Kentucky Derby 145: Sorting the Contenders from the Pretenders in the Run for the Roses

Posted on: May 4, 2019, 08:21h. 

Last updated on: May 4, 2019, 08:21h.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Derby isn’t your normal horse race. For starters, it brings up to 20 horses to the gate, more than double than what you see in most fields.

Last year, Justify wore the garland of roses after winning the Kentucky Derby. A field of 19 will race Saturday in the 145th running of the Derby at Churchill Downs. (Image: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Throwing that many horses – or 19 as are slated to run Saturday – adds a lot of randomness to the race. The start of the race will look like rush hour traffic on a highway where four lanes quickly become two. Several horses will come in with wins in their last races, and more than a few will be lightly raced, especially against graded stakes competition.

But, as trainer Richard Mandella said earlier this week, the Derby is the most coveted prize in the sport.

It’s said every year, when you learn about horse racing, the first thing you learn is the Kentucky Derby,” said Mandella, whose entry Omaha Beach was scratched Wednesday. “You grow up in it. You work in it. Whether you are a jockey or trainer or groom, a hot walker, an owner, it doesn’t matter. The Kentucky Derby is what everybody knows. So everybody has that dream to win it.”

Here’s the field for Grade I Kentucky Derby 145 broken down by the colts most likely to contend for the garland of roses, those with questions surrounding them and those more likely to be mentioned toward the end of the racing chart.

(NOTE: Horses will be mentioned by their program number, not in order of preference. I’m not likely to finalize my selections until shortly before the race once conditions are better known.)

Derby Contenders

War of Will was the darling of the early prep races after posting wins in LeComte and Risen Star stakes. Then, he took a bad step in the Louisiana Derby and finished ninth. After moving from the turf, he won his first three races on dirt, including the aforementioned stakes races. The Mark Casse colt could be an intriguing value selection.

Improbable has raced five times. He won the first three, then lost by a neck to Long Range Roddy in the Rebel after the winning made a great stretch move. Then in the Arkansas Derby, he saw his strong stretch drive held off by Omaha Beach in the slop. He may be Bob Baffert’s best horse for an off-track.

Vekoma is lightly raced, but he’s won three of his four races. He ran third against his toughest competition in the Fountain of Youth but track conditions may work in his favor.

Maximum Security won the Florida Derby is the same fashion as Serengeti Empress won Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. If he can grab the early lead and set the pace, he may very well hold off the Baffert trio and others.

Tacitus, like Vekoma, has only four career races and three wins. He also overcame an awful start, as he was bumped and nearly found himself perpendicular to the rest of the field, in his last race to win the Wood Memorial by more than a length.

Game Winner hasn’t won in 2019, but he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last fall. The Bob Baffert colt also ran well in his two prep races this year, only to be chased down late by Omaha Beach and Roadster. One can argue he has plenty of drive in him left for a Derby stretch run.

Question Marks

Tax started off his career getting claimed in his second race, but he has placed in the money in all five starts. However, he does face a step up in competition.

Code of Honor has been hit-or-miss in his young career. After winning the Fountain of Youth, he could not fire up a strong stretch run and finished seven lengths behind Maximum Security to finish third.

Roadster is another colt who has raced just four times, including just one stakes race. He had a stunning comeback late in the Santa Anita to trip up his fellow Baffert stablemate, Game Winner, at the end. However, that kind of off-the-pace comeback will be hard to replicate in a field of 19. Plus, he’ll have a new rider on him in Florent Geroux.

Derby Pretenders

By My Standards got to the Derby by winning the Louisiana Derby as a 22-1 shot in his only stakes race. Has won just twice in five starts.

Gray Magician needed to go to Dubai to get to Churchill Downs. He finished second to Plus Que Parfait in the UAE Derby and secured enough qualifying points against less-than-stellar competition.

Plus Que Parfait, see Gray Magician. UAE winners have not fared well in the Kentucky Derby.

Cutting Humor won the Sunland Derby in his last race, but he’s won just twice in six races. He’ll also have a new jockey aboard in Mike Smith, who came on after Omaha Beach was scratched.

Win Win Win has three wins in six races, but none in graded stakes. His wins also have come in races of less than seven furlongs, suggesting he’s better suited for sprints.

Master Fencer comes from Japan, where he won twice. He did not win either Derby prep in Japan, finishing no better than second. Likely outclassed on Saturday.

Long Range Toddy won in the Rebel thanks to a great stretch move to catch Improbable, but he did not fare as well stepping up in class in the Arkansas Derby.

Spinoff has raced just four times and not won a graded stakes. He was chased down by By My Standards in the Louisiana Derby.

Country House has just one win, a $50,000 maiden, in six tries. Reached the Derby thanks to a second place showing in the Risen Star and a third in the Arkansas Derby. This will be his third race in six weeks.

Bodexpress gained entry into the Derby after Omaha Beach’s throat ailment forced his connections to scratch him. He’s has not won in five races, including four maidens.