The Road to the Kentucky Derby in 2024 is well underway, as connections target victory in one of the world’s biggest races. It will only be made even more special this year as the Derby celebrates its 150th edition at Churchill Downs.
In total, there are 37 races on the Road to the Derby, with each offering qualifying points to horses that finish in the top four positions. The biggest prep races will take place in early 2024, as the Championship Series gets underway.
These races will offer the biggest clues when it comes to the runners that could stand the best chance of winning the opening leg of the Triple Crown, but who are some of the contenders that racing fans should be keeping a very close eye on at this very early stage?
According to twinspires.com, Todd Pletcher has saddled some extremely special horses throughout his Hall of Fame career, winning the Kentucky Derby on two previous occasions. He holds a strong chance, based on his two-year-old form, to enhance that record in 2024, as Fierceness is the current leader in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings.
The three-year-old put down an early marker for Derby success in a star-studded and competitive renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Pletcher’s runner was the standout performer on that day on his first effort over 1 1/16 miles, beating the field into submission to win by over four lengths from Muth.
The run scored a mighty speed figure of 106, and all eyes will be on the current leader when he returns to the track in 2024. He could make his return to action in e the G3 Holy Bull, before a tilt in the G1 Florida Derby has been teased before lining up in the Derby in May.
It could be likely that we haven’t even seen the potential Derby winner in grade one company yet, and a number of leading contenders will put their claims on the line in early 2024. Among those could be the incredibly exciting Nysos for trainer Bob Baffert.
This son of Nyquist has won two from two on track and is yet to be truly pushed after dominating the fields over shorter distances. He was excellent on debut at Santa Anita over six furlongs in late October, beating Urban Legend by over ten lengths.
Nysos made an impressive step forward on his latest showing in late November, landing success from Stronghold by nearly nine lengths over seven furlongs. That success in the G3 Bob Hope, on his latest appearance, scored a mighty speed rating of 105. It will be fascinating to see how he progresses when stepped up in distance, but he could be a potential superstar on track in 2024.
Steven Asmussen is still awaiting his first Derby winner, but he could hold a very strong hand for the race at Churchill Downs this year. Track Phantom could be one of the most progressive runners from his yard this year, and he is impressive every time that he takes to the track.
The three-year-old made a slow start to his racing career after failing to win on a pair of efforts over a mile at Churchill Downs in October. However, he got off the mark at the third attempt with a staggering performance in a maiden special weight at the same track over 1 1/16 miles in late November. He then returned to action on December 23, and produced his best performance to date in the listed Gun Runner Stakes, scoring a speed rating of 97 when scoring over Snead.
Impressive rivals were behind him on that day, and even more improvement could be likely when he steps up in trip again on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Brad Cox will once again have a very strong hand for the Derby this year, as he bids to achieve further success in the Triple Crown races. His most talented runner could come in the form of Timberlake, who will be on the comeback trail in 2024 when he returns to action.
His excellent reputation was knocked slightly at the Breeders’ Cup, as he could only finish fourth in the Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles. However, it could be easy to overlook that effort when he returns to the track should make a pleasing return to action. Prior to that effort, the three-year-old showed excellent quality in two high-quality starts.
That included a fine second in the G1 Hopeful over seven furlongs before he strung the field out to win the Champagne Stakes with a speed rating of 98. Timberlake may be the forgotten horse as the Championship Series of races gets underway in 2024.
There will once again be an international flavor to the Kentucky Derby this year, with Japan likely to send over a number of runners that could stand a lively chance to end their wait for a major Triple Crown prize. Keisuke Miyata could hold the nation’s best chance at this very early stage, as his three-year-old has won twice from three starts on the dirt in Tokyo.
The runner finally got points on the board on the Road to the Kentucky Derby on his previous start, as he traveled excellently before finishing just under a length clear of George Tesoro to land the Cattleya Stakes. Connections have already earmarked a run in the Derby as their preferred target in 2024, but he will likely need to win another race to book his spot in the race at Churchill Downs.
Therefore, it would be little surprise to see connections target the lucrative UAE Derby on the runner’s next start, as a victory in that race could see him primed for a big race. There is a growing feeling that a Japanese Grade 1 win on American dirt is getting ever closer following Derma Sotogake’s stunning effort when second in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, as Amante Bianco could be the next Japanese runner to try his luck at Churchill Downs.