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2019 Kentucky Derby Analysis and Handicapping

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Courtesy of www.kentuckyderby.com

The anticipation is nearing its peak for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Will the trend continue for the favorite to win? Not since Always Dreaming in 2012 has a horse won with odds higher than 9/2 and five of the last six winners were post time favorites. This year may be different though due to the morning line favorite, Omaha Beach, being scratched. I think there are at least five horses that can win, and depending on the weather, pace, and track condition, half the field has a chance. Also, due to the #11 horse, Haikal, scratching on Friday the #1 post (War of Will) will be coming out of gate #2 and so on up to the 11 post. No horse will break from gate number one.  

My Top Three Picks: (No Order)

Post #7) Maximum Security (10/1) Jockey- Luis Saez, Trainer- Jason Servis. Career record: 4-4-0-0.

Undefeated in all four of his races with his maiden win coming in a meek $16,000 claiming race. He went wire to wire in the Florida Derby, but I don’t expect him to get a trip that good in the Derby.  He is one of the few horses with a front running style and that could bode well for him if his jockey Luis Saez can set an easy pace. He is the only horse in the field who is unbeaten. His other wins were by 18, 6½ and 9¾ lengths. I look for him to be up front but there are a lot of closers in this race who will be closing hard.  This will also be Maximum Security’s first-time racing outside of Florida. His last two Beyer ratings graded at 101 and 102.

Post #8) Tacitus (10/1) Jockey- Jose Ortiz, Trainer- William Mott. Career record: 4-3-0-0.

Only two starts this year but Tacitus won them both in fashion. The G2 Tampa Derby and the G2 Wood Memorial. He is still improving as he races more.  He has won from the inside and outside posts. In the Wood Memorial, Tacitus had to overcome a very rough first turn in the Wood so he has faced trouble. He beat Tax (#2) by 1 ¼ lengths in the Wood Memorial. Tacitus is just the second 3-year-old this year to win more than one Kentucky Derby points race.

Post #17) Roadster (6/1) Jockey- Florent Geroux, Trainer- Bob Baffert. Career record: 4-3-0-1.

Lightly raced and slowed down by a breathing problem which made him take time off this colt is now back on track. Losing Mike Smith on the mount won’t help Roadster but trainer, Bob Baffert, has a lot of confidence in jockey Florent Geroux who now has the mount.  His only loss was a third-place finish behind Game Winner in last September’s G1 Del Mar Futurity. Due to a quarter cracks issues, Baffert did not aggressively train him, and he didn’t run his first race until March 1st.

My Next Three Picks: (No Order)

Post #1) War of Will (20-1) Jockey- Tyler Gaffalione, Trainer- Mark Casse. Career record: 8-3-1-1.

Up until his ninth-place finish in the G2 Louisiana Derby War of Will was considered one of the contenders for winning the Derby.  He did have a bad start in the Louisiana Derby and possibly had a strained muscle said his trainer, Mark Casse. War of Will did win the G3 Lecomte Stakes and G2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Track in Louisiana. Keep in mind that no horse has won from the #1 post since 1986 but with the late scratch of Haikal he will be coming out of gate number two. War of Will is also one of the most experienced horses in the field with his eight lifetime starts. If it wasn’t for his poor post position I would have

Post #5) Improbable (6/1) Jockey- Irad Ortiz Jr., Trainer- Bob Baffert. Career record: 5-3-2-0.

One of Bob Baffert’s three entries in the Kentucky Derby.  He has finished 2nd in both starts this year. I expect him to be one of the pace setters if he breaks clean.  Trainer Baffert is taking the blinkers off which may have bothered him last race. He was rank in the gate in the G1 Arkansas Derby and broke slow but kept to task in finishing 2nd to Omaha Beach by only a length.  He was undefeated as a 2-year-old going 3 for 3.

Post #16) Game Winner (5/1) Jockey- Joel Rosario, Trainer- Bob Baffert. Career record: 6-4-2-0.

Now that Omaha Beach is scratched Game Winner is the new favorite.  He won all four of his races as a 2-year-old, winning three of those G1 races between September 3 and November 2 which is hard on any horse let alone a 2-year-old.  In 2019 as a 3-year-old he has finished second in both starts. He only lost to Omaha Beach by a nose after a four and half month layoff. In the Santa Anita Derby, he finished second to his stablemate Roadster by a half length.  This may be the horse to watch. In the Santa Anita Derby race, Game Winner didn’t help himself by lugging in through the lane, it will be up to his jockey Joel Rosario to keep him on task.

My Long Shot Picks:

Post #3) By My Standards (20/1) Jockey- Gabriel Saez, Trainer- W. Bret Calhoun. Career record: 5-2-2-1.

By My Standards finally got his first win in his fourth maiden race back in February at Fair Grounds in Louisiana.  He then went on to a surprise victory in the Louisiana Derby at 23/1 odds. He has been on the board in every race and won his last two, with jockey Gabriel Saez aboard. By My Standards is quick out of the gate and he’ll need his best effort breaking from the three post.    

Post #9) Plus Que Parfait (30/1) Jockey- Ricardo Santana Jr., Trainer- Brendan Walsh. Career record: 7-2-1-2.

Other than his win in the G1 UAD Derby his only other win was a when he broke his maiden last October. A jockey change to Ricarda Santana Jr., from Jose Ortiz, who will be ridding Tacitus (#8) will make a big difference but Santana did ride him previously. They added blinkers to him in Dubai and will use them again in hoping to pull an upset in the Derby. Plus Que Parfait will attempt to break the Dubai jinx in the Derby, as no Dubai runner has ever won the Run for the Roses.

Post #20) Country House (30/1) Jockey- Flavien Prat, Trainer- William Mott. Career record: 6-1-2-1.

This horse doesn’t duck any race. He is all heart. He will be near or at the rear of the pack if he continues his racing style. He’ll have to go through a lot of traffic to finish in the money.  A 20-horse field will be difficult to beat for a rear running horse. He will be fun to watch as they come down the stretch.

Other Horses In The Field:

Post #2) Tax (20/1) Jockey- Junior Alvarado, Trainer- Danny Gargan. Career record: 5-2-2-1.

Tax was claimed last October from Clairborne Farm in a $50,000 maiden race. He has raced twice this year winning the G3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and finishing second in the Wood Memorial but was beaten by Tacitus (#8). Tax did finish, 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Haikal (#11).

Post #4) Gray Magician (50/1) Jockey- D. VanDyke, Trainer- Peter Miller. Career record: 8-1-3-2.

A second place finish in the UAE Dubai Derby garnered enough points for Gray Magician to enter the Kentucky Derby. His highest Beyer rating to date is only 80.  He has been traveling a lot this year, going from California, to Maryland, to Dubai, and now to Kentucky. He was beaten in Dubai by ¾ of a length by Plus Que Parfait (#9).  A jockey change to VanDyke, who has never ridden Gray Magician was made due to Joel Rosario who rode Gray Magician in Dubai being committed to Game Winner (#16) in the Kentucky Derby.

Post #6) Vekoma (20/1) Jockey- Javier Castellano, Trainer- George Weaver. Career record: 4-3-0-1.

Vekoma’s best win came in the G2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April. It was a large field of 14 horses which may be beneficial in the Derby. The last Kentucky Derby winner to start in the Blue Grass was Street Sense (second in 2007), and the last to sweep both races was Strike the Gold (1991). Vekoma has only raced four times in his career, twice as a 2-year-old and twice this year.

Post #10) Cutting Humor (30/1) Jockey- Mike Smith, Trainer- Todd Pletcher. Career record: 6-2-2-1.

His win by a neck in the G3 Sunland Derby against a mediocre field is how Cutting Humor qualified for the Derby.  He did set the track record which shouldn’t be overlooked though. Trainer, Todd Pletcher, will have him ready on Derby day for this improving horse.  A late jockey change to Mike Smith could be a huge difference.

Post #11) Haikal (30/1) Jockey- Rajiv Maragh, Trainer- Kiaran McLaughlin. Career record: 5-3-1-1.

It was announced Friday morning that Haikal, will not be running in the Derby due to an abscess in his left front hoof.   

Post #12) Omaha Beach (4/1) Jockey- Mike Smith, Trainer- Richard Mandella. Career record: 7-3-3-1.

What a shame this horse had to be scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis, which is an airway irregularity which can impact his racing. It’s not a life-threatening issue and a surgical procedure will correct the problem so the horse can race again.  He would have been the post time favorite.

Post #13) Code of Honor (15/1) Jockey- John Velazquez, Trainer- Claude McGaughey III. Career record: 5-2-1-1.

Code of Honor won the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park against a tough field. A disappointing third in the Florida Derby was blamed on the slow pace up front. He broke his maiden at Saratoga and ran second in the G1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in his two juvenile starts. If he can get a clean trip he could finish in the money.  

Post #14) Win Win Win (15/1) Jockey- Julian Pimentel, Trainer- Michael Trombetta. Career record: 6-3-2-1.

This horse is a closer and the extra 1/8 of a mile will only benefit him. He finished third behind Tacitus in the Tampa Derby and then finished second behind Vekoma in the Blue Grass. He is a slow starting horse who loves coming up hard up the stretch.  He set a track record time at seven furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs in January and came off the pace to do that. He has jockey Julian Pimentel who rode him to all three of his victories back on the mount.

Post #15) Master Fencer (50/1) Jockey- Julien Laparoux, Trainer- Tsunoda K. Career record: 6-2-2-0.

Import from Japan. The Derby system allows a horse from Japan with the most points in prep races to enter the Derby. The top two Japanese race horses passed on coming across the ocean so Master Fencer who finished third in qualifying accepted the invite.  His last two races were a 4th and 2nd place.  He will need a miracle to finish in the money.  

Post #18) Long Range Toddy (30/1) Jockey- Jon Court, Trainer, Steve Asmussen. Career record: 8-4-1-1.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Long Range Toddy has had a good record between Remington Park and Oaklawn Park. His late closing win by a neck over Improbable (#5) in the G2 Rebel was impressive but his next start in the Arkansas Derby was a disappointing 6th against a good field.  

Post #19) Spinoff (30/1) Jockey- Manny Franco, Trainer- Todd Pletcher. Career record: 4-2-1-1.

This is another Todd Pletcher trained horse who is lightly raced.  He finished second in the Louisiana Derby to By My Standards (#3). His Beyer numbers have been steadily improving but from this post position, he will need to overcome a lot of traffic.  He has only two starts since August 2018 but with Pletcher as his trainer, it’s not a reach. Spinoff did win after a more than a six-month layoff, but it was against inferior horses. He has early speed and will need it coming from the 19th post position.  He will also have a new jockey, Manny Franco, due to Johnny Velazquez taking the mount on Code of Honor.  

Post #21) Bodexpress (30/1) Jockey- Landeros, Trainer- Delgado. Career record: 5-0-3-0.

Bodexpress is winless in five starts.  Was his second place finish in the Florida Derby a fluke? He’s not going to get a slow pace with this group of horses but hey…that’s why they run the races.   

Side Notes:

  • No horse has won the Derby from the 1 slot since Ferdinand in 1986.
  • No horse has won from the 2 post since Triple Crown winner Affirmed in 1978.
  • The 3-post position hasn’t won since 1998 with Real Quiet.
  • The most favorable post positions are 5 through 16.
  • Post positions 14 and 15 have the advantage of being at the end of the main 14 horse gate and the start of the 6-stall auxiliary gate, giving these two horses a little bit extra room to break. This also helps the horses in the 13 and 16 post positions to break more cleanly.
  • Posts 13 through 16 have performed well, including wins in three of the last six years:
  • The 5 post is winning at an 11.4% rate.
  • Additionally, no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby from post 17 (0 for 40).
  • Over the last seven years, beginning in 2012, the Kentucky Derby winner entered the starting gate undefeated at age 3.
  • The last eight Derby winners all won their final prep race.
  • Horses racing outside of North America in their last start have a record of 46-2-1-0 since 1967.  Canonero (1971) who raced in Venezuela and Bold Forbes (1976) who raced in Puerto Rico.
  • Fifteen of the last 16 Kentucky Derby winners broke their maiden in either their first or second career start.

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