The most exciting two minutes in sports takes place Saturday with the 145 running of the Kentucky Derby!
The race is the 12th on the Churchill card and is set for a 3:50 p.m. PDT post.
There were certainly shockwaves sent through the Derby crowd with the scratching of probable favorite Omaha Beach on Wednesday and Haikal to a lesser extent on Friday morning. That leaves a field of 19 going to post with Bodexpress drawing in from the also eligible list.
Even before the scratches, it was a wide-open race, but without Omaha Beach, your favorite may go off as high as 4/1 or even 5/1. The Derby always seems to provide nice payoffs and this year looks like no exception.
I will break the field down the usual way I do, separating the horses by Contenders, Value plays, Longshots and Stay out of the way. Here is what I mean by those terms. All are regardless of odds but rather how I think they will run.
Contenders: Should be obvious enough, but these are the ones I think have the best chance of winning.
Value plays: Ones that are going to be decent odds and have a shot if things go their way. Also horses you might want to include on your exotics, especially if you are going 4-5 deep.
Longshots: Probably no shot at winning but might be the type of horse that passes tiring ones in the lane and gets up for third or maybe even second, so take a look for your ticket if you feel like rolling the dice a bit.
Stay out of the way: These horses shouldn’t be in the race and my biggest worry if they do something stupid and impact the legit runners in the race.
Let’s go through the field
Game Winner (5-1, Joel Roasario, Bob Baffert): He was perfect as a 2-year-old, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the Churchill surface. Was a victim of the disaster of Santa Anita and was forced to make his 3-year-old debut later than planned. He was second to Omaha Beach in a division of the Rebel and then came back with a second in the Santa Anita Derby to Roadster after a wide trip. I am a still a big fan, but the one thing that worries me is Rosario. Have never been a big fan and the ride in the Santa Anita was just bad. Still, his style fits this race, and this is the third race off a break and it’s over a track where he won against a talented group.
Improbable (6/1, Irad Ortiz, Bob Baffert): Another Baffert runner and another with a shot at winning. Was 3-for-3 last year, then got caught in the Santa Anita fiasco as well. Came back and was second by a neck in a division of the Rebel at Oaklawn, then was second to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby. Now, as with Game Winner, you have the third start off a break, and he has been working extremely well for this. Must be considered a major player, especially with his closing style. Ortiz was up for the Arkansas Derby so the two have worked together.
Roadster (6/1, Florent Geroux, Bob Baffert): The last of the three Baffert horses and the winner of the Santa Anita Derby. He is the least of my favorites of the three Baffert horses. Yes, he won the Santa Anita Derby, but that was a bad ride by Rosario on Game Winner. Has won three of four starts, but the other two wins were a maiden and optional claimer score. Could win this race, but I have a hard time getting on the support bandwagon.
Maximum Security (10/1, Luis Saez, Jason Servis): Has won all four starts and was the winner of the Florida Derby, his first start in a stakes race. This horse may turn out to be a monster and it’s easy to see why he is gaining in supporters. The Florida Derby was his first trip around two turns, and he handled it incredibly. The Florida Derby is one of the top prep races, so while this may seem like a step up for his second stakes race, the reality is, it looks like he is ready for a big run.
Tacitus (10/1, Jose Ortiz, Bill Mott): Won his last three races, including the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial. Here are my issues – he seems to have avoided the best prep races in order to get a spot. There are a lot of supporters, but I am not one of them. The Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood are the weakest of their respective Derby preps so it’s hard for me to get on board as supporter. I have him in this group solely because he has not had a bad race, but then again, it hasn’t been against the level of talent he will see here.
Vekoma (20/1, Javier Castellano, George Weaver): Was third in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and then came back and won the Blue Grass to cement his spot here. Has won three of four starts and I certainly respect the supporters who feel he has a shot here. Castellano was up for the win in the Blue Grass and returns for the mount which is a positive sign. Will sit close to the pace and hope to get first run in the lane.
Code of Honor (15/1, John Velazquez, Shug McGaughey): Just seems to be in that second tier of horses here. Nothing really in the past races that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Was third in the Florida Derby after winning the Fountain of Youth at 9/1. Is a deep closer which is always interesting here. Should get a good pace to run at, but there are better horses that will get first run.
War of Will (20/1, Tyler Gaffalione, Mark Casse): Until he had some issues in the Louisiana Derby, he was one of the front-runners for the Derby. The winner of the LeComte and the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds, he was the 4/5 favorite for the Louisiana Derby but had trouble in the gate and suffered an injury. It was iffy for a bit that he would start here, but he has rebounded and had some serious bullet works for the race. Got Haikel to scratch and the No. 1 post will now break from the No. 2 post, so that will help. Starting from the rail is a tall order so the win end might not be in play, but perhaps there is a spot on your ticket.
Tax (20/1, Junior Alvarado, Danny Gargan): Has been running in New York since December and if you have followed me for awhile you know that means I am not a fan. I do not like the winters the New York horses have to go through, and I really believe it takes a toll on the horses in the spring. Was second in the Wood after winning the Withers. There is talent here, just not a fan of the horse at this point in the year. See you in the Belmont.
By My Standards (20/1, Gabriel Saez, W. Bret Calhoun): The winner of the Louisiana Derby at 22/1, it was the first non-maiden race for the horse as it took him four maiden races before he got a win. Don’t think there is much of a chance the horse makes any noise here, but that was a very nice effort in the Louisiana Derby.
Win Win Win (15/1, Julien Pimentel, Michael Trombetta): Another that took the less tough road, running in Tampa Bay and then the Blue Grass where he was third and then second. Honestly this is too big a stage for this horse that does have some talent, but not that much.
Long Range Toddy (30/1, Jon Court, Steven Asmussen): Court will be the oldest jockey in history to ride in the Kentucky Derby. He got a magnificent ride from Court to win a division of the Rebel, but then returned to Earth in a big way, running a bad 6th in the Arkansas Derby. Closing style could lead to him passing tiring horses in the lane and possibly get in the top four, but there is no chance he has an impact here.
Spinoff (30/1, Manuel Franco, Todd Pletcher): Turned in a big run in the Louisiana Derby, taking the lead turning for home before being caught at the end and finishing second by less than a length. Lightly raced with four starts – two of which were wins. He took a maiden and an optional claimer, but the run at the Fair Grounds gives him a punchers chance.
STAY OUT OF THE WAY
Plus Que Parfait (30/1, Ricardo Santana, Brendan Walsh): Any horse that has to ship to the UAE Derby in order to gain a spot here has no chance of winning the race. Let’s look at the recent starts in the United States. He was fifth in the LeComte, then 13th in the Risen Star so the connections flew him half-way around the world to the UAE Derby where he beat a weak field to get his spot. Please.
Cutting Humor (30/1, Mike Smith, Todd Pletcher): Arguably the worst Pletcher starter ever in the Derby. Can’t waste a lot of space for a horse that was seventh in the Southwest, so they shipped him to Sunland where he won and got a spot. Did pick up Smith at the last minute, but that’s nowhere near enough for me to give him any shot.
Gray Magician (50/1, Drayden Van Dyke, Peter Miller): Much the same as Plus Que Parfait, not a fan of a UAE Derby runner. He was second there so he got a spot here. Has done little to nothing else to deserve a spot in the field. Not much to see here.
Master Fencer (50/1, Julien Leparoux, Koichi Tsunoda): It’s a joke this horse is even in the race. The Derby people giving a birth to the top horse out of Japan is ridiculous and depriving a more deserving horse from being in the race. You want a spot in the Derby? Then come over and earn it!
Country House (30/1. Flavian Prat, Bill Mott): One win in six starts and although the third in the Arkansas Derby and fourth in the Louisiana Derby were solid efforts, neither was enough to get any sort of endorsement here. Has run at five different tracks in his six starts so should have no problem adjusting to Churchill.
Bodexpress (30/1, Chris Landeros, Gustavo Delgado): The lone maiden in the race earned a spot in the field when Omaha Beach scratched out. Accumulated the points by a second in the Florida Derby at 70-1. I think he has no chance of winning – or hitting the board – but he could be a factor in that he figures to be out front early with that Bodemeister lineage and that may alter the race. If he wants the early lead, he will have to go from the outside post which means a lot of paths to cross.
This has been billed as a wide-open Derby, but I think the win end comes down to four of the favorites – the three Baffert runners and Maximum Security. I also see those four in serious contention in the exotics, along with War of Will. At the end of the day, War of Will was going to be one of the favorites until his physical setback at the Louisiana Derby. The works say he’s ready and he was able to get off the rail thanks to the scratch of Haikal.
Here’s the exotics bets: Game Winner, Improbable, Roadster, Maximum Security, and War of Will in a box for the exacta, trifecta and superfecta.
On the win end, I have gone back and forth between Game Winner and Improbable, finally settling Friday morning on both. Yep, both. If I can get 4/1 amd 5/1 it’s worth a win/place bet on both horses. I have been a big fan of Game Winner since last year, but I haven’t got the best feeling from the last two rides from Joel Rosario. He took the horse wide in each of the last two races, losing by a nose and half a length. Still he has been my favorite since last year and if I jump ship now, no doubt I get burned! Irad Ortiz on Improbable is an attractive best given that he had a race to get used to the horse and now is ready to roll. Got to play each of the two and hope they run first and second.