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As has been well-documented by this point, favorites have won the last six runnings of the Kentucky Derby. If you have followed my wagering advice over those last six years, you lost money every year but 2013, when our top longshot managed to finish 2nd behind the favorite, giving us a nice trifecta score. This year, I happen to think the most likely winner is the horse that I expect to be favored. But I also like two longshots to run big races, and one of them is the horse that I feel is the only interesting candidate for a win bet in the entire field. Let’s dig in.
1- War of Will– As of this writing, there are still expected to be 20 horses in the starting gate. With rumors of an impending scratch in addition to the scratch of Omaha Beach on Wednesday, there is a chance War of Will won’t have to start from the dreaded Post 1. If only 19 run, Post 1 will be left empty, and all 19 runners will occupy Posts 2-20. As someone who was against War of Will, I was glad to see him draw Post 1. It’s just such a hard place to start from in a field as large as this. If Haikal does indeed scratch and War of Will moves over one spot, I dislike him a little less, but I still won’t be using him. If you draw a line through his poor effort in the Louisiana Derby because of the minor injury, then you have to say the race didn’t even happen. And if the race didn’t happen, you are looking at a horse that hasn’t raced since February 16th. This guy has some major ability but I can’t use him.
2- Tax- I know some people like Tax, and I see the same thing they are seeing. I hate to be too much of a class snob, but he ran for a tag in his first two starts I just don’t think he ranks among the elite of this crop. That’s not to say you have to be an elite racehorse to win here, but you sort of do. I’m passing, but I won’t talk you out of using him.
3- By My Standards– Definitely the buzz horse, and he’s been working well. The main reason I’m using him is because he beat the horse I am betting to win fair and square in the Louisiana Derby. However, that was his fourth start of the meet and the fifth start of his form cycle, giving him an advantage that day. Still, he ran well. I don’t love the fact that he’s by Goldencents for a race at this distance. And I definitely like others more for the top spot. But he’s live.
4- Gray Magician– The bottom line on this guy is that he really appears to be a notch or two below most of the others in here. I guess anyone can run 4th if the race falls apart late, which it might. Beyond that, I can’t see much from him.
5- Improbable– He’ll be among the favorites, and he has a ton of ability. My decision to leave him off the top spot comes down to two reasons. One, his sire is City Zip and I don’t if that’s going to bode well at this distance. Two, even though Omaha Beach is now out of this race, Improbable was never going by him in the Arkansas Derby. Now, if Omaha Beach was really the best of this bunch, then you can easily argue that Improbable had every right to lose to him, especially on the wet track that Omaha Beach loved. So I can see the attraction to Improbable. And he will be on my tickets for sure. Just not on top. He’s one of three for trainer Bob Baffert. Is it really that hard to envision him running 1-2-3?
6- Vekoma– It seems like he is sure to be up and on the pace in the Derby. And speed always has to be respected. And you’re getting a good price on a multiple graded stakes winner. So there’s that too. If we get a wet track, his Tomlinson number say he should love the surface. And speed is even more dangerous in the mud. Lots to like.
7- Maximum Security- I know some people love this horse. But I can’t in good conscience pick a horse that debuted for a claiming price of $16,000, and that got away with impossibly slow fractions when winning his only start around two turns who was followed home by a 70-1 maiden in that race who also benefitted from the slow pace. If you bet him and he wins, congrats. I’m passing.
8- Tacitus- It’s only been in the last few days that I warmed up to this guy. He just really seems to be going in the right direction, and his troubled trip in the Wood win showed how talented he is. In this year’s field, it just feels like there are a number of question marks with all of the major contenders. And my sense is that there are fewer questions with Tacitus. I like his chances a lot.
9- Plus Que Parfait– He’s definitely not as talented, yet, as many of these. But he does have a solid stakes effort over the Churchill Downs track when he was 2nd last fall. All in all, I don’t think he’s ever run well enough to win this, and I don’t know that I see major improvement on the horizon.
10- Cutting Humor– Yet another runner that just seems like a cut below too many others. If you believe every horse at this age has the right to take a big step up, then fine. Bet on that if you want to. But with six starts under his belt, it feels like we know who he is. I might rate him among the top 10 or 12 in here. But that’s it.
11- Haikal– May have already been scratched by the time you read this due to a foot issue. Scratched or not, I don’t rank him among the top contenders in here. He’s a stone-cold closer and I don’t like runners like that in this race. That said, runners like him often screw me by running 3rd. Your call.
12- Omaha Beach– Scratched.
13- Code of Honor– I know a number of smart handicappers who like this horse. I have always felt that he was a miler. But Battle of Midway was a miler and he ran 3rd in the Derby. More Than Ready was a sprinter/miler type and ran a close 4th. So even if I’m right about Code of Honor’s distance limitations, he may have the talent to simply keep plugging along late to hit the board. I genuinely don’t fancy his chances to win or run 2nd. Maybe I can see 3rd. Maybe. I don’t know. This guy confuses me.
14- Win Win Win– Very talented. But in my opinion, he is better suited for sprints. And this is no sprint. I can’t see it happening.
15- Master Fencer– The Japanese horse. By all accounts, the horses he has been losing to in Japan would get their butts kicked by this group. Do the math.
16- Game Winner– I believe he is the most likely winner. Last year’s Champion Two-Year-Old is 0 for 2 this year, but lost nothing in defeat either time. In the loss to Omaha Beach, he lost ground to that one and was making his first start 4.5 months. He needed the race. And the loss to Roadster last out was nothing to get upset about. It was the perfect prep. One minor issue I have with him is a possible lack of upside. In other words, have we seen his best already? It feels like maybe we have, but even so, it could still be good enough. He gets a slight nod from me over the other main contenders, but only a slight nod. I don’t have a ton of conviction here.
17- Roadster– Parked in the gate right outside his Baffert stablemate. Why did Mike Smith, who as of this moment is without a Derby mount thanks to the scratch of Omaha Beach, choose Omaha Beach over Roadster? You have to assume it was because he liked Omaha Beach’s chances to win this race more than Roadster’s. Let’s keep it simple. But still, Roadster gives the indication that he is an elite racehorse. And most of these are not. You have to respect him.
18- Long Range Toddy– Betting this game requires conviction, and conviction is hard to come by sometimes with so many horses. I don’t hate this horse’s chances, unless it rains, which it is supposed to. But even if it somehow stays dry, I think he’d need six or eight or maybe even 10 others to fail to fire if he is to win this.
19- Spinoff– This is my pick. I love everything about his campaign this year. Trainer Todd Pletcher seemed to have a plan, and I love what I have seen from his two races. I know that he lost to By My Standards after having the lead in the Louisiana Derby. But that was just Spinoff’s second race in more than six months, while By My Standards had a major fitness edge. I think the wide post is just fine for Spinoff. Manny Franco will be able to gauge the early pace and decide if he should go to the front or tuck in. On speed figures, Spinoff fits. I can see odds of anywhere from 18-1 to 30-1. He’ll be by win bet.
20- Country House– This horse reminds me so much of Golden Soul (the aforementioned 2013 Derby runner-up) and Commanding Curve (2nd in the 2014 Derby), as well as Keen Ice, who probably should have been closer in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. I think he’ll love the distance and just might be among the last to stop running on Saturday. Horses like him are major threats to hit the board.
21- Bodexpress– Still has never won a race, but I’ll bet anyone right now he finishes in the top half of the Kentucky Derby field. Place your bets. I’ll set the over/under on finishing position at 9.5.
Let’s talk about wagers. I already have a future wager on Spinoff at 35-1. Depending on what the tote board says, I may or may not put more money on him. So, with that in mind…
Most Likely Winner: Game Winner
Best Bet: Spinoff
Best Longshot: Country House
Other Key Horses: Tacitus, By My Standards, Improbable, Roadster, Vekoma
I’ll be forming my bets around those horses. Best of luck to you.