The Kentucky Derby prep race schedule is in full swing as the field for this year’s Run for the Roses on Saturday, May 2 starts to take shape. Doc’s Sports has gotten an early jump on handicapping the brand-new crop of three-year-old thoroughbreds that are expected to compete for a spot in the Derby field, and we have narrowed things down to the following five horses to keep an eye on over the next five weeks leading up to this year’s Kentucky Derby at storied Churchill Downs in Louisville.
This Bob Baffert-trained colt made his much-anticipated three-year-old debut a few weeks ago in the Grade 2 $750,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and he did not disappoint with a first-place finish by a comfortable margin of 6¼ lengths. It was his first outing since winning last year’s Grade 1 Front Runner Stakes as a two-year-old on his way to being named the champion juvenile of the year.
He currently is listed as a 4/1 early favorite to win this year’s Kentucky Derby on Odds Shark’s futures odds. Ridden by Victor Espinosa, the only knock on his performance in the Rebel was the fact it was not considered one of the strongest fields for some of the big prep races in the month of March. He still looked pretty good to us to earn a place at the top of this list.
One of the bigger stakes races in early March was the Grade 2 $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. This was another highly anticipated three-year-old debut for Carpe Diem, who was last seen taking second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He first made a name for himself as a potential Kentucky Derby contender by winning the Breeders' Futurity last fall at Keeneland.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, Carpe Diem made short work of the eight-horse field to win the Tampa Bay Derby by a full five lengths. His current odds to win the Kentucky Derby are the third-best on the board at 10/1.
This past Saturday’s slate was jam-packed with three key Kentucky Derby prep races, including the Grade 1 $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. This race had a strong field of nine horses, but the one that crossed the finish line first was Materiality.
He is also trained by Pletcher, and he was ridden by Velazquez in this race. Materiality is not even listed on the current list of betting odds to win the Kentucky Derby, but that should change in the coming weeks. History may not be on his side. The last time a horse won the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a two-year-old was all the way back in 1882. Nonetheless, with an impressive run this past Saturday at Gulfstream he deserves to be on this list.
This Rick Violette-trained colt has been busy as a three-year-old with three starts in a prep races starting with a victory in the $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in late January. Upstart went on to win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on Feb. 24 by 2¾ lengths, but he was later disqualified for impeding Itsaknockout and demoted to second place.
This past Saturday, Upstart gave Materiality all he could handle by finishing second in the Florida Derby while the rest of the field trailed by 12½ lengths. His futures odds to win the Kentucky Derby currently stand at 20/1.
Another important prep race this past Saturday was the Grade 2 $750,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Racetrack. International Star had already claimed victories at this track in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in January and the Grade 2 Risen Star in February, and he made it a clean sweep by squeezing out a victory on Saturday over Stanford, who led this race for most of the way.
International Star is trained by Mike Maker and ridden by Miguel Mena. His best performance in his three victories was in the Louisiana Derby. His future odds to win at Churchill Downs on May 2 currently stand at 20/1.