Who Are the Kentucky Derby Favorites?

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America’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby, will be run for the 150th time May 4, 2024, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and we are listing our top five contenders.

The 1 1/4-mile test for 3-year-olds always boasts a competitive field, and each horse has its strengths and weaknesses. To be considered a Kentucky Derby favorite, a horse has to have something special.

Favorites for the Kentucky Derby 2024

Odds correct as of April 30th.

  • Fierceness, 5-2
  • Sierra Leone, 3-1
  • Catching Freedom, 8-1
  • Forever Young, 10-1
  • Just A Touch, 10-1

Betting on Kentucky Derby Favorites

The post-position draw, held Saturday, April 27, determined the position for each horse in the starting gate. At the time of the draw, the morning-line odds were revealed.

Wagering on the starting field opens at 9 a.m. EDT Friday, May 3, but that doesn’t mean there is no sports betting option available before that.

Kentucky Derby futures betting is well underway at many of the best online sportsbooks, including BetOnline, during Kentucky Derby week.

Find out how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, and read on to find our five best choices when considering who will win the Race for the Roses.

We’ll give reasons these top five Kentucky Derby horses can win, the reasons for potential trouble and their futures odds.

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Fierceness, 5-2: Career earnings of $1,646,100

Fierceness
Image: Twitter/ForbesSports

Why Fierceness can win: Trainer Todd Pletcher just knows how to prepare top thoroughbreds for the biggest races. It’s a perfect fit with Fierceness, who’s been on the national radar since winning the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and establishing himself as the 2024 Kentucky Derby favorite.

Pletcher has won the Derby twice; Fierceness’ jockey, John Velazquez, has won it three times.

Fierceness’ most recent race was a rousing success in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, in which he ran 1:48.22 for the 1 1/8 miles.

Fierceness’ running style was helped by drawing an outside post in the Kentucky Derby. Of course, if he duplicates his Florida Derby effort he could win anyway.

Why Fierceness might have trouble: A major handicapping tool in a large field is the post position.

After drawing post 17 (no victories in the Kentucky Derby from that post), Fierceness moves to post 16 after the scratch of Encino.

Despite his 13 1/2-length win in the Florida Derby, there are questions about whether he’ll handle the extra distance. He is by City of Light out of a Stay Thirsty mare, Nonna Bella.

Neither City of Light nor Stay Thirsty have had much two-turn success with their progeny. City of Light, however, did win four Grade 1 races including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup.

Sierra Leone, 3-1: Career earnings of $871,250

Sierra Leone
Image: Twitter/Sarah Gordon

Why Sierra Leone can win: His breeding, sire Gun Runner out of Heavenly Love (by Malibu Moon), suggests he will have no problem with the extended distance.

His position as a top contender cannot be disputed and he’s sure to attract plenty of win bet money.

His past two victories, including the April 6 Blue Grass Stakes, have been at 1 1/8 miles and his 1:50.08 performance in the Blue Grass was his most impressive as he defeated a strong field that included Derby contender Just a Touch.

He’s always had high expectations and has been among the Kentucky Derby favorites for most of his life. He fetched the highest bid ($2.3 million) at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale back in 2022, no doubt with this race in mind.

Why Sierra Leone might have trouble: It’s difficult to find fault with his most recent triumph, but Sierra Leone could have trouble with the large crowd and the associated next-level noise and distraction a Kentucky Derby favorite has to deal with.

He acted up in the gate before the Blue Grass, and any kind of misbehavior May 4 would serve to mitigate his chances for a top effort. On top of that, no winner of the Blue Grass Stakes has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991.

Being drawn in post 3 isn’t ideal, with only seven winners from there since 1930 but those post 3 starters have finished in the money (first, second or third) 25 times in 94 races. That’s the second-best percentage (post 10 has hit the board 25 of 87 times).

Being drawn farther away from the crowd, might help, but trainer Chad Brown told reporters it comes down to talent.

“I don’t anticipate the gate being a determining factor,” Brown said. “If he wins or loses, it’s really going to come down to the trip and if he’s good enough.”

Catching Freedom, 8-1: Career earnings of $802,000

Catching Freedom
Image: Twitter/SDhorserace

Why Catching Freedom can win: Catching Freedom, a bargain at $575,000 out of the Keeneland September Yearling sale, is trained by 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Brad Cox.

The colt ran third in the Risen Star Stakes, a race won by Sierra Leone, and followed that respectable run with a victory in the March 23 Louisiana Derby.

His price also makes each-way betting a real possibility as it may offer some value even if he falls just short of winning.

Cox has him fit and ready. The colt posted a final eighth of :12.05 in the Louisiana Derby, best among these contenders’ final prep race. Anything faster than 13 seconds is a strong indication of a horse that still has something left in the tank.

Catching Freedom’s sire, two-time Grade 1 winner Constitution, has shown success with his runners going longer distances.

Why Catching Freedom might have trouble: Understanding the caveat that anything can happen in a big Kentucky Derby field, Catching Freedom’s speed figure numbers don’t measure up with the top two contenders, Fierceness and Sierra Leone.

His post-position draw, breaking from gate 4, means he’ll have to show some early speed to avoid being shuffled back.

In general, horses drawing inside posts can have more trouble on the first turn, but the Kentucky Derby post position stats show victories for horses drawn inside occur somewhat randomly:

  • Post 1: 8 wins
  • Post 2: 7 wins
  • Post 3: 5 wins
  • Post 4: 5 wins
  • Post 5: 10 wins
  • Post 6: 2 wins

Forever Young, 10-1: Career earnings of $1,769,919

Forever Young
Image: Twitter/DRFLivingston

Why Forever Young can win: The talented Japanese colt has not lost any of his five starts, and his demeanor has served him well in adapting to different racecourses.

He has victories at five different tracks covering the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

He has been at Churchill Downs since mid-April, plenty of time to acclimate to his surroundings.

He’s drawn just about midpack, in post 11, and is poised for another top effort.

His trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, won’t be overwhelmed by the Derby pressure. He is the only Japanese trainer to have won at the Breeders’ Cup (2021 Filly and Mare Turf and the 2021 Distaff).

Why Forever Young might have trouble: Forever Young appears to be a consistent, honest runner, but how much travel can one colt endure?

After his victory March 30 in the UAE Derby in Dubai, he spent another 10 days there before traveling to Belgium and then Chicago before clearing quarantine and heading to Kentucky.

Previous Japanese starters in the Kentucky Derby are 0-for-4, with a sixth-place finish the best among them.

Just a Touch, 10-1: Career earnings $281,700

Just a Touch
Image: Twitter/HorseracingKK

Why Just a Touch can win: A son of Kentucky Derby winner Justify, out of a Tapit mare, Just a Touch certainly has the breeding credentials to succeed at Churchill Downs May 4. His trainer, 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Brad Cox, is also among the game’s best.

Just a Touch ran a strong most-recent race, finishing second to Sierra Leone in the April 6, Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Another top contender who drew a solid post position, Just a Touch will break from post 8.

If he finds the right trip and Sierra Leone and Fierceness aren’t quite up to the task, Just a Touch might be the 2024 Kentucky Derby winner at a nice price of 10-1 or better.

Why Just a Touch might have trouble: The odds in backing a colt who did not race as a 2-year-old are long. Derby winners Mage and the sire of Just a Touch, Justify, were also unraced at 2 and are the only such colts to since Apollo in 1882 (yes, 1882).

It’s no longer ridiculous to expect such an inexperienced horse to win the race, but that inexperience should not fall into the “advantages” category when looking at Kentucky Derby favorites.

Just a Touch also had every opportunity to win the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass, but wasn’t able to sustain a strong final eighth of a mile, and things will be only more challenging with the Derby’s added distance.

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Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert
Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert

Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at Techopedia.com, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.