Magnum Moon Odds to Win the 2018 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
There are so many reasons to question Magnum Moon. He is trying to win the Kentucky Derby despite not having run a race as a two-year-old. In a trend so pronounced that it has a fancy name - the Curse of Apollo - no horse has been able to do that since Apollo did it way, way back in 1882. Many have tried, including some that have gone on to become legends, like Curlin, but none have pulled it off. He's also started only four times. That's an issue, though not like it used to be. From 1933 to 2007 only three horses won the Derby with less than six prior starts. Since then, though, Big Brown and Animal Kingdom won in their fifth start like this colt is attempting to do, and Always Dreaming and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won in their sixth start. And Magnum Moon also comes out of the Todd Pletcher stable. Pletcher won his second Derby last year but has still underperformed expectations badly given the number and quality of horses he has brought to Kentucky over the years.
So, there are a lot of obstacles for this unbeaten colt to overcome, but does he offer enough positives for us to still have faith in him?
Last race: In the Arkansas Derby the colt took care of business. He took the lead early, got away with setting very comfortable fractions, and then pulled away from his challengers in the stretch. It was a very solid win against a decent field - both runner-up Quip and third-place finisher Solomini are in the Derby, and fourth-place finisher Combatant is currently the first alternate and stands a decent chance of making the field. There were concerns, though. He shied coming out of the gate, which is a little bit of a worry because what he saw in that race will be a fraction of what he sees in Kentucky in terms of horses, crowds, noise and chaos. And down the stretch, with all the room to move that he could want, he ran about as straight as a drunk trying to walk a line for a cop. He weaved all over the place, moving out at least seven widths for no good reason. Both of those issues are signs of immaturity, and it is exactly his maturity that is the biggest concern heading into the Derby.
Prior experience: The horse broke his maiden on Jan. 13 at Gulfstream, winning comfortably over just six furlongs. A month later he headed up to Tampa Bay to win an allowance race at a touch more than a mile. In both races he was clearly the best horse by a wide margin, and he won easily and handily without ever really exerting significant effort. From there it was time for his stakes debut in the Rebel, a race won by the winners of five Triple Crown races since 2007. He won that race comfortably over Solomini and Combatant. We should note that the Arkansas Derby was the first time he had chosen to set the pace. He is quite versatile but seems to want to be near the lead. If the pace is frantic early on in the Derby, though - which is always a possibility - then he likely won't feel compelled to chase it and burn his matches early.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher is one of the two or three best trainers in the country without question. Let's get that out of the way up front. But his struggles in the Derby are truly perplexing. He always has a big and talented stable of Derby runners - he has four this year, and that is not at all atypical. Yet, despite having had a whopping 48 Derby starters, Always Dreaming was just his second win. That's a 4.17 percent winning rate. In a 20-horse field a random horse has an expected five percent winning rate. Pletcher has had favorites and top contenders underwhelm in bulk. There are more reasons to explain this than we need to go into here, but the fact is that Pletcher isn't the asset in this race that he should be. That being said, he is having the best spring on the Derby trail of his career, having won four of the six major North American Derby preps this year.
Jockey: Luis Saez is a consistent top performer in the jockey colony. He currently sits second nationally in earnings and has been in the Top 10 for several years. In big races, though, he has been snake bitten. He has not won a Triple Crown race and has only two seconds and a third to show for his Breeders' Cup efforts. He's a capable rider, though, and will get his share of big prizes along the way.
Breeding: We know that Magnum Moon's sire Malibu Moon can sire a Derby winner for one simple reason - he did it in 2013 with Orb. This is, by all measures, a better horse than Orb in my eyes. Malibu Moon is a son of the great A.P. Indy, so stamina features prominently in his bloodlines. Damsire Unbridled's Song was favored to win the 1996 Derby but was injured right before the race and wound up fifth. He had a strong career as a sire, with his most prominent recent success being Breeders' Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup and Pegasus World Cup winner Arrogate. Unbridled's Song is a son of Unbridled, who won the Derby himself and then sired a Derby Preakness and Belmont winner. Needless to say, Magnum Moon's breeding is more than sufficient for this test.
Odds: Magnum Moon currently sits at +725 to win the Kentucky Derby at BetOnline . That has him as the fifth choice, far behind favored Justify at +225 and also trailing Mendelssohn, Bolt d'Oro and stablemate Audible. That is a little bit further down the hierarchy than I would probably place the horse, though the maturity concerns really do weigh on me.
Can Magnum Moon Win the 2018 Kentucky Derby?: Yes. He is an immensely talented horse who has made winning look easy four times in a row. But he has never truly been tested, has shown some immaturity, and is facing a massive challenge in the strong Derby. He is not my first choice to win it all given those concerns and my general unease about Pletcher in this race, but the colt will figure prominently in my exotics action.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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