Price Headley's 2023 Kentucky Derby Picks and Betting Strategy

Posted by Bigtrends on May 5, 2023 3:39 PM

Happy Derby! After last year's 80-to-1 Rich Strike shocked the world with the second biggest upset on record (Donerail won at 91-1 in 1913) , it has us looking at who will be next to win the greatest 2 minutes in sports on the first Saturday of May. The weather should be perfect without any worries of rain. Let's start off with an updated table of past Derby winners below, with their speed ratings and final tune-up race. My analysis of past data indicates that horses with 2 strong 100+ speed ratings in preparatory races have a better probability of winning the big race.

Derby Winner BRIS Speed Rating Last race (# weeks before Derby)


95, 87
83, 100
107, 105
114, 104

Jeff Ruby Steaks (5 weeks)
Louisiana Derby (6 weeks)
Haskell Invitational (6 weeks)
Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
ALWAYS DREAMING 102, 84 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
NYQUIST 97, 103 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
AMERICAN PHARAOH 102, 99 Arkansas Derby (4 weeks)
CALIFORNIA CHROME 106, 102 Santa Anita Derby (5 weeks)
ORB 97, 102 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
I'LL HAVE ANOTHER 98, 102 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
ANIMAL KINGDOM 97, 96 Turfway Spiral (5 weeks, poly)
SUPER SAVER 92, 94 Arkansas Derby (3 weeks)
MINE THAT BIRD 96, 98 Sunland Derby (5 weeks)
BIG BROWN 106, 104 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
STREET SENSE 98, 101 Bluegrass Stakes (3 weeks, poly)
BARBARO 104, 104, 97, 97 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
GIACOMO 100, 96, 98, 96 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
SMARTY JONES 105, 109, 101, 103 Arkansas Derby (3 weeks)
FUNNY CIDE 111, 103, 97 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
WAR EMBLEM 109, 105, 88, 94 Illinois Derby (4 weeks)
MONARCHOS 108, 108, 106, 98 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
FUSIACHI PEGASUS 110, 103, 100, 98 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
CHARISMATIC 104, 94, 94, 94 Lexington (2 weeks)
REAL QUIET 107, 103, 73 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
SILVER CHARM 102, 98, 105 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
GRINDSTONE 101, 102, 93 Arkansas Derby (3 weeks)
THUNDER GULCH 98, 103, 106 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
GO FOR GIN 104, 105, 99, 100 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
SEA HERO 96, 85, 77 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
LIL E. TEE 102, 96, 107, 100 Arkansas Derby (2 weeks)
STRIKE THE GOLD 109, 100, 99, 87 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
UNBRIDLED 108, 101, 104, 98 Blue Grass (3 weeks)


This year's race shows only 2 horses that meet my criteria for 2 straight 100+ speed ratings coming into this Run for the Roses. And with the scratch of Santa Anita Derby winner Practical Move (watch this one to bounce back well for the 2nd jewel of the Triple Crown at the Preakness in 2 weeks), it leaves us with favorite Forte (3-1). I usually prefer to bet against the favorite in the Derby, as this first leg of the Triple Crown is typically jam packed with up to 20 horses and so plenty of racing luck is needed for a smooth trip. Yet it looks like we will need to use Forte, last year's 2-year-old champion, in our exotic bets like exactas or trifectas (picking the first 2 finishers or first 3 finishers, respectively).  I like to find value in the 10-1 to 20-1 range typically for this 1-1/4 mile classic, as none of these horses have ever raced this far at their tender age of 3 years old.

My pick to win the Derby is:

Angel of Empire (Post Position 14, 8-1 odds) is my top selection to win the Kentucky Derby, The colt's trainer Brad Cox and jockey Flavien Prat have each won a Derby in the past 4 years, so they have the experience to pull this off together. Angel of Empire won the Arkansas Derby in impressive style, showing a burst of speed around the far turn to put away that field. His  Brisnet speed ratings of 101 and 97 are solid if not spectacular. He tends to start in mid pack and then surge later in his races, which could be ideal for the slightly longer Derby run.

Forte (PP 15, 3-1):  If it's just based on the speed numbers, then Forte should win with Brisnet speed ratings of 100, 103 and most recently 100 in his last 3 starts. Last year's champion 2-year-old posted an impressive recovery from a terrible start of his last race in the Florida Derby, managing to come from well behind to win in the final strides. Forte has won 6 of his 7 starts, and appears ready to be in the hunt near the wire. Based on the 3-1 odds though in a now 19-horse field, traffic trouble is always a risk so we want to see if we can include Forte in exacta and trifecta bets mostly.

Mandarin Hero (PP 22, 28-1):  This colt just got into the Derby after another horse scratched. He barely lost by a nose to Practical Move in the Santa Anita Derby and showed he was game to the wire. That was a 100 speed rating, and we don't have data from prior races since he's been racing in Tokyo, Japan. He has 4 wins and his only 2 losses were by a nose and a neck. This one looks like an incredible boom bust option if you are looking for a legitimate horse at a great price.

Hit Show (PP 1, 30-1): Just lost by a nose in the Wood Memorial in New York, and previously had won 3 of 4. The 1 post position is considered a disadvantage as horses need to break quickly or settle mid-pack which I expect here. But at a price of 30-1 or so, this one should be worth watching for exotic bets by the time they come down the stretch with a strong finishing kick.

Verifying (PP 2, 15-1) and Tapit Trice (PP 5, 5-1) and Kingsbarns (PP 6, 12-1) are other contenders though I consider them a step below my top 4 based on too low of odds compared to likely chances to finish in the money.

Here's my plays I plan to make for the 149th Kentucky Derby:

  • $20 Win on 14
  • $10 Win on 22
  • $5 Win on 1
  • $2 Exacta box 1, 14, 15, 22
  • $2 Exacta ALL with 15
  • $2 Exacta 14 with 2, 5, 6
  • $1 Trifecta box with 1, 14, 15, 22

Good Luck!

Price Headley