Kentucky Derby Top Contenders List

After a long series of qualifying races on the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ the final Kentucky Derby Top Contenders List is known, with leading horses such as Zandon (G1 Blue Grass), Epicenter (G2 Louisiana Derby) and White Abarrio (G1 Florida Derby) pitted against longshots like Cyberknife (G1 Arkansas Derby), Crown Pride (G2 UAE Derby) and Simplification (G2 Fountain of Youth) in a race that bewitches a whole nation.

So pour yourself a mint julep, practice the words of My Old Kentucky Home, choose your horse among our Kentucky Derby Top Contenders, and sit back and watch one of the greatest shows on earth.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby

This is a qualifying series that awards points to the first four horses home in certain prep races. The top 18 points-scorers earn automatic entry into the Derby, along with the top point-scorers from the seven-race European ‘Road’ and the four-race Japanese ‘Road’. Should the European and Japanese horses decline their invitation, as has happened this year, the automatic entry reverts to the 19th and 20th horses in the points table. Japanese runner Crown Pride qualified through winning the UAE Derby, which is – admittedly unusually – part of the US ‘Road’.

There are 37 races in the series, with 21 races in the Prep Season, which runs to mid-February and in which there are fewer points on offer, and 16 races in the Championship Series, which runs from mid-February to mid-April and contains major races with a greater points value.

The points system

The number of points gained during the Road to the Kentucky Derby series has no bearing on the eventual outcome of the great race. Last year, first-past-the-post Medina Spirit accrued 74 points and was eighth in the points table.

In 2018, the winner Justify earned 100 points and was ninth in the table. The last horse to head the points table and then win the Derby was California Chrome in 2014. As only 20 horses may compete in the Derby, the number of points gained by the 20th horse is a more important value than the number amassed by the horse at the top of the table.

Since 2013, 40 points has always been enough to secure a place in the gate at Churchill Downs, as horses with more points will often be non-runners for medical or circumstantial reasons, as has happened this year with Forbidden Kingdom, Un Ojo, Early Voting and Morello


HorseRoad to the KY Derby PointsCareer EarningsTrainerJockey
Epicenter 164$1,010,639Steve AsmussenJoel Rosario
Zandon114$713,000Chad BrownFlavien Prat 
White Abarrio112$823,650Saffie JosephTyler Gaffalione
Mo Donegal112$621,800Todd PletcherIrad Ortiz
Tiz the Bomb110$1,044,401Kenny McPeekBrian Hernandez 
Cyberknife100$860,000Brad CoxFlorent Geroux
Crown Pride100$734,569Koichi ShintaniChristophe Lemaire
Taiba100$490,200Tim YakteenMike Smith
Simplification74$515,350Antonio SanoJose Ortiz
Smile Happy70$549,810Kenny McPeekCorey Lanerie
Classic Causeway66$521,100Brian LynchJulien Leparoux
Tawny Port60$427,000Brad CoxRicardo Santana

Profiles of the Kentucky Derby Top Contenders on the morning-line

Zandon (3/1)

Won G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, third in key prep G2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds; two-for-four lifetime, one-for-two 2022; produced remarkable stretch run at Keeneland and well on top at the wire; tough sort and likely to stay the distance; fortunate with post-position draw and if he can get a good trip through the opening half-mile will be finishing better than most.

Epicenter (7/2)

Won G2 Louisiana Derby and this year’s key prep G2 Risen Star, both at the Fair Grounds; four-for-six lifetime, two-for-three 2022; has won at a mile and three-sixteenths; has performed superbly this year and may step up again; can set the fractions or press the pace and sees his races out well, giving him an ideal tactical profile for the Derby; very strong contender.

Messier (8/1)

Runner-up G1 Santa Anita Derby, won G3 Robert B Lewis, both at Santa Anita; three-for-six lifetime, one-for-two 2022; had no answer to barnmate Taiba in SA Derby and has looked a little weak in the finish; post-position is a positive and races on or close to the pace so few concerns about track position, but others may well be stronger in the closing stages.

Mo Donegal (10/1)

Won G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, third G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park; three-for-five lifetime, one-for-two 2022; no shortage of stamina after needing whole of Aqueduct stretch to put away front-runner; could lack early tactical speed and won’t be helped by being drawn on the rail, but he’s tough and has plenty of class and will be doing his best work late.

White Abarrio (10/1)

Won G1 Florida Derby and G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, all wins have been at the Miami circuit; four-for-five lifetime, two-for-two 2022; has overcome training issues before last two starts and could do even better now he’s had a clear build-up; tends to stalk the pace and finish strongly and should be comfortable stretching out to the Derby distance.

Taiba (12/1)

Won G1 Santa Anita Derby on just second start; unraced as juvenile, two-for-two 2022; no doubts about his class and likely to get the distance, but huge question about his almost historic inexperience in such a big hurly-burly field, and the California preps were not notably deep; needs everything to go right on the big day but certainly a major player.

Charge It (20/1)

Runner-up G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on stakes debut; unraced last year, one-for-three 2022; game effort at Gulfstream and nearest finish but no threat to winner White Abarrio; lack of experience could be a problem and may be overbet owing to reputation and top trainer, for whom he is a second-string.

Crown Pride (20/1)

Won G2 UAE Derby at Meydan on first run outside Japan; three-for-four lifetime, one-for-two 2022; has won at a mile and three-sixteenths; unknown quantity for US viewers but Japanese horses are very strong at present; only defeat came on an off-track, is drawn well and jockey has vast international experience.

Cyberknife (20/1)

Won G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park; three-for-six lifetime, two-for-three 2022; finally justified big reputation at Oaklawn with stalking trip and decisive finish, although it wasn’t the strongest of preps; leading trainer’s main contender but overall profile is a little lacking and his post-position is not that helpful.

Simplification (20/1)

Won G2 Fountain of Youth, third G1 Florida Derby, both at Gulfstream Park, has never run anywhere else; three-for-seven lifetime, two-for-four 2022; has improved since tactical change away from pure front-running and has versatility to get good track position in usual helter-skelter Derby; one of the better longshots.

Smile Happy (20/1)

Runner-up G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland and key prep G2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds; two-for-four lifetime, winless 2022; good form at two, needed race on comeback but then put in his place by Zandon at Keeneland despite better track position; may move up for extra furlong but absence of a recent win is a problem.

Zozos (20/1)

Runner-up G2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on stakes debut; unraced last year, two-for-three 2022; big performance when tried to make all in New Orleans ¿’but easily put away by high-class winner Epicenter; improvement is likely but hung out wide and will have to use up plenty of speed to get position.

Other Kentucky Derby runners

HorseTrainer Jockey
Happy Jack (30/1)Doug O’ NeillRafael Bejarano
Summer Is Tomorrow (30/1)Bhupat SeemarMickael Barzalona
Pioneer of Medina (30/1)Todd PletcherJoe Bravo
Ethereal Road (30/1)Wayne LukasLuis Contreras


Rich Strike Eric Reed, Sonny Leon  30-1; Rattle N Roll Kenny McPeek, James Graham  30-1.

Kentucky Derby  Betting Prediction

It’s a strong field in which three or four dominate the punditry and the betting market. If he can get reasonable track position from his favourable draw ZANDON will finish off his race better than most, and this tough, talented horse is peaking at exactly the right time. A longshot frequently hits the board in the Derby; Simplification and Japanese runner Crown Pride may be the best of those at longer odds.

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