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Making a case: Why each horse can — or can’t — win 2023 Kentucky Derby

Florida Derby winner Forte is the worthy favorite, but Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs offers several intriguing betting options.

Blue Grass winner Tapit Trice and Arkansas Derby titlist Angel of Empire are improving colts with solid chances to wear the roses.

And, of course, there are plenty of long shots who have created buzz on the backside the last two weeks.

With that in mind, The Courier Journal offers its annual breakdown of why each horse can and can’t win the Kentucky Derby — many serious, a few tongue in cheek, one destined to be right.

Horses are listed in post-position order:

1. Hit Show

Why he can win: His Beyer Speed Figures have improved every time he’s raced, and another jump Saturday would put him right in the mix.

Why he can’t win: Trainers say the new starting gate has alleviated some of the crowding issues involved with the No. 1 post position, but it’s still not ideal. The last winner from the No. 1 post was Ferdinand in 1986.

2. Verifying

Why he can win: Watch Brad Cox’s eyes light up when he speaks of this horse, and you get the feeling he’s sitting on a big one. Hard to knock a horse that finished just a neck behind Tapit Trice in the Blue Grass.

Why he can’t win: If you believe in the Derby gods, how do you feel about a son of Justify winning? Yes, Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018. But a failed drug test before the Kentucky Derby at least put an unofficial asterisk next to his accomplishments.

3. Two Phil’s

Why he can win: His victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks produced a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, the fastest number posted by any horse in the Derby. He’s also won at Churchill Downs, taking the Grade 3 Street Sense in October.

Why he can’t win: The “wise-guy” horse never wins the Derby, and Two Phil’s seems to be the one this year.

4. Confidence Game

Why he can win: He’s won twice at Churchill Downs and fired a bullet workout Saturday, going five furlongs in 59 seconds. Horse for the course?

Why he can’t win: He hasn’t raced since winning he Rebel on Feb. 25, and horses don’t win the Kentucky Derby off 10-week layoffs. He’s also never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles.

5. Tapit Trice

Why he can win: He’s won four straight races at four different tracks and may have caught Forte as the best horse in Todd Pletcher’s barn. A $1.3 million purchase, he’s the most expensive horse in the field.

Why he can’t win: Tapit is one of the top sires in North America, but his progeny is 0 for 13 in the Kentucky Derby. Tapit finished ninth in the 2004 Run for the Roses.

6. Kingsbarns

Why he can win: He’s undefeated in three career starts and has improved his speed figures every time. In a race with little early speed, he could be the one to beat at the quarter-pole.

Why he can’t win: The Louisiana Derby was slow, and that won’t be the case here. Only two horses have won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old — Apollo (1882) and Justify (2018).

7. Reincarnate

Why he can win: He’s never been worse than third in seven career starts, and he’s another who has early speed and should be close to the lead early. If he can sustain it, watch out!

Why he can’t win: Before being transferred to Tim Yakteen, Reincarnate was trained by Bob Baffert, who currently is suspended at Churchill Downs. Again, the Derby gods are watching.

8. Mage

Why he can win: If you like Forte, it’s hard to ignore Mage, who finished just a length behind the Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite in the Florida Derby.

Why he can’t win: Like Kingsbarns, Mage didn’t race as a 2-year-old and faces the Curse of Apollo/Justify. Jockey Javier Castellano is 0 for 15 in the Derby and never has finished better than third (Audible in 2018).

9. Skinner

Why he can win: Three straight Beyer Speed Figures in the 90s, and he was charging late while finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby. Trainer John Shirreffs knows how to win the Run for the Roses with long shots, as his Giacomo won in 2005 at 50-1 odds.

Why he can’t win: With just one victory in six career starts, he feels like the classic “close but no cigar” type.

10. Practical Move

Why he can win: Three straight victories and two straight Beyer Speed Figures of 100 are hard to ignore. Yakteen seems more comfortable this year than he did last year in his Kentucky Derby debut, and that can only translate to good things for the horse.

Why he can’t win: A son of Practical Joke, there are serious doubts Practical Move can last the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby.

11. Disarm

Why he can win:Steve Asmussen has to win the Kentucky Derby some time, right? After last year’s runner-up heartbreak with Epicenter, maybe it’s justice for Asmussen to win with a relative long shot.

Why he can’t win: His speed figures don’t match up with the best in this field, and his third-place finish three weeks ago in the Lexington at Keeneland was, at best, dull.

12. Jace’s Road

Why he can win: Maybe he gets away with a moderate early pace and steals it.

Why he can’t win: He’s the fourth-best horse in the race from his own barn and hasn’t exactly loved Churchill Downs, finishing third and eighth in his two races there.

13. Sun Thunder

Why he can win: If Rich Strike can win the Kentucky Derby, why can’t another late runner like Sun Thunder?  

Why he can’t win: Trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. are easy to like, but there’s not much else to like about this one.

14. Angel of Empire

Why he can win: Improving colt was impressive in a 4 ¼-length romp in the Arkansas Derby. Seems to get better the farther he runs.

Why he can’t win: Do you really trust a $70,000 horse that was bred in Pennsylvania and got his racing start at Horseshoe Indianapolis?

15. Forte

Why he can win: With six wins in seven races, he has the best résumé of any horse in the field. The move he made to win the Florida Derby was eye-popping, and he has arguably the best jockey in the world in Irad Ortiz Jr. A worthy favorite.

Why he can’t win: Only two winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby (Street Sense and Nyquist), and there are concerns Forte isn’t the same horse he was as a 2-year-old because of declining Beyer Speed Figures.

16. Raise Cain

Why he can win: He has the same sire, Violence, as Forte. Maybe he’s the favored son.

Why he can’t win: There’s little to no history to suggest he belongs in this field. A fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass doesn’t inspire confidence.

17. Derma Sotogake

Why he can win:Japanese horses have made a splash on the world stage in recent years, and it’s just a matter of time before one wins the Kentucky Derby. His numbers from the UAE Derby suggest he’s fast enough to compete with the best here.

Why he can’t win: Horses coming from the UAE Derby are 0 for 18 all-time in the Kentucky Derby and have never even hit the board. The best finish came from Master of Hounds, who was fifth in 2011. The No. 17 post is 0 for 43 all-time in the Kentucky Derby.

18. Rocket Can

Why he can win: Perhaps it rains Saturday and Rocket Can repeats his victory in the slop in October at Churchill Downs. Adding blinkers could help with focus.

Why he can’t win: Nothing in his history suggests he’s fast enough to compete with the best here. The fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby doesn’t inspire confidence.

19. Lord Miles

Why he can win: He produced the best race of his career last time out, winning the Wood Memorial by a nose at 59-1 odds. Perhaps he takes another step forward here.

Why he can’t win: No horse coming out of the Wood Memorial has won the Kentucky Derby since Funny Cide in 2003. Even worse, since 2016, only one horse out of 13 coming out of the Wood has finished in the money — Tacitus (third in 2019).  

20. Continuar

Why he can win: Because you believe in miracles?

Why he can’t win: Exhaustion from all the time spent training at Churchill Downs the past few weeks.

Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; jfrakes@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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