The Road to the Kentucky Derby is well underway, and the leaderboard to determine the full field for the race at Churchill Downs in early May is taking shape. However, it could be all change at the top of the leaderboard over the coming months, as the big Grade 1s on the road to the Derby are staged.
Outright betting for the race is already open, and there has been significant movement at the top of the market in recent months following the Breeders’ Cup and early prep races at the start of 2023. Check out the current odds here: twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/odds/
Nevertheless, which runners could be set to produce a huge effort at Churchill Downs in their bid for glory in 2024?
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hasn’t historically been the best prep race for the Kentucky Derby, with only two winners of the race landing success at Churchill Downs in the following year.
However, that hasn’t stopped Fierceness from being the leading contender at the top of the betting at this stage, as the three-year-old breezed clear of a talented field at Santa Anita to win by over six lengths from Muth.
The Todd Pletcher runner has now won twice from three starts, with his only defeat coming when finishing a disappointing seventh in the G1 Champagne Stakes. Pletcher trained the hot favorite for the Derby in the form of Forte last year, but he will be hoping this Juvenile victor at least lines up at Churchill Downs in May.
Steven Asmussen is still chasing a first Derby winner, and he could have a leading chance based on three-year-old form with Track Phantom. The contender has been the standout contender based on the early preps in January, as he capture the G3 Lecomte Stakes.
The three-year-old travelled really well over the 1 1/16 mile distance on that day, and he finished nearly three lengths clear of Nash. That is a strong piece of form based on what the runner-up achieved last year, and it was a commanding statement on his first start in graded company.
Asmussen has had some promising Derby contenders in recent years, but this could be the runner to end his long wait for a success in the Triple Crown race if he is able to progress when stepped up in trip in February.
There will be a lot of attention on Bob Baffert over the next seven days, as he will need to move his potential Derby runners to a new yard if they are to pick up qualifying points. The Hall of Famer remains banned from making entries at Churchill Downs, meaning that bettors will be hopeful that Nysos is among the contenders that are transferred before the start of February.
The three-year-old is among the most exciting contenders on the Derby trail at this stage after winning dominantly on each of his previous two starts. He stepped up to seven furlongs in very impressive fashion at Del Mar in November, landing the G3 Bob Hope Stakes by a commanding nine-length margin from Stronghold.
However, we will know more about his potential Derby chances when he is finally tested against some of the best contenders, as he has won by a combined 19 lengths on his first two racecourse starts.
One of the most interesting Derby contenders that could be worth watching over the next few months is Dornoch for trainer Danny Gargan. The three-year-old emerged as a leading Derby contender at the start of December when landing the G2 Remsen Stakes on very testing ground at Aqueduct.
That victory scored a speed rating of 98, as he finished a nose clear of Sierra Leone. His form already reads fairly strong before that effort, as he was beaten by the progressive Noted by a length at Monmouth over a mile at the end of August.
Connections have already revealed the plan for this Derby hopeful, as he will be pointed toward lining up in the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at the start of February. We will know more about his Derby chances after that race, but he is very much worthy of keeping on side at this stage.
Outsider Worth Following
A runner that could be worth examining as the prep season continues is Turn Up The Trees. The three-year-old is trained by Todd Pletcher, and he made a very pleasing first impression on track at the start of January. He sped clear of the field in a very commanding style of six furlongs to finish clear of Celtic Pride.
More will be expected when this colt steps up in trip over the coming months, and he could showcase even more progression. He is bred to get the Derby distance, as he is sired by Liam’s May and is out of Smart Strike mare Clearbook.