Road to the Kentucky Derby: Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, San Anita Derby

Author Image Article By Chet Fussman GDC - Icon - Black - Info
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Road to the Kentucky Derby: Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, San Anita Derby
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The final three significant Kentucky Derby prep races go to the post this weekend, bringing the Road to the Derby qualifying process just about to the finish line.

Next week, we will know which horses have a spot reserved in the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May. One thing we already know is Forte (6-for-7 lifetime) will be the morning-line favorite in the Run for the Roses after his impressive Florida Derby victory.

The next top betting choices will likely come from Saturday’s three 200-point races: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby. All three are 1 1/8-mile races with identical point formats: 100 to the winner and 40-30-20-10 for second through fifth place.

Winning any of the three races earns an automatic entry into the Kentucky Derby. A second-place finish usually does, too, though it’s possible additional points might be needed this year.  

The Blue Grass drew a field of 11 and is an excellent betting race. The Wood Memorial drew 13 and has a possible top Derby contender in Hit List, who will have to overcome the No. 13 post. Practical Move is the morning-line favorite in the nine-horse Santa Anita Derby, which over the years has proven the most impactful of the three Saturday preps.

The final remaining points race after this weekend is the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. It’s a minor prep offering only 20 points to the winner, and often includes a few horses on the Derby points bubble. 


The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and continues through April 15. The top 20-point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Current 2023 Kentucky Derby Qualifier Standings

Rank HorsePoints Earnings
1 Forte 190 $2359730
2 Angel of Empire 154 $1,026,375
3 Two Phil’s 123 $643,850
4 Derma Sotogake 100 $1,112,319
5 Kingsbarns 100 $600,000
6 Practical Move 60 $372,000
7 Rocket Can 60 $284,025
8 Confidence Game 57 $610,480
9 Raise Cain 54 $204,750
10 Wild On Ice 50 $366,400
11 Tapit Trice 50 $210,000
12 Mage 50 $205,200
13 Reincarnate 45 $263,250
14 Jace’s Road 45 $200,350
15 Cyclone Mischief 45 $137,525
16 Major Dude 40 $401,595
17 King Russell 40 $227,500
18 Disarm 40 $200,000
19 Sun Thunder 34 $135,250
20 Red Route One 33 $398,375


Blue Grass Stakes

Date: Saturday, April 8, 2023

Track: Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky

Distance: 1 1/8 miles

Purse: $1 million


Position HorseTrainer RiderOdds
1 Tapit Trice Todd Pletcher Luis Saez 5-2
2 Clear the Air Will Walden Ricardo Santana Jr. 30-1
3 Verifying Brad Cox Tyler Gaffailone 3-1
4 Classic Car Wash Mark Casse Jamier Castallano 12-1
5 Hayes Strike Ken McPeek James Graham15-1
6 Scoobie Quando Ben Colebrook Luan Machado 15-1
7 Sun Thunder Kenny McPeek Florent Geroux10-1
8 Blazing Sevens Chad Brown Irad Ortiz Jr.6-1
9 Major Blue D. Wayne Lukas David Cabrera30-1
10 Raise Cain Ben Colebrook Joel Rosario9-2
11 Mendelssohns March Kenny McPeek Brian Hernandez Jr.20-1

Blue Grass Stakes Analysis

While the Blue Grass is likely to produce several Kentucky Derby starters, all 11 in the field have something to prove. 

The morning-line betting favorites are Tapit Trice and Verifying, who are coming off very different performances. Tapit Trice rallied from far back to win the Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths, the third consecutive victory for the promising $1.3 million colt. But it wasn’t a particularly fast race, jockey Luis Saez provided a lot of urging, and the quality of the field he defeated is in question.

Verifying was a disappointing fourth as the 3-2 favorite in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, perhaps too close to a quick early pace that melted down and favored runners from further back in the pack.

Trainer Chad Brown, who won this race last year with Zandon (who went on to run third in the Kentucky Derby), has entered Blazing Sevens, an outstanding 2-year-old last year who has yet to regain that form. He was a dismal eighth last month in his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Trainer Kenny McPeek, who has won this race twice, has three horses (Hayes Strike, Sun Thunder, Mendelssohns March) in the Blue Grass. Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas has the likely pacesetter in Major Blue. Expect him to lead this field as far as he can.

Tapit Trice and Raise Cain already have enough points to reach the Derby and Sun Thunder is on the bubble. The rest need to step up on Saturday to make it to Louisville.

Blue Grass Stakes Selections

This race is a handicapping puzzle. It’s difficult to trust likely betting favorites Tapit Trice and Verifying at relatively low odds, so why not swing for the fences?

1. Scoobie Quando has a win and two seconds in three career starts, all on the synthetic Turfway Park surface. If (admittedly a big if) he can transfer his form to the Keeneland dirt, he fits with these. He showed plenty of late interest in his runner-up finish in the Battaglia Memorial and may be closer to the pace this time. He’s worth a look at big odds.

2. Sun Thunder returns on short two-week rest after spinning his wheels attempting to rally into a paceless Louisiana Derby, a race in which nobody closed any ground. Before that, he took advantage of a fast pace to finish a close second in the Risen Star. He comes out of three consecutive graded stakes and is another who offers double-digit value.

3. Which Blazing Sevens will show up?  The one who ran a competitive fourth to Forte in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November or the one beaten 26 lengths in the Fountain of Youth in his last start? If willing to draw a line through his last race, he has the back form and class to win this. 

Blue Grass Stakes Betting Strategy

Straight bets on both Scoobie Quando and Sun Thunder. Use them in exotics with Blazing Sevens. If you’re uncomfortable eliminating Tapit Trice, use underneath in exactas and trifectas.

Wood Memorial

Date: Saturday, April 8, 2023

Track: Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, Queens, New York

Distance: 1 1/8 miles

Purse: $750,000

Position HorseTrainer RiderOdds
1 Dreamlike Todd Pletcher Jose Ortiz 7-2
2 Shadow Dragon Bill Mott Eric Cancel 12-1
3 Knox Saffie Joseph Jr. Jose Gomez 50-1
4 General Banker James Ferraro Frankie Pennington 20-1
5 Slip Mahony Brad Cox Dylan Davis6-1
6 Clear the Air Will Walden Heman Harkie 15-1
7 Arctic Arrogance Linda Rice Jose Lezcano6-1
8 Lord Miles Saffie Joseph Jr. Paco Lopez30-1
9 Crupi Todd Pletcher Kendrick Carmouche12-1
10 Uncle Jake Brittany Russell Jevian Toledo20-1
11 Classic Catch Todd Pletcher Trevor McCarthy10-1
12 Mr. Swagger Juan Avila Carlos Olivero30-1
13 Hit Show Brad Cox Manny Franco5-2

Wood Memorial Analysis

The Wood has a long, rich history, but has not been a path to Kentucky Derby success in recent decades. No Wood winner has won the Kentucky Derby since 2000. Mo Donegal, the 2022 Wood winner, finished fifth in the Derby, but came back to win the Belmont Stakes.

Perhaps Hit Show has the best chance to end that streak, though he will have to overcome the outermost post to win the Wood. Hit Show won the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct last time out and is part of a formidable two-horse contingent from the Brad Cox barn. The other is Slip Mahoney, who finished second in the Gotham States at Aqueduct in his most recent start.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Wood a record seven times, including the last two years with Mo Donegal and Bourbonic, has entered three this year. Interestingly, two of the three (Dreamlike, Crupi) are maidens, meaning they haven’t won a race. Yet both have run fast enough to compete with this field, as has Pletcher’s other entry, Classic Catch, who is coming off an allowance win.

Every horse in this field needs Derby points — none rank among the Top 20 on the Derby leaderboard. The highest is long shot General Banker, who ranks No. 25 and will likely need to finish third or better to punch his ticket to Churchill Downs. 

Wood Memorial Selections

1. It was hard not to be impressed with Hit Show’s 5-1/2 length romp in the Withers Stakes. He rallied from off the pace to blow by the field and looked to be galloping out strongly well past the finish. Trainer Brad Cox has won more than a half-dozen Derby preps this year and this could be one of his most talented runners. The 13 post is not ideal, but like Forte last week in the Florida Derby, top horses can overcome some initial ground loss. In recent years, the Wood has favored horses with Hit Show’s come-from-behind running style.

2. Slip Mahoney finished second in the Gotham Stakes behind Raise Cain, who is running in the Blue Grass on Saturday. While the Gotham was not a fast race, Slip Mahoney overcame a difficult trip in which he was off slow and then forced to rally at least nine-wide around a lot of traffic. Gets rider switch to Dylan Davis and would expect him to be more forwardly placed this time.

3. With two wins and four seconds in six career starts, Arctic Arrogance has yet to run a bad race. Would expect more of the same here, but he was a distant second to Hit Show with no visible excuse last time and may be more effective at slightly shorter distances. 

Wood Memorial Betting Strategy

Hit Show is likely to be sent off in the 2-1 range, which isn’t great value from the No. 13 post. But he’s the most likely winner. Trifectas on top of Slip Mahoney, Arctic Arrogance, General Banker and the maidens Crupi and Dreamlike could provide some decent returns.


Santa Anita Derby

Date: Saturday, April 8, 2023

Track: Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California

Distance: 1 1/8 miles

Purse: $750,000

Position HorseTrainer RiderOdds
1 I Don’t Get It Doug O’Neal Mario Gutierrez 20-1
2 Dazzlemesliver J. Keith Desormeaux Kent Desormeaux 20-1
3 Geaux Rocket Ride Richard Mandella Flavien Prat 3-1
4 One in Vermillion Eric Kruilijac Hector Berrios 50-1
5 Practical Move Tim Yakteen Ramon Vazquez8-5
6 National Treasure Tim Yakteen John Velazquez 3-1
7 Skinner John Shirreffs Victor Espinoza4-1
8 Mandarin Hero Terunobu Fujita Kazushi Kimura8-1
9 Low Expectations Antonio Garcia Umberto Rispoli30-1

Santa Anita Derby Analysis

The top West Coast Derby prep is traditionally one of the most significant national preps and this year should be no exception.

The top three finishers of the San Felipe Stakes last month, Practical Move, Geaux Rocket Ride and Skinner, will battle again and all have run fast enough to be considered serious Derby contenders. Practical Move’s 100 Beyer speed figure in the San Felipe is among the fastest on the Derby trail.

Tim Yakteen, the trainer of Practical Move, has a second entry in National Treasure, who was transferred from the barn of Bob Baffert, who is suspended from Churchill Downs. National Treasure hasn’t been off the board in four starts and moving him to the Yakteen barn makes him eligible to receive Kentucky Derby points.

A major wild card in the race is Mandarin Hero, the first Japan-based horse ever to compete in the Santa Anita Derby. Competing at Oi Race Course near Tokyo, Mandarin Hero is 4-for-5 lifetime, the lone loss by just a neck in a stakes race at this same distance.

Santa Anita Derby Selections

1. Geaux Rocket Ride ran a credible second in the San Felipe Stakes in just his second career start. He gained valuable experience in his first race around two turns and continued to dig in late. He won’t be far off the early pace. Another step forward could be enough to win this. 

2. Skinner, who ran third in the San Felipe, looked as if he was going to circle the field, but flattened out in the final stages of a wide trip. Devoid of early speed, a lively early pace will improve his chances.

3. Practical Move has rewarded his backers handsomely in his last two races, easily winning the Los Alamitos Futurity (at 10-1) and then the San Felipe (4-1). In the latter, he took advantage of an ideal inside trip and his speed figures jumped significantly. Repeating that effort may be difficult, and he’s worth taking a shot against at short odds this time. 

Santa Anita Derby Betting Strategy

Straight bets on Geaux Rocket Ride. Include him in exotics with Skinner, Practical Move and Mandarin Hero, whose Japanese form should not be taken lightly.


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Chet Fussman

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