Kentucky Derby favorite Fierceness works out at Churchill Downs on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

With Saturday’s historic 150th edition of the Kentucky Derby fast approaching, the focus is on the top of the prerace odds board.

Fierceness – owned by Mike Repole, trained by Todd Pletcher and to be ridden by John Velazquez — is the favorite to win this year’s Run for the Roses.

Despite initially being drawn into post position 17 – the only starting gate to have never produced a Kentucky Derby winner – Fierceness was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Derby last Saturday following the post position draw. (After Encino scratched from the race Tuesday, Fierceness moved inside one starting gate and will now leave from post position 16).

Fierceness is the pre-Derby favorite for a good reason: Last time out, he eviscerated the field in late March at the Florida Derby, winning that key Kentucky Derby prep race by more than 13 lengths.

For his career, Fierceness has three wins from five career starts. Two of these wins, the Florida Derby and last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, came in Grade 1 stakes races.

While odds can and will shift ahead of the 6:57 p.m. Saturday post time, there’s a good chance Fierceness or Sierra Leone (3-1 morning-line odds) will be the race-time favorite.


Justify in 2018 was the last race-time favorite to win the Derby.

Here’s a look at how race-time favorites have historically performed in the Kentucky Derby. Information used is from the pari-mutuel wager era (since 1908).

In the pari-mutuel era, favorites win more than a third of the time

The Kentucky Derby has been contested 116 times since 1908, and the post-time favorite has won 40 times. This includes instances when there have been co-favorites at race time. For example, the 1973 Kentucky Derby that was won by Secretariat counts in this total, despite Secretariat being a co-favorite for the Derby with Angle Light (who ended up finishing 10th).

This 40-for-116 success mark represents a 34.48% winning rate for Kentucky Derby favorites when they leave the starting gate. This means Derby favorites win the race slightly more than one-third of the time.

Of course, trends have emerged within this data set. The race-time Kentucky Derby favorite won six straight from 2013-2018, and there was also a run of four straight favorites from 1972-1975.


Additionally, there have also been lengthy droughts where the favorite hasn’t won. Most notably this occurred from 1980 through 1999, when 20 races passed without the favorite winning.

While the Derby favorite hasn’t won in the last five races, none of them have completely flopped. Improbable was fourth in 2019. Tiz the Law ran second in 2020. Essential Quality was third in 2021. Epicenter had the lead in the stretch before finishing second behind historic long shot Rich Strike in 2022.

Last year, Angel of Empire ran third as the post-time favorite to 15-1 shot Mage. Forte, the overwhelming prerace favorite to win the 2023 Derby, was scratched the morning of the race.

Want a safe Derby bet? Take the favorite to finish in the money

It’s not going to make you rich, but if you want a safe bet that won’t lose you money, taking the Kentucky Derby favorite to finish in the money is the way to go.

In the 116 editions of the Kentucky Derby in the pari-mutuel wagering era (since 1908), the Derby favorite has finished in the top three on 74 occasions. This is an in-the-money success rate of 63.79%.

Simply put, the favorite (or one of the horses sharing that title) finished in the top three in nearly two-thirds of all races since 1908. If nothing else, having a financial stake in the favorite is at least likely to keep you interested in the entirety of the race.

Since 1908, the only Derby favorite at race time to not finish the race was Demons Begone in 1987.

Only 10 horses finished worse than 12th after leaving the starting gate as the Kentucky Derby favorite since 1908 – Cherry Pie (20th in 1923), Picketer (15th in 1923), Bay Beauty (13th in 1929), Proud Appeal (18th in 1981), Golden Derby (21st in 1981), Total Departure (20th in 1983), Althea (19th in 1984), Demons Begone (DNF in 1987), Serena’s Song (16th in 1995) and Friesan Fire (18th in 2009).

Comments are no longer available on this story