HomeHorse RacingKentucky Derby: Looking at Top Contenders a Month Out

    Kentucky Derby: Looking at Top Contenders a Month Out

    Veteran handicapper Mike Somich takes a look at the contenders with the 2024 Kentucky Derby one month away.


    A Look at 2024 Kentucky Derby Contenders 

    As we head into the final weekend of preps, the Kentucky Derby field is starting to take shape. In our early preview, I highlighted three horses that had some value in the futures market —  Fierceness (12-1), Forever Young (18-1) and Catching Freedom (25-1). Since then, all three have won major preps and are now sub 10-1 on the Circa futures board. It’s tough to make a case to bet any of them now since you will get a similar price on race day and a lot can happen in the next month. We have a handful of hopefuls running this weekend: Dornoch and Sierra Leone in the Blue Grass Stakes; Deterministic, Uncle Heavy and Tuscan Sky in the Wood; and Stronghold in the Santa Anita Derby.

    Let’s take a top-down look at the main contenders.



    Because he’s slotting as your 3-1 favorite, what to do with Fierceness is going to be hotly debated come the first Saturday in May. His Florida Derby and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile are the best two individual races we have seen from anyone in this crop. The problem is that he also has two of the worst performances in the field as well. His inconsistency has been well-documented, but his talent is undeniable.

    That being said, the time to bet him to win has now passed unless you play him on Derby Day since it is likely he will break from the gate at the same 3-1 price being offered now. Keep an eye on his post draw because I believe it will be critical for his chances. The wider the draw, the worse shape he is in.

    Forever Young

    This Japanese invader, currently the second choice in the future pool at 7-1, will be another polarizing horse. No Japanese horse has won the Derby, and no UAE Derby winner has run well in the Derby.

    Conversely, this is not the most talented crop of 3-year-olds that we have seen, and Japanese horses have won major races held in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East consistently over the last two years.

    Most importantly, he has the most dangerous running style of the top contenders. Fierceness and Dornoch want the front while Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom are dead closers. Forever Young splits the difference and has tactical speed with a closing kick. That style, traditionally, is the best way to win the Kentucky Derby.

    Dornoch and Sierra Leone

    I’m grouping these two for two reasons. First, they face each other on Saturday at Keeneland in the Blue Grass. Secondly, I’m currently out on the pair of them. Both are compromised by their running styles come the first Saturday in May. Of the two, I like Sierra Leone more, but he is a big horse who is not overly athletic. It’s extremely difficult to close in a field of 20 horses without having to stop and start or weave through traffic. That is what it would take for him to win the Derby.

    It would take something eye-popping from either of them on Saturday to make me change my mind.

    Live long shots

    There are two horses I will be watching closely this weekend. They currently have big prices, but those would disappear if they run well.

    Encino, currently 100-1, will try the dirt for Brad Cox after running well over the synthetic at Turfway Park. He has the talent to contend, but the surface is a question mark. That question will be answered one way or the other on Saturday.

    Be You, currently 150-1, was a horse that was highly thought of last fall and was just goofy. His head was not as far along as his talent. Well, he finally won a race and now is jumping up into a 100-point Derby prep. In his first five career races, all losses, he faced Just Steel (who is in the Derby), Muth (Preakness favorite), Timberlake (in the Derby), Nash and Conquest Warrior. It’s possible everything clicked in his last race. If that’s the case and he runs big this weekend, then he will vault up the odds board.

    Mike Somich
    Mike Somich
    Mike Somich is the host of the Handle on weekends for VSiN. He brings over 20 years of gambling experience including playing poker professionally, multiple $75,000 horse racing tournament scores and years of betting sports. He currently focuses on the NFL, NHL and College Basketball.

    Must Read