I grew up in upstate New York minutes away from the oldest horse racing track in America: Saratoga Race Course. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at that beautiful track, but it has been A LOT and it is A LOT of fun. It’s a great time, and if you are ever in the Upstate New York area during the summer, I would definitely check it out; and tickets are cheap for general admission.
I can remember going up there as a kid. I wasn’t even old enough to place bets, but my father used to place a couple bets for me. I loved watching the horses on the paddock and on the course. There is just something special about seeing these beautiful creatures thundering down the track at extraordinary strength and speed. It is really something to behold. The horses, the track, the culture, the history, summer days and summer nights up at good old Saratoga. I fell in love, and since I’ve been following horse racing for quite some time. Fellow Turf Writer Joseph Dalfonso knows a thing or two about horses too (I taught him everything he needs to know hehe).
To Louisville We Go!
But the Saratoga season has not started yet; not until July. Now we have one of the biggest horse races of the year: The Kentucky Derby. There are a lot of derbies that go on all around the country – you’ll find out soon – but Kentucky is the biggest one.
Now there are a couple things you should know before we get to the race and the field of horses.
Omaha Beach Has Been Scratched
Omaha Beach, the strong favorite, has been scratched from the race.
What does it mean to be “scratched” from a race? It just means the horse will not be running in the race anymore. This is because Omaha Beach, who started out at 4-1 odds, developed problems breathing while training due to an entrapped epiglottis. And if you don’t know what that is, Dr. Bonnie R. Rush at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine explains what it is here.
Omaha Beach will run again…just not today.
Not to worry though. The condition is not life-threatening and the surgery is a minor procedure, so fortunately Omaha Beach will be just fine. But now with Omaha Beach out of the race, there A). Most likely will not be a Triple Crown Winner this year, and B). This is really any horse’s race now more so than before.
Another horse recently scratched from the race is Haikal, who was a 30-1 longshot.
So What is The Kentucky Derby Exactly?
The Kentucky Derby, or simply put, “The Derby” is an annual horse race held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race, which will be run for the 145th time in its history, is also known as “The Run for the Roses” because the winning horse gets dressed with a blanket of roses after the race once in the winner’s circle. The Derby is the first of three legs, and if a horse wins all three races, it is donned the Triple Crown Winner. The other two races are the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
These horses that run the derby are three-year old Thoroughbreds. The distance is one and a quarter mile around the track. The Derby is a Grade 1 stakes race, which is basically fancy for “a race full of really, really good horses” – the cream of the crop.
Let me run through some of the different types of bets you can make this weekend.
WSimple. If your horse finishes 1st, you win.
If your horse finishes 1st OR 2nd, you win. A Place bet will have a lower payout than a Win bet, but the cost to bet is the same.
If your horse finishes 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, you win. A Show bet will have a lower payout than a Place bet but the cost to bet is the same.
Across the Board Bet
You can place equal Win, Place, and Show bets. If your horse finishes 1st, you win all three bets. If your horse finishes 2nd, you win the Place and Show bet. If your horse finishes 3rd, you win the Show bet.
You pick two horses in one race. If they finish 1st or 2nd, in exact order, you win. If you “box” the exacta bet, the order does not have to be exact for you to win, but the cost to bet will be higher. You can also place an exacta bet picking three horses, but the cost to bet will be higher.
QYou pick two horses. If they finish 1st or 2nd, in either order, you win. This is the same thing as an Exacta box bet.
You pick three horses in one race. If they finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, in exact order, you win. If you “box” the trifecta bet, the order does not have to be exact for you to win, but the cost to bet will be higher. You can also place a trifecta bet picking four horses, but the cost to bet will be higher.
You pick four horses in one race. If they finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, in exact order, you win. If you “box” the superfecta bet, the order does not have to be exact for you to win, but the cost to bet will be higher. You can also place a superfecta bet picking five horses, but the cost to bet will be higher.
Those are really the primary bets you can place for a single race. For other types of bets involving more than one race, see them here. And if you are curious to know how much these types of bets will cost you, you can check that out here.
And Now for the Horses!
So I’ll take you through each of these top horses by post position and also give you my Derby winner pick!
*Note: Keep in mind, odds are always changing up until race time.
1). War Of Will
Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione
Trainer: Mark Casse
War of Will loves running in mud. So if the weather is cruddy, he’ll be licking his chops. But the #1 post position in the Kentucky Derby is a death wish. It’s never easy up against the rail in this race when there are 19 other horses cramming in on you from the outside. A horse hasn’t won the derby at the #1 post position since 1986 (Ferdinand). War of Will also finished NINTH in the Louisiana Derby, and I don’t have anything against Gaffalione as a jockey, but he’s just not a big stage jockey. Casse is a great trainer, but I would pass on this one.
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Trainer: Danny Gargan
The #2 post position isn’t much better than the first one. A horse hasn’t won this race from this position since 1978 (Affirmed). I never really find myself betting on Gargan-trained horses, even though I think Alvarado is solid as a jockey. This is sort of the opposite from War of Will. Here I don’t think we have a big stage trainer. Also, as an accountant and someone who does other people’s taxes and used to work tax seasons, I don’t think I’m going to go with a horse named TAX.
3). By My Standards
Jockey: Gabriel Saez
Trainer: W. Bret Calhoun
I actually like By My Standards. If you threw him into an exacta or show bet, I wouldn’t stop you. He won the Louisiana Derby at 22-1 ODDS! If you want to roll the dice a bit on a show or place bet, By My Standards is a good pick. He has potential to hit the board, but I just don’t think he’s a horse I would bet on to win.
4). Gray Magician
Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke
Trainer: Peter Miller
If you threw this horse into an exacta or show bet, I WOULD stop you. Gray Magician is just happy to be here.
Jockey: Irad Oritz, Jr.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Some claim this is Baffert’s best horse in the race this year. He has three of them running in this year’s derby. A top-notch jockey and a top-notch trainer, and Improbable has won three of his last five races. The other two he came in second.
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Trainer: George Weaver
I like Vekoma as a horse, and Javier Castellano is personally my favorite jockey. I like George Weaver too. Vekoma has won three of his last four races. I like him a lot…just not in this race. But just like By My Standards, he could be a good horse to throw a show bet on, as he has decent odds and could hit the board, but I don’t think he wins.
7). Maximum Security
Jockey: Luis Saez
Trainer: Jason Servis
Luis Saez is my second-favorite jockey, and Jason Servis is having a hell of a year. He’s winning at a 30% rate. The Florida Derby winner Maximum Security has a legitimate shot to at least hit the board. The question is, can he win this thing? Florida Derby winners always seem to fair well in this race, so he’s certainly not a bad bet. He’s also won his last four races, and Justify, who was last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, started out in this same post position at #7.
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: William Mott
Tacitus has won his last three races, including the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial. I actually watched the Wood Memorial this year. Tacitus looked great. I like this horse a lot. Bill Mott has never won the Kentucky Derby in his career as trainer. Could this be his first?
9). Plus Que Parfait
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Trainer: Brendan Walsh
Years ago I said that Ricardo Santana Jr. was a jockey you had to watch out for. Now, I think he has certainly had a successful career thus far, and he still has many races ahead of him. He won’t win this one, but he’s climbing up the rankings as one of the better jockeys around. Plus Que Parfait is a UAE Derby winner, but history has told us that those derby winners come over seas and have a really difficult time in this race. UAE Derby winners never really fair too well in Kentucky.
10). Cutting Humor
Jockey: Mike Smith
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Mike Smith was actually originally going to ride derby favorite Omaha Beach. But now that Omaha Beach has been scratched, Smith will now be riding Cutting Humor. I like Mike Smith, and I like Todd Pletcher, but I just don’t like this horse. Cutting Humor won the Sunland Derby against some very weak competition. That’s how he got here, and that’s why he’s 30-1 odds.
11). Haikal – SCRATCHED
12). Omaha Beach – SCRATCHED
13). Code of Honor
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Claude McGaughey III
Code of Honor finished 3rd in the Florida Derby and won the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes. I love Claude as a trainer, and Velazquez is one of the best to do it. Code of Honor at 12-1 could be a major sleeper.
14). Win Win Win
Jockey: Julian Pimental
Trainer: Michael Trombetta
Love the name, but not the horse. Win win win? No no no, I don’t think so. But interestingly, he’s hit the board in every race he’s run. I am not sure he will even hit the board here. I’d rather go with Code of Honor at the same odds.
15). Master Fencer
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda
He may be the best horse in Japan right now, but it’s a whole different ball game when the best Japanese horse comes into Kentucky. It’s usually a wake-up call.
16). Game Winner
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Bob Baffert
This is the Baffert horse I like. I know he’s the strong favorite now, but this race has recently been a favorite’s race, as the last six winners of the Kentucky derby have all been the strong favorites. Game Winner won the Breeder’s Cup as a 2-year old. He also finished second in the Rebel Stakes. This horse can fly.
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Another Baffert horse who can fly. He’s trained well, but he’s not my favorite Baffert horse. I wouldn’t blame you for betting on him though.
18). Long Range Toddy
Jockey: Jon Court
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
I love the name, and he’s not a bad horse. He actually pulled off a huge upset and beat out Improbable and Game Winner to win the Rebel Stakes. But he also had an underwhelming sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. Also, I am a bit unsure about Jon Court as a jockey.
Jockey: Manny Franco
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Spinoff is intriguing. He finished second in the Louisiana Derby. He is speedy, and has been training decently as of late. My question is how is he going to do at this distance. The distance is the question here. He could maybe be a Triple Crown spoiler down the road. I see him as a potential sleeper to hit the board. I don’t think he wins though.
20). Country House
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: William Mott
I don’t see it. Go with Spinoff if you want to bet on a 30-1.
Jockey: Chris Landeros
Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
Bodexpress has never won a race. He’s in this thing due to the scratch of Omaha Beach. Interestingly, this horse finished second in the Florida Derby. But it’s tough to pull this thing off as it is, but when you find out last-minute you’ll be running in it…yeah I don’t see it happening.
Winner: Game Winner
Show: Code of Honor
Fourth: Maximum Security
The horse most likely to ruin my pick(s): Vekoma. So put on your blazer and your fancy hat; make some mint juleps, and enjoy the 145th Kentucky Derby!