Submitted by Noel Michaels on Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 9:30 AM
No Clear Favorite and Tons of Betting Options in Wide-Open 2019 Kentucky Derby
The favorite has won the Kentucky Derby six years in a row, and that streak will be on the line when a full field of 20 3-year-olds takes to the track at Churchill Downs for the 145th Run for the Roses on Saturday, May 4. This season, however, the real question will not be can the favorite win again? But rather, who will be the favorite at post time? Who deserves to be? The picture definitely did not get any clearer this week when morning line favorite Omaha Beach was scratched.
Months of Derby preps have been decided and several contenders have distinguished themselves, but a true standout or standouts amongst the bunch have yet to emerge as the definitive horses to beat in this year's Kentucky Derby. In that regard, the 2019 Derby prep season was frustrating, because most of the major preps were won by different horses this year and many resulted in more questions than answers.
The two horses in the field who did win two major preps were Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial winner Tacitus trained by Bill Mott, and Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes-winner War of Will, trained by Mark Casse. Each of those horses will be Derby contenders, but are unlikely to be among the favorites.
With Omaha Beach scratched, the most likely Derby post-time favorites would now be one of the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Breeders' Cup Juvenile-winner Game Winner, or Santa Anita Derby-winner Roadster. Both horses have their merits and any of them could factor into the final result. Roadster is lightly-raced and seems to be getting good at the right time for the pre-eminent Triple Crown trainer of our era. Those factors alone could make him a good bet. Game Winner is still at the top of many pundits' lists despite the fact that he finished second in both of his prep races as a 3-year-old. It should be noted that in the recent era of Derby chalk, it actually would be no surprise if this year's favorites made up the exacta. Maybe you remember 2016 when the four Derby betting favorites actually ran 1-2-3-4, in order, and resulted in a $30.60 exacta, and a $173.40 trifecta payoff.
If you are looking for 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders at better prices, you certainly won't be short on options. This year's favorites may be in the 6-1 odds range, and the fourth favorite and every subsequent horse in the race could be 10-1 or better. That's potentially good news for handicappers looking for value in the race.
The leading double-digit odds contender in the race could be Fountain of Youth-winner Code of Honor. Many will get off his bandwagon after he ran third behind Maximum Security in the Florida Derby, but Code of Honor got caught too far back that day behind a slow pace as Maximum Security got away with murder up front on a solo uncontested lead. Code of Honor lost by six lengths that day, but in terms of the Derby, he looks like the better bet than Maximum Security. Bodexpress, who finished second in the Florida Derby after chasing closest to the pace-setter draws into the Derby with the scratch of Omaha Beach. He's improving and not by any means a toss out.
The Louisiana Derby will yield three upset contenders in the Kentucky Derby with first-, second- and ninth-place finishers By My Standards, trained by Bret Calhoun, Spinoff, trained by Todd Pletcher, and beaten favorite War of Will, who hurt himself a step out of the gate in what was a toss-out loss for him. Notably, however, all three of these horses did not do well at the post position draw. Spinoff drew 19, which may or may not be a disadvantage, but War of Will's and By My Standards's chances really took strongly negative hits when they drew death posts No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. I feel confident downgrading any horse drawing posts 1-2-3, which have combined to go 3-for-120 the past 40 years in the Kentucky Derby. A post position of 1-2-3 would be enough to remove any horse from my list of top picks.
The first two finishers from his year's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland will be in the Derby starting gate, and just like in the Fountain of Youth, perhaps it was the loser who comes out of that race looking like a better Derby contender than the winner. Vekoma, coming off a third-place loss to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth, took advantage of a speed bias to win the Blue Grass, but it may have been runner-up Win Win Win, who closed against the bias for second, who actually ran the more impressive race. Vekoma should go off in the 15-1 odds range. Win Win Win will be 30-1.
The Wood Memorial drew a solid but unspectacular field that included Tacitus versus Withers-winner Tax, trained by Danny Gargan, and Gotham winner Haikal, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. That trio ran 1-2-3 in that order, but none of the three horses looked particularly impressive, and others in the Derby field look better.
Two more horses that will take some money will be Bob Baffert's Improbable, who will try to rebound from back-to-back seconds in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, and Rebel division winner Long Range Toddy, trained by Steve Asmussen, who lost badly in the Arkansas Derby. Both are questionable to move forward at the Kentucky Derby's 1 ¼-mile distance.
13 - Code of Honor
16 - Game Winner
5 - Improbable
17 - Roadster
8 - Tacitus
Chance at a Price
19 - Spinoff
14 - Win Win Win
I'm Not Convinced
21 - Bodexpress
3 - By My Standards (post)
11 - Haikal
18 - Long Range Toddy
7 - Maximum Security
6 - Vekoma
1 - War of Will (post)
20 - Country House
10 - Cutting Humor
4 - Gray Magician
15 - Master Fencer
9 - Plus Que Parfait
2 - Tax
The blurry picture for the 2019 Kentucky Derby finally will become clear on the First Saturday in May. Whoever you land on as your Derby horse from the giant heap of contenders in this year's race, I wish you success and I hope you come up with the next Kentucky Derby winner. Best of luck and enjoy the race!
By Noel Michaels
THIS YEAR'S KENTUCKY DERBY DAY, SATURDAY, MAY 4 COULD BE A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
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Veteran handicapper and editor at the DRF, where he picked up to 6 tracks daily, Michaels has authored handicapping standards like 9 Steps to Picking the Derby Winner. Noel has won 14 of the last 17 Derbies at an average payoff of $19.35. DRF's Andy Beyer says "good opinion, he's worth listening to."
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