Kentucky Derby

Who should you bet on in the 2024 Kentucky Derby? Here’s who the experts are picking.

Who should you bet on in the 2024 Kentucky Derby? Here’s who the experts are picking.

The 2024 Kentucky Derby is Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, and the Herald-Leader has asked horse racing experts around the country for their top handicapping picks.

Florida Derby winner Fierceness is the favorite, with Blue Grass Stakes winner Sierra Leone next on the morning line, and Catching Freedom, Forever Young and Just a Touch among the other top contenders for the roses.

Here’s a look at the predictions from the experts, which included some long-shot bets.

John Clay

Herald-Leader

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Fierceness

Show: Honor Marie

Comment: A $2.3 million colt with experienced owners and a top trainer proves that sometimes you get what you pay for.

Mark Story

Herald-Leader

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Just Steel

Show: Stronghold

Comment: It just feels like Tyler Gaffalione is due a big Derby moment.

Ben Roberts

Herald-Leader

Win: Mystik Dan

Place: Fierceness

Show: Resilience

Comment: Obviously throwing out the Arkansas Derby and looking for a repeat (at a big price) of his Southwest Stakes performance, which — aside from the Fierceness romp in the Florida Derby — might’ve been the most impressive showing of the entire prep season. A rail-skimming ride on Derby Day from a jockey who knows Churchill Downs well? It’s happened before.

Cameron Drummond

Herald-Leader

Win: Fierceness

Place: Honor Marie

Show: Stronghold

Comment: For the first time since Justify in 2018, the post-time favorite comes away with the Derby win as Fierceness shows up on Saturday. None of the initial pace setters have enough in the stretch for home, with Honor Marie closing the best for second. If rain becomes a factor, then Mystik Dan figures into the outcome in a big way.

Caroline Makauskas

Herald-Leader

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Track Phantom

Show: Just a Touch

Comment: Accomplished jockey Tyler Gaffalione said the other day that he’d “never had these feelings before” about a Derby horse. Sierra Leone looked great in the Blue Grass Stakes despite difficulties loading, and, with his power and intelligence, the multiple-grade-stakes winning horse appears primed to pick up another win.

Frank Angst

BloodHorse

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Forever Young

Show: Endlessly

Comment: Most years I don’t land on my Kentucky Derby pick until the week of the race, but there are years where a horse catches my eye early and continues to move forward. The latter is the case this year with Sierra Leone, who just missed rallying to victory over Dornoch in last year’s Remsen Stakes on a track that strongly favored frontrunners. In winning both his starts this year, he’s continued to progress and I think he’ll take another step forward Saturday. Forever Young is the best horse Japan has sent to the Kentucky Derby, and Endlessly has delivered some eye-catching moves on all-weather surfaces — we’ll see how he does on dirt.

Rick Bozich

WDRB

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Fierceness

Comment: There’s always been a Derby out there with Chad Brown’s name on it. This is the one.

Steve Byk

At the Races, SiriusXM

Win: Domestic Product

Place: Honor Marie

Show: Just a Touch

Comment: Betting Chad Brown’s Domestic Product with Irad Ortiz Jr. at a likely 20-1 is an irresistible proposition given that his profile is obscured from participation in extremely slow-paced races and he’ll be receiving an advantageous set up Saturday.

John Cherwa

Los Angeles Times

Win: Fierceness

Place: Catching Freedom

Show: Stronghold

Comment: Fierceness either wins or doesn’t hit the board. Counting on him not being a bounce horse. Catching Freedom has push-button speed and Flavien Prat. Stronghold is in good shape on the outside and improving every race. Sierra Leone languishes behind a wall of horses.

Ed DeRosa

Horse Racing Nation

Win: Forever Young

Place: Honor Marie

Show: Epic Ride

Comment: By now we know all about the UAE Derby’s 0-19 record in the Kentucky Derby with none of those horses even hitting the superfecta, but what you really need to be learning is about Forever Young, the undefeated winner of this year’s race. Pardon the cliche, but he really is different than the others who have tread this path. He’s faster and has a better style related to the typical Derby profile. This is Japan’s year.

Joe Drape

New York Times

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Stronghold

Show: Resilience

Comment: Sierra Leone has beaten a lot of these.

Bill Finley

National turf writer

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Mystik Dan

Comment: Sierra Leone has the talent and the right connections and should have no problem with the mile-and-a-quarter. Gives Chad Brown his first Derby win.

Jason Frakes

Courier Journal

Win: Just a Touch

Place: Sierra Leone

Show: Fierceness

Comment: Just a Touch has improved with every race and seems to be sitting on a huge performance when it matters most. Trainer Brad Cox gets to find out how it feels to win the Kentucky Derby when his horse crosses the finish line first.

Kaitlin Free

Churchill Downs

Win: Forever Young

Place: Sierra Leone

Show: Mystik Dan

Comment: Will have to overcome the fact that no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby from Japan or out of the UAE Derby but this horse is not like any they have ever brought over. A perfect 5-for-5 in his career and has faced significant adversity as compared to the rest of the field. Will be a shorter price than I like but this horse looks special.

Mike Gandolfo

Horse Racing Happy Hour

Win: Fierceness

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Society Man

Comment: Fierceness is the best horse in the field. If he gets a clean trip, he will win. If he gets into trouble, he will finish near the back of the pack.

Neil Greenberg

Washington Post

Win: Honor Marie

Place: T O Password

Show: Sierra Leone

Comment: His latest speed figure, 99 in the Louisiana Derby, beats his career best as a 2-year-old, indicating another step forward is imminent and he has the pedigree to carry his speed the entire 1¼ miles at Churchill Downs.

Dave Grening

Daily Racing Form

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Catching Freedom

Show: Stronghold

Comment: Sierra Leone, a nose away from being undefeated, has certainly improved with the addition of blinkers, winning the Risen Star and Blue Grass with powerful late runs. Should absolutely relish the 1¼ miles.

Steve Haskin

National turf writer

Win: Honor Marie

Place: Mystik Dan

Show: Fierceness

Comment: Honor Marie looks ready to peak, both on paper and physically, and worked super, but would prefer a fast track.

Brooks Holton

Courier Journal

Win: Fierceness

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Sierra Leone

Comment: If there’s a jockey who can end Post 17’s 0-for-44 drought, it’s John Velazquez, who is trying to become only the fourth rider to win the Derby four times. Arming the Hall of Famer with the fastest horse in the field doesn’t hurt his chances, either.

Melissa Hoppert

New York Times

Win: Fierceness

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Catching Freedom

Comment: There’s no doubt he’s the best horse in this speed-challenged field. And while he’s turned in some questionable performances, his outside post sets him up for a rout.

Tim Layden

NBC Sports

Win: Fierceness

Place: Sierra Leone

Show: West Saratoga

Comment: Overdue roses for Mike Repole, because sometimes the most talented horse actually wins the Derby.

Tom Leach

Keeneland

Win: Just a Touch

Place: Fierceness

Show: Sierra Leone

Comment: The top choices had perfect setups in their final preps but Just a Touch did not. He pressed a hot pace, drew off from every horse but the winner and ought to move forward off that effort.

Ray Paulick

The Paulick Report

Win: Stronghold

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Sierra Leone

Comment: Stronghold flies in from California under the radar for rookie Derby connections but his Santa Anita Derby win over the very good but Churchill Downs-ineligible Bob Baffert runner Imagination was impressive enough to win the roses.

Louie Rabaut

Horse Racing Happy Hour

Win: Endlessly

Place: Catching Freedom

Show: Fierceness

Comment: We have watched the Jeff Ruby Steaks go from an afterthought to being a meaningful prep in a very short amount of time. Rich Strike (2022) won the Derby, and Two Phil’s followed it up last year with a solid second. If you rewatch the 100-point prep races for the Kentucky Derby, Endlessly is clearly the second best after Fierceness’ Florida Derby. Fierceness is an every-other type, and I think there’s more than a 50% chance he’ll bounce in this Derby.

Jennie Rees

HBPA Communications

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Resilience

Show: Catching Freedom

Comment: Getting to the Derby winner’s circle runs through the Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes. Sierra Leone looks like the entire package, with Resilience an attractive play at 20-1.

Kenny Rice

NBC Sports

Win: Catching Freedom

Place: Sierra Leone

Show: Just Steel

Comment: Big close is just enough for Brad Cox to celebrate the win in person.

Nicole Russo

Daily Racing Form

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Resilience

Show: Fierceness

Comment: Sierra Leone, who has the race record to make him one of the favorites, has been training strongly. He’s a horse enjoying his work, and a horse who should respond well to the adversity he’ll likely find as a closer in a big field.

Tim Sullivan

Louisville-based columnist

Win: Sierra Leone

Place: Forever Young

Show: Fierceness

Comment: Thirty-three years seems a ridiculously long gap since Strike the Gold completed the Blue Grass/Derby double, but Sierra Leone has the talent, the Gun Runner bloodlines and the $2.3 million auction price to inspire confidence he can end that drought.

Childs Walker

Baltimore Sun

Win: Fierceness

Place: Honor Marie

Show: Sierra Leone

Comment: This is a vote for John Velazquez’s ability to get the favorite out of the gate cleanly and control the race from the front. In that scenario, Fierceness is simply the fastest horse.

Tim Wilkin

National turf writer

Win: Fierceness

Place: Just a Touch

Show: Sierra Leone

Comment: Overthinking the Derby can be a dangerous thing. Fierceness is the best horse. Not going to try to beat him.

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