2019 Kentucky Derby Preview


April 30th 2019 – Updated May 4th 2019 4:50 PM EST

Below is the starting field for the 145th Kentucky Derby with post-positions and jockey assignments. Note the updated Morning Line Odds.

Who’s my Derby Favorite?

It’s really up in the air, I have no magic this year as my Derby favorite, Omaha Beach, has been scratched. Everybody Derby handicapper has been scrambling since this news. But, I want to share some wisdom and one simple race replay for you to watch. The 2019 Arkansas Derby (shown below).

If you remember last year’s sloppy Kentucky Derby, Magnum Moon, by times and speed figures was one of the fastest colts in the field. I liked him and Justify on a dry, fast track. See:  https://www.sbnation.com/2018/5/5/17321102/kentucky-derby-2018-predictions.

But Magnum Moon didn’t take to the slop, neither did a lot of horses. Too much backsplash. Todd Pletcher said they were still cleaning out mud from Patch’s one good eye three days later in an interview.

One thing that is clearly evident from watching the 2019 Arkansas Derby below, is how Improbable raced in traffic, in the slop and challenged Omaha Beach to the wire. And note how jockey Mike Smith hustled up Omaha Beach at the start of this race to avoid any chance of backsplash being a factor. Mike Smith = a very smart and wise jockey.

In your Derby handicapping and betting, give extra attention to colts who historically like to get to the front quick and those who have raced and performed well in an off track condition. It looks to be another slop fest Saturday.

Right now, I like Maximum Security and Improbable but this Derby is wide-open and not a great betting race as it appears from weather reports, to be another wet, sloppy race. Improbable had gate issues in the Arkansas Derby which concerns me.

Overall, I like Maximum Security if it turns out to be a dry race. If it is wet, I am leaning towards Improbable. I didn’t get a chance to handicap this race like I wanted to as my Uncle passed away yesterday unexpectedly so I have been reeling from that news.

2019 Kentucky Derby Starting Field

1) War of Will (15/1) – The Risen Star Stakes winner originally started off as a turf horse with little success before switching to dirt. The change work well for the Mark Casse-trained colt as he reeled off three straight wins. The he simply did not fire in his last start with a head-scratching 9th place finish in the Louisiana Derby. War of Will generally likes to get out towards the front, something he did not do in the Louisiana Derby. But he will now have to drawing the dreaded trail in the Derby. 

Career: 8 Starts 3-1-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st-->1st–>9th
Sire: War Front
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.45 (estimated) – 2019 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 96 – 2019 Risen Star Stakes

2) Tax (20/1) – The gelding was a consistent performer at Aqueduct,  with a third place finish in the Remsen Stakes, a win in the Withers Stakes and a second place finish in his last start, the Wood Memorial. Move along.

Career: 5 Starts 2-2-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Arch 
Trainer: Danny Gargan
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.23 – 2019 Withers Stakes
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 103 – 2018 Remsen Stakes

3) By My Standards (15/1) – At 22-1 odds, By My Standards was the surprise longshot winner of the Louisiana Derby. This is a colt to consider for your Superfecta bets as he produced a sub-38 second last 3 furlong time in that race, something very few in this field accomplished.

Career: 5 Starts 2-2-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  3rd–>1st–>1st
Sire: Goldencents (Finished 17th in 2013 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Bret Calhoun
Jockey: Gabriel Saez
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.53 – 2019 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 102 – 2019 Louisiana Derby

4) Gray Magician (50/1) – He finished 2nd in the UAE Derby. He raced exclusively in the US before that race with little success. A very appropriate 50-1 longshot. Move along.

Career: 8 Starts 1-3-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 5th–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Graydar
Trainer: Peter Miller
Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 93 – 2019 Miracle Woods Stakes (Black Type)

5) Improbable (5/1) – The Bob Baffert-trained colt is a consistent runner, never finishing below 2nd in his five career starts. The Los Alamitos Futurity winner finished 2nd to Long Range Toddy in the Rebel Stakes and gave Omaha Beach a run for his money in the Arkansas Derby. He has proven to run well in the slop in the Arky Derby so file that fact away if we get a wet race on Saturday. He has one of the winningest post-positions, post #5, so that will help. I generally like this colt in Trifectas because of his proven consistency. But he has enough speed and fight to win under the right circumstances.

Career: 5 Starts 3-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: City Zip
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997,1998, 2003, 2015 & 2018 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.07 (estimated) – 2019 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 100 – 2018 Los Alamitos Futurity

6) Vekoma (15/1) – The Blue Grass Stakes winner. Although he only has four career starts, they all came at different tracks and he never finished below third. He also has a great jockey in Javier Castellano. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits the board.

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd—>1st
Sire: Candy Ride
Trainer: George Weaver
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.93 – 2019 Blue Grass Stakes
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 101 – 2019 Blue Grass Stakes

7) Maximum Security (8/1) – Just like last year, jockey Luis Saez has one of the fastest colts in the Derby with Maximum Security. Last year, Saez had a disappointing 19th place finish with Magnum Moon in the sloppy Kentucky Derby. The good news here is that Maximum Security won the first race of his 3-year-old campaign on a muddy (sealed) surface at Gulfstream Park. So Maximum Security should be viewed as a dual threat to win on any surface. If you are shopping for a good price on a horse that I think has a serious chance of winning.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st->1st
Sire: New Year’s Day
Trainer: Jason Servis
Jockey: Luis Saez
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.86 – 2019 Florida Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 102 – 2019 Florida Derby

8) Tacitus (8/1)  – The Wood Memorial winner has won three straight. A progeny of Tapit, he should take to the added distance. Although I don’t consider him a serious threat to win the Derby, consider him as a candidate to slip into your Superfectas. And I think he has a bright future moving forward with more experience. He’ll win a big stakes race somewhere down the line, I just don’t think its this Saturday.

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st-->1st–>1st
Sire: Tapit (Finished 9th in the 2004 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Jason Servis
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.23 – 2019 Wood Memorial Stakes
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 103 – 2019 Wood Memorial Stakes

9) Plus Que Parfait (30/1) – The UAE Derby winner. They often don’t perform as well as expected in the Kentucky Derby. His time in the UAE Derby of 1:58.41 was the exact same time Lani produced in the race three years ago. The Ridgling had spotty performances on US soil before shipping over to Dubai for the UAE Derby. He did finish 2nd in the Kentucky Jockey Club race at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old. However, I don’t see him hitting the board on Saturday. 

Career: 7 Starts 2-1-2-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 5th–>13th–>1st
Sire: Point of Entry
Trainer: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Jockey: Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 94 – 2018 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes

10) Cutting Humor (30/1) – The Sunland Derby winner that is trained by Todd Pletcher and will now be ridden by Mike Smith. Note that he set a track record in Sunland Derby. His first race was a 2nd place finish on a sloppy track at Belmont. So he has off track experience. With a good mid pack starting spot in the gate, Cutting Humor is the best longshot in this field in my opinion.

Career: 6 Starts 2-2-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>7th–>1st
Sire: First Samurai
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 & 2017 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mike Smith (2005 & 2018 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:46.94 – 2019 Sunland Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 99 – 2019 Sunland Derby

13) Code of Honor (12/1)– The Shug McGaughey-trained colt won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and finished third in the Florida Derby. McGaughey is a Hall of Fame trainer who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb. Code of Honor’s jockey John Velazquez is a future Hall of Famer who has won two Kentucky Derbys. I am just not sure Code of Honor has the speed to win the Derby but consider him in your Superfecta bets.

Career: 5 Starts 2-1-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Noble Mission 
Trainer: Shug McGaughey 
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 & 2017 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.94 (estimated) – 2019 Florida Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 95 – 2019 Florida Derby

14) Win Win Win (12/1) After winning Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in January, Win Win Win followed up this effort with a 3rd place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby and a 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes. At 12-1, these odds are too short for my tastes.

Career: 6 Starts 3-2-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st->3rd–>2nd
Sire: Hat Trick
Trainer: Michael Trombetta
Jockey: Julian Pimentel
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.49 (estimated) – 2019 Blue Grass Stakes
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 101 – 2019 Pasco Stakes (Black Type)

15) Master Fencer (50/1) – The Japanese Fukuryu Stakes runner-up. That is exactly what I said to myself when I heard this colt was entered in the Derby. 50-1 morning line odds? Might as well be 500-1 odds as this colt will be like a Toyota racing versus Ferraris in the Kentucky Derby. Why? Master Fencer finished 4th in the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby point standings. Plus, he is slow. I converted his estimated time in the 1800 meter Fukuryu Stakes to an estimated time for 9 furlongs which most of this Derby class ran in their final Derby prep. I came up with an estimated time of 1:54.14 on a dry, fast track. He might fare better on an off track as he won an 1800 meter race on a bit of an off track on December 23rd. That estimated time came out better at 1:51.84. Slow, slow, slow.

Career: 6 Starts 2-2-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>4th–>2nd
Sire: Just a Way
Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:54.14 (estimated) – 2019 Fukuryu Stakes (Japan)
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: N/A

16) Game Winner (9/2) – The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse 2 Year Old American Male Champion is the current Morning Line odds favorite. Count me as one who doesn’t think he should be. Although I was high on this horse by virtue of his 2-year campaign, Game Winner didn’t win either of his Derby prep races as a 3-year old. In his final Derby prep race, he lost to Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby. The winning time of  that race was 1:51.28— the 4th slowest Santa Anita Derby ever at that 1 1/8th mile distance. 

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Last 3 starts:  1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Candy Ride
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997,1998, 2003, 2015 & 2018 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Joel Rosario (2013 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.72 – 2019 Santa Anita Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 103 – 2018 Breeders Cup Juvenile

17) Roadster (5/1) – The Santa Anita Derby winner is tied at 5/1 odds with Improbable for the 2nd Morning Line favorite. For the same reasons why I am not a big believer in Game Winner, I am not a believer in this colt. One of my horse handicapping colleague’s always like to tell me “Time only matters when you’re in prison” when I bring up fraction and race times. But Roadster’s Santa Anita Derby winning time of 1:51.28 was the 4th slowest ever at that 1 1/8th mile distance. You have to go back to 1957 to find a slower Santa Anita Derby winning race time. This is part of the reason why Mike Smith opted for Omaha Beach over Roadster.

Career: 8 Starts 1-3-1-0  Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>1st–>1st
Sire: Quality Road
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997,1998, 2003, 2015 & 2018 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.28 – 2019 Santa Anita Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 98 – 2019 Santa Anita Derby

18) Long Range Toddy (30/1) – After winning the first of the two Rebel Stakes races at Oaklawn Park, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt was expected to be a major challenger in the Arkansas Derby. However, he finished a disappointing 6th in that race. My take is that he had never raced on an wet track before and didn’t take too well to those conditions. 

Career: 7 Starts 1-3-1-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>3rd–>4th
Sire: Take Charge Indy (Finished 19th in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Jon Court
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.56 (estimated) – 2019 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 97 – 2019 Rebel Stakes (1)

19) Spinoff (30/1) – Another one of Todd Pletcher’s trainees. He has raced at four different tracks and never finished below third. He lost the lead in his final Derby prep race, the Louisiana Derby, to By My Standards. So there is concern how he will like the added distance of another furlong in the Derby. My verdict, probably a mid pack finisher at best and Pletcher’s second best Derby entry in this race behind Cutting Humor.

Career: 4 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd->1st–>2nd
Sire: Hard Spun (Finished 2nd in the 2007 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 & 2017 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Manny Franco
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.65 (estimated) – 2019 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 102 – 2019 Louisiana Derby 

20) Country House (30/1) – Country House finished third in the sloppy Arkansas Derby so we know that can handle an off track. He isn’t viewed as a serious threat to win the Derby as he has yet to win a Stakes race of any grade. However, he’s got to be a horse to consider in your Superfectas if we get another wet or sloppy Kentucky Derby.

Career: 6 Starts 1-2-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>4th->3rd
Sire: Lookin At Lucky (Finished 6th in the 2010 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: William Mott
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.99 (estimated) – 2019 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 95 – 2019 Louisiana Derby

21)  Bodexpress (30/1) – The son of Bodemeister, who finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, gets into this Kentucky Derby field due to the scratch to Omaha Beach. He has never won a race in 6 career starts but ran well in the Florida Derby (shown below) with a 2nd place finish behind Maximum Security. The Kentucky Derby is no place to try to break your maiden, especially from post #20.

Career: 6 Starts 0-3-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>2nd—>2nd
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
Jockey: Chris Landeros
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.82 (estimated) – 2019 Florida Derby
Career Best Brisnet Speed Figure: 98 – 2018 Florida Derby

On the docket…

I will preview every Triple Crown race, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.


Labor Day Special – The Hopeful Stakes and Del Mar Futurity


September 3rd 2018

It’s Labor Day and time to get a nice “look-see” on potential Kentucky Derby runners for next year with two Grade 1 races: The Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and the Del Mar FuturityBelow are the post-positions, weights, jockey assignments and morning line odds for both races:

The Hopeful Stakes  – 7 furlongs – Race #10 at Saratoga – Post-Time: 4:38 PM CST. Televised by Fox Sports 2 and TVG

1. Sombeyay (122) – Castellano/Pletcher – 5/1 
2. Mind Control (118) – Velazquez/Sacco – 5/1  
3. Nitrous (118) – Santana Jr/Assmussen – 7/2 
4. Thatwouldbegrand (118) – Ortiz Jr/Capuno – 20/1
5. Dream Maker (118) – Leparoux/Casse – 4/1  
6. Backtohisroots (118) – Davis/Terranova – 20/1
7. Mucho (118) – Rosario/Mott – 8/5
8. Derby Date (116) – Saez/Lukas – 15/1 

My Pick:  Mucho has posted a 90 Beyer Speed Figure in a 6 furlong race at Saratoga last month. He’s the fastest horse in this field. However, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that Steve Asmussen’s Nitrous is going to win this one. He has a nice starting position on the inside. So I will probably be doing a #3/#7 Boxed Exacta.

The Del Mar Futurity  – 7 furlongs – Race #9 at Del Mar – Post-Time: 8:05 PM CST. Televised by TVG

1. Sparky Ville (120) – Stevens/Bonde – 20/1
2. Rowayton (120) – Van Dyke/Hollendorfer – 3/1
3. Roadster (120) – Smith/Baffert – 6/5
4. Savagery (120) – Talamo/Miller- 15/1
5. Spin Lightning (120) – Prat/Mullins – 6/1
6. Sigalert (120) – Baze/Sadler – 8/1
7. Game Winner (120) – Gutierrez/Baffert – 4/1

My Pick: I think Roadster is one of the top 2-year-olds currently along with Jerry Hollendorfer’s Instagrand. Instagrand’s ownership decided to skip this race. I was really hoping, like many other race fans, for this showdown. I like Roadster for the win. I think a #3 over #2,#7 Exacta might be a good play here. But remember that 2-year-olds can be very unpredictable.


A Lack of Superstars? Kentucky Derby Classes As 2 Year-Olds


August 27th 2018

One thing that I have been kind of silent about after the retirement of Justify, is that fact that this sport really lacks a Superstar right now. Why? Because it doesn’t really make good sense for anyone in the media to lament the fact because blog views will go down, TV ratings will go down, interest in the sport will wane. etc. 

Part of the problem with a lack of Superstars in the sport is due to the fact that the casual fan gets to know and develops favorite horses mostly due to exposure from the Kentucky Derby. How many of the past Derby runners from previous years are still racing and doing well in the Older Horse division? Virtually none. Although there is talent in the Older Horse division with Accelerate and Diversify, they lack name recognition with the casual race fan as a consequence of not running in the Kentucky Derby.

The other part of the problem has been the fact that the last few Derby classes have lacked depth which I will get into shortly. When the talent pool of a Derby class lacks depth, ultimately it affects the Older Horse division the next year since injuries and retirements to the breeding shed take away many budding Superstars. 

Typically in the past, before the Curse of Apollo breaker Justify, the vast majority of the time, the future Kentucky Derby winner had raced as a 2-year-old on or before Labor Day. See chart below.

Kentucky Derby Winners – # of Starts as a 2-Year-Old by Labor Day

2017 – Always Dreaming – 2
2016 – Nyquist – 3
2015 – American Pharoah – 1
2014 – California Chrome – 4
2013 – Orb – 1
2012 – I’ll Have Another – 2
2011 – Animal Kingdom – None (1st Start Sept 18th)
2010 – Super Saver – 1
2009 – Mine That Bird – 3
2008 – Big Brown – 1

Critics of Justify state that he dominated a weak Derby class to win his Triple Crown. A Triple Crown is still one of the toughest accomplishments in sports, but this criticism is warranted.

The good news, early reports are this upcoming Kentucky Derby class will be a good one. When looking at Beyer Speed Figures as 2 Year-Olds, I decided to research and find out how many from the past six classes had achieved a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 or better by September 1st.

2018 – 5
2017 – 2 
2016 – 5
2015 – 2
2014 – 10
2013 – 9

The 2013 and 2014 2 Year-Old classes were exceptional and produced Derby winners the following year in California Chrome and American Pharoah. There was little doubt in my mind before this research that American Pharoah and California Chrome both faced tougher competition in their Triple Crown runs than Justify faced this year. This makes me appreciate American Pharoah’s Triple Crown championship even more.

The 2015 2 Year-Old Class that included eventual Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist had some of the weakest Beyer Speed Figures and times. Many in the media moaned about the slow times. The 2017 2-Year-Old class showed a lot of promise but didn’t really deliver as expected as 3 Year-Olds. The poster child here was Bolt d’Oro who had many excited as a 2 Year-Old but kind of faded as a 3 Year-Old.

So when you have a number of weak Derby classes in a row and the Triple Crown Champion is retired after the Belmont Stakes, you have the situation we have right now with a lack of Superstars. But hope springs eternal with the next Derby class.

Early 2019 Kentucky Derby Favorites?

As for the 2019 Kentucky Derby class, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt Instagrand and Bob Baffert’s Roadster are the top two on my watch list. I have posted videos of both colts below. Instagrand has already posted Beyer Speed Figures of 88 and 92 in his first two starts.

Both colts are expected to square off in the Del Mar Futurity next Monday. My next blog will preview this race. Stay tuned!

Update With Some Sad News

Shortly after publishing this blog, I caught the unexpected news of the passing of John Asher, who was Vice President of Racing Communications at Churchill Downs. Asher died on an apparent heart attack early this morning. This is really sad news for our sport as John Asher was the most visible face of the Kentucky Derby and a real credit to the sport. The sport needs more people like John, not less.

A Twitter tweet from trainer Bob Baffert sums it up best: John was the warm human face of Churchill Downs. He was as Kentucky as the Derby and the Bluegrass, Bourbon and hot Browns.

Condolences to Asher’s family and friends. He will be missed.