I’m mildly surprised how little attention this year’s Kentucky Derby is getting considering last year’s race yielded American Pharoah as its winner. (Watching last year’s race again last night gave me goosebumps. Being there in person to experience that and the Belmont Stakes win was something I’ll tell my kids about someday. For now you’ll just have to do.) That’s the same American Pharoah who went on to win the Triple Crown, the first time a horse achieved that since 1978. Now American Pharoah obviously isn’t running in this year’s Derby because only three-year-old horses can run, but fans should feel hope that another Triple Crown is right around the corner.
The Kentucky Derby is a bucket list item, something any sports fan should get to at some point in their life. This year’s race looks to have really warm weather, which is great because that means the best horses should win and the elements won’t play a factor. The Derby is such an odd race because no other race has 20 horses and the amount of horses always creates chaos at the beginning of the race. It’s also the largest crowds any of these horses have seen, so sometimes they don’t react so well to being in front of the masses. This all leads to the Derby being the toughest horse race to handicap every year, but we love to do it anyway.
General consensus is that Outwork and Danzing Candy are the only speed horses in the race, so the pace shouldn’t be too fast. That usually lends to horses stalking the leaders being able to burst at the top of the stretch. A horse closing late from the back of the pack has less of a chance because the horses at the front shouldn’t be burnt out from a quick early pace.
The way to bet the race is no to pull all your eggs in one basket because the race is so chaotic. You’ll want to pick a few different horses to win and then bet exactas and trifectas with those horses and a few others. I nailed the top two in the Derby predictions last year and just missed out on the trifecta, which means I’m destined to fall flat on my face this year. But we’re here to give the people what they want, so here’s a list of horses I’m focusing on for Saturday. If a horse isn’t listed, it’s because I’ve already sent them off to the glue factory.
2 – Suddenbreakingnews – 20/1
Outside of one weird effort two races ago, this mouthful of a name has finished in the top 2 in every single start. That leaves him as one of the most consistent horses in the race. Unfortunately he needs the hot pace to succeed since he’ll be coming from the back. Chances are he comes just outside the top 4, but if things break a certain way he’ll be sniffing around.
3 – Creator – 10/1
Creator took full advantage of a great set-up to win the Arkansas Derby. He charged from the back and put up a career best number. He’ll need everything to break his way coming from the back again and it’s probably too much to ask for at one of the cheapest numbers.
5 – Gun Runner – 10/1
Gun Runner stalked the pace in his Louisiana Derby last time out, so he’s perfectly capable of doing it again. He’s slowing pushing faster Beyer speed figures with slight improvements in every race this year. He’s got a good chance of finishing in the top four.
11 – Exaggerator – 8/1
The winner of the Santa Anita Derby took advantage of a wet track to explode down the stretch in his victory. Look closer at the numbers and you’ll see he was actually traveling a couple miles per hour slower than Nyquist was in a more hotly-contested Florida Derby. To his credit, he’s put up some of the best and most consistent speed figures of any horse in the race, but he’s already lost three times to Nyquist so…
13 –Nyquist – 3/1
You usually want to go against the favorite in the Kentucky Derby because anything can happen and they won less than 50% of the time in the last 12 of these races at Churchill Downs. The problem is Nyquist shapes up so well because he’ll stalk the pace and pounce when the time is right. He’s got a similar running style to American Pharoah last year, which sets up perfectly for this Derby. You’ll want to bet him to win in exactas and trifectas, but it probably isn’t worth betting him to win solo.
15 – Outwork – 15/1
The connections are evident when you look at Outwork. His jockey is the great John Velasquez and his trainer is the legendary Todd Pletcher. He won the Wood Memorial by hanging on from the front, but did come up a bit short when he tired and lost to Destin by one length at the Tampa Derby. Chances are he’ll run out of gas and fall to a top 8 finish or so when he battles Danzing Candy at the front of the race, but if he may do better if he sets a moderate pace that allows him to not tire too much.
16 –Shagaf – 20/1
Here we have one of our liveliest value plays. Shagaf was a big favorite heading into the Wood Memorial, but did not deal well with the sloppy conditions. The weather is back to normal for this Derby day, so it’s very possible he’ll be back to normal as well.
17 – Mor Spirit – 12/1
As with Outwork, you’ve got a really good jockey/trainer combo with Gary Stevens and Bob Baffert. More Spirit generally hasn’t been that close to the front of each race before finishing with a full head of steam. Baffert had him training at a quick five furlongs this week, so maybe he’s trying to make sure his horse is closer to the front for this predicted slow place. I really like the set-up here for a horse who’s never finished worse than second.
1st – Mor Spirit (I’m taking a chance, but wouldn’t be surprised if my top two is reversed.)
2nd – Nyquist
3rd – Shagaf
4th – Gun Runner