The opening leg of the Triple Crown campaign in 2023 is edging ever closer, as Churchill Downs hosts the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6.
Stars on the Road to the Kentucky Derby are already building up their qualifying points for the big race, as the top performers will book their spot in the famous Grade 1 at Churchill Downs.
However, at this stage, there is a very open feel to the betting market for the Kentucky Derby. But, who are some of the most likely winners of the prestigious Triple Crown race at this early stage?
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Despite being ineligible to make entries for the Kentucky Derby this year, the top of the betting is still dominated by runners from the Bob Baffert yard. However, there is little doubt that the brightest prospect in the three-year-old division this term remains Arabian Knight.
He has been extremely dominant on both career starts to this point, including a seven-length win on debut at Keeneland over seven furlongs. He stepped up to 1 1/16 miles for his following start, and he routinely landed the G3 Southwest Stakes with a speed figure of 97. However, it remains to be seen what the plan is for the three-year-old moving forward.
Rocket Can looks a very serious contender for trainer William Mott at this stage, having impressed on his return to action earlier this year. The three-year-old was in excellent form to land the G3 Holy Bull over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, while he also has previous experience at Churchill Downs, which should be seen as a huge plus.
He was a winner on debut at the track in October, as he broke his maiden over 1 1/16 miles beating Spielman. He returned a month later to finish a very close second behind Confidence Game in allowance company.
Angel of Empire
Brad Cox has a number of leading contenders for the Derby this year, but few can boast the same experience over the extended distance at this early stage. Angel of Empire took a massive step in the right direction on his second career start this year, as he landed the G2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds over 1 1/8 miles.
That extended distance appeared to play to his strengths, and he also has some excellent form tying him in with Victory Formation, who he finished second behind in the Smarty Jones. However, Angel of Empire could be the main Cox danger at this early stage on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Geaux Rocket Ride
One of the most recent market movers in the betting for the Kentucky Derby has been Geaux Rocket Ride for trainer Richard Mandella. We have only seen this runner once on track, but he produced a stunning display to win over six furlongs at Santa Anita.
The run recorded a speed figure of 97, as he finished over seven lengths clear of Sonoran. It was only a first look at this Derby contender, but as he is by Candy Ride, the step up in distance could bring out even more improvement. We will likely learn more about this three-year-old later in the year, as he is set to line up in the G2 San Felipe at Santa Anita in early March.
Outsider Derby Hope
At this early stage, there will be a lot of value outside the top selections in the betting. One runner to keep tabs on as we move into the championship races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby looks set to be Kingsbarns for Todd Pletcher.
This three-year-old has won easily on both career starts to date, and took a very eye-catching step forward over a mile at Tampa Bay Downs in the middle of February. He sped up extremely well to finish well clear of Mikey Bananas, and recorded an extremely decent speed rating of 97.