What to look for Saturday at Churchill Downs
One of the biggest days in the horse racing calendar is nearly upon us again with the 145th Kentucky Derby to be run at Churchill Downs in Louisville this coming Saturday, May 4th.
Most handicappers agree this year's race is poised to be one of the most open in recent memory. While the 2018 winner Justify was the clear favorite going into last year's event, there's little to choose between those listed at the top of the betting odds ahead of the 2019 edition.
Think you know who'll be in the Derby's winner's circle this Saturday at Churchill Downs? Check out my reasons why the top horses can and can't win the first jewel of racing's Triple Crown.
Game Winner 7:1
Why he can win: He might be the most talented horse in the field, as he enjoyed a dominant two-year-old campaign that was capped by a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. It's also likely that his jockey, Joel Rosario, learned something a thing or two about his closest rivals from his two extremely narrow defeats earlier this year.
Why he won't: Those close losses to Omaha Beach in the Rebel Stakes and to Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby are nothing to be ashamed, but it's possible Game Winner has lost a step since last year. Plus, it's hard to trust a horse in the Derby who hasn't won a race since last November.
Why he can win: There was a time last summer that trainer Bob Baffert believed Roadster was the best two-year-old in his barn. Surgery fixed the breathing issue that was discovered after his only loss, and the two victories this year at Santa Anita have confirmed his promise.
Why he can't: He doesn't have enough experience plus his Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, chose to ride Omaha Beach. .
Why we can win: He has a win at Churchill and did it in impressive fashion, taking the Street Sense Stakes by 7 1/4 lengths on Breeders' Cup weekend last season. Baffert shipped Improbable directly to Louisville after his second place finish to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby and, judging from his workouts, he still loves the track.
Why he won't: The ownership group of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racking won last year's Derby with Justify. The last owner to win back-to-back Derbys was Penny Chenery and her Meadow Stable superstars, Riva Ridge in 1972 and the great Secretariat in 1973.
Why he can win: He's won three straight races with improving speed figures each time. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is overdue to win his first Kentucky Derby.
Why he can't: With only four races under his belt, Tacitus is still a bit green when compared to some of the other Derby contenders. It still would be nice to see a couple more races underneath him.
Omaha Beach 6:1
Why he can win: He's expected to go off as the favorite. Richard Mandella is another Hall of Fame trainer with what many believe is his best shot ever to break through with his first Kentucky Derby win. Omaha Beach's last workout under the twin spires — five furlongs in 59 seconds — was brilliant.
Why he can't: Following a run of six straight favorites winning the Derby, this feels to some like an upset may be looming with so much parity in this year's three year-old class. Omaha Beach likes to be up front early, but he's likely to be pressured throughout.
As to the next four on the list, I'll just give you the reason why three of them can't win and then provide you with the one longshot, at 25:1, that I believe has a chance to hit the board.
Maximum Security 12:1
His career debut was in a $16,000 claiming race and his trainer Jason Servis hasn't hidden the fact that Maximum Security wasn't exactly a standout horse early in his career..
He's won three of four career races, so maybe Vekoma's unorthodox running style is irrelevant. It's just hard for me to imagine a horse with that gait winning the Kentucky Derby.
Code of Honor 16:1
His career best Brisnet Speed Figure of 95 is a cut below the best horse in this field. My concern is he's just not fast enough to be there at the end.
And now, for those of love a longshot, let me recommend:
Cutting Humor 25:1
Why he has a chance to hit the board: In winning the Sunland Derby, his times for the final furlong and the final three furlongs were the fastest of any horse in this Kentucky Derby field. Many handicappers view Sunland Park in New Mexico as a quarter horse or sprint track, but one Derby champion did win his final prep race there and go on to take the Roses at odds of 50 to 1. That was Mine That Bird back in 2009.
If you came this far with me, you deserve my definitive Kentucky Derby prediction: Win - Omaha Beach. Place – Tacitus. Show - Improbable. Don't be surprised if Cutting Humor is closing hard in the final 1/16th and sneaks in for a piece of the purse.