Kentucky Derby Favorites For 2024 Right Now

Subhan N

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The Kentucky Derby itself doesn’t occur until the first Saturday in May.

However, there is a long road to actually qualifying to even enter the race.

In order to determine who is eligible to run for this year’s rose garland, horses must amass points by running in qualifying prep races. Only the top twenty-three-year-olds on the leaderboard will be able to enter the starting gate. Therefore, although the entries won’t be drawn for months yet, now that the preps are underway, we can start getting a feel for which Derby horses are emerging as the division’s front runners.

Here are some of the top prospects for 2024 who are leading the tips for handicapping the Kentucky Derby.


The winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes at two, Timberlake confirmed his promise at age three by winning the Grade II Rebel Stakes.

Timberlake has more experience than most Kentucky Derby contenders at this point, having faced the starting gate six times in his career (for comparison, last year’s Derby winner Mage ran for the roses in only his fourth career start). Half of those starts resulted in wins, with two of those coming in the aforementioned graded stakes. Timberlake was also second in both his debut and the Grade I Hopeful Stakes, and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Timberlake is by Grade I Cashcall Futurity winner and extremely successful commercial sire Into Mischief. Into Mischief is the site of two Kentucky Derby winners to date: 2020 winner Authentic and Mandaloun, who was named the official 2021 Kentucky Derby winner following the disqualification of Medina Spirit. More recently, Into Mischief produced the 2023 Kentucky Oaks winner and subsequent divisional champion Pretty Mischievous.

Timberlake is trained by Brad Cox, who also trained Mandaloun as well as Belmont Stakes winner and 2021 Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Male Essential Quality and multiple champion Monomoy Girl. His regular rider as a two-year-old was Florent Getoux, but he was piloted in the Rebel by Cristian Torres.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a lightly raced colt, but he has made the most out of his experience this far.

He made his debut in November a winning one at Aqueduct before finishing second by a nose to Dornoch at the same track in the Grade II Remsen Stakes. He launched his three-year-old campaign in February’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes, which he won in come-from-behind fashion by a half-length.

Sierra Leone is by Gun Runner, a Horse of the Year who won at Classic distances and has shown great versatility as a sire in his nascent breeding career. Gun Runner has produced Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Filly Echo Zulu and Preakness winner Early Voting as well as graded stakes winners Cyberknife, Gunite, Taiba, Society, Disarm, and Red Route One.

Sierra Leone’s trainer, Chad Brown, is a multiple Eclipse Award winning trainer who has won the Preakness twice and finished second in the Kentucky Derby, but has yet to win the hallowed race. Sierra Leone has had a different pilot for each of his three starts, but his most recent jockey, Tyler Gafflione, also has an Eclipse Award and a Preakness victory and is still seeking his first Derby win.

Track Phantom

Track Phantom may have been caught at the wire in the Risen Star Stakes, but he had already made his mark as a serious Derby contender with his win in the Gun Runner Stakes and the Grade III Lecomte Stakes. Unlike the others on this list, Track Phantom also has a win at Churchill Downs (the host track of the Kentucky Derby), having broken his maiden there in November.

Track Phantom is a son of Quality Road, winner of four Grade I stakes races in his career. He is the sire of 2023 Preakness winner National Treasure as well as Eclipse Champions Abel Tasman and Corniche.

Track Phantom resides under the care of Steven Asmussen, the winningest American trainer in Thoroughbred history. Asmussen, like Brown, has come close to winning the Kentucky Derby, but as yet, the race eludes him. Track Phantom’s regular rider is Joel Rosario, who started in more than a dozen Derbies before finally winning last year aboard Mage.


The recent Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes winner, Dornoch has a pedigree qualifier that makes him unique among this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders: he is a full brother to last year’s Derby winner, Mage. Both colts are by 2017 Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Male Good Magic, and out of the graded-stakes-placed Big Brown mare Puca.

However hard it may be to believe, Dornoch is actually far more accomplished than his older brother was at this time last year. Mage was an impressive maiden winner at this point who looked less than impressive in his stakes debut in last year’s Fountain of Youth. Dornoch, however, came into the race already having won the Remsen Stakes as a two-year-old. Although the Fountain of Youth lost some luster with the defection of Grade I Breeders’ Futurity winner Locked, Dornoch looked professional in taking the race gate-to-wire, winning comfortably by 1 ¾ lengths.

Dornoch is trained by Danny Gagan, whose other graded stakes winners include Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes winner Tax and Grade II Chilukki Stakes winner Divine Miss Grey. His rider is Luis Saez, who regularly rode the aforementioned champion Essential Quality.

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