The 149th running of the Kentucky Derby is May 6, 2023, and once again, Ocala, Florida is well represented with at least three, and up to five horses running in the available 20 racing spots.
Todd Pletcher, son of J.J. Pletcher and Joan Pletcher’s stepson, has five horses contending. Four additional horses have strong ties to Ocala. This list should help you know in advance who to keep an eye on as well as perhaps a wager!
2023 Kentucky Derby Contenders with Ties to Ocala
Let’s start with the horses trained by Todd Pletcher. Todd has won the Trainer of the Year Eclipse Award eight times and is considered one of the top horse trainers nationally. He has successfully trained two previous Kentucky Derby winners: Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. This year, he has trained three horses who are racing, including the number one ranked horse on the leaderboard: Forte.
Competing Horses Trained by Todd Pletcher
Forte stands in the #1 rank. Forte is a dark bay colt who has gained 190 points by placing first in six of his seven lifetime races: Curlin Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth Stakes, FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Clairborne Breeders’ Futurity, Hopeful Stakes and the Sanford Stakes.
Tapit Trice beat Verifying and post a neck win in the Toyota Blue Grass States, and has won the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby as well. This gray colt is a strong contender for the Kentucky Derby, ranking #4 with 150 points. While he’s slow out of the gate, he embodies the pedigree of a horse bred to carry his speed at a classic distance.
With 100 points, Kingsbarns stands at #8 on the leaderboard. This bay colt was born in Kentucky and is also trained by Todd Pletcher. He won the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on March 25, 2023. In the Louisiana Derby, he took the initiative at the start with a moderate pace, maintaining a clear lead, but saved plenty of energy for the stretch. He is the only active wire-to-wire winner of all the Kentucky Derby qualifiers this year.
Major Dude, a chestnut gelding trained by Todd Pletcher, placed second at Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 25, 2023. This earned him 40 points, which ranked him at #23 on the leaderboards. Major Dude has raced from 2022 through 2023, placing first in three races, second in two races, and third in one race.
Other Competing Horses With Ties to Ocala
Practical Move, a beautiful bay colt sired by Practical Joke and Ack Naughty, was trained by Tim Yakteen. In 2022, he was purchased by Leslie and Pierre Amestoy and Roger Beasley. He’s been racing with wins at the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe Stakes, and the Los Alamitos Futurity, and currently ranks #2 with 160 points.
Owned by Vegso Racing Stables in Ocala, Lord Miles took first in the Wood Memorial to earn himself a Kentucky Derby berth as the #6 ranked horse. In the race, he out finished the 8-5 favorite Hit Show by a nose. While he began strong in the break, he backed off in the backstretch, then came back for the win.
Currently ranked #9 with 64 points, Raise Cain was purchased as a 2-year-old at the Ocala Breeder’s Sales by Andrew and Rania Warren. This bay colt won the Gotham Stakes by 7 ½ lengths over a muddy track and placed 2nd in the Gun Runner Stakes last December.
Sun Thunder is a bay colt that currently ranks #14. Having placed 2nd in Risen Star and 4th in Southwest Stakes, this horse was trained by Kenny McPeak at the old Padua farm in Summerfield.
Skinner is a bay colt who went through the Ocala Breeders’ Sale. He’s ranked #19 for the Kentucky Derby, having placed 3rd in the RUNHAPPY Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe Stakes. His pedigree shows he may bring about a career-best performance at Churchill Downs.
Ocala Kentucky Derby Events
While Ocala isn’t near Kentucky, we have a rich tradition of fine horses and events to celebrate the Kentucky Derby race Ocala style! There are many events being held to watch or honor the Kentucky Derby right here.
Kentucky Derby Viewing
Where: World Equestrian Center, Grand Outdoor Arena
When: 5/6/2023 5pm – 7:30pm
Come dressed in your derby best and dine at the many restaurants around the property or from the WEC food trucks. Classic derby-day cocktails will be available at the on-site bars.
Kentucky Derby Hat Party
Where: Stirrups Terrace, World Equestrian Center
When: 5/6/2023 5pm – 7:30pm
Cost: $225 per person
Don’t miss the best two minutes in sports while you enjoy the action at the Hat Party. This reception-style event boasts an amazing menu which includes such tasty treats as bourbon peach burgoo, braised short rib, new potatoes, and spring onion. Tickets include your choice of one derby hat or a Woodford bourbon bottle per person.
Juleps and Jems
Where: Pillango Stables, 8075 West Highway 326
When: 5/6/2023 3pm-7pm
Cost: $50 per person
Come join the Scout Guide Ocala for a fun afternoon of fashion, fancy hats, mint juleps, and southern nibbles. There will be a party, a Best Derby Hat contest, televised races, and VIP access to cigars, saddles, jewels, art, and fashion as well as food and of course…mint juleps!
Kentucky Derby Traditions
There are traditions that come with 149 races year after year. Here are a few we thought were interesting and some you might add to a Kentucky Derby party you may want to host!
Run For the Roses
The popular Derby nickname “Run for the Roses” was coined by sports columnist Bill Corum in 1925, but its origin predates the term. At a party in 1883 in New York, a sociality named E. Berry Wall presented a bouquet of roses to ladies at a party. This appealed to Churchill Downs founder and president Meriwether Lewis Clark. He decided that roses would be the official flower of the Derby, so in 1896 the first lush blanket, made of 554 red roses, was draped over the back of the Kentucky Derby Winner, Ben Brush.
My Old Kentucky Home
As the horses are led to the track on May 6, 2023, the traditional playing of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” will be played. Rumor has it that the song was first played in 1921 for the 47th running, and since 1936 there have only been a handful of times the song was not played.
While traditionally, women wore hats to the Kentucky Derby because it was said to bring good luck, recently men have been participating in the same tradition. The hats that are worn are often ornate, wide brimmed and large. The bigger the hat, the better your luck! An interesting tidbit: the most expensive hat worn to the Kentucky Derby was by Kate Peck in 2014, with a hat that was worth $3 million! This hat was made of 1,264 diamonds and was set with a 37.53-carat beryl jewel. That’s some hat!
Did you know the Kentucky Derby has an official drink? In 1816, julep cups began being awarded as horse racing trophies. There’s evidence that the drink was a Kentucky Derby tradition even before it became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1937. It’s a possibility that Churchill Downs planted mint outside the clubhouse in 1875 for the first Kentucky Derby juleps. During prohibition, the press lamented the Kentucky Derby without its favorite drink. When the mint julep was served in souvenir julep cups in 1937, post-prohibition, it finally became official.
Do you want to make your own mint juleps for the Kentucky Derby? Let’s finish with the The Chunky Chef’s great recipe:
Kentucky Derby Mint Julep
Prep time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 drink
- 4-5 fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
- ½ – 1oz simple syrup, adjusted per taste
- crushed ice
- splash of cold water
- 2oz bourbon
- sprig of fresh mint for the garnish
- To bottom of serving glass, add mint leaves and simple syrup. Muddle together with a muddler or handle of a wooden spoon.
- Top with plenty of crushed ice, then pour in splash of cold water, and bourbon.
- Stir, garnish with the sprig of mint, and serve!