Finding The 2023 Kentucky Derby Winner Using Historical Data

Written By Stephen Andress on May 5, 2023
kentucky derby winner

Picking the winner from Kentucky Derby odds is the ultimate test in handicapping American thoroughbred horse racing each first Saturday in May for the past 148 years. The typical field of 20 horses (down to 19 now) in Race 12 at Churchill Downs is the largest you will see in any race on U.S. soil, and no horse in this race has ever run the 1 1/4-mile distance. That, again, will be the case for the 149th edition.

However, there are some statistics, metrics and historical trends special to the Run for the Roses that can help us narrow down the field to short list potential Kentucky Derby contenders. No, we did not peg Rich Strike for his historic 80-1 upset last year, but this column has picked the runner-up in back-to-back years. So perhaps you should bet my pick Across The Board or to Place and Show (nervous laughter as I type this). UPDATE: After the first version of this post published, four horses have scratched: 9. Skinner 10. Practical Move, 19. Lord Miles and 20. Continuar are replaced by 21. Cyclone Mischief, 22. Mandarin Hero and 23. King Russell. Any further scratches will not be replaced.

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How To Bet On Horse Racing

For those of you who are new to betting on horse racing, the video at the bottom of this article will walk you through all the different types of wagers you can make and what they mean.

Finding A Kentucky Derby Winner

The morning line odds will not be released until the post position draw Derby week. It’s actually a good exercise, I think, to do this ahead of race week, and then see if any values present themselves in the hour before the race after days of odds fluctuations. We’ll also have the option to bet a Kentucky Derby winner early in a fixed odds sportsbook market if we believe the value will not hold in parimutuel wagering. Don’t forget: in horse racing betting and on horse racing apps, your odds lock when the race begins, not when you place the bet.

Dave Bontempo’s Kentucky Derby Preview and Bets

Step 1: Beyer Speed Figures

Let’s look at how this field stacks up with one of the more respected metrics in horse racing. Kentucky Derby Beyer Speed Figures help us rate horse performances across different tracks on different days.

HorseBest BeyerLast Beyer
Mandarin Hero100100
Angel of Empire9494
Tapit Trice9999
Two Phil's101101
Cyclone Mischief9191
Derma Sotogake (JPN)> 99 est.> 99 est.
Raise Cain9089
Rocket Can9186
Hit Show9393
Confidence Game9494
Sun Thunder8989
Jace's Road90< 90
King Russell8787

Twenty-eight of the last 31 horses (90.3%) that crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby had career-best Beyer Speed Figures of at least 95. That includes Maximum Security, who was disqualified in 2019 after reaching the wire first.

Eleven of the previous 13 Kentucky Derby winners posted a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or more. Seven of the 13 earned a Beyer in the Derby of 103 or higher. A horse doesn’t have to have earned a triple-digit BSF before the Derby to win, but it’s also proven to be difficult to make an enormous leap and win the roses if the horse didn’t come into the race with a 95+ already on his or her resume.

There are several horses though in the field this year that have a career-best 94 Beyer. Just in case they have a well-rounded resume further down in this process, we will not eliminate them here just yet.


  • 1. Hit Show
  • 11. Disarm
  • 12. Jace’s Road
  • 13. Sun Thunder
  • 16. Raise Cain
  • 18. Rocket Can
  • 21. Cyclone Mischief
  • 23. King Russell

Just like that, we’ve already tossed off 40% of the field.

Confidence Game, Disarm, and Raise Cain get the double axe. Confidence Game and Raise Cain ran their last prep race at shorter than 1 1/8 mile. Every winner for the last 29 years has run at least 1 1/8 mile in their final prep race before running 1 1/4 miles in the Derby. As for Raise Cain, he finished fifth in his last race. For more than 50 straight years, no horse has won the race with a finish worse than fourth in the final prep race.

Step 2: Brisnet Speed Figures

Since 2000, 18 of the past 23 Kentucky Derby winners (78.3%) had a BRIS Speed Rating of at least 100 prior to the race. This number would have been 19 of 23 (82.6%) if Maximum Security had not been DQ’d in 2019.

Beyond that caveat, we find which of our 12 remaining horses do not make the cut:


  • 4. Confidence Game
  • 6. Kingsbarns
  • 7. Reincarnate

Step 3: Analyze the International Horses

Japanese horses Derma Sotogake and Mandarin Hero have been running in races overseas; therefore, we do not have Beyer or Brisnet figures for most of those starts, except for Mandarin Hero’s second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. For Derma Sotogake, we’re going to have to compare his finishing time to other Derby contenders at the same distance and hope there wasn’t a big difference in the surface.

Generally speaking, horses that have come over from international races have never won the Derby this century, but we still want to do our due diligence on this duo, especially with Japanese horse racing breeding for distance more so than their American counterparts. We can compare the winning time from the UAE Derby versus the Louisiana Derby, as both run at about 1 3/16 miles. The UAE Derby is actually about 11 meters shorter, but it’s a tiny difference.

Derma Sotogake (JPN)UAE Derby1900 meters1:55.81
KingsbarnsLouisiana Derby1 3/16 miles1:57.33

Given that that Derma Sotogake was faster than Kingsbarns at close to the same distance, I am not comfortable eliminating him. Handicappers have estimated he might have had the best Beyer in this field if they were assigned at that track.

I’m also not comfortable eliminating Mandarin Hero. More on that later.


  • nai (ない; Japanese for neither)

Which Horses Are Left?

After all of that, we are still left with 2. Verifying, 3. Two Phil’s, 5. Tapit Trice, 8. Mage, 14. Angel of Empire, 15. Forte, 17. Derma Sotogake and 22. Mandarin Hero in Kentucky Derby winner consideration. Starting to see why it’s so difficult to pick a Derby winner?

Step 4: Final Fractions Theory

Here’s why we care about final furlong times in the Kentucky Derby. To put it concisely, if they’re running slower at the end of a shorter race, are they really going to run faster than the field at the end of the longest race of their career?

With this theory, we’re looking for horses that race no slower than 13.0 seconds in their final furlong or 38.0 seconds in their final three furlongs in the most recent race before Kentucky. Of the previous 32 Kentucky Derby winners (including Rich Strike last year), 28 have met this criteria.

All but Mage met BOTH criteria of our eight remaining horses, and the history here says you only need one. So we can’t even eliminate Mage yet! What. A. Derby.



Step 5: Did They Race As A 2-Year Old?

Justify broke this curse in 2018 and proved to be a super horse on the way to winning the Triple Crown. He is the only horse other than Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby while not running as a 2-year-old. That horse was trained by legend Bob Baffert.

Kingsbarns and Mage are the only horses in this year’s running that didn’t race as 2-year-olds. However, Mage may have had a valid excuse in the Florida Derby, having to run an extremely wide trip. He has a 94 Beyer, likely better with a more efficient trip, and also meets the Brisnet and Final Fractions Theory. We’ll eliminate him from a straight win bet, but at juicy odds, we’ll dabble in exotics.


  • 8. Mage

Step 6: Second-Best Beyer Speed Figures

Let’s circle back to the table above in Step 1. Which of our remaining horses were potential one-hit wonders? Let’s keep the horses that have posted at least two 94+ Beyer Speed figures. All of these horses are improving and getting stronger at this stage in their development, but this at least tells us which have shown up most consistently in their young careers.

The second-best BSF for Tapit Trice was 92. His recent issues of being slow out of the starting gate also increases his chances of traffic trouble in a huge field.

Two Phil’s next-best Beyer was only 88. He has the No. 1 BSF in this field (101), but there is reason to question it based on his Jeff Ruby Steaks win being run on a synthetic surface. He’s come nowhere close to posting a figure like that on dirt in his career. That field also appears weak in hindsight, with no other entries getting into the Derby. Two races back, Two Phil’s finished behind Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder in the Risen Star.

History is also against him. No winner from the Jeff Ruby Steaks (previously the Spiral Stakes before 2018) has won the Kentucky Derby since Animal Kingdom in 2011. Since 2012, none have even hit the board, and Went The Day Well (4th in 2012) was the only one to even get in the superfecta.

Lastly, Angel of Empire’s second-best BSF is only 87. Is it possible we’ll see continued improvement from a horse trained by up-and-coming star Brad Cox? It’s definitely possible, but we’ve reached the point where hard decisions have to be made. If the pace is too fast early, I expect to see Angel of Empire hit the board with his field-best long, efficient strides down the stretch. I am predicting a mild pace, but I will have on exotics wager on my card in case of a pace meltdown with the best closers.

Our other five horses, we don’t have second-best Beyers on the Japanese duo. I am not comfortable eliminating them after borderline elite showings in their last race just because they ran overseas.


  • 3. Two Phil’s
  • 5. Tapit Trice
  • 14. Angel of Empire

Step 7: Beware of Deep Closers

This is not to say closers cannot win the Derby. In 2022, 80-1 Rich Strike ran from behind into an early pace that was too hot to handle for the frontrunners. It’s also possible a trainer changes a horse’s running style for the Derby, but typically you do not want a horse that will be near the back of the pack in the first half of the race. Navigating traffic in the Kentucky Derby is far more challenging with so many other horses than it is for a jockey in a prep race with smaller fields.

Forte worked from further back and barely got to the wire in time in the Florida Derby. He drew an outside post in that race. He has another outside post in the Derby, but he is considered a mid-pack horse, so he avoids the axe here.


  • 9. Skinner (UPDATE: he scratched from the race anyway Friday morning with a fever)
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Kentucky Derby Winner Conclusions

With such a strong top four left after completing this process, we’re going to have to make some hard, opinion-based decisions. Do I think Japan focusing on distance over speed will result in a Kentucky Derby champion sooner than later? I do. However, no horse shipping over from the UAE Derby has even hit the board in this race, and there have been close to 20 that tried. That means I will diversify my belief in Derma Sotogake in my exotic bets. Mandarin Hero almost winning the Santa Anita Derby carries more weight for me at likely much better odds in the Kentucky Derby versus Derma Sotogake.

Do I think the favorite Forte is beatable? I do. His Beyer Speed Figures have been going in the wrong direction, and we have some quality candidates that might work out the right trip to be near him at the wire. The chance also exists that Mattress Mack’s latest promotion will result in a ton more money on Forte in the win pool, sweetening odds for the other top contenders. The points era of the Kentucky Derby has been kind to Derby favorites, but not in the past four years. If the favorite is over bet, there is value in taking a shot on the others.

Lastly, Verifying will be eliminated. I love that he’s projected to be stalking the lead with a moderate pace, but he really should have won the Blue Grass Stakes. He still has not won a stakes race and could not hold off Tapit Trice getting a worse trip at a shorter distance. I won’t bet him to win but will use underneath.

How I’ll Bet $100 On The 2023 Kentucky Derby

Win Bet

  • $20 on No. 22 Mandarin Hero (JPN); assuming at least 15-1, we should at least triple the $100 even if $80 in exotics don’t cash.

$1 Exacta

  • First-place position: Mage, Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Second-place position: Verifying, Mage, Angel of Empire, Forte, Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Ticket cost: $15
  • 8,17,22/2,8,14-15,17,22

$1 Trifecta

  • First-place position: Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Second-place position: Verifying, Mage, Angel of Empire, Forte, Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Third-place position: Verifying, Mage, Angel of Empire, Forte, Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Ticket cost: $40
  • Horse numbers: 17,22/2,8,14-15,17,22/2,8,14-15,17,22

$1 Trifecta (the pace meltdown/closers fly down the stretch scenario):

  • First-place position: Angel of Empire, Forte, Mandarin Hero
  • Second-place position: Angel of Empire, Forte, Mandarin Hero
  • Third-place position: Hit Show, Tapit Trice, Angel of Empire, Forte, Mandarin Hero
  • Ticket cost: $18
  • Horse numbers: 14-15,22/14-15,22/1,5,14-15,22

$1 Superfecta

  • First-place position: Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Second-place position: Derma Sotogake, Mandarin Hero
  • Third-place position: Angel of Empire, Forte
  • Fourth-place position: Angel of Empire, Forte
  • Ticket cost: $4
  • Horse numbers: 17,22/17,22/14-15/14-15

$1 Superfecta (the maybe Derma Sotogake is the horse Japan has been waiting for ticket)

  • First-place position: Derma Sotogake (JPN)
  • Second-place position: Mage, Forte, Mandarin Hero
  • Third-place position: Mage, Forte, Mandarin Hero
  • Fourth-place position: Mage, Forte, Mandarin Hero
  • Ticket cost: $6
  • Horse numbers: 17/8,15,22/8,15,22/8,15,22

Yes, this betting card actually adds up to $103, not $100. Inflation comes for us all.

Is there a Rich Strike type of a live longshot in the 2023 Kentucky Derby?

We’ve had three horses draw into the field that were not part of the normal post position draw. They could be overlooked, like Rich Strike was.

For me, the obviously here is Mandarin Hero.

He only lost the Santa Anita Derby to Practical Move by a nose. He posted a 100+ Beyer and Brisnet Speed Figure in that race and met the Final Fractions Theory baseline.

You should not remove Forte from exotics for them though, as the morning line and post-time favorite has hit the board (finished top three) in all but one year of the Kentucky Derby points standings era (since 2012).

Tight Final Prep Race Results

That Santa Anita Derby tight result was not the only photo finish in the final prep races. Tapit Trice only beat Verifying by a neck in the Blue Grass Stakes, and Lord Miles only beat Hit Show by a nose in the Wood Memorial.

Even the favorite, Forte, only won the Florida Derby by one length. It’s setting up to potentially be a very close result for the most thrilling two minutes in sports come the first Saturday in May.

Best of luck picking the Kentucky Derby winner!

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Written by
Stephen Andress

Stephen Andress joined Catena Media as Managing Editor of in March 2021. He began his career as a sports anchor and reporter in Eugene, OR before moving to Louisville, KY. There he covered the Kentucky Derby, Sugar Bowl and three consecutive Final Fours. Stephen later won an Emmy award while working for the Indianapolis Colts. More recently, he produced content for the PGA TOUR and multiple fantasy football and sports betting websites. Nothing has excited him more in his career than seeing legalized sports betting in the United States and the opportunity to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for it. His hobbies include kicking his high school friends' butts in fantasy football, Japanese whisky and Kentucky bourbon, golf outrights and supporting RIP Medical Debt, a charity which works to wipe out medical bills for those who have been unable to cover the cost of getting sick.

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