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Jon White: Louisiana Derby, Jeff Ruby and Sunland Derby Picks

by Jon White

March 23, 2023

With the May 6 Kentucky Derby just around the corner, the quest for qualifying points is heating up.

Forte and Practical Move are currently the two leading point earners. Forte has 90 points. Practical Move has 60.

Rich Strike’s 21 Kentucky Derby points last year initially put him on the also-eligible list. In other words, he was on the outside looking in. But then he did get in from the also-eligible list the morning before the race after Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas notified Churchill Downs officials that he was scratching Ethereal Road.

It turned out that Rich Strike -- the starter with the least amount of qualifying points -- won the 2022 Kentucky Derby in an 80-1 shocker. It was the second-biggest upset in the history of America’s longest continuously run sporting event. Rich Strike’s win at odds of 80-1 is topped only by 91-1 Donerail in 1913.

The Kentucky Derby points available to be earned ratchets up in a big way when the first two races in this country offering 100-40-30-20-10 points to the first five finishers are run this Saturday (March 25). They are Fair Grounds’ Grade II Louisiana Derby at 1 3/16 miles and Turfway Park’s Grade III Jeff Ruby at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic surface.

Sunday’s Grade III Sunland Derby, a 1 1/8-mile affair at Sunland Park, has 50-20-15-10-5 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs on Sunday.

Meanwhile, there is another race on Saturday far from the USA that offers 100-40-30-20-10 Kentucky Derby points. It’s Meydan Racecourse’s Group II UAE Derby at 1 3/16 miles.

Before listing my picks for the Louisiana Derby, Jeff Ruby, Sunland Derby and UAE Derby, my current Kentucky Derby Top 10 is below:

1. Practical Move
2. Forte
3. Tapit Trice
4. Instant Coffee
5. Geaux Rocket Ride
6. Skinner
7. Angel of Empire
8. Reincarnate
9. Confidence Game
10. Hit Show

Bubbling Under My Top 10 (in alphabetical order):

Congruent, Denington, Disarm, Eyeing Clover, Hayes Strike, Hard to Figure, Henry Q, Kingsbarns, Mage, Mandarin Hero, National Treasure, Please Be Nice, Raise Cain, Red Route One, Rocket Can, Slip Mahoney, Sun Thunder, Tall Boy, Two Eagles River, Two Phil’s, Worcester and Verifying.


Instant Coffee, who ranks No. 4 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, heads a field of 12 entered in the Louisiana Derby. He has been pegged as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

Brad Cox trains Instant Coffee. The Kentucky-bred Bolt d’Oro colt has won three of four career starts. His lone defeat came when he finished fourth to Forte, Loggins and Red Route One in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity last Oct. 8.

In Instant Coffee’s final 2022 start, he won Churchill’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths on Nov. 26. In his most recent start, he won Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths on Jan. 21.

I have much respect for Instant Coffee, as evidenced by how high I have him on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. However, inasmuch as he looms a short-priced favorite in the Louisiana Derby, I’ve decided to go with someone who figures to be a much better price in the betting.

My top choice is two-for-two Kingsbarns. An $800,000 auction purchase, he won a one-mile maiden special weight contest at first asking Jan. 14 at Gulfstream Park despite not having the best of trips. The Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt then clobbered allowance/optional claiming foes when he won by 7 3/4 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 12 for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.

I consider it an encouraging sign that Flavien Prat is traveling from his current Southern California base to New Orleans to ride Kingsbarns for the first time in the Louisiana Derby.

I get the feeling that Kingsbarns might be a special talent, someone who possibly could win the Louisiana Derby and then go on to give a good account of himself in the Kentucky Derby. That’s why I put money on him at odds of 35-1 in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) on Feb. 12. I will make $7,000 if Kingsbarns happens to win the Kentucky Derby.

Kingsbarns is the 6-1 third choice on the Louisiana Derby morning line.

Sun Thunder is 5-1 on the morning line. He’s coming off a runner-up finish to Angel of Empire in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 18. Kenny McPeek trains the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt.

Watch out for Disarm, who is 10-1 on the morning line. A 6 1/4-length maiden winner going seven furlongs at Saratoga last Aug. 6, he did not start again until finishing second to Two Eagles River in an Oaklawn Park allowance/optional claiming race at one mile on Feb. 19.

Disarm certainly has a right to run better in the Louisiana Derby with that Feb. 19 race under his belt. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains the Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt.

Tapit’s Conquest lacked early speed and finished fourth at 5-1 in the Risen Star. He’s won just once in four career starts. At this point, I look at Tapit’s Conquest as possibly being an early season sophomore who promises more than he delivers.

Will Tapit’s Conquest finally put it all together this time and come through with a graded stakes victory? Perhaps. But I have my doubts.

My selections for the Louisiana Derby are below:

1. Kingsbarns
2. Instant Coffee
3. Sun Thunder
4. Disarm


Rich Strike finished third in last year’s Jeff Ruby just prior to his aforementioned upset victory in the Kentucky Derby.

Wouldn’t that be something if a Jeff Ruby participant won the Kentucky Derby in back-to-back years? I am going to go out on a limb and predict it doesn’t happen.

My top pick in this year’s Jeff Ruby is Congruent (pictured above), who is 5-1 on the morning line. He roared home from last in a field of 12 to win Turfway’s John Battaglia Memorial at 1 1/16 miles on March 4. He should appreciate going a half-furlong further in the Jeff Ruby.

Sonny Leon gave Rich Strike a sensational ride when the colt went from last to first in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Leon will be back aboard Congruent in the Jeff Ruby after collaborating with the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt to take the Battaglia.

Congruent recorded a fine 91 Beyer Speed Figure in his Battaglia victory.

The 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Jeff Ruby is Major Dude, who likewise is coming off a 91 Beyer, a figure achieved when he won Gulfstream’s Kitten’s Joy Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass Feb. 4.

Two Phil’s is 7-2 on the Jeff Ruby morning line. He was my top pick in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 18. Two Phil’s loomed boldly a furlong out, but then lacked the needed additional late punch and finished third to Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder.

In his only other 2023 start, Two Phil’s finished a respectable second to Instant Coffee in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 21.

Scoobie Quandro, like Congruent, benefits from having raced over Turfway’s synthetic oval. Scoobie Quandro finished second to Congruent in the Battaglia.

My selections for the Jeff Ruby are below:

1. Congruent
2. Major Dude
3. Two Phil’s
4. Scoobie Quandro


The way I see it, the three main contenders in the Sunland Derby are Hard to Figure, Henry Q and Fort Bragg.

In his most recent start, Hard to Figure finished second at 12-1 to Newgate in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes, an effort that produced a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, a giant leap from his previous top of 80.

Hard to Figure’s 100 Beyer is clearly best of the Sunland Derby entrants. The next-best figure is Henry Q’s 93 for his 14 3/4-length victory in Sunland’s Mine That Bird Derby on Feb. 28.

The only other Sunland Derby entrant to have Beyered in the 90s is Fort Bragg. He is coming off a 91 Beyer when fifth in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 4.

Because Hard to Figure has had a number of sharp workouts since the Lewis, I think he might come right back and run well again in the Sunland Derby. Adding to his appeal is Prat is named to ride him Sunday after piloting Kingsbarns in the Louisiana Derby on Saturday.

I am opting for Hard to Figure as my top pick in the Sunland Derby. This means I’m hoping Prat wins both the Louisiana Derby and Sunland Derby.

My selections for the Sunland Derby are below:

1. Hard to Figure
2. Henry Q
3. Fort Bragg
4. Low Expectations


Frankie Dettori will be aboard Worcester in the UAE Derby. Dettori is riding in superb form. I figure, why not go with the great Dettori and Worcester as my top pick?

Yes, Worcester is a maiden running against winners. But he is graded stakes-placed. The Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt ran third in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Worcester recorded a robust 98 Beyer Speed Figure in the Lewis.

Cairo has the look of a major player in the UAE Derby. He has registered three wins and two seconds from five career starts, all in Ireland. Cairo is two for three on turf and one for two on synthetic. This will be his first start on dirt. His trainer is world-renowned Aidan O’Brien.

Tall Boy, trained by Doug O’Neill, goes into the UAE Derby off a one-length win in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas on Feb. 10. That was his 3-year-old debut. In Tall Boy’s final start at 2, he finished fourth in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity, which was won Practical Move. Practical Move currently is widely considered to be either the second or third favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Derma Sotogake finished third to Commissioner and Havnameltdown in the Group III Saudi Derby on Feb. 25. Neither Commissioner nor Havnameltdown are in the UAE Derby.

My selections for the UAE Derby are below:

1. Worcester
2. Cairo
3. Tall Boy
4. Derma Sotogake


Practical Move, who moved to the top spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 following his victory in the March 4 San Felipe Stakes, worked four furlongs effortlessly in :47.80 at Santa Anita last Saturday morning (March 18) for trainer Tim Yakteen.

On the radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles last Sunday, Mike Willman asked Santa Anita broadcaster Millie Ball, Yakteen’s wife, about Practical Move’s Saturday solo drill.

“Tim described it as fantastic,” Ball said. “And Tim doesn’t say that too often. If you watch the work on XBTV.com, I can understand why he thought it. The horse just bounced out of the race really well. He thinks he’s King Kong. He’s quite a handful right now.”

You can view Practical Move’s March 18 workout on XBTV.

The day after Practical Move’s workout last Saturday, respected clocker Toby Turrell raved about it on Tom Quigley’s pre-race seminar at Santa Anita. Because Practical Move was doing it so easily, Turrell was expecting a much slower time. Turrell was surprised when he look at his stopwatch and saw :47 and change.

“I’m going to now call him the big horse,” Turrell said. “You know, when I say the big horse, no pun intended. This horse is gargantuan. He is now, as far as I’m concerned, the co-leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby with Pletcher’s horse, Forte. What Practical Move looked like in this work just kind of left me without having any doubts about him. Honestly, Practical Move shouldn’t be afraid of anybody. He’s stronger out of the San Felipe.”

Last Saturday wasn’t the first time that Practical Move has been impressive in a Santa Anita workout. The Kentucky-bred Practical Joke colt worked five furlongs in :59.00 at Santa Anita on Feb. 11 in what Yakteen also termed a “fantastic drill.”

Practical Move’s Feb. 11 workout certainly got my attention, so much so that it prompted me to make a future bet on him the next day in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

I was “not about to miss the boat with Practical Move at a mouth-watering 83-1 in Pool 4 after he fired a bullet five-furlong workout in :59.00 at Santa Anita on Feb. 11,” I wrote for XpressBet.com on Feb. 15.

Practical Move’s “blazing workout hinted at a promising 3-year-old season,” Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free wrote of the colt’s Feb. 11 drill.

“Practical Move opened up on Bob Baffert-trained Hejazi on the backstretch, coasted to the finish as the workmate caught up, then rebroke after the wire,” Free added.

Yakteen said he wasn’t expecting Practical Move to have company for the workout.

“He worked absolutely terrific, came home [his final quarter-mile] in :23 flat,” Yakteen told Free. “Fantastic drill. We went three-quarters in 1:11, out [seven-eighths]” in 1:25.

With $200 on Practical Move at 83-1, I will cash for nearly $17,000 if he wins the Run for the Roses. David Aragona lists Practical Move as the 8-1 second-favorite on his line for Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch this week. Forte is the 3-1 favorite.

It’s interesting to me that both Ball and Turrell said it appears to them that Practical Move is stronger following his 2023 debut, especially considering his 2 1/2-length San Felipe triumph was darn strong in that it produced a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Practical Move next will be seen under silks in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 8.

Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen lists six as probable for the Santa Anita Derby. In alphabetical order, they are Geaux Rocket Ride, I Don’t Get It, Mandarin Hero, One in Vermillion, Practical Move and Skinner, with the maiden Dazzlemesilver a possibility.

Two Santa Anita Derby candidates besides Practical Move showing up on the Santa Anita work tab last weekend were Geaux Rocket Ride and Skinner, who finished second and third, respectively, in the San Felipe.

Geaux Rocket Ride worked four furlongs in :49.20 on Saturday for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

Skinner worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 on Sunday for trainer John Shirreffs.

Reincarnate, who worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 at Santa Anita last Saturday, is probably headed to Oaklawn Park for the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 1, according to Yakteen. Reincarnate will be returning to Oaklawn after finishing third despite a troubled trip there in the Grade II Rebel Stakes on Feb. 25.

National Treasure, who worked five furlongs in 1:00.00 for Yakteen at Santa Anita last Sunday, is penciled in for Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on April 8. Scratched from the March 4 San Felipe due to a bruised foot, National Treasure hasn’t raced since finishing third in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 8. He ran third in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year.

As mentioned earlier, Fort Bragg is entered in the Sunland Park Derby this Sunday (March 26). He worked four furlongs in :48.00 for Yakteen at Santa Anita last Saturday.


Eclipse Award winner Forte, who won Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes by an emphatic 4 1/2 lengths on March 4 in his first start of the year, worked four furlongs in :50.72 for Pletcher at Florida’s Palm Beach Downs last Friday (March 17).

“I thought the work was super,” Pletcher was quoted as saying by Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee. “He’s very happy, moving great. He’s come back from a big race with really good energy and has another big one upcoming. He’s been doing all the things you’d want him to be doing. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Forte’s March 17 workout was a team drill with Crupi, who is still a maiden after six lifetime starts. In Crupi’s most recent start, he faced winners and finished seventh in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 18.

You can view Forte’s March 17 workout on XBTV.

Forte has won five of six career starts. With a trio of Grade I wins to his credit last year, highlighted by a BC Juvenile victory, the Kentucky-bred Violence colt was voted a 2022 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.


Three-year-olds race much less prior to the Kentucky Derby than they did back in the day. Consequently, when a person tries to pick the winner of the Run for the Roses, there is much less form to go on, which makes it more of a guessing game in terms of a horse’s true ability.

Take a look at the number of horses to make 10 or more previous starts going into the Kentucky Derby in 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013:

Year Starters With 10 or More Previous Starts

1973 11 of 13
1983 17 of 20
1993 6 of 19
2003 3 of 16
2013 1 of 19

Of the 20 horses listed this week listed at Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch, if you add one more start to each horse’s current total so far, nobody will be going into the 2023 Kentucky Derby having made 10 or more starts. Nobody even would have made nine prior starts. Three would be going into the 2023 Kentucky Derby having made eight previous starts: Confidence Game, Red Route One and Two Phil’s.

Below is a list of the average number of career starts going into the Kentucky Derby for 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013:

Year Average Number of Previous Starts

1973 12.7
1983 11.7
1993 8.6
2003 7.1
2013 6.4

Again, of the 20 horses listed this week at Derby Watch, if you add one more start to each horse’s current total so far, the average number of previous starts would be 5.8.


I developed my Derby Strikes System back in 1999. The purpose is to try and identify those horses having the best chance to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives.

Various “rules” for the Kentucky Derby once were quite popular. A “Derby rule” meant that a horse needed to have done this or that, or not done this or that, in order to win the Kentucky Derby. However, through the years, many of the “Derby rules” were broken, which caused their popularity to wane.

I believe that it’s the marriage of the TACTICAL with the HISTORICAL that makes the Derby Strikes System better than any single “Derby rule.”

A number of the categories in the Derby Strikes System are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. Consequently, when the 2020 running was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 due to COVID, it rendered the Derby Strikes System unworkable that year. But when the Kentucky Derby again was contested on its traditional date of the first Saturday in May in 2021 and 2022, the Derby Strikes System again was viable.

A horse’s number of strikes can’t be determined until it’s known that a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby. Look for 2023 Derby Strikes to commence next week following this weekend’s Louisiana Derby, Jeff Ruby and Sunland Derby.


Art Collector and Country Grammer, who rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, are entered in races this Saturday (March 25).

Art Collector is the protagonist in Fair Grounds’ Grade II New Orleans Classic. Country Grammer runs in Meydan Racecourse’s Group I Dubai World Cup.

When last seen in action, Art Collector won Gulfstream’s Grade I Pegasus World Cup by 4 1/2 lengths on Jan. 28.

The Dubai World Cup will be a rematch between Japan’s Panthalassa and Country Grammer after they clashed in the world’s richest horse race, the $20 million Saudi Cup, on Feb. 25. Panthalassa won Group I Saudi Cup at about 1 1/8 miles by three-quarters of a length, while Country Grammer finished a fast-closing second. The Dubai World Cup is run at the longer distance of about 1 1/4 miles.

The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 353 Art Collector (28)
2. 294 Country Grammer (6)
3. 279 Elite Power (2)
4. 211 Stilleto Boy
5. 153 Secret Oath (1)
6. 124 Cody’s Wish
7. 81 Defunded
8. 78 Atone
9. 76 Last Samurai
10. 74 Nest


Practical Move is No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. But I am not the one person who put Practical Move at No. 1 in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll this week.

The “lone wolf” in putting Practical Move at No. 1 in the NTRA poll is none other than Jay Hovdey, one of the all-time great turf writers, as reflected by his multiple Eclipse Awards and selection to the Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor. As for yours truly, my first-place vote went to Forte, which has been the case each week this year since the first NTRA poll on Jan. 30.

As I have explained previously, the way I rank the Top 10 horses on my NTRA ballot is based mainly on what a horse has accomplished, while my Kentucky Derby Top 10 is how I currently view a horse’s chances of winning the 1 1/4-mile classic on the first Saturday in May. As of right now, Practical Move is my pick to win the Kentucky Derby, which is why he sits atop my Kentucky Derby Top 10.

The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 379 Forte (37)
2. 283 Practical Move (1)
3. 257 Tapit Trice
3. 255 Instant Coffee
5. 156 Confidence Game
6. 114 Rocket Can
7. 107 Angel of Empire
8. 93 Hit Show
9. 78 Reincarnate
10. 76 Arabian Knight