Fair Grounds Horse Racing

In a photo provided by Hodges Photography, Angel of Empire, right, with Luis Saez aboard, outduels Tapit Conquest to win the Risen Star Stakes on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. 

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The Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious horse race in the world. It’s also one of the most unpredictable.

In the past 18 years alone, we’ve seen four horses win with odds of 50-1 or higher, including 81-1 Rich Strike last year.

Each year I ask local experts to handicap the race. This year's lineup is excellent, as always.

Without further ado, Michael Beychok, Kevin Kilroy, Patrick McGoey, Tim Rice and Chad Schexnayder offer their analysis and selections for the 149th Kentucky Derby, which will run Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Michael Beychok's analysis and selections

Well, we whiffed big time in last year's Derby, when our top choice, Zandon, could only manage a third-place finish at 6-1. Of course, many bettors were in our same boat as 81-1 long shot Rich Strike pulled off the monumental upset.

When I bet on big races like the Kentucky Derby, I’m trying to make a big score. This year’s Run for the Roses features a favorite that I don’t like and a few long shots that I do like quite a bit.

1. Angel of Empire (8-1): Angel of Empire ran at the Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes and won in decisive fashion. The Brad Cox trainee followed that win with another visually impressive win in the Arkansas Derby against a solid group. He just has the strong, athletic closing kick needed to win this grueling race. A solid, strong choice for the win.

2. Derma Sotogake (10-1): This horse has logged the most frequent-flier miles of the 20 in the starting gate. Based in Japan along with fellow entrant Continuar, Derma Sotogake won his past three races last year in Japan before running third in the Saudi Arabia Derby and winning the Dubai Derby in his last race. No horse has won both the Dubai Derby and Kentucky Derby, so we will need a price to bet this one to break the streak. A solid shot to win and run in the money.

3. Skinner (20-1): He has won only one race, but this John Sheriffs’ trainee brought another one-time winner to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle in 2005 when Giacomo shocked the world at 50-1. A late bloomer, Skinner ran third last out in the Santa Anita Derby and looks like a horse that can improve again in the biggest race of his career. He will be a big long shot who can win it all.

Michael Beychok is a senior partner of Ourso Beychok Inc., an award-winning national political consulting firm based in Louisiana, and the 2012 National Handicapping Championship and 2012 Eclipse Award winner for best handicapper.

Kevin Kilroy's analysis and selections

Kentucky Derby 149 is wide open. Each of the likely favorites — Forte (3-1), Tapit Trice (5-1), and Angel of Empire (8-1) — has a closing running style and will be up against it in terms of the horses near the front will not be tiring like they did in Kentucky Derby 148.

While the likely favorite Forte has done nothing wrong in winning six of his seven races, he has not shown us that he has stepped forward as a 3-year-old, and I expect him to run similarly to his previous races. There are a handful of other runners who are poised to run the biggest races of their careers and will be bigger prices. 

As a handicapper, I am always looking to play long shots and I bet the Derby to make a big score. For this race, I am specifically going to attack the trifecta. While I don’t normally box my picks in a trifecta, the Derby offers such strong payouts and is subject to so much chaos, I will first box my top four picks using Forte with the following trio:

1. Confidence Game (20-1): My top pick is also my long shot play. He's trained by Louisiana’s own Keith Desormeaux and ridden by jockey James Graham, who is the third all-time leading rider at the Fair Grounds. Everyone is dismissing him because he skipped running in a final Derby prep race after winning The Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park. He has been training better than anyone in the field and the pace set-up should suit him.

2. Two Phil’s (12-1): He has progressed really well in each of his races, is training phenomenally, and has a winning running style which will likely set him up to break open the field turning for home.

3. Derma Sotogake (10-1): This Japanese colt’s performance in winning the Dubai Derby produced the top speed figures in the field, and everything is pointing to him running a similar race in the Kentucky Derby. 

Kevin Kilroy is the racing analyst at the Fair Grounds.

Patrick McGoey’s analysis and selections

I think this year’s Derby is wide open. I respect Forte, but he has not progressed much in his 3-year-old campaign. So I am going to try to beat Forte with the following horses:

1. Angel of Empire (8-1): He is coming off dominant performances in the Risen Star Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. I think he is going to get a good trip from the No. 14 post, sit mid-pack on the back stretch and make an explosive move as they turn for home. I love the way he is working, and I think he will love the extra distance.

2. Derma Sotogake (10-1): While we do not have Beyer Speed Figures from Meydan (race course in Dubai), this horse looks to be the fastest in the Derby. He is bred for speed and distance, and I love that his first race as a 2-year-old was going a 1⅛ miles. He has a great foundation under him and should have no problem with the distance. While I did not like his recent workouts at Churchill Downs, I am willing to take a shot that this horse runs back to his last race. If he does, he will be tough to beat.

3. Tapit Trice (5-1): His last race was visually impressive. He is sired by Tapit and will certainly get the distance. His past two workouts have been good. His jockey, Luis Saez, is as hot as any, and I think we will work out a trip from the No. 5 post. If he can save ground in the turns, look for Tapit Trice to be gobbling up ground down the stretch.

Long-shot play — Rocket Can (30-1): Bill Mott can point a horse for a race better than any trainer in the U.S. He won the Pegasus Stakes in January with Art Collector at 15-1. He's coming off a long layoff and needs to improve his speed figures to compete. I think Mott has been pointing for this race for months, and adding blinkers for the Derby might just be what Rocket Can needs to hit the board or even win.

Patrick McGoey is a commercial litigator from New Orleans and won the 2011 & 2012 Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge and 2018 Kentucky Derby Betting Challenge.

Tim Rice’s analysis and selections

This year marks the 44th year that I have handicapped the Derby. I have never picked a short-priced horse and never will. There is always a value play in the race, and that is what I look for. I think Forte is beatable, mostly because he is not any faster now than he was at age 2, and the price will be short. From my experience, this race is often won by horses that have either steadily improved at age 3 or have a big breakout performance in this race.

1. Derma Sotogake (10-1): Even though he is confronting the Dubai Derby jinx, the top Japanese runners can compete with anyone as recent Breeders' Cup results have shown. I was on the fence for Derma until the Santa Anita Derby when I saw Mandolin Hero get nosed for a Grade I win in his first start here. His races in Japan were at a significantly lower level.

2. Two Phil’s (12-1): This horse is a gamer, and I expect him to be tough. He impressed me at the Fair Grounds this winter.

3. Tapit Trice (5-1): He may well win it all, but his odds are too low for me. Tapit Trice figures to run big, and I will include him in all verticals.

Long-shot play — Skinner (20-1): He ran farther than Practical Move and Mandolin Hero in the Santa Anita Derby and still was right there in the photo. The jockey switch is an upgrade.

Tim Rice is the managing partner of Rice, Voelker, LLC. The Folsom native is the author of “Broke in a Tangle” and has published a popular Kentucky Derby journal for 43 years.

Chad Schexnayder’s analysis and selections

The Derby is the only North American race run with a relatively inexperienced field of 20 horses going a distance they have never run before.

Chaos is prevalent. The best horse doesn't always win.

I always like to throw a couple of price horses into my selections, but this Derby looks like we could get a reasonable finish, especially with Eclipse Award-winning trainers Todd Pletcher and Brad Cox holding a dominant hand of seven horses in the field of 20.

1. Angel of Empire (8-1): Admittedly I am biased to this runner since he upset the Risen Star field at the Fair Grounds in February for the aforementioned Cox stable. He went on to win the Arkansas Derby last month at Oaklawn in a powerful performance and is coming into the race full of energy. If he gets a clear trip through the stretch, there aren’t many in the field that can match strides with him to the wire.

2. Tapit Trice (5-1): Maybe the most talented horse in the field, but the Blue Grass Stakes winner doesn't like to break very alertly from the gate and drawing an inside post position (No. 5) was not what the connections were hoping for. Jockey Luis Saez will have to navigate his way around a lot of horses throughout the race, but he certainly is talented enough to win with a clean trip.

3. Skinner (20-1): Trainer John Sheriffs knows what to do with a good horse, and this one checks a lot of long shot boxes. His sire, Curlin, is one of the greats whose offspring keep improving with racing. His past two races were third-place finishes, but his rider didn't do him any favors with wide trips. He gets a new jockey for this race and, with racing luck, could be finishing much better here at a big number.

Long-shot play — Disarm (30-1): A fast-developing son of Gun Runner, Disarm had to finish third in the Lexington Stakes to earn his invitation to the big dance. Since then, he has blossomed touting himself in morning workouts and looks to be thriving under the radar for connections who have won just about every major race from California to Dubai -- except the Derby.

Chad Schexnayder is the former publicity director at the Fair Grounds, the host of the Fair Grounds Racing podcast and a regular National Handicapping Tour participant.

Jeff Duncan's analysis and selections

This Derby feels more formful than past years. While I think there are about a dozen candidates to hit the board, I believe one of four horses will win: Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice, Forte and Derma Sotogake. There doesn't appear to be much pace in the race, which makes Derma Sotogake dangerous.

1. Angel of Empire (8-1): This developing, long-striding colt is coming into the race the right way. His Beyer Speed Figures have improved in five consecutive races and trainer Brad Cox always has his horses ready for the big days like this.

2. Derma Sotogake (10-1): If he’s able to gain the lead going into the first turn from the No. 17 post position, then he could be very difficult to run down.

3. Tapit Trice (5-1): This gray son of Tapit enters the Derby on an upswing and looks poised to run a lifetime best. This is no one-trick pony, having won at four different tracks.

Jeff Duncan is a sports columnist at The Times-Picayune/The Advocate and a Louisville, Kentucky, native.

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Email Jeff Duncan at JDuncan@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter at @JeffDuncan_