- The Kentucky Derby has been run every year since 1875.
- The race is held on the first Saturday in May at the Churchill Downs race track in Louisville, KY.
- The 145th Kentucky Derby has an approximate post time of 6:50 PM Eastern on Saturday. Live coverage is on NBC.
The Kentucky Derby is nowhere near being the richest horse race in the world. That honorific is contested between the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup. It’s also not the ‘race of the year’ for serious horse handicappers. The Breeders’ Cup weekend is a much more significant event among equine cognoscenti. None of this really matters as the Kentucky Derby remains the biggest, best known and–to the mainstream at least–the most significant horse race of the year.
Betting the Kentucky Derby this year will be drastically different than it has been for much of the past decade. The theory heading into the previous six Kentucky Derby races was to find a horse to ‘beat the favorite’. Unfortunately for value handicappers, the post time favorite has won the last six Kentucky Derbys. This isn’t so much an indictment of the ‘beat the favorite’ concept as it serves to underscore the top shelf quality of the last six Kentucky Derby winners. From 2013 to 2018, the race was won by Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, Always Dreaming and Justify. California Chrome is one of the best horses of his generation and American Pharoah and Justify are the twelfth and thirteenth horses in history to win the Triple Crown.
This year there is no decisive favorite due to the withdrawal of morning line top choice Omaha Beach. Although he was favored at the post time draw even then the conventional wisdom among railbirds was that this was one of the more evenly matched Kentucky Derby fields in quite some time. That’s even more true with Omaha Beach out of the race. At the time of this writing the favorite is Game Winner at 5-1 followed closely by Roadster and Improbable at 6-1. Tacitus and Maximum Security are both at 10-1. It’s worth noting that the top three betting choices are all trained by Bob Baffert who is going for his sixth Kentucky Derby championship today.
Not only is this a closely matched field in terms of quality the likely pace of the race could enhance this parity. With Omaha Beach out of the race there isn’t any serious speed in the field. Maximum Security is a likely pace setter but while he won the Florida Derby ‘wire to wire’ his fractions in that race weren’t particularly speedy. A slower pace makes it more difficult tactically for jockeys and trainers but also helps produce a wide open race in which any horse can win.
Need a little more parity? This race could be the sixth time in the past eleven years in which the Derby was run on an ‘off track’. The forecast is for rain today though the big question at this point is when it will arrive. The original forecast called for rain throughout the day but that has been revised a bit. Now the expectation is for light rain throughout the day with the heaviest rain between 6 and 8 PM. That is significant since the approximate post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:50 PM. As of 11:30 AM Eastern, there are overcast skies at Churchill Downs but very little serious rain. The track is currently listed as ‘fast’. The good news is that it’ll definitely not be as bad as last year–the rainiest Kentucky Derby in history that saw over 3 inches of rain soak Churchill Downs. Even so, the Louisville area could get more than an inch of rain today.
So how to bet what will almost certainly be the fourth rain soaked Kentucky Derby in a row? My strategy will be to find a few undervalued entries that have some upside in the event the race goes off on a rainy or muddy track. Of the three Bob Baffert entries, I like Improbable the best. He showed a lot of spirit trying to run down Omaha Beach in the slop at Oaklawn Park in his second place Arkansas Derby finish. He sure didn’t seem to have an issue with the off track then. Not that Baffert’s other two horses are slouches–Game Winner has the most 100+ Beyers in the field (five) and won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Roadster won the Santa Anita Derby but despite the Baffert connection in my opinion he’s a fractional bit out of the class of Game Winner and Improbable. Improbable has four 100+ Beyers and many have commented on his visual similarity to Justify.
I also like Florida Derby winner Maximum Security. He came from off the pace on a muddy, sealed track making him one of only two Derby entrants to win in these conditions. He’s owned by Gary & Mary West who also own Game Winner and is likely not getting the attention he deserves due to all of the Baffert love among the betting public. You definitely could do a lot worse at 10-1.
Finally, we’ll go with something of a ‘speculative’ choice. War Of Will got a tough draw, starting from the inside post position. He started his career on turf racing four times before moving to dirt. Broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in the mud last November. At the very least, he’s worth using underneath in exotics and if the track is a mess by post time could be a steal at 20-1.