Omaha Beach Odds to Win the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
Bob Baffert, the reigning Triple Crown winner, is likely to have three of the four favorites in the Kentucky Derby this year. But he very well might not have the overall favorite, as that honor could easily fall to Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach. In 2015 Arkansas Derby winner American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, and 2016 winner Creator won the Belmont. Can Omaha Beach fill those large shoes? Or will he be more like 2017 winner Classic Empire who disappointed in the Derby, or 2018 winner Magnum Moon who had high Derby expectations but finished 19th after a horrifyingly bad race?
Last race: Omaha Beach wasn't the morning line favorite in the deep and tough Arkansas derby, but he was favored when the horses entered the gate. And he proved the bettors right. He didn't break great, and it took him a little while to get to the front where he likes to be. But once he was there, he settled in, leading the whole way and holding off Improbable in a duel at the end. There was a clear bias at Oaklawn on the day, and jockey Mike Smith played it perfectly - the rail was dead, so Smith ran four or five paths out the whole way around. The track was also sloppy, which the horse has shown he really likes. Improbable had some excuses, too, but there is no denying that Omaha Beach was the best horse on the day.
Prior experience: Sometimes it takes a horse a while to figure things out, and that was clearly the case here. He tried to break his maiden in early September at Del Mar. And later that month at Santa Anita. And at Del Mar in November. And at Santa Anita in early January. He was never far off - third once and second three times. But he just didn't show that killer instinct or seem to be quite good enough to matter. But in early February at Santa Anita, he faced a sloppy track for the first time, and he ran away from the field winning by nine lengths. It was like something finally clicked. Next, he made his stakes debut in the Rebel at Oaklawn and beat another star of the Baffert stable in Game Winner . It was only by a nose, but what stood out is that Omaha Beach gave up the lead and then fought to take it back. It showed heart and class - as did the Arkansas Derby.
Trainer: Richard Mandella is a hall of fame trainer from California. He's best known for the 2003 Breeders' Cup, when he remarkably won four races on the same card. He has had more than his share of great horses over the years and has won many of the races worth winning. His focus only rarely is on two and three-year-old colts, though, so he has had only six Derby horses and has never finished in the top three. He knows how to win races, and can have a horse ready to peak when he needs to, but he is not really in his comfort zone in this race.
Jockey: Omaha Beach got the biggest possible endorsement when Mike Smith chose this mount over Bob Baffert's Roadster . Smith and Baffert teamed to win a Triple Crown last year with Justify and won the Santa Anita Derby with Roadster. But Smith instead chose to ride this colt for Mandella. Smith is essentially a part-time rider now that he is 53, but he has his choice of mounts in big races, and is the best there is when the stakes are the highest. He is a serious asset for this colt.
Breeding: Like fellow Derby participant War of Will, Omaha Beach is a son of War Front. A grandson of Northern Dancer, War Front was at his best as a sprinter but has shown the ability to breed horses that can run longer. One of his sons, Line Of Battle, won the UAE Derby in 2013 and then was seventh in the Derby. That horse was then renamed, unfortunately, Helene Super Star. Omaha Beach's damsire is Seeking the Gold, a strong sire who excelled at finishing second in big races - most notably the 1988 Breeders' Cup Classic behind Alysheba. Seeking the Gold sired 2006 Belmont winner Jazil and was the damsire of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame. The breeding here is solid.
Odds: Before the Arkansas Derby, Omaha Beach was at 10/1 in the last Kentucky Derby futures pool. Now BetOnline has him at +700 in futures betting, which is behind only Game Winner at +600 and just ahead of the other two Baffert runners. His price fell in a couple of Vegas books on the news that Smith has chosen to ride him, so if you like him you might want to lock in this price while you can.
Can Omaha Beach Win the 2019 Kentucky Derby?: Absolutely. His biggest risk is the early pace. He has been first at every call in his last two races, but the early pace can be suicidal in the craziness of the Derby. He needs to find somewhere he can be comfortable without burning himself out. Having Smith in the irons makes that easier to assume, though - Smith is the master of judging pace. He is one of the small handful of horses in this race that is good enough to dictate the race on his own terms if he gets into the position he needs. He isn't going to offer a ton of value, but he is absolutely a deserving top contender.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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