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GQ: 2019 Kentucky Derby horse-by-horse

by | May 1, 2019 | Breaking, Featured Races, Handicapping, Top Stories, Triple Crown Trail

Improbable won the 2018 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. Photo by Coady Photography-Churchill Downs.

by Gary Quill

At approximately 6:50pm EDT on Saturday, twenty 3-year-old thoroughbreds are scheduled to break from the starting gate at Churchill Downs, contesting the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby. If the trend continues, the post time favorite will win… but who that will be is up for debate.

Coincidence or not, since the Derby Point System was instituted in 2012, the most exciting 2 minutes in sports has become the most predictable. The betting choice has captured the Run of the Roses each time since. So why bother investing so much time and energy into studying past performances, video race replays and workouts considering the recent “chalky” trend? Because we’re handicappers. It’s what we do. We search for value.

On Tuesday, Post Positions were drawn as a full field of twenty (20) three-year-olds have been entered plus one Also-Eligible, #21 – Bodexpress with jockey Chris Landeros. With the scratch of #12 – Omaha Beach on Wednesday evening.  Bodexpress now draws into the field.

Based on my analysis, here’s how the field (excluding the Also-Eligible) stacks up as far as their running style…

4 – Early Speed

6 – Tactical Speed (Stalker)

4 – Mid-Pack (Plodder)

6 – (Deep) Closer

There are many schools of thought when it comes to handicapping the Kentucky Derby. The sheer size of the field itself can be overwhelming. Every runner has his positives and negatives. The key is to somehow pull it all together and then imagine how the race will be run.

With my past performances marked up as if a pre-school class were turned loose on them, here’s how I see the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby (presented by Woodford Reserve) playing out, listed in my predicted order of finish. Odds shown are the Morning Line.

Keep in mind I’m picking horses nearly 72 hours BEFORE they walk out on the track. You must consider two things. First, the track condition. The advanced forecast for Saturday in Louisville suggests a sloppy track. Second, if possible you should not make your wager until you’ve seen the horses in the post parade (12 minutes before the start) When horses reach the track, their physical appearance and body language can tip you off on which one(s) to include in your Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta or simply WIN, PLACE and/or SHOW bet. Good Luck!

 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

  1. #5 Improbable (5-1)
  2. #14 Win Win Win (12-1)
  3. #16 Game Winner (9-2)
  4. #19 Spinoff (30-1)
  5. #17 Roadster (5-1)
  6. #7 Maximum Security (8-1)
  7. #8 Tacitus (8-1)
  8. #3 By My Standards (15-1)
  9. #2 Tax (20-1)
  10. #13 Code of Honor (12-1)
  11. #6 Vekoma (15-1)
  12. #18 Long Range Toddy (30-1)
  13. #9 Plus Que Parfait (30-1)
  14. #10 Cutting Humor (30-1)
  15. #20 Country House (30-1)
  16. #1 War of Will (15-1)
  17. #21 Bodexpress (30-1)
  18. #15 Master Fencer (50-1)
  19. #4 Gray Magician (50-1)

The potential for a sloppy track and the Post Positions altered my original thinking of how this race may turn out. War of Will has the potential to go gate-to-wire but getting the lead from the rail post is a tall task. If he does, the energy used in the early stage to get that lead will compromise his chances in the final furlong. With the scratch of Omaha Beach, that leaves just two Early Speed types on the outside, Game Winner (#16) and Spinoff (#19) surrounded by Closers which will allow them clear sailing from the gate while the majority of would-be pacesetters will be playing bumper cars to the inside as they cross the wire for the first time. Based on my analysis of the Derby, I’ll put just $89 into the race and play…

  • $20 WIN and PLACE on #5 (Improbable) cost: $40
  • $2 EXACTA BOX on #5 (Improbable), #14 (Win Win Win), #16 (Game Winner), #19 (Spinoff) cost: $24
  • $1 TRIFECTA PART-WHEEL #5, #7, #14, #17, #19 with #16 (Game Winner in the 2nd spot) with #2, #5, #7, #14, #17, #19 cost: $25

ANALYSIS

 SCRATCHES: #11 – Haikal  

                        #12 – Omaha Beach

 

 1st – #5 – Improbable (5-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Bob Baffert / Irad Ortiz (3:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Tactical Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: This lightly raced, high-strung chestnut has never been worse than second in five career races (5:3-2-0) including his last race when his Hall of Fame trainer made an ill-advised decision to put blinkers on him, as he washed out in the Post Parade then got extremely restless in the starting gate. The fact that he only lost by one-length to the likely KY Derby favorite Omaha Beach makes him a legitimate threat to give his trainer a record-tying sixth KY Derby win. No surprise the blinkers will not be on for this contest.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: If he fails to relax early on with speedier rivals eager to get position early, he might waste precious energy and have nothing left for the stretch run. Owned by same connections as 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. Only three times in Derby history have the same owner won in back-to-back years, the most recent was Meadow Stables in 1972 (Riva Ridge) and 1973 (Secretariat)

2nd – #14 – Win Win Win (12-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Michael Trombetta / Julian Pimentel (1st Derby)
  • Running Style: Closer
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: A fast-closing runner-up in the Blue Grass stakes on a Keeneland surface which favored early speed, yet he closed 4 1/2 lengths in the stretch after being steadied (aka stopped) at the 5/16th pole. Getting the Derby distance won’t be an issue as both grandsires, Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones, won the KY Derby. Gave him a pass in the Tampa Derby when failed as 7-5 choice; not only was off slow and had a wide trip, but he was also very fractious in the paddock, wasting energy before the race. His doubters will say, “Won’t that happen in front of 150,000 at CD?” My answer: If he was fine prior to his next start at Keeneland on Blue Grass day with that crowd, then he’s matured and will be fine.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: His jock lacks the experience in a twenty-horse field and with his running style it’s asking a lot of a first-time Derby rider to negotiate a perfect trip to be first to the wire. Look for him to make a late run and be the horse immediately after the Derby people will be saying, “That one will win the Belmont!” It happens every year (and turns out to be wrong every year).

3rd – #16 – Game Winner (9-2)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Bob Baffert / Joel Rosario (8:1-0-0)
  • Running Style: Tactical Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile from off the pace earning a career high Brisnet speed figure (103) which is tied for tops among all 2019 Derby starters. Won Eclipse Award for Outstanding two-year-old. After winning his racing debut, competed against the best of his age group in graded-stakes competition, compiling an impressive five-race record (5:3-2-0). Getting the extra furlong will not be an issue. Will be the best value play as he’s never been sent off at odds of 2-1 or greater in his six-race career.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: At the end of his two-year-old, undefeated campaign, he was everyone’s early KY Derby favorite but has yet to get to the Winners’ Circle in 2019. A hard-fought loss by a nose to likely Derby favorite Omaha Beach then a half-length loss to stablemate Roadster which could be blamed on a wide trip, may have played with his psyche and ripped out a part of his heart.

 

4th – #19 – Spinoff (30-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Todd Pletcher / Manuel Franco (1:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Early Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Brisnet speed figures have improved in each of his four starts with the most recent (102) just a tick from being the best (103) held by three rivals in here. Bred to get the KY Derby distance as his daddy Hard Spun ran second in the KY Derby. The KY Derby runner-up in 2014, 2013 and 2011 used the LA Derby as their final prep for the Run for the Roses while in 2016, LA Derby winner Gun Runner held on to get SHOW money on the first Saturday in May. High-profile trainer rarely flies under the radar but has so far this week.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Needs to be on or near the lead, so any hesitation exiting the gate on his jocks part with just his second Derby mount would make him toast. Has only four career races. Since 1933, only three Kentucky Derby winners that had less than five (5) career races going into the Derby was… in 2018 Justify, in 2011 Animal Kingdom and in 2008 Big Brown. All three won the Derby in only their 4th career start.

 

 5th – #17 – Roadster (5-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Bob Baffert / Florent Geroux (3:0-0-1)
  • Running Style: Mid-Pack
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Went from maiden winner in his racing debut directly into the fire, aka G1 Del Mar Futurity where he ran third, just two-lengths behind would-be Juvenile of the Year winner, Game Winner, the only blemish of his four-race career. He’s 2 for 2 this year which is significant as the past seven Derby winners have been undefeated in their three-year-old season.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: No Derby starter breaking from Post 17 has EVER won this race (0 for 40). One of five Derby starters with just four career races under their belt. See the explanation under Spinoff as to why this is a negative. The last gray to win the Derby was Giacomo in 2005.

6th – #4 – Maximum Security (8-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Jason Servis / Luis Saez (6:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Early Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Only undefeated (4-for-4) colt in the field has steadily improved his speed figure in each start. The past seven Derby winners have been undefeated in their three-year-old season. Don’t be fooled by his pedestrian workout times. They fooled his trainer which is why he made his debut in a bottom level ($16k) maiden claimer. Some horses aren’t good workers. He’s among the worst, but it’s better than being a “morning glory” (i.e. looks great in the A.M. but doesn’t run a lick in the afternoon).
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: In Derby history, only 22 winners have gone gate-to-wire. That’s 22 for 144! The last one to do it was War Emblem in 2002. His win on the front end in the G1 Florida Derby was helped by slow early fractions… that won’t be the case in here with four or more other runners wanting to be forwardly placed. His jock’s best finish from six previous Derby mounts is 8th when aboard Brody’s Cause in 2016. He’s a May foal meaning he has not yet reached his third birthday, so physical and mental maturity could be in question. One of five Derby starters with just four career races under their belt. See the explanation under Spinoff as to why this is a negative.

7th – #8 – Tacitus (8-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): William Mott / Jose L. Ortiz (4:0-1-0)
  • Running Style: Closer
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Fits the mold of the past seven Derby winners who were undefeated in their three-year-old season prior to the Derby, as both victories this year have come since receiving the raceday medication Lasix. Impressive off-the-pace winner of the Tampa Derby and Wood Memorial. Tied with two others in this field with the best career Brisnet speed figure (103) but only his came in most recent race.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: A son of leading sire Tapit (9th in 2004 KY Derby), who commands a $225,000 stud fee but has yet to produce a Kentucky Derby winner. His trainer has had eight Derby starters without a win. In fact, his best finish was 7th with Hofburg in 2018. The last winner of the Wood Memorial who also captured the Run for the Roses was Fuchiachi Pegasus in 2000. Even worse, no Wood Memorial starter has finished better than fourth in the Derby since Funny Cide won in 2003… that would be 30 who failed to even be part of the Derby trifecta. The last gray to win the Derby was Giacomo in 2005.

 

8th – #3 – By My Standards (15-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): W. Bret Calhoun / Gabriel Saez (2:0-1-0)
  • Running Style: Early Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: In five career starts has never been the post time favorite and in the most recent race, a victory in the G2 Louisiana Derby, was a 22-1 longshot. Multiple clockers at Churchill Downs have been drooling over how this one has looked galloping and in both of his official workouts over the track.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Bloodlines suggest he should be Derby distance-challenged. Seems to be the “Wise Guy” horse of Derby Week based on how he’s looked on the CD oval in the morning. Every year a buzz is created about one horse, usually a sleeper that the talking heads (aka experts) gush over but to this capper’s recollection none have ever lived up to the hype. Only three horses have won the KY Derby after competing in the LA Derby. Two of them, Grindstone in 1996 and Black Gold in 1924 captured both Derbies. Funny Cide (2003) parlayed a third-place LA Derby finish into a blanket of roses in the Kentucky Derby. Didn’t break his maiden until February 16th of this year.

9th – #2 – Tax (20-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Danny Gargan / Junior Alvarado (2:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Tactical Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Only runner in this field to have earned three (3) triple-digit Brisnet speed figures, while just two of his nineteen rivals have topped the century mark twice! He accomplished those lofty figures in his last three outings, all going 1 1/8 miles for current connections who claimed him for $50,000 in October out of his maiden win.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: He’s a gelding. Mine That Bird (2009) and Funny Cide (2003) are the only two geldings to have won the Derby since Clyde Van Dusen did in 1929. No Wood Memorial starter has finished better than fourth in the Derby since Funny Cide won in 2003… that would be 30 who failed to even be part of the Derby trifecta.

10th – #13 – Code of Honor (12-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Claude McGaughey / John Velazquez (4:0-1-0)
  • Running Style: Closer
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Seems like it was eons ago when he won the G2 Fountain of Youth in March as folks with a “what have you done for me lately” mindset may have written him off based on his third-place effort in the G1 FL Derby… but don’t! That race lacked a solid early pace and the GP dirt surface typically is not kind to deep closers. Even in the unlikely event that the CD surface turns up speed favoring, about half of the field likes to be on or within a couple lengths of the lead which should insure a fast pace that sets up perfectly for his late run.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Appears not to be fast enough, as he’s yet to record a triple-digit Brisnet speed figure, a staple for winning the KY Derby. His bloodlines suggest a top effort would not come at the Derby distance.

11th – #6 – Vekoma (15-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): George Weaver / Javier Castellano (12:0-0-1)
  • Running Style: Tactical Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Convincing win in the Blue Grass stakes, his third win from four career starts. Has the bloodlines to get the Derby distance and possesses the best Brisnet Prime Power number. Versatile running style will allow his pilot to either track early leaders or grab the early lead based on how his rivals break from the gate and pass under the wire the first time.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: It’s been 28 years since the Blue Grass stakes winner won the Derby. Horsemen may say he’s “crooked as a pretzel” because of his unorthodox paddling action with his left front leg, which could challenge his stamina in the final furlong. Though ridden by one of the nation’s top riders, Castellano hasn’t come close to winning a Derby in his 11 attempts (his best finish was 3rd). One of five Derby starters with just four career races under their belt. See explanation under Spinoff as to why this is a negative.
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12th – #18 – Long Range Toddy (30-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Steve Asmussen / Jon Court (3:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Mid-Pack
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Won the Rebel stakes two starts back with a perfect trip and took advantage of a quick, early pace to run down heavy favorite Improbable late. Could have an excuse for poor performance that followed in AR Derby… take your pick: either he “bounced” or he did not care for the sloppy track. Would make a great story as his jockey becomes the oldest to ride in the KY Derby at age 58.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Appears not to be fast enough, as he’s yet to record a triple-digit Brisnet speed figure, a staple for winning the KY Derby. A disappointing 6th in the Arkansas Derby following win in Rebel stakes. The last KY Derby winner to have finished worse than 4th in his final Derby prep race was Iron Liege (1957) who ran 5th in the Derby Trial. Trainer currently holds the dubious distinction of having the most Derby starters (19) without a win.

13th – #9 – Plus Que Parfait (30-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Brendan Walsh / Ricardo Santana, Jr. (4:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Mid-Pack
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: He beat 13 rivals in winning the UAE Derby in Dubai to earn his way into the KY Derby field, when equipped with blinkers for the first time. Only runner to have won at the 1 ¼-mile Derby distance or further on dirt.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: No winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai has ever won the KY Derby, but to be fair that Meydan track was a synthetic surface in previous years and changed to natural dirt prior to 2016. Will need to take a giant leap forward as his best dirt Brisnet speed figure (88) is the lowest among Derby starters in races on natural dirt. Bred to run on turf versus dirt as sire Point of Entry was a multiple G1 winner on the grass.

14th – #10 – Cutting Humor (30-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Todd Pletcher / Corey Lanerie (4:0-1-0)
  • Running Style: Mid-Pack
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: If he can improve off his career best outing, a win in the Sunland Derby, and majority of his rivals regress off their last race, he could become the second-coming of Mine That Bird. Gets the Frequent Flier award… makes his seventh start at a seventh different racing venue.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: This colt took a huge (15 point) leap in his Brisnet speed figure last outing and might be susceptible to a “bounce” (aka regression in form). His jock has never ridden him and was named to ride less than 24 hours prior to the post position draw, not exactly a well laid-out plan. Trainer Pletcher has two Derby winners from 47 runners, the winners… Super Saver in 2010 which came on an off track, then never even hit the board in his next three races before being retired to stud. The other was Always Dreaming in 2017; his form descended quickly after the Derby win, finishing eighth in the Preakness then winless in four more races before mercifully retired.

15th – #20 – Country House (30-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): William Mott / Flavien Prat (2:0-0-1)
  • Running Style: Closer
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: If you like betting longshots who have a chance to outrun their odds, maybe this chestnut son of Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky is your horse. Finished second when 49-1 in his second career start, coming up just a half-length short of the win. He’ll be similar odds on the first Saturday in May.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Still eligible for non-winners of two lifetime races condition. He will carry eight lbs. more than the 118 lbs. he did in the AR Derby, while all others in here carried at least 122 lbs. in their prior race. He’s a May foal meaning he has not yet reached his third birthday.

16th – #1 – War of Will (15-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Mark Casse / Tyler Gaffalione (1:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Early Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Need to toss his latest start in the Louisiana Derby as he sustained an injury (strained patella muscle) as his hind legs came out from under him shortly after leaving the starting gate. Has looked very impressive training over the Churchill Downs dirt oval in the two weeks leading up to the big race, which indicates he’s 100% healthy and ready to put in a top effort. If by some miracle he gets the early lead, he’s a threat to never look back.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Got the Kiss of Death drawing the rail. It’s been thirty-three years since the last Derby winner (Ferdinand) came from Post Position #1 and that was in a field of 16, not 20 starters. Though he had a legitimate excuse for his disappointing 9th place-finish in the Louisiana Derby as the 4-5 betting favorite, the last KY Derby winner to have finished worse than 4th in his final Derby prep race was Iron Liege (1957) who ran 5th in the Derby Trial. He won his career debut at Churchill Downs which means he’ll have to break an 85-year drought of having his first win come over the same track as the KY Derby. The last Derby winner to have done that was Brokers Tip in 1933.

17th – #21 – BODEXPRESS (30-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): G. Delgado / Chris Landeros (1st Derby)
  • Running Style: Tactical Speed

  • Why he SHOULD be able to win the Derby: He’s been given a golden opportunity to prove he belongs as he drew into this field after Morning Line favorite Omaha Beach was SCRATCHED due to an entrapped epiglottis. Runner-up in the Florida Derby earning a career best Brisnet speed figure of 98, the third consecutive race of improvement. 
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: He’s a maiden. Only three maidens have won the Derby… Buchanan (1884), Sir Barton (1919) and Brokers Tip (1933).  

18th – #15 – Master Fencer (50-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): K. Tsunoda / Julian Leparoux (10:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Deep Closer
  • Why he SHOULD be able to win the Derby: His first two career races were contested at the Derby distance, albeit on turf, whereas 17 of his 19 rivals have never run this far. Stamina should not be a problem as his sire holds the distinction of the only sire of the 2019 Derby starters to have an average winning distance well beyond one mile (8.5 furlongs). A slow start won’t compromise his chances as he likes being in the back of the pack early. There’s no precedent for a JPN-bred in the KY Derby, he’s the first.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Would be just the fifth Derby winner not foaled in the United States, the most recent being Canadian-bred Sunny’s Halo (1983). Will need racing luck to negotiate past the entire field in that he’ll likely be dead last the first time the field crosses the wire. He makes 2009 Derby 50-1 longshot winner Mine That Bird look like a logical play in hindsight. His jock’s best finish in the Derby has been 5th from ten previous mounts, and he finished 8th on 2011 Derby betting favorite Dialed In.

19th – #4 – Gray Magician (50-1)

  • Trainer / Jockey (Derby Mounts W-P-S): Peter Miller / Drayden Van Dyke (1:0-0-0)
  • Running Style: Tactical Speed
  • Why he COULD win the Derby: Ran second two races back to Alwaysmining who could prove to be the best three-year-old in the country. That one’s connections did not get Derby Fever and decided to take the MD stakes route and run in the Preakness. One of just three in the Derby field who have both raced at least the 1 ¼-mile distance and carried Derby weight of 126 lbs. His worst finish came in his only race over a sloppy track. If you’re thinking about using him, pray for a dry, fast Churchill Downs surface come post time.
  • Why he SHOULD NOT be able to win the Derby: Jockey wasn’t named to ride until 24-hours prior to the post position draw. In a span of 60 days has traveled from CA to MD to Dubai to KY. That travel itinerary alone should make him less than thrilled to run against 19 rivals. Seems to lack a killer instinct to get past horses. Still eligible for non-winners of two lifetime races condition. The last gray to win the Derby was Giacomo in 2005.