2024 Kentucky Derby Watch: A look at the projected field with just one prep race to go

The projected field for the 150th edition of the Grade 1, $5 million Kentucky Derby — to be run May 4 at Churchill Downs in Louisville — came into focus over the weekend.

A trio of 200-point Derby qualifying races were contested with the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita in California.

Each of the winners took home 100 qualifying points and secured their spots in the 20-horse Derby field. Each of those races awarded qualifying points to the top five finishers, and several other horses in those field also earned enough points to take part in this year’s Run for the Roses.

Here’s a look at the three big winners from the weekend, along with an overarching look at the projected Derby field.

Tyler Gaffalione guides Sierra Leone, left, to victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday.
Tyler Gaffalione guides Sierra Leone, left, to victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday.

Blue Grass winner Sierra Leone stakes claim to being Derby favorite

For the fifth time in the last seven editions of the Blue Grass Stakes, the post-time favorite hit the finish line first.

Sierra Leone — trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione — made a big case to be considered a Kentucky Derby favorite as he impressed Saturday evening in winning the Blue Grass as the 8-5 favorite.

Now 3-1-0 in four career starts, Sierra Leone triumphed by 1 1/2 lengths and showcased his signature late-running charge from the back of the field.

In addition to his Blue Grass win, Sierra Leone also collected Derby qualifying points from finishing second in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in December and winning the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in February.

A son of Gun Runner out of Malibu Moon mare Heavenly Love, Sierra Leone leads all horses with 155 Derby qualifying points.

Also locking up a spot in the Derby out of the Blue Grass Stakes was Just a Touch: The Brad Cox-trainee finished in second with jockey Florent Geroux aboard.

Just a Touch is 1-2-0 in three career starts and has 75 Derby qualifying points, which would put him firmly in the field.

“He’s going to have to move forward in the next four weeks. Colts can do that. If he moves forward, he will be able to compete in the Derby,” Cox said after the Blue Grass. “… Derby is still under consideration.”

The third-place finisher in the Blue Grass — Epic Ride — is on the outside of the Derby picture and will likely stay there.

Resilience locks up Derby spot with Wood Memorial win

While the favorite prevailed in the Blue Grass, it was the third betting choice that came away with 100 qualifying points and a Derby starting spot following the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Resilience, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by John Velazquez, won the Wood Memorial to boost his qualifying points total to 110. Resilience had previously finished fourth in the aforementioned Risen Star Stakes.

Resilience, a son of Into Mischief, is 2-1-1 overall in six career starts.

One of the big surprises from the Wood Memorial came in the form of second-place finisher Society Man, who went off at stunning 106-1 odds.

Trained by Danny Gargan, Society Man is 1-1-1 in five career starts and is likely to have a spot in the Derby field. His 50 qualifying points rank 17th on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Gargan, who grew up in Louisville, could have two horses in the Derby field with Society Man and Dornoch. While Dornoch finished fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes, he has a healthy 75 qualifying points to his name.

Both horses are sons of Good Magic, who ran second in the 2018 Derby behind Triple Crown winner Justify.

Stronghold fends off a Bob Baffert horse in Santa Anita Derby

There was a good chance that the 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby would be vacated this year, as the Bob Baffert-trained Imagination left the starting gate as the even-money favorite. (Baffert is still banned from fielding a horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby.)

But the Phil D’Amato-trained Stronghold had other ideas, outdueling Imagination in a stretch battle to secure the victory and the Debry starting spot that came with it.

Stronghold was the 2-1 second choice in the Santa Anita Derby and delivered a first-ever Grade 1 race win in the United States for jockey Antonio Fresu.

Stronghold, a son of 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper, now has 125 Derby qualifying points. He previously ran second in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in December and won the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby in February in New Mexico.

The 2024 Kentucky Derby field is almost set

Only one qualifying race remains to help set the field for the 2024 Kentucky Derby: The Grade 3, $400,000 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes — which will award Derby qualifying points on a 20-10-6-4-2 scale — will be run Saturday at Keeneland.

Post time is 5:48 p.m. for the Lexington, which will go 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland’s main track.

Several horses in the field of 10 for the race hold real hopes of making the Derby starting gate.

Hades — a Joe Orseno trainee and the winner of the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes in February — already has 30 qualifying points. He’s 24th on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Encino — a Brad Cox trainee who was scratched from Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes and instead pointed toward the Lexington — already has 20 qualifying points after winning the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes last month at Turfway Park in Florence.

He’s 32nd on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Also with a chance to make the Derby field is Liberal Arts. A Robbie Medina trainee and the winner of the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall, Liberal Arts has 19 qualifying points. He’s 33rd on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Only one horse in the 2023 edition of the Lexington, Disarm, used the race as a springboard toward the Kentucky Derby. Disarm ran a distant third in the Lexington to secure his Derby spot and then finished fourth in the Run for the Roses for trainer Steve Asmussen.

T O Password has accepted an invite to the Kentucky Derby as a result of the Japanese Road to the Derby pathway. T O Password won the Fukuryu Stakes last month to earn the top spot in that qualifying series.

Another Japanese horse that will be in the Derby starting gate is Forever Young, the winner of both the Grade 3 Saudi Derby and the Grade 2 UAE Derby. That UAE Derby win was worth 100 qualifying points.

Sierra Leone, with jockey Tyler Gaffalione up, celebrates wining the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland.
Sierra Leone, with jockey Tyler Gaffalione up, celebrates wining the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland.

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