Handicapping the Kentucky Derby: A closer look at all 19 horses | TribLIVE.com
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Handicapping the Kentucky Derby: A closer look at all 19 horses

By My Standards, who is 15-1 and will leave from post No. 3, has been a “buzz” horse for Saturday’s 145th Kentucky Derby since arriving at Churchill Downs.

The Arkansas Derby winner was the 4-1 morning-line favorite and the pick of many horse racing experts after beating the Bob Baffert-trained Game Winner and Improbable in back-to-back races at Oaklawn Park.

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who teamed up with Baffert to win the Triple Crown last year with Justify, broke with his fellow Hall of Famer, leaving his mount on Baffert’s third entry — Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster — to ride Omaha Beach instead.

The bad news came Wednesday, when it was announced that Omaha Beach would not run in the Kentucky Derby due to a larynx problem discovered after that morning’s training session.

The announcement sent many handicappers back to the drawing board. It also shuffled the odds in what was already seen as a race with many possibilities.

Game Winner is now the 9-2 favorite, followed by Improbable and Roadster at 5-1 — giving Baffert the top three choices in the field as he looks for his sixth Derby victory, a feat that would tie Ben Jones atop the all-time list.

Omaha Beach’s defection is also likely to affect Saturday’s pace, which is always an important factor in the Kentucky Derby.

The probable pacesetter is also the race’s only undefeated contender: Maximum Security, who set soft fractions on the front end of the Florida Derby and rolled to an easy victory from there. He won’t get away with running the first half-mile in 49 seconds Saturday — like he did five weeks ago in Florida — but Omaha Beach was among the most likely to challenge him in the Derby’s opening stages, before he was scratched from the race.

Blue Grass Stakes winner Vekoma — a 15-1 shot — and Improbable could be near the front and pressing Maximum Security, who now has one less formidable foe to worry about.

Here’s what you need to know about each of Saturday’s contenders:


1. War of Will (15-1)

Need to know: He was pegged as a possible Derby favorite before a ninth-place finish — at 4-5 odds — in the Louisiana Derby six weeks ago. Mark Casse has been pleased with his training since, and War of Will did get his first victory over a sloppy Churchill Downs track last November.

A good bet? No Derby winner since at least 1940 has finished worse than fifth in its final prep race. And War of Will’s speed figures will need a big jump to contend. Too many red flags.

2. Tax (20-1)

Need to know: One of only four horses here with at least a 95 Beyer Speed Figure in each of his last two races. (The others are Game Winner, Improbable and Maximum Security).

A good bet? It won’t be a surprise to see him in the money Saturday evening.

3. By My Standards (15-1)

Need to know: He’s been a “buzz” horse in Louisville, where he’s been training over the Churchill Downs track ever since his breakout win in the Louisiana Derby six weeks ago.

A good bet? There are some distance concerns here, and the No. 3 post isn’t ideal.

4. Gray Magician (50-1)

Need to know: He didn’t do much of note in seven American starts — with just one victory — before going over to Dubai and finishing second in the UAE Derby. His best Beyer is an 80 — a pretty clear worst in this field.

A good bet? On paper, he might be the least likely winner in the field.

5. Improbable (5-1)

Need to know: He burst onto the scene with a victory on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Churchill last November, and he has been in the discussion as a Derby favorite ever since. Improbable was caught at the wire by Long Range Toddy in the Rebel Stakes, then finished a close, strong second to Omaha Beach in the sloppy Arkansas Derby. He still ran a 99 Beyer in that race. Only Maximum Security has a higher number.

A good bet? He might go off as Baffert’s longest shot, but he might be the most likely of that trio to find the winner’s circle.

6. Vekoma (15-1)

Need to know: Vekoma has an awkward way of running, but he usually gets the job done — losing only once, while coming off a four-month layoff earlier this year.

A good bet? He hasn’t really done anything wrong, but it’s difficult to see Vekoma running with the likes of Improbable and Maximum Security early and still having enough in the tank for the end.

7. Maximum Security (8-1)

Need to know: The late-blooming colt — a May 14 foal — made his debut in a $16,000 claiming race in late December and has been a phenom ever since. After three romps — by a combined 34 1/2 lengths — against lesser competition, he set a slow pace in the Florida Derby and won going away. All four of his previous starts have been at Gulfstream Park.

A good bet? He’s not getting the easy time up front that he did in the Florida Derby, but does he need it? If he turns for home with the lead — a good possibility — he might be hard to pass.

8. Tacitus (8-1)

Need to know: The son of Tapit — the leading stallion still looking for his first Derby winner — took four months off over the winter and has been perfect in 2019, coming from well back to win the Tampa Bay Derby and then shrugging off major trouble in the opening moments of the Wood Memorial before winning that one. All of his numbers are moving in the right direction, and he’s trained by the legendary Bill Mott.

A good bet? The grayest of the three grays will get some casual money, but he deserves to be among the favorites on his own merits.

9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1)

Need to know: He won once in six starts in America before going over to Dubai and besting a weak field in the UAE Derby. He was 13th and fifth in his two previous Derby preps — finishing well behind War of Will both times — and no UAE runner has ever finished better than fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

A good bet? He might be the worst of the six 30-1 shots.

10. Cutting Humor (30-1)

Need to know: He was seventh in the Southwest Stakes before his win over a weak field in the Sunland Derby. He does pick up Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.

A good bet? Even with Smith aboard, he deserves to be among the longest shots.

11. Haikal (Scratched)

Need to know: The 30-1 long shot was scratched Friday.

12. Omaha Beach (Scratched)

Need to know: The 4-1 morning-line favorite was scratched Wednesday.

13. Code Of Honor (12-1)

Need to know: Lexington native Shug McGaughey is back at the Derby after winning for the first time with Orb six years ago, and the Hall of Fame trainer has been touting Code of Honor for a while now.

A good bet? He wasn’t going to get to Maximum Security with the way the Florida Derby unfolded, but it still wasn’t much of a showing. Don’t think he has much of a chance Saturday.

14. Win Win Win (12-1)

Need to know: He put up a 99 Beyer in a sprint race in January but has been decidedly slower in his only two tries beyond a mile — finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby and second in the Blue Grass Stakes.

A good bet? He’ll probably be picking off horses at the end, but there appear to be longer shots with similar chances.

15. Master Fencer (50-1)

Need to know: The first Japanese-bred horse to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, Master Fencer got here through the Japan Road to the Derby series, finishing second and fourth in two races on that path.

A good bet? He makes for a good story, but he doesn’t make for a very good bet.

16. Game Winner (9-2)

Need to know: He was undefeated in four races as a 2-year-old and capped off that campaign with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He’s had wide trips in his narrow defeats to Omaha Beach and Roadster this year. Baffert’s best Derby shot to start the year is still winless in 2019 but goes into Saturday the favorite.

A good bet? There’s better value elsewhere for your win bet, but Mike Smith noted this week how tough Game Winner is on the track. He called him the horse to beat in this race.

17. Roadster (5-1)

Need to know: Baffert was touting him as a Derby contender last summer … before Roadster had even run a race. After an impressive debut, he finished third behind Game Winner in his next race. A breathing issue was discovered after that race, leading to throat surgery and a six-month layoff. Can he handle the crowd? Roadster broke his maiden in a 10-horse field, but his three races since have come against fields of five or six.

A good bet? He’s improved with every race, and he could be a star, but maybe this is too much to ask?

18. Long Range Toddy (30-1)

Need to know: He ran down Improbable in the stretch of the Rebel Stakes — earning a 95 Beyer — and then bombed in the Arkansas Derby, finishing nearly 15 lengths back in his first race over a sloppy track. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen — winless in 19 previous Derby starts — said the surface was an issue that day.

A good bet? The mud probably was a problem on Arkansas Derby day, though there’s a chance of similar conditions Saturday and his Rebel Stakes win was an outlier anyway.

19. Spinoff (30-1)

Need to know: His speed numbers have improved dramatically with every race, and two-time Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher has been pointing him toward this moment for a while now.

A good bet? A very interesting colt if you’re looking for something to hit the board at very long odds.

20. Country House (30-1)

Need to know: He has only one win in six starts, but he’s been running at the end of all three of his Derby preps.

A good bet? He just always keeps running, and that’s a great trait to have when so many Derby contenders will be fading in the stretch.

21. Bodexpress (30-1)

Need to know: Bodexpress has never won a race, and he will become the 12th maiden since 1937 to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate. None of those horses finished better than eighth, and no maiden has won the Derby since 1933).

A good bet? A maiden factoring into the Kentucky Derby finish from the No. 20 post? I don’t think so.

Categories: Sports | US-World
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