Kentucky Derby Contenders: Keeler Johnson’s Top Ten

Each week during the Road to the Kentucky Derby, check out our top ten rankings for the leading contenders for the “Run for the Roses” by J. Keeler Johnson, a horse racing writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around enthusiast.


  • The field rounds the first turn of the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10: Maximus Mischief On the Rise - Although no new names have joined my Kentucky Derby Top 10 following the weekend of December 1-2, that doesn’t mean my rankings have gone completely unchanged. To the contrary, Maximus Mischief has moved up following an eye-catching victory in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), while Code of Honor has dropped ...Read More
  • Signalman winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10: Signalman Moves Up - The action on the Road to the Kentucky Derby picked up over the weekend with Signalman claiming a gutsy victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) and the filly Make Happy powering to a decisive win in the Cattleya Sho in Japan. Plus, two weekends ago, we saw ...Read More
  • Instagrand winning the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar - © BENOIT PHOTO Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10: Pedigree Ratings - Analyzing pedigrees is a big part of searching for promising Kentucky Derby contenders. A horse might show promise sprinting, but does it have the pedigree to excel going the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles? With this in mind, I’ve poured over the pedigrees of the horses in my Kentucky ...Read More
  • The field rounds the first turn of the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10: Game Winner the Early Leader - Well, the 2018 Breeders’ Cup is in the history books, and you know what that means—it’s time to start looking ahead toward the 2019 Kentucky Derby! A handful of official prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby have already been run, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and less ...Read More
  • Game Winner winning the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) - © Benoit Photo Keeler Johnson’s (Way Too Early) 2019 Kentucky Derby Top 10 - Yes, I know the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby hasn’t even officially started yet. And yes, I’m well aware that it’s way (way) too early to start ranking next year’s top Derby contenders. But hey, we all love talking about future stars, and since the Del Mar and Saratoga ...Read More
  • Magnum Moon winning the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 4/18/18 - It’s been a long and winding road, but the final prep races for the 2018 Kentucky Derby were run last Saturday, meaning that the field for the “Run for the Roses” is more or less established. From now until the Derby, the main focus will be on the pre-race workouts, ...Read More
  • Good Magic winning the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) - Keeneland Photo Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 4/10/18 - With just two prep races remaining to be run, the field is pretty much set for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, leaving handicappers to debate the merits of the many impressive performances we’ve seen over the last several months. For me, the results of Saturday’s three major prep races—the Santa Anita ...Read More
  • Audible winning the Florida Derby (gr. I) - Photo by Adam Coglianese Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 4/3/18 - The Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby took some twists over the last few days, and for some well-regarded contenders, the road has gotten bumpy. The prep races over the weekend were the Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park and the UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan, in which Audible ...Read More
  • Noble Indy winning the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds - Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges, Jr. Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 3/29/18 - Question—what do Bravazo, Combatant, Free Drop Billy, Mississippi, Promises Fulfilled, Quip, and Reride have in common? Answer—they’re all contenders for the 2018 Kentucky Derby and they all scored their maiden victories at Churchill Downs, where the Derby is held each year. While experience over the main track at Churchill Downs ...Read More
  • Magnum Moon winning the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 3/19/18 - We’re in the homestretch now. Last week was a bit of a milestone on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III) at Turfway Park essentially representing the last races in the penultimate round of Kentucky ...Read More
  • Bolt d'Oro (left) and McKinzie battle to the wire in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) - © Benoit Photo Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 3/14/18 - While it can be difficult to determine the strength of a given crop of three-year-olds until the year is over and the whole racing season can be reviewed, early indications suggest that this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders are a very deep and talented group. There’s Quip, who recently returned from ...Read More
  • Promises Fulfilled winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) - Photo by Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 3/6/18 - Two months… two months until the 2018 Kentucky Derby. That’s not a lot of time, and from here on out, the top-ranked Kentucky Derby contenders will have to make the most of it. For the majority, just one or two prep races remain on the agenda, and with Derby qualification ...Read More
  • Bravazo winning the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds - Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 2/20/18 - The Road to the Kentucky Derby took a few major twists last weekend with upsets in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and Southwest Stakes (gr. III), plus a brilliant debut from an exciting colt at Santa Anita. Suffice to say, my Kentucky Derby Top 10 has been shaken up ...Read More
  • Mourinho (right) leads Combatant (white and black silks) into the homestretch of the Smarty Jones Stakes - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 2/12/18 - Last Saturday, two horses listed in my weekly Kentucky Derby Top 10 competed in graded stakes races. One—Catholic Boy—was beaten a half-length in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), an official prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The other—Nero—was beaten 3 ¼ lengths in the seven-furlong ...Read More
  • Audible winning the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park - Photo by Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 2/6/18 - It was a very busy weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with three official prep races and a seemingly endless number of maiden and allowance races giving fans plenty to analyze and consider. Most eyes were focused on the stakes races, which saw Audible score a convincing win ...Read More
  • Bolt d'Oro will be a popular anchor in Pick 4 betting. Pic: Benoit Photo. Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 1/30/18 - In what could be considered the calm before the storm, very little happened last weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but with three major prep races scheduled for February 3rd, there’s no doubt that the action is about to heat up quickly. The upcoming races are the $250,000 ...Read More
  • Good Magic winning the 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Photo by Carson Denis/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup) Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 1/22/18 - On a quiet weekend without any official Kentucky Derby prep races, the biggest news came from Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, where the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Good Magic made his much-anticipated return to the work tab. The son of Curlin went three furlongs in a bullet ...Read More
  • Instilled Regard winning the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds - Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 — 1/17/18 - Following a busy week that featured three Kentucky Derby prep races and a full slate of competitive maiden and allowance events, there’s plenty to digest on the road to the Derby! Needless to say, my Kentucky Derby Top 10 underwent some significant changes over the weekend. Newcomers to the list ...Read More
  • Mask winning the Mucho Macho Man Stakes - Photo by Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 – 1/9/18 - It’s not every day that you see a horse win a stakes races as easily as Mask won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Chad Brown, the son of Tapit entered the one-mile race with just one run under his belt, that being an ...Read More
  • Principe Guilherme winning an allowance race at Fair Grounds (Hodges Photography) Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 – 1/2/18 - Well, 2018 has arrived, the juvenile stars of last year are officially three years old, and it’s time for things to get serious on the road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Actually, the road would already be underway if cold weather hadn’t led to the cancellation of the Jerome Stakes ...Read More
  • Always Dreaming winning the 2017 Kentucky Derby - Coady Photography Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 – 12/27/17 - Much has been made through the years about trainer Todd Pletcher’s perceived lack of success in the Triple Crown races, primarily the Kentucky Derby. An oft-quoted statistic from years ago spoke of Pletcher’s early disappointments in the Derby, in which his starters went 0-for-24 before Pletcher scored a victory with ...Read More
  • Principe Guilherme winning an allowance race at Fair Grounds (Hodges Photography) Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 – 12/19/17 - “He’s like a young Gun Runner.” That’s the thought that crosses my mind when I think about the exciting two-year-old Principe Guilherme, who brought his record to a perfect 2-for-2 with an eye-catching allowance win at Fair Grounds on December 16th. Some of the similarities are obvious. Principe Guilherme, like ...Read More
  • Le Vent Se Leve winning the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki Racecourse (Photo courtesy Akihiro Takeda/Churchill Downs) Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 – 12/13/17 - As a general rule, I try not to get too excited about horses that prep for the Kentucky Derby outside of North America. We’ve seen some very good horses come to the Derby by way of Dubai—Desert Party, Mubtaahij, and Lani all come to mind from recent years—but all have inevitably faltered ...Read More
  • Good Magic winning the 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Photo by Carson Denis/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup) Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 – 12/8/17 - Get ready, everyone! The prep races on the road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby are already underway, and with just five months remaining until the big race, it’s time to start analyzing the contenders and thinking ahead to which horses will be ready for glory on the first Saturday in ...Read More