About 10 days before the Kentucky Derby every year I write this same article about horses that can win the Kentucky Derby. Never has it been tougher to write, because never have I felt like I knew less. There are 20 horses that are likely to enter the Kentucky Derby. And about 18 that you could make a pretty solid case for. This race is almost comically wide open this year.
I have no hope whatsoever for Fast and Accurate, and I really struggle to believe in Irap. Beyond that, though, not much would surprise me. The best horses don't seem great - or at least have real flaws. The second tier of runners can do some nice things but certainly don't overwhelm. It's just a mess.
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Just saying that 18 horses can win and leaving it at that doesn't do much to help you, though, so for your sake I'll narrow it down to the seven most likely winners at this point (odds to win the Kentucky Derby are from BetOnline ):
Classic Empire (+450): He's the defending two-year-old champion coming off a solid win. Hard to ignore him. The rest of his three-year-old season has been a disaster, and he's a mental case who could be freaked out by the insanity of Derby day, so he's an uneasy favorite. Critics are pointing out that his speed figure in the Arkansas Derby win wasn't stellar, but it was his first real race in eons, so I'm not too worried about that. His breeding is excellent, I trust trainer Mark Casse absolutely, and though Julien Leparoux has never won a Derby he has won countless races at Churchill Downs and has clear chemistry with this horse. Classic Empire will factor heavily into my tickets. And as soon as I place the bets I will start drinking heavily to deal with the stress of the uncertainty of what he'll give us.
Irish War Cry (+575): The Wood Memorial win by Irish War Cry was the most professional of the major prep wins in my eyes. He settled early and looked relaxed - which hadn't been the case early on. He attacked what had been a strong early pace and showed who was boss at the end. It was a blueprint performance. He's a son of Curlin, so the breeding is easy to like, and Graham Motion has won this race before. The awful performance in the Fountain of Youth two back still looms, though. Can he string two top races in a row together? Like Classic Empire, he will be prominently bet by me, and he'll drive me to drink.
Always Dreaming (+575): I liked the last prep effort in the Florida Derby as well. He is a notch below the top two in my eyes for three reasons, though. First, he is trained by Todd Pletcher. On almost any other day that's a huge positive, but at the Derby Pletcher consistently finds ways to underwhelm. I no longer trust him on this day - haven't for a long time, actually. Second, the horse has run in only one stakes race and only five races overall. He is showing nice progress, but I would like for him to have more experience - especially because experience seems to be a consistent issue for Pletcher's horses in this race. And third, I just haven't liked the reports of how he has been working leading up to this race. He doesn't seem as comfortable and settled as I would like.
McCraken (+600): It's telling that the fourth choice in the Derby right now is a horse that finished third in a really bad Blue Grass behind a horse, Irap, that was a total joke. It just isn't the strongest year we have ever seen. We have to rely on our sense of the potential of this horse. He was both unbeaten and wildly impressive through his first four starts before injuries messed things up. I wish he had a different jockey than Brian Hernandez Jr., but trainer Ian Wilkes is solid on a big day, and he should be dialed in. He'll get some of my betting money.
Thunder Snow (+2200): I don't want to just list the favorites - there's no fun in that. I'm skipping over other well-liked horses like Gunnevera, Hence and Gormley (for the record I am underwhelmed by the first, think the second is outclassed, and just plain hate the third) to look for a bit of a fatter price. This horse is not getting the respect he should in this field in my eyes. There is an import bias working against him. Now, that isn't a bad thing for bettors - imports have consistently underwhelmed in the Derby. This guy beat a very good Japanese horse in Dubai last time out, though, and was a top two-year-old in France. He's well-bred, well-trained and well-ridden. I'm not saying he's a star or anything, but in this field he is as good as most - or at least could be. The price makes him a factor.
Lookin at Lee (+4000): You have to have a long shot, and I have been betting on this horse for a long time now. It hasn't gone very well for me, but that can change. I like his third-place effort in the Arkansas Derby more every time I watch the race, and he has a way to get up and be a part of things in races. That takes tenacity, and that can be a big asset in the insanity of the Derby. He's worth a couple of bucks to win - if only because if he pulls it off the stories you'll have to tell will last years.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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