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The 10th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview

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Kentucky Derby Preview Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Welcome to the 10th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview!

10 DAMN YEARS! Wow!

At this point you have come to know and respect the CKDP and its Decade of Dominance, but for those who are new to the fray, peep this:

Over the past nine years I have given the world FIVE Trifecta wins, a Superfecta win and the eventual creation of beer. To make it even more simple, if you have followed my guidance over the past nine years you would have net winnings of $2,393! Is there any other website on the entire world wide webs that is giving you free money? No! No there isn’t!

Before we get to the analysis of the ponies, some ground rules. In this space as in years past I’m going to narrow the 20 horse field down to a group of 6 for a real casual $1, 6-horse trifecta box ($120) of Casual Destiny and Hope and Freedom and America. Win the trifecta, win the world. That’s how you get the instagram models to come to your parties.

With that in mind, below is the most casual analysis of the 2019 Kentucky Derby field you will likely find anywhere else, from someone who has actually watched all of these horses run in all of their prep races. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Indeed, my life has very little meaning.

Away we go...

  1. War of Will (15-1):

I liked this horse that ran well in Louisiana in every prep race except for the Louisiana Derby, where he flopped and finished 9th as the betting favorite. Not fast enough and toast out of the 1 post.

Verdict: TOSS.

2. Tax (20-1):

Has the speed to grab a piece of the action in exotics, but the 2 post won’t do him any favors in this race. Ran a game 2nd to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial and already has three career races at a mile and an 8th, all at 100+ Beyers. I don’t hate this horse at the value.

Verdict: Include in exotics.

3. By My Standards (15-1):

Intrigued by this Louisiana Derby winner who has reportedly been running well at Churchill this week. In the Louisiana Derby below, he is pinched on the rail at the top of the stretch but never gives up, rallying down the stretch and passing horses on the way. Unlikely to get a clean trip out of the 3 post, he’s going to need to do more of the same in this race, but has the speed (102 Beyer in the Louisiana) to do it. Good value for what could be an improving horse, but steps up in class here.

Verdict: Include.

4. Gray Magician (50-1):

I’ve learned my lesson over the years regarding these annual entrants into the field from the UAE Derby. Every year it’s “oh, we don’t know much about this horse, maybe he’s the best in the field! A wild card!” And every year these horses flop. This one didn’t even win the UAE Derby (finished 2nd to Plus Que Parfait), and I’d be shocked if he’s able to grab a piece here with his front-running style in a field of classier horses.

Verdict: TOSS.

5. Improbable (5-1):

This Bob Baffert trained horse is one of the favorites to win this race, but I’m a bit skeptical. After winning the first three races of his career, Improbable has finished 2nd in his last two, including the recent Arkansas Derby in his 1st test at a mile and an 8th. In that race which was over a sloppy track that perhaps he didn’t take to, Improbable had every chance to win despite a rough start but was beaten by Omaha Beach down the stretch. Before the Arkansas, he was beaten in the Rebel by Long Range Toddy, who is 30-1 here. If Baffert’s name weren’t associated with this horse I think he’d be closer to 10-1 and I’d jump at that price. Has the tactical speed to be in the mix.

Verdict: Include.

6. Vekoma (15-1):

Won the Blue Grass Stakes as a favorite in his 1st race at a mile and an 8th, this inexperienced horse has a front-running style and the speed to stay near the lead throughout this race. Impressive stretch run in the Blue Grass despite very quick opening fractions, love the value at 15-1.

Verdict: Include.

7. Maximum Security (8-1):

The undefeated Florida Derby champ led that race wire to wire and could very well do the same thing here. Though the Florida Derby ended up being relatively slow, he was never challenged. Has run two races with 100+ Beyers and could very well be sent to the front and dare anyone to come get him. 7 post gives him that chance. Good value at 8-1.

Verdict: Include.

8. Tacitus (8-1):

This horse is a fighter with speed, winning both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial coming back from mid to the back of the pack to make bold stretch runs. Wood Memorial winners haven’t fared so well in the Derby, but this horse could reverse the trend, and his ability to rate off the leaders should allow him to save some gas around the track..

Verdict: Include, contender.

9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1):

I think it’s the Donkey character in SHREK that says “everybody loves parfaits.”

Verdict: TOSS

10. Cutting Humor (30-1):

The Sunland Derby winner gets love for being a Todd Pletcher horse but I’m going to let him beat me here.

Verdict: TOSS

11. Haikal (30-1):

Decent Beyer numbers but nothing really pops about this horse. Could pick up a piece if everything falls right, will be running at the end assuming he races at all as he has recently developed a foot injury.

Verdict: TOSS.

(UPDATE: Haikal has indeed been scratched. Au revoir.)

12. Omaha Beach (4-1): SCRATCHED

Note: Omaha Beach was scratched from the race on Wednesday, but below is what I had on him prior to the announcement.

In recent years the Derby has been won by the betting favorite, and while Omaha Beach could certainly continue to carry that torch after this race, I’m not so sure. Working in his favor is that he is 2 for 2 since he has been ridden by jockey Mike Smith who has opted to ride Omaha Beach instead of Roadster, and he has never finished out of the money in his life. However, he isn’t exactly a speedster (top Beyer figure is 99) and his visuals don’t pop for me. Then again, he’s always near the front at the top of the stretch which I suppose is all you can ask for. The Arkansas Derby win was over the slop, so if it rains on Derby day he could be your guy even though the price isn’t casual.

Verdict: Include.

13. Code of Honor (12-1):

A mid to back pack runner who will be running at the end, Code of Honor will need a fast early pace to be able to run down horses down the stretch in this race. I’m not sure he gets it here in a race devoid of rabbits, but if you want a closer for your tickets he’s your dude at good value.

Verdict: Include.

14. Win Win Win (12-1):

All he does is Win Win Win no matter what! Except he doesn’t. Pretty much the same horse as Code of Honor except a tad worse.

Verdict: TOSS.

15. Master Fencer (50-1):

A Japanese horse! Unlike any other horse in this field he has run the Derby length already not just once but twice! In a race without any elite competitor would it be that out of the question for this guy to grab a share at the end? At 50-1 is it not worth it to find out? BUT then there’s this quote from his owner: “It is an honor to be able to participate in one of the world’s greatest races. In Japan, kids in grade school have a yearly athletic competition that the whole family and close friends all get very excited about. They hope when their children perform they do well but, of course, parents most of all want their children to come back safely. That is how I feel about Master Fencer.” Look man do you want to win or not?

Verdict: TOSS

16. Game Winner (9-2):

Baffert’s 2nd entry into the field and now the favorite after Omaha Beach has scratched, everything was going great for him on the Derby prep trail until he was beaten by Omaha Beach in the Rebel (barely and was probably going to win if race was another furlong) and was run down by Roadster in the Santa Anita. I don’t like the value at but can’t ignore as this horse is always in the mix.

Verdict: Include.

17. Roadster (5-1):

Another Baffert horse that seems to be trending in the right direction. His win in the Santa Anita from the middle of the pack was impressive, but Mike Smith (the jockey who has ridden him in every race of his life) decided to jump ship and ride Omaha Beach instead. Not exactly a great sign.

Verdict: Include.

18. Long Range Toddy (30-1):

Will need a lot to go right for him to hit the board and I just don’t see it here. Not fast enough.

Verdict: TOSS.

19. Spinoff (30-1):

Ran a career-best Beyer of 102 in the Louisiana Derby so he has good speed, problem is he’s going to waste it all at the beginning out of the 19 post and isn’t going to have the gas down the stretch.

Verdict: TOSS.

20. Country House (30-1)

Clunked up to grab 3rd in the sloppy Arkansas Derby, he has already had 4 jockeys ride him in his career. Overmatched here.

Verdict: TOSS.

21. Bodexpress (30-1)

Enters the field as the replacement for Omaha Beach, this horse has www.NoChance.com. Likes to be near the lead and has a ton of ground to cover to get there here.

Verdict: TOSS

That’s the field!

OK, so where are we:

2. Tax (20-1)

3. By My Standards (15-1)

5. Improbable (5-1)

6. Vekoma (15-1)

7. Maximum Security (8-1)

8. Tacitus (8-1)

13. Code of Honor (12-1)

16. Game Winner (9-2)

17. Roadster (5-1)

9 horses! No help.

Let’s try to get to the Ticket of Six:

First, of the longer shots closer to the rail, By My Standards gets the nod over Tax. I like Tax’s speed, but I think he’ll get zapped out of the 2 post and has yet to display a strong closing kick. By My Standards has shown an ability to weave through horses and still have gas down the stretch.

Down to 8.

Next, since I don’t think this race will have any blistering speed early, I don’t think it makes much sense to keep any of the deeper closers on the ticket just for the sake of value. Peace out, Code of Honor.

Down to 7.

I want to keep Vekoma, Maximum Security and Tacitus in for the value, so let’s try to pick the best two out of Baffert’s barn. Out of Improbable, Game Winner and Roadster, I think Game Winner and Roadster are the better horses. Roadster appears to be peaking at the right time and is undefeated as a 3 year old, and I can’t ignore the stretch run in the Santa Anita. Game Winner is a strong horse and he could win this race, but he had every chance to win what was a slow Santa Anita Derby and didn’t. I’m not sure he wants this distance but have to take the chance. Improbable doesn’t wow me and was clearly second best to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas, but the blinkers on, blinkers off thing bothers me and I’m not going to put money on a horse that his connections are still trying to figure out.

So there we go, the Final 6!

3. By My Standards (15-1)

6. Vekoma (15-1)

7. Maximum Security (8-1)

8. Tacitus (8-1)

16. Game Winner (9-2)

17. Roadster (5-1)

RACE ANALYSIS

The usual thought with the Kentucky Derby is that swift early fractions (quarter mile in less than 23 seconds, half mile in the 45 second range) are bad news for horses with a front-running style as they will fade and get run down in the stretch by horses with better closing speed. Class horses, however, are able to hold off these closers which explains why the favorite has won this race in each of the last six years.

This year’s Derby should have strong early pace but certainly a manageable one. I’d expect Maximum Security and Vekoma to be out front early and take this group around the track, with the biggest question being which of the horses right behind him or from the middle of the pack are going to go get them.

If the visuals in the prep races hold true to form, I’d expect Maximum Security, the three Baffert barn horses, Tacitus, Roadster, Tax, By My Standards and Vekoma to all be in the mix down the stretch, while closers like Code of Honor and Win Win Win make moves as well.

If I had to pick the top 6 in order (which I don’t), I’ll roll with:

WIN: 8. Tacitus (8-1)

PLACE: 7. Maximum Security (8-1)

SHOW: 3. By My Standards (15-1)

4th: 6. Vekoma (15-1)

5th: 5. Game Winner (5-1)

6th: 17. Roadster (5-1)

NOTES:

- To me, Tacitus has been the most consistently impressive horse throughout the prep season and his post position and running style suit him just fine here. Out of the 8 he’ll let the action unfold in front of him and be in position to pass horses down the stretch. He was 10-1 after the post draw and I kind of wish he was still at that price, but at 8-1 he’s a value play as a threat to win outright.

- Maximum Security is an intriguing horse. He could wire the field or he could get run down in the stretch and finished towards the bottom of the field. I’m betting on a performance closer to the former given his run in the Florida Derby, and I’m intrigued to see what he does when threatened.

- By My Standards is a grinder and if he can survive the break from the gate at the 3 post he should be able to save some ground along the way at the rail and have some gas in reserve for the stretch run.

- Vekoma is the wild card here. His stretch run was a tad wobbly in the Blue Grass but he easily put away that field as an inexperienced horse. People like to toss the Blue Grass as a prep due to the speed favoring track, but last year’s Blue Grass winner Good Magic finished 2nd in the Derby to eventual Triple Crown winner Justify.

- At 5th and 6th I’m putting the Baffert barn horses, basically because they are very similar. Either could win, either could finish 12th.

As I have a tendency to go back and forth and talk myself out of my analysis as the prices change for these horses once the money (or the rain) starts pouring in, be sure to check right back here in the comments for updates right up until go time.

I had a chance to visit Churchill a few years ago and if you are ever in the fine city of Louisville, you must go. Documentation below.

2009 Derby champion Mine That Bird!

Remember, at the end of the day, wager how you wish but remember to wager, because life without gambling on ponies is a life not worth living and a bad day at the track is better than a good day at work.

Enjoy the race.