Horses that can win the Kentucky Derby in 2014
by Trevor Whenham - 4/23/2014
How do you figure out which are the horses that can win the Kentucky Derby this year? Well, do you have a dart board? I have been obsessed with this race for more than 30 years, and I do not ever remember a flatter, more wide-open race. Outside perhaps of California Chrome, there are no superstars in this field. There have been some strong performances, and some real flashes of brilliance, but every horse has warts as well.
On the other hand, there are very few horses in this horse that you can absolutely rule out because they have little chance of success. When the final 20-horse field is assembled you will be able to make a case for 17 or 18 of the horses as at least conceivable winners. That's not typical. That being said, there are always going to be some horses I like more than others. Here are seven horses that have the best chance of wearing roses this year:
California Chrome: The Santa Anita Derby winner is the closest thing to a star in this race, and he's the very likely favorite. If the futures odds (currently +300 at Sportsbook.ag) are any indication, though, the horse is going to be badly overbet. Still, his race has been impressive, he has had a very strong spring, and he seems to be improving. California-breds just do not win the Derby, though, so that is a concern. I respect the horse, but if the price stays low I will be looking to beat him in the search for value.
Wicked Strong: His Wood Memorial win was one of the more visually-impressive races of the prep season. He'll draw public attention because of his story, too - a portion of his winnings support Boston Marathon bombing victims. I like that he doesn't need the lead, and if he can move forward from that last race he could be dangerous. The biggest issue, though, is that prior to that win he had been very ordinary. Was that just a great day, or is he really very much improved?
Danza: I'm a little shocked that I have this horse on this list. After all, he won the Arkansas Derby at 41/1 last time out. The more I have watched that race and the three that came before it, though, the more I have warmed to the horse. He showed a lot of maturity in that last race that was lacking before, and that really helps. His breeding isn't perfect - he is sired by a sprinter - but there is a pile of stamina on his dam side. I wish he had raced more than four times, but in my eyes this is the clear class of the group Todd Pletcher is bringing to this race.
Hoppertunity: There is still a chance that Bayern could get into the field, but at this point this is the only likely starter for Bob Baffert. I never would have guessed that this would be the case given the loaded stable he had last fall. Don't let anyone tell you that this isn't a brutal game. The horse is bred well, was impressive winning the Rebel, was a clear second-best in the Santa Anita Derby, and has plenty of experience traveling. Mike Smith should be a good fit, and I like his chances. The biggest knock, though, is that when he has tried to sit well off the pace in two races he has been unable to recover. That means he needs to be rating just off the early pace, and that could be very fast in this field.
Wildcat Red: I am often seduced by consistency in horses, and this horse certainly is consistent. In seven career starts he has won four times and finished second three times. He doesn't throw out a bad race, and that's comforting heading into a big challenge like this when we have to find excuses for so many of the runners. On the other hand, he has had five different jockeys in his last five races, and that's far from comforting - you'd hope that guys would want to stay in the saddle of a horse at this level.
Ride On Curlin: I was destined to bet on this horse in this race - seeking revenge for the money I lost betting on his great sire, Curlin, in the same race. Luckily, I feel like there will be nice value at his likely price. He is bred to run forever, so distance isn't a concern. He is also reasonably versatile in his running style, so he is less trip-dependent than many. He has yet to win a stakes race, but he is always a factor - off the board just once in nine starts - and has shown he can hang with the best here. This horse is on the right trajectory, and he needs to figure in exotic bets at the very least.
Candy Boy: I'm normally not a big fan of the West Coast contenders in the Derby, so it really tells you something about how strange this race is that I have all three top finishers from the Santa Anita Derby on this list. He was an unimpressive third in that race, but he was coming off a long layoff and needed the tune-up. His breeding is solid, and Gary Stevens is as hot as anyone on the planet in the biggest races right now. He has the most room to improve of the three major California contenders, and he will go off at by far the most attractive price - even if the public jumps on him a bit because of Stevens.
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