Top Betting Contenders for 2019 Kentucky Derby with Expert Analysis
Any horse can win the Kentucky Derby if everything goes just right - runners like Mine That Bird and Giacomo have reminded us of that over the years. But each year there are horses that are far more likely than the rest to come out on top. This year, the field is as wide open as I can remember. There are a lot of nice horses, but few clear and undeniable superstars.
Often, I can make a case for five or six horses as true contenders at this point a couple of weeks before the big race. Heck, in 2018 I was lying if I said I felt like there was more than one. This year there are fully 10 horses than can win the Kentucky Derby - fully half of the expected field. And they are going to be very tough to separate - or at least to do more than to break them down into tiers. It's going to lead to some very creative bet construction - and a healthy dose of Tylenol to ease the inevitable headaches this will cause.
Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at the top contenders this year:
By My Standards: He is the first on the list alphabetically, but he would also be the first to get thrown out if I had to slim down this list. I wasn't that impressed with the Louisiana Derby when I watched it, but the more I have seen it the more I liked his move in the stretch. It showed upside - enough not to toss him out.
Code of Honor: I was really disappointed by his Florida Derby. He got roughed up at the start, and he shied badly late. If we can look past that, though, I really liked the Fountain of Youth, and I like that John Velazquez picked this ride when there were two Todd Pletcher horses to choose from.
Game Winner: Two of the last four two-year-old champions have won the Derby - and five Triple Crown races between them - so Game Winner gets credit for having won that award last year. We have yet to see his best race at three, but his two efforts this year have been fine, I really like his breeding, and it feels like there is still plenty of upside. Plus, and Bob Baffert horse automatically gets a boost - all he does is win Triple Crowns in bulk.
Improbable: The second of three strong Baffert horses, Improbable probably has the most to prove right now. But there have been excuses. Getting caught in the Rebel wasn't great, but he had a lot of rust to shake off. And in the Arkansas Derby he fought hard despite clearly not loving the off track of the blinkers he was wearing for the first time. Again, it feels like we have yet to see his best.
Maximum Security: I would probably toss this horse if I was looking to trim the field, too. But he was able to wire the field in the Florida Derby despite setting a slow pace. To do that a horse has to have some alpha tendencies, and this one does. There is a lot of horses in the field looking to chase the pace, but a quality horse looking to set it gets some respect from me.
Omaha Beach: He's red-hot after beating top Baffert horses in the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, he's growing and improving with each outing, and he has the breeding and the body to improve even more. Plus, Mike Smith chose to stay on him instead of Roadster, which is a very big compliment to this horse.
Roadster: He has run only twice since a long layoff after throat surgery, but he has looked strong in those outings. In the Santa Anita Derby, he faced down stablemate Game Winner and came out on top. There was a lot to like there, and there is a good chance he will wind up as my top pick.
Tacitus: He's a son of Tapit, who has sired three recent Belmont winners, so maybe that race will suit him better. But he proved that his Tampa Bay Derby win was no fluke by winning the Wood Memorial in an effort that absolutely passed the eye test. It feels like he isn't quite getting enough credit compared to some of the other top horses, so there could be some value here. Love the breeding. Love the connections. Falling in love with the horse.
Vekoma: I have a hard time taking the Blue Grass winner seriously any year, but this horse looked good in that race, and it was a big step forward for the lightly-raced colt. The price would have to be great, but I can't rule him out.
War of Will: Mark Casse is going to win a Triple Crown race one of these days. It seemed like this horse was going to be on the shelf for a long time after the Louisiana Derby. He looked like he was really hurt. But he shook it off and got right back into training. If we totally toss that effort, he looked strong and dangerous before that. The price will be nice.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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