Run for the Roses: Betting the 143rd Kentucky Derby

One of my favorite things about betting the Kentucky Derby is that 99% of the time, you’re going to be getting the longest odds that horse has ever seen, or is likely to be ever be again, particularly in the case of many top contenders.  As such, one ought to consider that a 15-1 shot in the Derby is very different from a 15-1 in the 5th at Parx on a Monday afternoon.  While betting the Derby can be a lot like throwing darts blindfolded, there is very real value to be had and bets should be placed accordingly.  So, without further ado, the 143rd Kentucky Derby field.

All analysis provided by John Valter

Looking for more?  listen to Bet The Board Podcast this week with special guest Chris Fallica of ESPN College Gameday fame to hear his thoughts on the 143rd Kentucky Derby.

1 – Lookin At Lee – Might be the most standard deep closer in the field, a tactic that tends to be overrated in terms of winning the Derby, but a key tactic in crashing the bottom part of exotics.  Strong trainer/jockey combination in Asmussen/Lanerie (particularly at Churchill), and was most recently third in the Arkansas Derby.  Has been doing his best running late each time out, but hasn’t hit the wire first in graded stakes company.  He will appreciate the added distance, and is a definite candidate to grab a share, but leaning against for the win.

2 – Thunder Snow – The latest attempt by Godolphin to capture the roses, he’s already proven his worth on two continents, and has run farther than anyone in the race.  That said, the road to Louisville via Dubai has not proven successful yet, and there’s nothing about this guy that suggests he’s the one to reverse the trend.

3 – Fast And Accurate – Won the Spiral at Turfway in front-running fashion, but appears to be nothing more than a pace factor here; strong candidate to finish dead last.

4 – Untrapped – Nice to see an owner like Mike Langford get his first Derby entrant, a guy with a small stable that has done things the right way.  That said, he looks to be here just for the party and will do his best running late.  The problem with that style is his breeding doesn’t look particularly suited for ten furlongs.  Can’t recommend.

5 – Always Dreaming – Impressive winner of the Florida Derby by five lengths, a race that seems like it was ages ago.  There was a time when only one stakes race to prepare for the Derby would have been consider laughable, but those days have passed.  Still, the Florida Derby was basically the only race in which this guy faced credible competition and the lack of seasoning has to be considered a strike against.  There’s a strong possibility that he may just be a freaky talent who can overcome it, but the low price he’s providing at the betting window ought to give some pause.  He’s one of my top choices, but I prefer a few others more.

6 – State Of Honor – Canadian-bred was well-beaten second behind Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby, and has been trained nicely since.  Mark Casse isn’t the type of trainer to throw a horse in with no chance, but I don’t like him in a race where he’ll be forced to gun for the lead.  He’s shown speed in the past, but it’s tough to fathom carrying that speed ten panels at this stage in his career.

7 – Girvin – Seems to be assuming the oft-celebrated role of “wise guy” horse this week in Louisville.  He was awfully impressive in New Orleans this winter and spring, but recently a quarter crack caused him to miss some training.  His most recent work at Keeneland was positive but the road to Louisville is a difficult one and I’m not inclined to side with a colt who may not be 100%, no matter the talent.  Taking a pass, but there are attributes some will like.

8 – Hence – So much to like here, his win in the Sunland Derby may have been the most visually-pleasing performance of the Derby prep season (a beautiful run from off the pace).  That race has since been flattered by the performances of the colts he beat, Conquest Mo Money, Hedge Fund, and Irap, all of whom came back impressively in their next start.  Asmussen seems to have a nice plan with him all along; brilliant half-mile workout on May 1, and gets the services of Florent Geroux in the irons, who is going to win a Derby sooner rather than later.  Peaking at the right time, and is a serious contender to win.

9 – Irap – Trainer/jockey combination has won this race twice before, so it must be respected on those merits alone.  Scored a front-running win in the Bluegrass Stakes at a lucrative 31/1 price, breaking his maiden in the process.  Still, expecting him to pair a similar effort here might be asking a bit much.

10 – Gunnevera – This guy is a mixed bag; looks awfully good at two, followed that up by looking even better winning the Fountain of Youth, but was a distant third in the Florida Derby.  Now, there were factors against him that day from a track bias and pace perspective, and he did gain ground down the stretch.  Still, it wasn’t an awe-inspiring effort, and he might be one of those one-run types who passes a lot of tired horses but leaves himself too much work.  I’m inclined to think his back class suggests he’s more than that, and if Castellano can pilot him through a good trip Gunnevera can hit the board.

11 – Battle of Midway – Speedy-type that appears too green for this company.  Looks to me like a pace factor, and nothing more.

12 – Sonneteer – Generating a wide range of opinions that run the gamut from “Longshot of the century” to “a maiden? Ha, zero chance.”  Truth likely lies in between, but the bullet workout he just fired suggests he’s indeed a live longshot.  Still, he is indeed a maiden but one who has looked impressive in his career for someone yet to find the winner’s circle.  Has a running style that seems versatile, and is fairly similar to Exaggerator, the colt his connections, the Desormeaux brothers guided to a Derby runner-up spot last year.  Is certainly going to provide a lot of value at the window, and if you are willing to hold your nose and bet on a maiden, I certainly can’t blame you.

13 – J Boys Echo – Dale Romans always has to be respected at Churchill, and he’s done some nice running here.  Looked very good winning the Gotham at Aqueduct, but looked very ordinary in the Bluegrass.  Is another that will be running late providing value at the bottom of exotics.   Not without merit, but I like similarly-situated ones better.

14 – Classic Empire – He’s the favorite, and if he runs back to his best form he’s worthy on that accolade.  Was a brilliant two-year-old champion, and entered 2017 as a candidate to be the next Superhorse.  Somewhere along the lines he got derailed and ran a clunker in the Holy Bull.  Missed some training thereafter and the connections were a little dodgy about where he’d turn up next.  It happened to be Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby, and he turned in a strong winning performance presumably meaning all is well again.  However, I can’t shake the feeling that Casse was all out to get him ready to roll for that one and a big bounce is looming.  He’s dealt with a lot of adversity this year and if he can overcome it I will consider it an impressive feat.  He might be that good, but he’s not going to offer any value at the window.  It’s your money, and can’t fault anyone for picking him, but I’m taking a stand against.

15 – McCracken – Suffered first career loss in Bluegrass, but owns three victories over the Churchill dirt which is considered his “home track”.  He’s been working brilliantly in Louisville since the defeat at Keeneland, and, despite that loss, is likely to attract a lot of attention at the betting windows.  Was that loss a blip on the radar, or a sign of danger ahead?  We will find out Saturday, but he is a major player in the 143rd field.  The breeding is beautiful, the connections are strong, and the racing style is ideal.  You must fear him.

16 – Tapwrit – I really liked the son of Tapit after his win in the Tampa Bay Derby, but I’m not certain what he beat there.  He followed that up with a dull 5th-place finish in the Bluegrass and some of the luster has worn off.  His late-running tactics may prove more useful under the Twin Spires, and is eligible for a minor piece, but probably not much more.

17 – Irish War Cry – Quite the enigma.  Dominant wins in the Holy Bull and Wood Memorial sandwiched a real clunker in the Fountain of Youth.  He’s going to be the top pick of many and I can see why, but in his two big wins he got dream trips, a scenario that I’m deeming far-fetched on Saturday.  Look, he’s really fast, and he may run away and hide from the rest of the field but there is going to be some serious pace running with him and there is a lot of other talented colts unlikely to let him off easy.  Can easily stay up for a piece, but I don’t like his chances to finish at the top.

18 – Gormley – Santa Anita winners always merit respect, but this year’s SA Derby was the weakest revival of that race that I can recall.  He’s not without his recommendable points, but nothing about him particularly stands out.  Not interested.

19 – Practical Joke – Are the blinkers on?  Are the blinkers off?  Chad Brown is waffling on an equipment change before an already marginal contender’s biggest race of his career?  Pass.

20 – Patch – The one-eyed wonder will get a lot of sentimental action at the windows coming off a credible runner-up finish to Girvin in Louisiana.  However, this will be his fourth career start, and he may need more seasoning before he can truly tackle a field like this.  Still, I was considering him for my top four until he drew the 20 post.  As it stands now, I think there is too many things going against him to recommend.

AEs 21 and 22 – Royal Mo and Master Plan – If there is a scratch before Friday evening, these two could slip into the field.  I don’t like Royal Mo at all, but Master Plan is a classy horse who would be an attractive longshot.

The Winner – I’m siding with Hence.  He’s absolutely tuned up for the race of his career, and it should come at an attractive price despite many labeling him the “wise guy” horse.  I consider McCracken and Always Dreaming as the other two most likely candidates for the win; Lookin At Lee and Gunnevera round out my top five.

*Check back periodically, as I will post Head-To-Head Matchup Bets once they become widely available*