We are eight days away from the 2019 Kentucky Derby, and you can feel the excitement in the air more and more each morning at legendary Churchill Downs.
With half of the field still to arrive in Louisville over the next few days, it is far too early to lock down my top choices for this year’s Run for the Roses, but not too soon to discuss the horses I like most at this point.
Improbable – The son of City Zip was one of two horses I wagered on in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 and has remained at the of my top 10 list on KentuckyDerby.com for most the prep season. I am slightly worried with his inability to win either of his preps in Arkansas and more concerned with him getting the Derby’s mile and a quarter. I am hopeful, based on the aggressive work earlier this week, he will find a prominent spot early and have enough late to get to the wire first.
Game Winner – The 2-year-old champion and one of two colts owned by Gary and Mary West has also lost both of his preps to start 2019, but he was best in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), when he got a suspect ride from jockey Joel Rosario yet still fought to the wire with eventual winner and Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Roadster. The Candy Ride colt essentially locked up a spot in this race as a juvenile, so I suspect his Hall of Fame conditioner will have him set for his best effort in his third start of the form cycle. Like Improbable he has shown an affinity for the track with a win in his only start under the Twin Spires, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). I expect him to run his race, but I wonder if he will have too much ground to make up in the lane.
Omaha Beach – The winner of the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) has victories over Improbable and Game Winner and has grown mentally since he lost his first four starts, all at 6-5 or lower. His speed, in a race that appears to lack a ton of early zip, is a powerful asset, but can he take another step forward next Saturday? Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella has won a lot of big races in his career, but has never won a Kentucky Derby and is winless in 22 grade 1 starts at Churchill Downs. One of a few that has a big chance to win, but I am not sure he is a favorite I am comfortable endorsing as my top choice.
Tacitus – This well-bred Juddmonte Farms colt has moved forward nicely in both of his starts as a 3-year-old for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The son of Tapit won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) with a ground-saving trip under jockey Jose Ortiz, then came back and showed he can overcome adversity with a 1 1/4 length score in the Wood Memorial (G2) earlier this month in New York. He certainly has not done anything since then to show he is not ready to run his race in the Derby, but like with Game Winner, I am concerned he may be a bit too far back to get the best of this group late. I’m considering him as an underneath key at this point.
Code of Honor – This son of Noble Mission caught my eye on debut when he wired out a field of nine 2-year-olds at Saratoga in August. Any time a Shug McGaughey horse wins that nicely at first asking is worth noting.He failed to fire in his initial try in 2019, the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, but put forth a strong effort under a great ride by Johnny Velazquez to win the Fountain of Youth (G2) in early March. I can forgive his third-place effort in the Florida Derby (G1), not only because of the slow early pace, but because Shug knew he did not need points to get into the Run for the Roses. He may not be fast enough to win, but I expect a career-best performance next Saturday.
Cutting Humor – This Starlight Racing colt may be a bit of a reach, but of the horses I expect to be 20-1 or higher, he is the one that interests me most. He finally showed what he is capable of when given a fair shot with his neck victory in the Sunland Derby (G3) on March 24th. Prior to that the son of First Samurai had troubled trips in his only other two efforts at the age of 3. I would have loved to see Velazquez stay aboard and ride for his main man Todd Pletcher, but that should only help his price. He could finish toward the back of the field, but he should get a great trip and has some upside.
Country House – This son of Lookin At Lucky enters the Kentucky Derby with just one victory, but has shown the ability to finish for trainer Bill Mott. His gate issues are troublesome, since he is likely to have to come from way out of it next weekend, but he should have no problem getting the ten furlongs. I cannot promote him as a win contender, but will definitely give him a shot to pass the majority of his rivals late and earn a minor share at a big price.
Check back in next week after the draw for my “How to Bet the Kentucky Derby” article here on BetAmerica.