of the nine-horse field. He remained in last all the way down the backstretch and then used his quick turn of foot to inhale the field in one swoop, and in a flash was lapped on the two leaders. It looked like he had given all he had as he lost touch with them and appeared content to finish third, as the eventual winner opened up in midstretch. But again he found that other gear out of nowhere and took off. His big move fell 1 1/4 lengths short, but he was gaining with every stride. He had his first breeze back as he points for the Rebel Stakes.


5—Jace’s Road (Brad Cox, Quality Road – Out Post, by Silver Deputy)

This colt was impressive winning first time out at Ellis Park going six furlongs and pretty much toying with his field, drawing off under a hand ride to win by 4 1/2 lengths in a sharp 1:09 4/5, doing everything smoothly and professionally. He was then stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and thrown right into graded stakes company in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. Although he finished third, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths, I loved what I saw. He was sitting in good position tracking the leader, but when the 3-5 favorite Echo Again moved up on his outside to take over second he suddenly dropped back and found himself three lengths back and going nowhere. Then three other horses pulled alongside him, but he kept coming. In the stretch, he swung out, brushing with another horse and then rallied inside the eventual winner Curly Jack, but just couldn’t sustain his run. I just liked the way he bounced back and made a race out of it after looking hopelessly beaten. I can’t explain his dud in the Street Sense Stakes run in the slop when he dropped right out of it and was virtually eased in the stretch. But to his credit he rebounded in the Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds when he went right to the front pressed by the 4-5 favorite Determinedly, who was coming off a stunning 7 1/4-length romp in a maiden race. Nearing the head of the stretch Determinedly was being hard ridden while Jace’s Road was still coasting along. In the stretch, Jace’s Road shook free and dew off at will, winning under a hand ride by 5 1/4 lengths, earning a 96 Brisnet speed figure and running a “4 1/2″ Thoro-Graph number, which was a jump of four points from his first two races. This colt’s tail-female line combines the best of Phipps and Paul Mellon blood and you can’t get classier than that.


6—Cyclone Mischief (Dale Romans, Into Mischief – Areyoucominghere, by Bernardini)

He looks to be one of the biggest overlays of the Future Wager at 41-1. As good as he looked at 2, he may be the most improved colt of all of them. In his career debut at a taxing flat mile at Churchill Downs he went to the lead pressed by two horses. He put them away and opened up in the stretch, but was nailed by two closers right at the wire. In his next start he again broke sharply and went to the front, gave it up briefly, then quickly opened a clear lead nearing the top of the stretch and drew off under a hand ride to win by 5 1/4 lengths, jumping over to his left lead nearing the wire. Despite running a slow time and dropping to a paltry 77 Brisnet figure, he was put in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. With eight horses in contention at the eighth pole, he was passed late, finishing seventh, but beaten only 2 3/4 lengths by Instant Coffee. Sent to Gulfstream, he made his 3-year-old debut in a one-mile allowance race and was fourth choice behind a pair of promising Todd Pletcher colts and one trained by Saffie Joseph and seemed like a different horse. This time he rated beautifully in third two lengths back. On the turn, one of the Pletcher horses, Litigate, passed him on the outside, putting him in a box, but he was able to ease out between horses, with four across the track. He put Litigate away turning for home and drew off to win with his ears up by 5 3/4 lengths. Not only did his Brisnet figure jump from an 81 to a 99, after running three slow Thoro-Graph numbers of “11,” he catapulted all the way to a “4 1/2.” He is a fairly late foal, born April 30, so it looks like he is just now figuring it all out.


7—Banishing (Brendan Walsh, Ghostzapper – Dowager, by A.P. Indy)

He was scratched from an important allowance race with some superficial cuts, which is not what you want in your first race against winners. But if you liked anyone from that race, as well as the LeComte Stakes, this colt in only two starts has proven to be significantly faster than anyone in both those races. As for missing this race, it does set him back a bit, but he has already gone a mile and 1 1/16 miles, so he at least has some good bottom. Owned by Godolphin, he is a big long-striding horse with high knee action, but I like the turn of foot he showed in his career debut. After breaking awkwardly from post 12, hitting the side of the gate, he raced way out in the middle of the track and moved up gradually, but then seemed to be backing up a bit. Just then he put it in another gear and starting passing horses quickly on his own, going from seventh to being lapped on the leaders at the head of the stretch. He was unable to sustain his run, finishing fourth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths. Going a flat mile at Churchill Downs in your career debut is tough and he got a lot out of it. Sent to Fair Grounds and stretching out to 1 1/16 miles and two turns, he broke on top and set the pace with two horses lapped on him and putting constant pressure on him. He opened up briefly on the turn, then was challenged again nearing the top of the stretch. In a flash, he was gone, opening up with every stride and drawing off under a hand ride to win by 8 1/2 lengths, galloping out way ahead of the others. I loved the maturity and athleticism he showed compared to his first race, and coming home his last sixteenth in :06 1/5. He has three Breeders’ Cup Classic winners in his first three generations and just looks like a horse with a promising future.


8—Signator (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Pension, by Seeking the Gold)

Once again I’m taking a shot and going against my rules about ranking horses coming off maiden wins. But the truth is, I haven’t seen many stakes winners this year that have made a big impression on me and fields that have been deep with talent. To me they all still have a lot to prove. I am putting Signator this high mainly from a visual standpoint. He is a beautiful moving horse with great extension to his stride and has excellent mechanics. He also has a “fantastic disposition,” according to Eddie Woods, who trained him up to the 2-year-old sale. He obviously is a physical standout and could run early considering they paid $1.7 million for him. In his career debut going six furlongs, which I believe was too short for him, he was still a bit green and didn’t change leads until Joel Rosario made him nearing the eighth pole. Once he did he took off and was flying at the end to be second. Stretching out to a flat mile at Aqueduct on a muddy track, he had a rough start, but after sitting right behind four horses was able to come through on the rail and draw off to win by 4 1/2 widening lengths, getting stronger the farther he went, as jockey Javier Castellano never touched him with the whip and took a look back inside the sixteenth pole. Despite doing it all on his own he still came home the final quarter in :24 flat. You never know about a horse until they beat winners, but I will give this colt a high ranking based on the eye test and a tremendous pedigree that I will get into next week. He worked a half at Payson Park in :48 3/5 last week, and that is pretty quick over that deep track.


9—Instant Coffee, Brad Cox, Bolt d’Oro – Follow No One, by Uncle Mo)

The Brad Cox cavalcade of stars continues, and although I wasn’t exactly blown away with the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes or the LeComte Stakes he did win both of them in a very professional manner, and with two graded stakes victories and a sharp seven-furlong maiden score in :1:22 3/5 you have to take him seriously. But the truth is, no one went into the LeComte with good speed figures and they ran basically the same time as the allowance race earlier on the card with three horses on the wire together and the winner appearing to tire late. The LeComte also saw the pace-setting Echo Again pulling up in the stretch with a stifle issue. Instant Coffee has a very efficient stride, runs straight, and as mentioned earlier has been very professional in all his races. He had been running Thoro-Graph numbers  of “7 1/2” twice and then an “8” and Beyer and Brisnet figures in the 80s, so he needs to get faster, as do many of this year’s top stakes performers. We’ll see what happens when these other horses start getting faster and improving, but as of now he has to be included in the Top 10. The question whether he can start getting faster and improving with them.


10—Arabian Knight (Bob Baffert, Uncle Mo – Borealis Night, by Astrology)

A $2.3 million yearling, he looked like it in his only start, a 7 1/4-length romp in a rapid 1:21 4/5 at Keeneland. He was never really asked to run down the stretch and still came home his final eighth in :12 flat. With a “2 1/4” Thoro-Graph number, you just have to wonder if it was too fast too quickly. The runner-up, Determinedly, came back and won by 7 1/4 lengths next time out before finishing third in the Gun Runner Stakes and barely winning an allowance race Saturday. Instead of waiting for the Robert Lewis Stakes at home, Arabian Knight will head to Oaklawn for Saturday’s Southwest Stakes and will be coming off a series of terrific works, including a powerful 1:12 1/5 move for six furlongs and five furlongs in :59 1/5. Baffert puts a lot of foundation into his horses and he should be dead-fit despite having only the one start. He does stick his left leg out a bit, which makes his stride look a bit awkward, but he’s only had the one start to judge him by and he is a very powerful mover. He reminds me in some ways of his sire, who was one of the best 2-year-olds we’ve seen in a while. Again, it is extremely rare for me to rank a horse with only one sprint start, but this is the year to do it and this colt looks very advanced and I know what I’m getting from Baffert. Pedigree-wise, he is a complete outcross through five generations and his dam is inbred to Secretariat and Dr. Fager and her tail-female line traces to Damascus.

11—Corona Bolt (Brad Cox, Bolt d’Oro – Stormbeforethecalm, by Quiet American)

There are 11 Brad Cox-trained horses in the latest Future Wager, and although this colt hasn’t been farther than six furlongs I am going to assume that he will only get better the farther he goes. He’ll stretch out to 1 1/16 miles in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes and a big effort will move him way up in the rankings. He already has shown a lot in his two races. In his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs he got bumped pretty hard coming out of the gate, tracked the two leaders in third, and then showed a good turn of foot inhaling those two without any urging whatsoever though a stiff half in :45 3/5. He opened up in the stretch and was given a strong hand ride to win by a length. In his next start, the six-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds, he broke sharply and charged to the lead in :22 1/5 and :45 4/5. He opened up in the stretch and won comfortably by 6 3/4 lengths in 1:09 4/5, closing his final quarter in :24 flat. He does hold his head a bit high in the stretch, but he carries his legs under him beautifully, and in his two races you cannot ask a horse to run straighter down the lane. Not once did he deviate even a little off his path, even when Florent Geroux gave him a little one-tap wake-up call in the Sugar Bowl before letting him come home all on his own.


12—Disarm (Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner – Easy Tap, by Tapit)

I’m really caught up with maiden winners this year, mainly because they just seem more exciting than most of the proven stakes horses. So I’ll continue to take shots with a few of them even though it’s something I normally never do, as I have seen too many exciting maiden winners regress when they face winners. Another who has caught my eye is Disarm, who has the right style, looks very classy, and has a strong pedigree. In his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs he had to steady in traffic, dropping back several lengths. He moved up along the inside, then swung six-wide at the top of the stretch. Still about seventh in mid-stretch he took off and was flying at the end, finishing third, beaten two lengths. His next start was Whitney day at Saratoga going seven furlongs. He drew the disadvantageous rail and broke a step slow, dropping back. He again moved up along the rail, swung four-wide and quickly drew clear, winning by 6 1/4 lengths under a hand ride. The runner-up who he left in his wake, Arthur’s Ride, came back to finish second, beaten three-quarters of a length, by Instant Coffee, who went on to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and LeComte. Some may not be thrilled with the final time of 1:24 2/5 and final eighth in :13 2/5, but the Grade 1 Test Stakes that day was run in 1:23 4/5 with a final eighth in :13 2/5 and the Whitney won by Life is Good was run in 1:48 4/5 with a final eighth in :13 1/5. I love the way this colt reaches out with his low action.  He hasn’t shown a quick turn of foot but he keeps getting stronger, building up momentum, and should appreciate stretching out in distance. He hasn’t run since August, but has a pair of easy half-mile works at Fair Grounds.


13—Victory Formation (Brad Cox, Tapwrit – Smart N Soft, by Smart Strike)

He probably should be higher, but I have to break up this Brad Cox juggernaut somehow. I could have gone with a number of Cox’s horses, but many of them look fairly similar. I went with this guy because he is undefeated in three starts and has a good form line through third-place finisher Lugan Knight, who he defeated in an allowance race at Churchill Downs and who came back to win the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Victory Formation has won all three of his starts on the front end, including the Smarty Jones Stakes and it is time to see if he can rate sitting off the pace. There are too many horses faster than him, so you don’t want the kind of horse who is dependent on the lead. What I admired most about him in that allowance score is the way he turned what looked like certain defeat into victory, coming again after being passed by the impressive maiden winner Two Eagles River.


14—Blazing Sevens (Chad Brown, Good Magic – Trophy Girl, by Warrior’s Reward)

Another of the many solid stakes horses who have not done anything to get excited about, but right now is good enough to be a contender, especially having finished on the board in such prestigious races as the Hopeful, Champagne, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. And although his career debut going six furlongs at Saratoga was run in slow time he did look good drawing off to a 6 1/4-length score while being eased in the final 100 yards. He didn’t seem to handle the sloppy track in the Hopeful in only his second career start, finishing a well-beaten third. But in the Champagne he was a different horse, and although facing an off track again, he blew by the leaders to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Although he finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he showed that the Champagne was no fluke, as he broke slowly and was briefly last before moving up into seventh along the inside. Despite the field being spread out across the track nearing the top of the stretch, creating several wide openings, he was taken out and wound up getting fanned some seven-wide. He closed well enough down the shortened stretch and was beaten a little over five lengths behind the two best 2-year-olds in the country. He’s just getting back to serious training and has done enough to be considered a legitimate Derby contender.


15—Dubyuhnell (Danny Gargan, Good Magic – Wild Gams, by Forest Wildcat)

The gutsy Remsen Stakes winner has the fastest Thoro-Graph number with a “1 1/4,” and is the only horse other than Forte in the Future Wager field to run a triple-digit Brisnet figure. He seems to be coming around nicely for Gargan at Palm Meadows, breezing a half in :49 3/5. The son of Good Magic has two victories and a fourth, with both wins coming in the slop, one of them an off-the-turf race. The Remsen got excellent speed figures all around, but with a fourth in his only dirt race, in which he was beaten almost eight lengths by Instant Coffee, I just want to see how he handles a fast track before ranking him any higher. I was also impressed with the Remsen runner-up, Arctic Arrogance, who is as tough and game as they come, but with him it’s just about finishing off his races and coming out on top of his stretch battles. That Dubyuhnell was able to out-game him going 1 1/8 miles and coming off only two starts and an off-the-turf maiden victory was pretty impressive. If he can show he’s just as good on a fast track he no doubt will move up in the rankings.


Late news: Three horses in the Top 15 — Arabian Knight, Jace’s Road, and Corona Bolt — and two horses mentioned in detail in Knocking on the Door — Sun Thunder and Hit Show — were entered Monday in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, Hold on to your hats. Three of those are trained by Brad Cox.

Saturday’s allowance race at Fair Grounds took a big hit with the scratch off Banishing. The wire-to-wire winner DETERMINEDLY was making his eighth career start and did seem to get a bit tired late, just holding off two lightly raced horses, TAPIT’S CONQUEST and SILVER HEIST, coming off maiden wins, with another maiden winner, TAPIT SHOES, racing very greenly down the stretch. If you like Instant Coffee, they did run basically the same time.

One Brad Cox-trained horse who has been high on everyone’s radar screen is the gutsy Breeders’ Futurity runner-up LOGGINS. Churchill Downs continues to include him in the Future Wager field, where he is taking a ton of money, but he has been sidelined with various issues and is not expected back in training in the near future. Another Cox horse to keep an eye on is HIT SHOW, winner of two of his three  starts, with his last being an impressive 3 1/2-length score going a mile at Oaklawn. The son of Candy Ride has been very sharp with three straight works in 1:00 and change and could join stablemate Corona Bolt in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes.

Another horse I am looking forward to seeing run in the Southwest Stakes is the maiden winner SUN THUNDER, who unleashed a powerful turn of foot to win by 6 1/2 lengths after finishing a strong-closing third to Determinedly in his career debut. His Thoro-Graph numbers have been slow and it didn’t look as if he beat much last time out. But his last was visually impressive and I loved his most recent work, going a half in company in a bullet :47 3/5, fastest of 92 works at the distance.

On the Baffert front, HAVNAMELTDOWN, winner of the Best Pal and Bob Hope Stakes, the latter run in 1:21 3/5, returned to the work tab on January 13, working five furlongs in s sizzling :58 2/5, then followed that up with another five-furlong work in :59. Baffert’s $3.55 million 2-year-old purchase HEJAZI finally broke his maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs following three defeats. In his two previous races he was beaten by stablemates Cave Rock and Speed Boat Beach. By Bernardini, out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, you would think he’d be better going a distance, but he obviously is very fast as indicated by his swift final time of 1:14 2/5 last out and 97 Beyer figure. Another fast maiden winner, FAUSTIN, worked five furlongs in :59 1/5. REINCARNATE, NEWGATE, and NATIONAL TREASURE haven’t worked since their 1-2-3 finish in the Sham Stakes.

Catching up from the previous week, we saw an impressive allowance victory from the Justify colt VERIFYING. The Champagne Stakes runner-up rebounded from a dull effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to win impressively by 5 1/4 lengths going a mile at Oaklawn Park for who else but Brad Cox. With a “5 1/2″ Thoro-Graph figure he returned to the same number he got in the Champagne.

The horse who really caught my eye, but is not quite ready to be ranked in the Top 12, was the Todd Pletcher-trained KINGSBARNS, who debuted at a mile at Gulfstream and got so much out of the race it gave him a lot more experience than other horses with only one start. First off, he was trapped in a box for the first six furlongs of the race, which is a tough initiation for a first-time starter going a mile. A young horse has to have a good mind to just sit back and wait and not get rank or frustrated. When he came to the head of the stretch he was able to ease off the rail, but there were three horses in front of him and he was hemmed by another horse moving outside him. After a slight bump he was angled sharply back inside and finally found and opening. Without hesitation, he slipped right through and found himself in front. Two horses came charging at him late, but he had no problem holding them off, winning by 1 3/4-lengths. He has a nice big bounding stride, but with only the one start he has a lot of catching up to do.

I don’t know how far he wants to go, but if you’re looking for a behind-the-scenes horse you might want to keep an eye on RECRUITER, who is undefeated in four starts at Monmouth, Laurel, and Parx with back-to back stakes victories, which have been more workmanlike than brilliant. But he has excellent tactical speed and knows how to win. He has won at three different racetracks at four different distances, and on three different surfaces – fast, good, and sloppy. His last two Brisnet speed figures have been a 99 and a 98 and his Thoro-Graph numbers jumped from a “6 1/4” to a “3 3/4,” so like his sire Army Mule he does have speed. He hasn’t been two turns yet, but he does have five Belmont Stakes winners in his pedigree and two horses who were narrowly beaten in the Belmont. He currently is training at Fair Hill for Cal Lynch.

Another classy horse coming out of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes is CURLY JACK, who has two wins and a second in his three starts at Churchill Downs. Although the KJC has me baffled considering how slow it was and that there were so many horses together on the wire, but also how many horses have run well coming out of the race. Trained by Tom Amoss, Curly Jack has run six times, the last three at 1 1/16 miles, so he has plenty of bottom and experience. He has started back working at Fair Grounds,

WILDATLANTICSTORM, winner of the Springboard Mile, is training at Sam Houston Race Park. The son of Stormy Atlantic has won four of his six starts with two seconds, but they have all been at Remington, Lone Star, and Prairie Meadows, so it’s time to move to the major tracks to see how he fares against stronger fields. The aforementioned ARCTIC ARROGANCE had a nice six-furlong stamina builder in 1:15 on the Belmont training track.

The Brad Cox 3-year-olds keep piling up. If you want to see what guts is watch the final race at Aqueduct Saturday and see how the Cox-trained Arrogate colt SLIP MAHONEY dug in and refused to let the Todd Pletcher-trained CRUPI get his head in front after a torrid duel the entire length of the stretch.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.


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209 Responses to “2023 Derby Rankings – Week 1”

  1. Matthew W says:

    I bet on Practical Move on Sept 3rd, and got a close look at him….he’s a nice horse! He was beaten that day but he really picked things up at Los Al…Yakteen gets no love on another site, which allows posters to attack one another…(it’s HORSE RACING, where everyone has an opinion or fifty!)….if I am a trainer and I get the chance to have some of Bob’s horses I TAKE THEM! Long stretch and he pulled away— my top three are the same as yours, Steve, except I have Cave Rock a very close 2nd, he did the wet work at Keeneland, and MOST horses that were not covered up into that backstretch finished up the track…..I like Arabian Knight this weekend, in the best Derby prep so far….Forte is a worthy #1, and I have no fears about him winning the Breeders Cup…only two years ago the Breeders Cup results looked pretty solid! Streaks are made to be broken, Forte checks all of the boxes! I appreciate your lists, Steve, as I am unfamiliar with eastern horses, and there are so many more good ones, back there…

    • Matthew W says:

      When I mentioned Keeneland backstretch I meant the big headwind, of Nov 5th….knly two horses that were uncovered down the backstretch won on that day, one was Flightline and the other one was Arabian Knight, both won for fun….

      • Matthew W says:

        Speaking of that headwind, another horse ran very well with no backstretch cover—Clairiere, whom in my opinion was the best filly of 2022…

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Cave Rock would be a closer second if he was back in serious training. Once he is I will consider him closer to Forte.Why would anyone knock Yakteeen? Makes no sense. Its more interesting back east even with all the Cox horses. Other than Practical Move Baffert has everything out there. But many will be going to other barns by Feb. 28 This week will be devoted mainly to pedigrees.

    • Davids says:

      Interesting scenario, what do the owners (consortium these days lol!) do if Tim Yakteen wins the Derby for them with a recently trained Baffert horse?

      Send the horse back to Bob Baffert for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes or leave the horse with Tim Yakteen? Bob Baffert has trained two Triple Crown winners just recently. Where does your loyalty lie, faith belong to?

      Decision, decision.

  2. Bill Dawson says:

    RE: Southwest Stakes, Oaklawn Park, Sat. 1-28

    There are a few interesting jockey changes in referenced race.
    Florent Geroux will be riding at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, so he wouldn’t be riding Corona Bolt or Jace’s Road.
    Flaven Prat will ride Corona Bolt, replacing Geroux.
    Joseph Talamo has opted to ride Jace’s Road instead of Hit Show which could be telling. Hit Show will have Manuel Franco in the irons which could be an upgrade, IMO.
    Ricardo Santana Jr. will be back aboard Red Route One, replacing Gaffalione.
    Take those jockey changes with a grain of salt. 🙂

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks for the rundown, Bill. Talamo decision didnt surpise me. Jace has accomplished more. Red Route One might be a nice one one day.

      • Bill Dawson says:

        You’re welcome Steve.

        The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Brad Cox believes Hit Show has more upside than Jace’s Road, and wanted a rider upgrade (Manuel Franco) to ride Hit Show in the Southwest. I’m thinking Cox might have did a little arm twisting to convince Talamo to switch to Jace’s Road. Jockey statistics, over the past two years, clearing shows Franco has been more successful than Talamo in every category, as the following will illustrate:

        Manuel Franco, 59 starts: 21 wins, 8 places, 6 shows, which works out to a 36% win percentage, and 59% in the money.
        Joe Talamo, 24 starts: 1 win, 6 places, 2 shows, which works out to a 4% win percentage, and 38% in the money.

        Manuel France, 1,139 starts: 16% wins, and 45% in the money finishs. Earnings: over 15 million.
        Joe Talamo, 660 starts; 12% wins, 31% in the money finishs. Earnings: 6.4 million.

        Just something to ponder regarding rider changes in the Southwest.

  3. Kenny says:

    Thank you Steve. Your insights are much appreciated. It looks like Cox is loaded this year. Do you think that he could break the record for the most starters in the Derby this year? I think Todd Pletcher holds it with five along with Zito and Lucas.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Kenny. He could because all these horses look like legitimate Derby type horses. But as they will Saturday, they are going to start beating each other.

  4. Lynda King says:

    Something I look forward to every year that brings sunshine to dreary January days!
    As of this moment only following two colts that I think might have the right stuff to won the Derby; Forte and Instant Coffee.
    Forte has a dream pedigree in my opinion and Instant Coffee has no in breeding through the first 5 generations.

    Will be interesting to see which of Baffert’s trainees are moved to other trainers.

    On a side note, a gelding named One More Bid (by California Chrome) has been entered in Pegasus Turf race for horses 4 years old and up. He is a grade 2 stakes winner and has done quite well at a mile. Can he stretch out for a Mike and a quarter? His pedigree I think says he can.

    Trying to go through and digest all the colts you gave mentioned Steve. Happy to see a promoting colt in Mr Romans’ string. Really like Dale and would so enjoy seeing him in the winners circle on Derby Day.

    • Matthew W says:

      One More Bid will be a big longshot, but he’s a nice horse….I see Red Knight is on the card…a true tryer! Nine years young, and running with top company! Also Cupid’s Claws, 9yo also is running in the 3rd race—it’s 2023, and his damsire is Affirmed..

  5. Andre Linoge says:

    Jace’s Road acted up behind the gate in the Street Sense and dropped Geroux. The article is on the Kentucky Derby site.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I read where he acted up, but they didnt show it on the repplay so I have no idea how big a role it played in such a bad perfomance. I qwill assume it surely didnt help him. I didnt want to write about until I saw it, if ever. I asked Terry Finley about it and he said it was “just a bad day.” I can ask Brad but hate top keep bothering him with so many horses. I will ask Albaugh’s racing manager if he can shed light on it. Hopfully it doesnt become moot after the Southwest

  6. ezevans says:

    My friend Pat (who adored every word you wrote) and I consider the release of the Derby Dozen much like waiting for Christmas morning. So much information bundled in the perfect package. Banishing has caught my eye and I always like to follow those with a MidAtlantic connection of some kind so that nod will go to Recruiter.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That is SO kind of you to say. I really apprreciate it.Thank you. That means a lot. I hope by the past tense in you parentheses that Pat is still with us.

  7. Davids says:

    Steve, there is nothing better to kick start the New Year the right way than reading your Derby Rankings. Interesting commentary and astute perception as always. I feel somewhat guilty not paying a yearly subscription when reading your work. You can get the New York Times subscription at bargain basement prices as well these days. Funny world. Mind you, I’m extremely thankful on both accounts.

    The only thing that worries me about Forte is that he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It’s more a poison challis that a gift from the racing gods when attempting to plunder the Kentucky Derby as well. From there down it’s anyone’s guess really. I do like Signator a lot as well, agree with everything you wrote plus having a pedigree that screams 10f and beyond. Are the racing gods shining down on Shug this year?

    Speaking of Tapit colts, Shopper’s Revenge and Tapit Trice also appear to have a future racing/breeding so good luck to them as well. Did you happen to see the Upstart colt, Cagliostro, win the other day? Nice type.

    Anyway, I’m going to reread the initial 2023 Derby Rankings in case I missed something in haste. Happy Days are here again…thanks, Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks David. Subscriptions are optional. I’ll send you my address 🙂

      There were several horses I had to put off until this week because it was so long. Cagliostro looked OK but too many others to write about. Same with Shopper’s Revenge and Tapit’s Trice who beat Slip Mahoney. This week is mostly about pedigrees and new horses in KOTD, including those three

      • Davids says:

        Ha ha you’re welcome. Yes, Steve, this year there appears, more than most, that there is a plethora of ‘possible’ new contenders that may impact on the Derby Trail. Possibly, because there doesn’t appear to be half a dozen colts at this stage to have the race between them. Guess that’s the way with the Derby these days anyway.

        Your next instalment can’t come too soon, too impatient. Lol.

        • Davids says:

          Forgot to mention the elephant in the room, the Baffert saga, throws everything out of kilter.

          • Steve Haskin says:

            Especially with his horses having to be moved by Feb. 28. That really throws a monkey wrench into everything. The new trainer is actually going to have to train them for over 2 months.

  8. Amy Hurley says:

    A most welcome sign of the coming spring is the return of the Derby Dozen – er, the Derby Rankings! Don’t worry about the length of the contenders, Steve. You should know that we would happily read even a much longer list for your insights. Thank you for the background on some of the more obscure runners who show such promise – for now. I’ll be interested to see how many of the Bafferts get farmed out to other trainers, who they go to, and how many might just skip the Derby and proceed directly to the Preakness and/or Belmont.

  9. Gale Harris says:

    Ahhhhh! So nice to get focused on the sophomores! And I need it. I had forgotten about Forte!
    No one could help me get reoriented better than you, Steve.
    I’m looking forward to a lengthy stretch of insightful posts taking us into May.
    Thanks so much!

  10. Todd says:

    I know it’s Derby time when I see your dozen. I appreciate your insights and your longevity. Thank you for “kicking” off another year for me. I’m one of many who get out of a lot of work because of you.

  11. Sherri Lytle says:

    Thanks for your Derby rankings and looking forward to the future Derby prep races to decide who I am actually rooting for this year!

  12. Karren says:

    So much to try to decipher. Still waiting for a horse to wow me. I do like Forte and hope that he keeps moving forward as a 3 year old. I’m sure there will be some impressive maiden winners at Gulfstream, but most of them won’t have the foundation to be ready to take on the derby distance and the 20 horse field. For now, I will just wait and see.

  13. Steve Haskin says:

    See new opening graph in Knocking on the Door about today’s entries for the Southwest Stakes. What a barn burner that shoould be if all go.

    • Davids says:

      Yes, Steve, surprisingly tough field this early but with that type of prize money ‘they will come.’ Gulfstream’s Pegasus World Cup has a great card this Saturday. Do you have a fancy for the World Cup? Looks wide open to me but Proxy might just get there in a phot finish.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        I’ll be looking at the PPs today. I’ve always been a fan of Proxy from the Derby trail. Same with Simplification. Lots of horses in there I really dont know. I wish Flightline would have waited to make his final start here and at least give everyone another race in anothenr year. Would have enhanced his legacy even more ad he still would have plenty of time to make the breeding season. So glad they got Cybernife to give the race some oomph.

        • Davids says:

          Yes Steve, totally agree on Flightline but you’re balancing with letting the horse down for stud duty and preparing for the last race that you don’t want to lose. Tough decision.

          Hopefully, Proxy will progress again, I’m a fan as well. Charge It is the colt that intrigues me the most, the last race was spectacular and not unexpected.

  14. Bill Dawson says:

    Hi Steve

    Thank you for providing an in-depth analysis on this year’s early Kentucky Derby contenders. I can only imagine the time and effort you must go through in providing your weekly Derby Rankings.
    I was delighted to see 7 of my top 12 listed on your top 15. My current top selection is Hit Show, for a number of reasons.
    It was good to see him mentioned in your “KOTD” segment.
    Hit Show is a Gary and Mary West homebred colt who’s pedigree is the personification of speed, class and stamina.
    His sire, Candy Ride and broodmare sire, Tapit, need no introduction, my focus is on his dam, Actress, and 2nd dam, Milwaukee Appeal, who were graded routers.
    Actress won the G2 Black Eyed Susan Stakes, at 9 furlongs, and finished 1st in the G3 Comely Stakes, also at 9 furlongs.
    Milwaukee Appeal (his 2nd dam) was 2nd in the G1 Spinster Stakes, and 2nd in the G1 Alabama, at 10 furlongs.
    My track record betting KD Futures Pool wagers is not good. In last year’s KD Futures Pool, I bet Simplification at good odds, the best he could do was finish 4th. In 2021, I bet Rock Your World, and he finished 17th. In 2019, I bet Code of Honor, he managed a 2nd place finish.
    After Simplification finished fourth, last year, I vowed not to bet KD Futures Pool wagers again. So much for taking a vow.
    I could not resist placing a “C” note on Hit Show in Derby Futures Pool 3, at 77-1. In addition, I boxed him with the field in my Exacta wager. As they say, you can’t take it with you.
    I’m looking forward to see how he performs in the Southwest Stakes, on Saturday, at Oaklawn Park. The horse that scares me the most is Arabian Knight, who I have at #3 on my top 12 list.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      You’ll know soon enough. He’s entered in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes in a stacked field with some heavy hitters. He’s one of three Brad Cox horses in the field. If he can run a good race and finish in the money in this field, you’ve got a great wager. Good luck.

  15. Rachel fan says:

    Exciting to see a son of Violence in the upper ranks on the Derby trail. I was a big fan of Violence and was so disappointed when he was injured and had to end his career. He was a beautiful mover and had an effortless way of going. Forte looks like a slightly smaller version of his sire with similar white markings. I love his grit and versatility. I’ll be watching him closely. There’s another Violence colt named Shesterkin who broke his maiden Dec 31 at Aqueduct and went 7 furlongs gate to wire in 124.18, fighting back a challenge from a nice Sky Mesa colt. He’s a big, imposing runner out of a Street Cry mare and has the same Violence stamp, almost black coat, tall and a beautiful long stride and long, flowing tail. He looks to be about 16.2 already. I was very impressed with the way he drew away in the stretch and lengthened his stride. Bolt d’Oro’s colts are showing a lot of early ability as well. I love seeing these handsome grandsons of Medaglia d’Oro burning up the track. Corona Bolt looks like something special too. Can’t wait to see him stretch out to two turns.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      We saw Violence in September. He is magnificent!!. You will see Corona Bolt stretch out Saturday in the Southwest Stakes, which drew a terrific field. Shesterkin gets mentioned next week.

  16. Jo Anne says:

    The column I’ve been looking forward to the most this year. The anticipation of a fresh crop of 3 year olds to salivate over never gets old. I watched the Lecomte and just wasn’t impressed, but I keep telling myself the new year is still young. Looking forward to the upcoming weekend of racing to further muddy the waters. Thanks for an excellent early analysis of KD hopefuls.

  17. BobCostello says:

    Fantastic…. NOW Derby season is here! Can’t tell you how much I look forward to your articles, Steve. Your insights are always informative. Gosh, I love Derby!

  18. Krystyna Jutson says:

    Anyone know what happened to Damon’s Mound? I see on Bloodhorse he was supposed to get a “winter break” (after a subpar performance last time out), but he’s also beaten Forte so I was keenly interested in him.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      He hasn’t worked since October, Not looking good.

      • Krystyna Jutson says:

        DRF article from Jan 13 says he’s back in Lovell’s barn. Doesn’t sound like he’s being pointed to the TC trail. The article says his first start may be at Keeneland (Bluegrass?) but it doesn’t mention whether they will stretch him out or go back to one turn.

  19. 7.5 Furlongs says:

    Steve Haskin-

    Thanks for the 2023 Derby Rankings Week 1. Looks like the same script all over again. Brad Cox, Todd Pletcher, and Bob Baffert. Add Into Mischief, Tapit, and a new face Bolt d’Oro. Been a little busy following NFL and SF 49 this winter. Not sure how much longer that will last, though.

    I planned to follow a couple of 3-year-olds, Gun Pilot and Raise Cain, but both came up short in their most recent races. Will keep looking. Thanks for the sharp, in-depth analysis.

    7.5 Furlongs

  20. John Goggin says:

    Great list Steve. Good stuff. Thanks. Alot to pour over.
    Question-did Arabian Knight and Faustin work together on Saturday?
    And speaking of Baffert I gather he has a preliminary injunction hearing on Feb. 2 in court and I also believe the NYRA’s suspension against Baffert ends this week.

  21. Jerre L George says:

    I so enjoy reading your Derby columns. I live in Hot Springs and love going to Oaklawn, so I have a particular interest in what horses will be running here in the points races, always hoping a K.D. horse will be running (and winning) here. I look forward to reading your next column.

  22. mark f kennedy says:

    No Mention of CURLY JACK who is sitting in the top 5 points and his bred to only get better. He isnt my top pick but i would have thought he would have been mentioned unless i missed. Heck if you are using Instant Coffee ( BIG FAT PASS FOR ME) Curly Jack should at least get mentioned. Im not sure if some of these BC RUNNERS going to make a big dent as half of them havent even made it to their respective trainers yet. I do like Forte but worried about getting any foundation in him coming back so late. Love love FAUSTIN and right now he is my number 1. I do love the gutsy Dubyuhnell and in fact i think all the Good Magics look interesting, especially Reincarnate. I think Arabian Night will be AT Oaklawn this week , so maybe i’ll run over and see the star run. Thanks Steve for getting us started.

  23. Tom jones says:

    Let’s go

  24. 1JoeP says:

    Hello Steve – The rankings are back! So glad you have Disarm at 12 in your rankings. I agree with you and feel he was very impressive in his MSW at Saratoga. I bet him at 45-1 in KDFW2 to win and boxed him with the field. He is working at the FG and hopefully will run in an ALLOW soon coming off his long layoff, then hop onto the Derby Trail. He certainly is flying under the radar and I’m glad I bet him in the future pool.

  25. Ms Blacktype says:


    I’ve been anticipating your first rankings for weeks now, and you’ve more than delivered. No other racing writer puts as much research and insight into his or her Derby rankings. It’s so early that you are absolutely correct to rank Forte and Cave Rock at 1 and 2, and I was pleased to see Practical Move at #3. (I have Reincarnate in that spot with Practical Move at #4.) I liked seeing some of the maiden-winning surprises, like Disarm and Signator, included as well. I liked Arthur’s Ride out of Disarm’s winning race at Saratoga, but he apparently hasn’t started since. Any news on whether he is working?

    Relating to the Baffert trainees, what do you make of the Churchill Downs mandate that horses from “suspended trainers” must be transferred to others by Feb. 28 to earn points? Fair or not, the mandate appears to be aimed squarely at him. I wonder if the strategy could backfire, with Baffert holding on to some of his best prospects for races like the Preakness and Belmont, since there are no bans in place against him in those jurisdictions. He called Reincarnate his Belmont horse after he won the Sham.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you, Churchill refuses to let up on this. They obviously want to make tings more diffivcult fo him

    • Davids says:

      Ms Blacktype, Arthur’s Ride worked at Payson Park on January 19, 2023. 4f, breezing, 0:48.60 on a fast track. I meant to write this in earlier for you but the weather here has been so hot, humid that I spend the first few hours watering the garden.