#1 – Tacitus -Tacitus is trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott (who trained his dam – mother – Close Hatches, who herself was a multiple Grade 1 winner at longer distances on the dirt). Tacitus was visually impressive in his 2 races this spring, off a winter layoff. He won the Tampa Bay Derby & the Wood Memorial. He overcame some race trouble in the Wood Memorial, which gives him some seasoning for the 20-horse Derby field. Tacitus is a closer and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of speed signed up for this year’s race. From a pace standpoint, he may have it a little against his running style. However, handling traffic trouble in previous races is a big plus and he has the pedigree being a son of the sire Tapit to get the distance of 1 1/4 and further. His jockey Jose Ortiz stays in the saddle.
#2 – Omaha Beach – Omaha Beach comes in for trainer Richard Mandella off 2 back-to-back wins at Oaklawn Park (the Rebel & the Arkansas Derby) He boasts one of the best pedigrees for stamina in this year’s field. He is a half-brother to champion filly Take Charge Brandi (same mother – dam; different father – sire). He is a pace-presser/pacesetter so he likes to be up front and can also sit right behind the frontrunners and press the pace. He’s got high cruising, tactical speed and has shown from his 2 Oaklawn races, that he’s a fighter in the stretch. He keeps top jockey Mike Smith (who won the Triple Crown last year with Justify). He will most likely be the morning line favorite.
#3 – Vekoma – Vekoma is a nice son of top sire Candy Ride. He comes in with a 3 1/2 length victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He is trained by George Weaver and has Javier Castellano as his rider. He is known for having a visually awkward way of running (sort of choppy) which you would think would take a lot out of him. Per his trainer, however, it’s normal and it doesn’t seem to bother him. Out of 4 starts, he’s won 3 and finished 3rd in one. So he’s right up there with the top horses. He is a stalker who should also be forwardly placed in the first flight of horses at the top of the stretch.
#4 – Plus Que Parfait – Comes in off a win in the U.A.E. Derby. He is a bonafide closer who rallied from the back in that race and beat fellow contender in this field, Gray Magician. His jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. has a lot of experience riding at Churchill Downs so that is a plus. Look for him to take back at the beginning of the race and try to pick off the tiring horses in the stretch.
#5 – Roadster – Roadster is one of three in this race trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert (who trained both of our Triple Crown winners in the past few years, American Pharoah and Justify). Jockey Mike Smith chose to ride Omaha Beach, so Roadster picks up top rider Florent Geroux. He has generated a lot of buzz coming into the Derby as he was off last year with a throat issue and has come back in dominating form. He recently beat stable mate Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby, while taking back in a 6-horse field, stalked & pounced. He has a great pedigree for stamina and has shown he can sit closer to the pace. Florent Geroux should be riding him mid-pack then get him out in the stretch run with his late kick.
#6 – By My Standards – By My Standards is an improving colt out of the sire Goldencents (who did his best racing at a mile). By My Standards took the Grade 1 Louisiana Derby at high odds, 22-1. His win in that race has left people a little suspicious of him moving forward as the favorite that race was just off (War of Will whom he faces in the Derby) and he got the perfect trip. He is one of the first horses that shipped to Churchill Downs and looks fantastic and is training well. He is trained by Bret Calhoun, has the stalking running style for the Derby and keeps his regular rider Gabriel Saez in the irons.
#7 – Maximum Security – Maximum Security has a perfect race record of 4 starts and 4 wins. He is trained by Jason Servis and keeps his rider Luis Saez. He won the Florida Derby gate to wire and seems to be the only horse in the field with that pure front-running style. The problem with him is that he’s not really had anyone challenge him up front. In the Florida Derby Hidden Scroll took back and was never a factor. It would seem they would send him in the Derby and hope to wire the field. If no one presses him, which is doubtful, look out if he tries to walk the dog at a pedestrian pace out front.
#8 – Game Winner – The same owners above that have Maximum Security also have Game Winner. That is a double shot for Gary & Mary West to win the Kentucky Derby this year. He is the second runner in this field for trainer Bob Baffert. Game Winner ran a very wide trip in the Santa Anita Derby, getting beaten by his stable mate Roadster. Another positive is that he has a win over the Churchill Downs oval. As our champion 2 year old, he won the Breeders Cup Juvenile over this track last November. This will be his third start in his form cycle so he could be peaking at just the right time. Game Winner keeps Joel Rosario who is a very patient rider and should have him stalking in the first half of the field to make his move in the stretch. He has a very nice pedigree for stamina, so getting 1 1/4 miles shouldn’t be an issue.
#9 – Code of Honor – Code of Honor was highly regarded last fall but missed the BC Juvenile after developing a temperature. He was okay off the layoff in January, finishing 4th in a minor stakes race. He went on to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes, then placed 3rd behind Maximum Security in the Florida Derby. He is trained by Shug McGaughey and retains John Velazquez to ride. He is also a closer who will be pace dependent in this race. He needs that speed up front.
#10 – Haikal – Kiaren McLaughlin trains Kaikal for owners Shadwell Stables. Their homebred colt finished 3rd in the Wood Memorial last out, which was his first try at 2 turns. He is another horse that is pace dependent being a closer who runs his race every time. All of his races have come in New York at Aqueduct so we’ll see how he transfers his racing form over to a new racetrack. His pedigree looks geared more for a mile and he is a half-brother to Takaful who did not have much success at longer distances. We’ll see how far jockey Rajiv Maragh can take him.
#11 – Improbable – Improbable is our third and final entry for trainer Bob Baffert. This son of sire City Zip has never been off the board in 5 starts with 3 wins and 2 seconds. Last out he dueled with Omaha Beach for a tough loss in the Arkansas Derby. Prior he couldn’t hold off Long Range Toddy in the Rebel stakes, finishing second by a neck. Baffert put blinkers on him in the Arkansas Derby and he acted up in the gate, so per the trainer, they are coming off for the Derby. Look for this horse, piloted by all star jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., to be in the top flight of horses up front. He likely will be a decent price after losing his last two races.
#12 – War of Will – War of Will, who is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, is coming in off a 9th place finish in the Louisiana Derby. He took a wrong step out of the gate and ended up back at the start never to regain much momentum. He is a pace presser and likes to be right up in that first flight of horses. Being taken off his running style, it was too hard for him to back into his preferred running style. He has a pedigree geared for the turf & definitely for long distances. However, he seems to prefer the dirt. He will need a huge come back race here to win against this group. If you like him, you should get a nice price and he has every chance to rebound off that race and hit the board.
#13 – Long Range Toddy – This horse had a great race record out of 8 careers starts until his 6th place finish in the Arkansas Derby. It was a very sloppy track that day after a ton of rain, so he may have just hated the muck. If so, and its a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby, which is often is, we could see him not fire again. He is a closer who needs a target so hopefully jockey Jon Court has him midpack ready to move up in the stretch. He is a really cool and beautiful horse. He could hit the board in tris and supers at a price. He will need to really step up to win.
#14 – Tax – Tax has a great backstory for trainer Danny Gargan as he was claimed last September in his 2nd start. He won the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in February and finished that off with a second place finish behind Tacitus (who sits at #1) in the Wood Memorial. He gave Tacitus all he could in a stretch battle. Can he turn the tables here? He shares the same running style as a few other faster colts in here, that stalking style, so he has his work cut out for him and will be a price if you like him. Fun note: part owners Dean & Patti Reaves also owned Mucho Macho Man who ran in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and was third. Surely they must be excited to have another runner.
#15 – Cutting Humor – This Todd Pletcher trained horse won the Sunland Derby on March 24th in New Mexico where he set a new track record. He finished up 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.94. That track does tend be very speed favoring; however, you can’t take that away from him. He is a stalker who likes to sit around the 2nd flight of horses and pounce in the stretch. The only horse to win the Kentucky Derby that ran in the Sunland Derby was Mine That Bird in 2009 (he finished 4th in the Sunland Derby). Cutting Humor does get John Velazquez up and the Pletcher factor doesn’t hurt. (He’s won 2 Kentucky Derby’s with Super Saver in 2010 & Always Dreaming in 2017).
#16 – Win Win Win – With a name like Win Win Win that makes you think huh? His sire is Hat Trick, so there you go. Fun name! His last race he finished 2nd in the Blue Grass Stakes and looks to be a bonafide closer. He won that in a photo over Signalman, who got stuck on the outside looking in hoping for a scratch. So he needs a quick pace & speed up front to run into. He is trained by Michael Trombetta and Julian Pimentel gets the call to ride after Irad Ortiz was named to ride Improbable. He should have high odds for the Derby.
#17 – Country House – Country House was last seen running 3rd in the Arkansas Derby behind winner Omaha Beach & Improbable. He is a late running closer who needs the speed up front to close into. His last two races, the Risen Star, he was 12th in the early part of the race and finished up 2nd. In the Arkansas Derby he sat back in 10th and finished up 3rd. He has dramatically improved as a 3 year old has quite a few people using him in their trifectas and superfectas. He could be peaking at the right time and just needs the right pace up front to get going. He is trained by Bill Mott & has excellent rider Flavian Prat in the irons for the first time.
#18 – Gray Magician – Gray Magician punched his ticket into the Kentucky Derby by finishing up 2nd in the U.A.E. Derby in Dubai March 30th. He was 2nd to Plus Que Parfait above in the #4 slot. He is trained by Peter Miller & has yet to be assigned a jockey. The Dubai runners from the U.A.E. Derby often do not run well in the Kentucky Derby, which they often blame on the shipping, but who knows. He also lacks a stakes win and looks to me like he has a pedigree geared more for middle distances. However, they often outrun their pedigree. You are going to get a nice price on him if you like him.
#19 – Spinoff – Here is your other horse trained by Todd Pletcher, Spinoff, who ran a great race in the Louisiana Derby. He led in the stretch and was nailed by By My Standards in the final furlong. He was very wide in that trip before he took the lead. This is a very lightly raced colt that looks to me to be peaking at the right time. In 4 career starts he’s never been worse than 3rd. Spinoff has the perfect kind of tracking speed for the Kentucky Derby that you look for. He can sit back in the garden spot, stalk & pounce. He should have decent odds as well. Manny Franco, keeps the ride as his jockey.
#20 – Master Fencer – Sitting at the bottom in #20 is the Japanese Import Master Fencer. His trainer is K. Tsunoda, jockey is Hiroyuki Uchida. This horse went the Japan Kentucky Derby route & was the only one of top three from there that elected to make the trip. Last out March 31st he finished 2nd at 1 1/8 on the dirt. He seems to be a versatile horse, can run up front or lay back. Distance doesn’t seem to be an issue as his first 2 career races were on the turf at 1 1/4 where he finished well. His first two wins were at 1 1/8 on the dirt. He is the first Japanese bred horse to ever run in the Kentucky Derby and will be an interesting addition to the field. We have had Japanese runners before, Lani for one, just never a Japanese BRED.
On the outside looking in (these horses are just outside the bubble of points, so if anyone scratches, they are next in line):
#21 – Bodexpress – He most likely has a legit shot to draw in as almost every year there are a few defections. Bodexpress is still a maiden (has never won a race out of 5 starts). He finished 2nd in his last 2 races, the G1 Florida Derby was the most recent. He’s pretty sharp too for a maiden. He beat Code of Honor (who is in the field) and Bourbon War who sits at #24. He is trained by Gustavo Delgado and gets regular rider Nik Juarez in the irons. Keep an eye out for him, with a decent post draw, to hit tris or supers. Don’t let the fact that he’s never won a race deter you from using him.
#22 – Signalman – Kenny McPeek trains Signalman and he’s flat out said, if he doesn’t make the Derby field, he will run in the Preakness. This colt was last seen April 6th in the Blue Grass Stakes where he lost a photo by a nose to Win Win Win, for 3rd, which wasn’t enough points. Let’s just say if he had won that photo, he would be in, and Win Win Win would be sitting in this position. That’s how tight and upsetting these races can be sometimes. Signalman has only been out of the money (not finishing in top 3) once in 7 races. That was the Fountain of Youth where he finished 7th. If draws in, he might have a huge shot to hit the trifecta or superfecta. He’s just a game colt.
#23 – Sueno – Sueno comes from the Desormeaux brothers’ barn, Keith the trainer, Kent the rider.’ They have had a few entries on the Triple Crown trail in the past few years with My Boy Jack & Exaggerator (who won the Preakness). Sueno was last seen in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland where he finished 3rd after a really bothered start. He has not worked since April 6th and received his best speed figure for that race.
#24 – Bourbon War – Trainer Mark Hennig has this lovely colt out of the sire Tapit (who has had many Belmont winners) out of the dam My Conquistadory(dam sire is Artie Schiller). He ran 4th last out in the Florida Derby March 30th. He made a mild bid in that race and with his pedigree should relish longer distances, so 1 1/4 of the Derby should be no issue. His mother, My Conquistadory was a great grass runner & so was her father Artie Schiller. If he doesn’t draw in, look for him to possibly run in the Preakness, Belmont or switch to the grass on an undercard race on the Triple Crown trail.