By Byron King BloodHorse

Owner/Trainer: Repole Stable/Todd Pletcher
Pedigree: City of Light  Nonna Bella , by Stay Thirsty  
Breeder: Repole Stable (KY)

Pulling off the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1)-Kentucky Derby (G1) double is no easy task. Of the 39 others with that opportunity, only Street Sense   (2006-07) and Nyquist   (2015-16) managed success in both races. The two stakes are incredibly difficult races to win, and much can unfold in the six months between them. The all-but-certain 2-year-old male champion of 2023, Fierceness has much in his favor—blazing-fast speed figures, proven two-turn grade 1 ability, and a steady breeze schedule this year for Hall of Fame trainer and two-time Derby winner Todd Pletcher. Pointed to the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park.

Fierceness with John R. Velazquez wins the Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita in Arcadia, CA on November 3, 2023.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Fierceness wins the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park

2. Locked  Click Here!
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Walmac Farm/Todd Pletcher
Gun Runner  Luna Rosa , by Malibu Moon
Rosa Colasanti (KY)

His third in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park was a quality performance. Farther off the early pace than expected, he took dirt in his face and finished well to finish just a half-length behind runner-up Muth  and 6 3/4 lengths behind stablemate Fierceness in a 1 1/16-mile race blitzed in 1:41.90. Combine that with two victories last year, including the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, and it is clear this horse is a top-flight Derby contender. With Fierceness pointed to the Holy Bull, Locked’s return is scheduled in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 10.

3. Dornoch  Click Here!
West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing, and Pine Racing Stables/Danny Gargan
Good Magic  Puca , by Big Brown  
Grandview Equine (KY)

Besides the obvious talent he has shown on the racetrack—winning two of four starts last year, including the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack by a nose—he has the bloodlines for Derby success as a full brother to Mage  , last year’s winner of the Run for the Roses. Full brothers have never won the Derby—the odds are astronomical—but it is within the realm of possibility with this horse just one year after his sibling’s success. He recorded his first workout of the year on Jan. 22, an easy half-mile in :51.95. Trainer Danny Gargan hopes to return this colt in the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
4. Track Phantom Click Here!
L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy/Steve Asmussen
Quality Road  Miss Sunset , by Into Mischief  
Breeze Easy (KY)

With two stakes wins on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this winter at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, he is second on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 30 qualifying points toward the May 4 classic. Though his wins in the Gun Runner Stakes and Lecomte Stakes (G3) were shy of the highest stakes levels, he decisively beat legitimate competition. Counting a maiden win at Churchill Downs last fall, he is riding a three-race win streak for the winningest trainer in North American racing history, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. He is seeking an elusive first Derby triumph, having gone 0-2-2 with 25 starters.

Watch: Track Phantom, Hall of Fame Romp, Land in Derby Dozen

5. Sierra Leone 
Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Rocket Ship Racing, and Peter Brant/Chad Brown
Gun RunnerHeavenly Love , by Malibu Moon
Debby M. Oxley (KY)

His form resembles the early-season achievements of Zandon  , trainer Chad Brown’s third-place finisher in the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Like that colt, he is trained by Brown, and both ran second, beaten by a nose, in the Remsen Stakes after a debut victory. Brown is also plotting a similar 3-year-old schedule for this colt’s first start of 2024, targeting the Feb. 17 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds, where he could meet Track Phantom and others. Zandon ran third in the Risen Star before winning the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on his way to Churchill Downs to race on the first Saturday in May.

Dornoch wins the 2023 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct
Photo: Coglianese Photos/Jetta Vaughns

Dornoch (inside) edges Sierra Leone in the 2023 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack

6. Forever Young 
Susumu Fujita/Yoshito Yahagi
Real Steel Forever Darling , by Congrats 
Northern Racing (JPN)

Perfect in three starts on dirt in Japan, he is atop the Japan leaderboard on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. His connections seem excited about the possibility of bringing him to Kentucky. His win in the Dec. 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun was dominant, with the colt blasting away from the opposition to score by seven lengths. His trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, has been successful on the biggest stage in the United States, training Loves Only You  and Marche Lorraine  to win Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar in 2021.

7. Timberlake Click Here!
Siena Farm and WinStar Farm/Brad Cox
Into MischiefPin Up , by Lookin At Lucky 
St. Elias Stables (KY)

Last year’s Champagne Stakes (G1) winner and fourth-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile returned to work with a three-furlong breeze in :36 1/5 Jan. 20 at Fair Grounds. Cox has mentioned the Feb. 24 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park as a possible return, liking the 1 1/16-mile distance for this 3-year-old’s first start of 2024. The colt seemed to settle better once blinkers were removed last fall, though he still tugged early in both the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup. Relaxing for his rider may prove key to excelling in longer, two-turn events as the spring progresses.

8. Nash 
Godolphin/Brad Cox
Medaglia d’Oro  Sara Louise , by Malibu Moon
Godolphin (KY)

Track Phantom has had his number in two stakes matchups this winter at Fair Grounds, where Nash was third behind him in the Gun Runner Stakes and second in the Lecomte. Having won his only start when he led into the first turn, he seems most effective when in front early. The problem at Fair Grounds was that Track Phantom was quicker. The colt seemingly has the tools to become one of the top runners in the division but needs to find a few lengths to close the gap on Track Phantom and others higher in the rankings.

9. Honor Marie  Click Here!
Ribble Farms/Whit Beckman
Honor Code Dame Marie , by Smart Strike
Royce Pulliam (KY)

He was the bargain buy of the Derby Dozen lineup, purchased at the 2022 Keeneland September Sale from the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment by In the Trees for just $40,000. He has long since recouped that investment for owner Ribble Farms, making $318,175 in capturing two of three starts last year for trainer Whit Beckman, a former Brown and Pletcher assistant. The bulk of those earnings came last year in closing from last to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) by two lengths. He’s another who is pointed to the Risen Star.

10. Catching Freedom Click Here!
Albaugh Family Stables/Brad Cox
Constitution  Catch My Drift , by Pioneerof the Nile
WinStar Farm (KY)

This 3-year-old is reminiscent of Albaugh Family Stables’ Angel of Empire , last year’s Arkansas Derby (G1) winner and show finisher in the Derby. He appears to be a developing type, and while others in the ‘Dozen’ are faster on speed figures, he gives the impression of a colt that should fare better with more distance and should a hot pace develop. In winning the 1 1/16-mile Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 at Oaklawn, he ran down Just Steel , a stakes-winning sprinter but who may not be as effective at a route.

11. Hall of Fame 
Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Gandharvi, and Rocket Ship Racing/Steve Asmussen
Gun RunnerFlag Day , by Giant’s Causeway
Earle Mack (KY)

A $1.4 million yearling purchase, he has run well in two starts, beginning with a debut second at Churchill Downs in the fall and then with a 10 1/4-length maiden romp at Fair Grounds Jan. 20. He was professional in that victory, rating just off the pace, taking over, and extending his lead down the stretch. He seemingly has all the ingredients for success, and no one has more experience training high-class progeny of Gun Runner than Asmussen.

12. Born Noble  Click Here!
St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds/Todd Pletcher
ConstitutionZapperkat , by Ghostzapper  
WinStar Farm (KY)

He was sharp at first asking, scoring by 5 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong race Dec. 30 at Gulfstream timed in 1:24.27. The Pletcher trainee drew off despite racing greenly by lugging in down the lane under Irad Ortiz Jr. With this colt still needing some seasoning, Pletcher may be conservative in spotting him in an allowance rather than a stakes next. Always Dreaming  , Pletcher’s second Derby winner, was taken along slowly in the winter before his success in the 2017 Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby for an ownership group that included this colt’s owners, St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds.

* Note: With Churchill Downs Inc.’s continued ban of Bob Baffert from racing at its tracks and his horses from earning Kentucky Derby qualifying points, none of his top 3-year-olds, such as Muth and Nysos , crack the Derby Dozen. Should a barn transfer occur before a Jan. 29 deadline or if CDI ultimately rescinds its ban of Baffert following the dismissal of the Medina Spirit disqualification lawsuit, Muth, Nysos, and potentially other Baffert trainees are likely Derby Dozen additions.