Kentucky Derby Favorite Streak in Jeopardy

April 27, 2019

Saturday May 4 sees the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby staged at Churchill Downs, Louisville and despite the competitive nature of this great thoroughbred racing event it has been a cash cow for bettors in recent times.

All of the last six Kentucky Derby favorites in a row; Justify, Always Dreaming, Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome and right back to Orb in 2013 have won the Run for the Roses.  It would be foolish to say it can’t happen yet again, but over the course of time a certain equilibrium has to be maintained and the longer this run goes on, the more likely the next favorite is to lose.

Just which of the 20 top class runners that favorite will be is open to question right now with Bob Baffert pair Roadster and Game Winner right at the top of most lists along with Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach.

Kentucky Derby Oddmakers

Oddmakers clearly think that Game Winner’s form is the key angle this year, something which stems from his victory in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, fittingly run at Churchill Downs.

That win made him the winter favorite for this race but he has been beaten twice in his prep this season, both times very narrowly, by Omaha Beach in a division of the Rebel Stakes and by Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby which leaves those three horses as the ones to concentrate on in most people’s view.

Is that even the right angle to be taking to this year’s race from a wagering point of view though?  True, Bob Baffert has an enviable recent record but where horses like American Pharoah and Justify are concerned they were truly world class athletes, one-of-a-kind type horses, so when a trainer has three in with a shout (the California man also trains Improbable) you have to believe that they can’t all be world-beaters.

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If you do like the Baffert angle, then the aforementioned Improbable could be the one to concentrate on and he is available at around the 9/1 mark right now.  He too was beaten at odds-on twice in his preps, including by Omaha Beach, but as a horse who wasn’t as forward as Game Winner last year he didn’t contest the Breeders’ Cup races but did go on to become a Grade 1 winner before the year was out.

From his first to third runs as a juvenile and from his seasonal debut in the Rebel to his second in the Arkansas Derby he has shown lumps of improvement and so in theory he could take another big step forward in the big one which would make him great value versus his three main rivals.

More key form lines could be those from Florida and New York, especially concerning Bill Mott’s colt Tacitus.  There are a few angles to take here too; firstly that Tacitus is the only runner in the line-up to have won more than one major prep race and he sits atop the list of points scorers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The manner of his victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 6 is another positive; the son of super-sire Tapit cruised along easily in the back stretch before passing them all on the run to the wire to record a comfortable victory.  This means that not only does he have a little in hand on what we see in terms of numbers (times, ratings etc), but also that style could mean that when the other contenders are busting a gut to get good track position and cutting each other’s throats up front, Tacitus will be stalking and will have plenty of fuel in the tank for the stretch run.

Lastly let us not forget that when Hidden Scroll made his debut in January he looked a real superstar.  It hasn’t worked out for him yet but he is bound to come back and prove himself a Grade 1 horse, so considering that Tacitus is trained and owned by the same people and is now considered very much their number one three-year-old he must be some animal.

Bettors can make a final decision after the draw for gate positions is made on Tuesday, but at 9/1 for Improbable and 10/1 for Tacitus I would be thinking of those types this year rather than the favorite(s) when heading to the teller with a bill in my hand.

Nick D’Agostino

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