Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach (#12) was scratched Wednesday after we published Point Spread Weekly. That means #21 Bodexpress draws into the field and will break from post #20 and the other starters from 13-20 will move one stall to the left.
A lot of people are bummed out because they feel this diminishes the star quality of the Derby field; personally, I'm bummed because I was already on record of calling him a vulnerable favorite that I was expecting to beat in head-to-head matchups and hopefully with a longshot winner of the race!
The other bad news is that this potentially lowers the odds on all the other horses as the 4-1 morning-line favorite is replaced by a 30-1 longshot and all those Omaha Beach bettors will be spreading their money around on the other entrants.
The good news is that since I was already trying to beat Omaha Beach, my article pretty much stands as written. The only effect is that I was hoping Omaha Beach trying to get to the early lead from the #12 post would help ensure a suicidal speed scenario and set things up for a closer (which is the running style of most of my preferred plays). Hopefully the other speed horses and their connections will still be gunning for the lead in Omaha Beach's absence.
Here's my revised breakdown of the Kentucky Derby (with adjusted morning line odds after the scratch):
They drew the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field on Tuesday morning (with one “also eligible” horse in case there was a scratch -- and that's exactly what happened with #12 Omaha Beach scratched on Wednesday to allow #21 Bodexpress into the field), so I’m going to give my initial “takes” on the field with my live longshots and what contenders I’m tossing.
1-War of Will (15-1)
He drew the dreaded #1 post. Most people will be throwing him out, but I actually believe this makes him an overlay in the exotics since he will be left off so many tickets. War of Will has the speed to get to the rail and into a ground-saving trip. From there, he’ll probably still need some racing luck, but if he reverts to his form prior to the Louisiana Derby (which was an understandable clunker as his connections knew he had enough points to get in the Derby field), he could light up the toteboard.
He should be able to sit right behind War of Will with a ground-saving trip. It’s not unthinkable for him to hit the board (5-for-5 lifetime in the money) but there’s just a lot of horses whose chances I like better. But I certainly wouldn’t try to talk anyone off of using him.
3-By My Standards (15-1)
Now here’s one of those ones I like better! Usually, it’s not wise to back just a maiden-winner against winners of multiple races, but he pulled it off in the Louisiana Derby at 22-1. I usually like a colt with more experience, but this one has the look (at the risk of giving human qualities to animals) of a horse that has “figured it out.” After losing his first three races, he’s won two straight and we don’t know if we’ve seen his upside yet. Any further improvement and he’s right there!
4-Gray Magician (50-1)
Call me crazy but here’s another colt I love! He ran second in the UAE Derby. I know no horse has overcome that trip to Dubai and back to Louisville, but it will happen in our lifetime as there’s too many well-bred horses with well-financed connections attempting the feat. Now, Plus Que Parfait was the UAE Derby winner, but I like Gray Magician’s prior races much better.
The Bob Baffert second-stringer is named well. I wouldn’t call him Impossible so Improbable fits better. He was runner-up his last two races at Oaklawn and I wasn’t too impressed with any of the Arkansas races (including Omaha Beach’s win in the Arkansas Derby). So, I can’t completely throw him out but will be using on a minimum of exotic tickets.
Winner of three of his four career races, I was actually surprised Vekoma was offered at 20-1 on the original morning line on Tuesday. Of course, morning lines aren’t set in stone, so I suspected he would go off in the low teens and he was lowered to 15-1 after the scratch of Omaha Beach. He would be an overlay if he drifts back up to that 20-1 price and I'll be using him in some of my exotics.
7-Maximum Security (8-1)
He certainly hasn’t done anything wrong at 4-for-4, including taking down the Grade 1 Florida Derby his last time out. Like Vekoma, his price really should be shorter, but I guess that happens when your trainer isn’t Bob Baffert.
He has won three straight, including the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial, and he’s my favorite among the top contenders. He should have a nice stalking trip and get first run on a lot of the other closers.
9-Plus Que Parfait (30-1)
Now, since I love UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician, I have to like the UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait at least a little, right? And I do. He should be able to sit off the pace like he did last time out and possibly make a winning move. I just like Gray Magician’s. overall resume better. In a 20-horse field, it’s OK to bet multiple horses to win if you’re getting fair odds, and I’ll certainly be on Plus Que Parfait if he’s 30-1 or higher.
10-Cutting Humor (30-1)
If the track is wet because of rain this weekend, there’s going to immediately be comparisons made to Sunland Derby winner Cutting Humor and 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. But I’ll be passing as he’s obviously a cut below the majority of those in this race (of course, most people said that about Mine That Bird, too, at 50-1!).
This colt intrigues me as another closer. He certainly fits if you toss out the Wood Memorial, which is excusable as he didn’t have to be fully cranked as his connections knew he had enough points after winning the Gotham. Haikal certainly should be 30-1, so I’ll be watching the tote board on this one as well.
12-Omaha Beach (4-1) SCRATCHED
13-Code of Honor (12-1)
Claude “Shug” McGaughey has him on the same prep schedule as 2014 Derby winner Orb, except Code of Honor seemed to peak in the Fountain of Youth and didn’t follow it up with a Florida Derby win like Orb did. He certainly has the right to rebound, but I don’t think he’s worth including at relatively low odds.
14-Win Win Win (12-1)
Now, this colt is also 12-1 (after being 15-1 along with Code of Honor before the Omaha Beach scratch), but I like his chances so much better. His best race was actually a minor stakes at Tampa Bay back in January as he came up short in the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (imagine how low his price would be if he had finished better in those races), but I love his closing kick in all his races and trust he’ll be passing runners late down the Churchill Downs stretch. We’ll see if his price holds and if I even bet to win, but I’ll certainly have on top in a lot of exotics.
15-Master Fencer (50-1)
There are a lot of unknowns about this Japanese invader, but a lot to like, too (should be running late; 6-for-6 in money; has run mile and a quarter distance, though on turf). What it comes down to is that he hasn’t continued to improve after stepping up in class, and you’d go poor boxing every horse that has a puncher’s chance. I’m sticking with the ones in whom I have more confidence.
16-Game Winner (9-2)
This Bob Baffert-trainee is now the 9-2 favorite after the scratch of Omaha Beach. He probably would have been favored anyway if not having back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Rebel and the Santa Anita Derby. That makes him a bit of an overlay in my book, but still can’t bet the short price and will only be using in a few exotics.
Comes into the Derby on a two-race win streak and plenty of supporters, so I get the low odds of 5-1 (after originally being 6-1), but I don’t see him as a legit threat to win (and it has nothing to do with the No. 17 post being 0-for-40 as that jinx will end someday, I just don’t think this Saturday). I much prefer Tacitus and Game Winner among the top contenders.
18-Long Range Toddy (30-1)
Again, I’m taking a stand against the horses coming out of the Arkansas trail to the Derby. His best race was winning the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, but even a repeat of that performance puts him several lengths behind the top contenders here.
Spinoff gave up the lead in the Louisiana Derby and I don’t see him getting the extra furlong in the Kentucky Derby either. I think he could have been a pace factor in here, but the No. 19 post doesn’t help that cause. In fact, if they do send him to the front (which seems to be his only chance), he could actually do more to impact this race by compromising the chances of the other front runners (which I would love to see).
20-Country House (30-1)
Another Arkansas toss-out for me. He could make a move on the backstretch but I haven’t seen anything that makes me think he’ll do anything in the stretch except plodding along in mid-pack.
This was the only colt on the “also-eligible” list and now draws into the field with the scratch of Omaha Beach. As I wrote when he was originally on the outside looking in: "if he does draw into the field, I’m sure I’ll be tempted to at least have a flier on him (note that he finished second in the Florida Derby at 71-1)." The fact is most people are going to dismiss him since he wasn't in the original field (plus the fact he's still a maiden and also breaking from the #20 post). We'll see how high those odds go.
So, that’s how I view the field after the post position draw on Tuesday (and revised Wednesday night). It’s still too early for me to completely set my recommended betting strategy. Over the years, I’ve usually been asked to give my 1-2-3-Longshot picks, so let’s do that and then I’ll add a couple of lists of horses I’m considering for my exotic wagers such as exactas, trifectas, superfectas. Note: I’m not suggesting to box all these possible horses as that would get too expensive, but to instead pick out the groups of horses you agree with to create your own tickets. In addition, I’ll separate them into groups of speed horses and then closers as I often will cluster horses like that in my exotics since sometimes a group of speed horses will go to the lead and never get caught while we often also see times where speed horses duel each other into the ground and a bunch of closers come in together (and feel free to mix and match if you think one particular speed horse can outlast the others or drop closers you don’t like).
#4 Gray Magician (50-1): My top value play to win; I believe his odds are far in excess of his true odds; if they were to run this race 20 times, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t win at least once as he should be among those running fastest at the end.
#14 Win Win Win (12-1): Maybe not the “most likely winner,” but I like his chances as much as any of the lower-priced contenders and will be looking for
some head-to-head matches.
#8 Tacitus (8-1): If I was booking this race, I would have Tacitus a lot lower and maybe even the favorite.
#3 By My Standards (15-1): I’d put this in my “longshot” slot. Even though my top two choices are long odds as well, I really give them legitimate shots to win based on their recent form. By My Standards is more of a stretch in my mind, but the potential is there if we haven’t seen his best yet.
Potential win and/or place bets
#4 Gray Magician (50-1), #14 Win Win Win (12-1, but not lower), #3 By My Standards (15-1), #6 Vekoma (15-1), #1 War of Will (15-1, if drifts back higher), #21 Bodexpress (30-1 now that he's drawn in): note: with the scratch of Omaha Beach, I'm not as likely to bet more than 3 of these as the odds have been lowered, but we'll see what the toteboard brings on Saturday.
Exotic horses (closer grouping)
#4 Gray Magician, #14 Win Win Win, #8 Tacitus, #3 By My Standards, #9 Plus Que Parfait, #11 Haikai.
Exotic horses (speed grouping)
#6 Vekoma, #1 War of Will, #7 Maximum Security, #19 Spinoff.
Good luck, everyone!