With a memorable 35thBreeders’ Cup World Championships in the books, the horse racing calendar flips back to day one to start its most anticipated season – Kentucky Derby season. There are 177 days remaining until the 145thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4, and the road to the Derby will, as it always does, take plenty of unexpected twists and turns as contenders rise and fall with each passing prep race. The official Road to the Kentucky Derby series of races offering qualifying points began on Sept. 15 with the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Forecasting the 20-horse field – and even taking an early stand on a potential winner backed by a future wager – is an annual highlight of Derby season, and the bookmakers at William Hill have already released future odds on Derby 145. Starting this week, we’ll take a periodic look at William Hill’s future-book odds for the Kentucky Derby and take a closer look some of the contenders. Churchill Downs will also offer four Kentucky Derby future wager pools through prep season, with the first set to take bets from Nov. 22-25 during the track’s closing weekend of its fall meet.
Nov. 3 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the Kentucky Derby:
1) Game Winner (6-1)
2) Instagrand (10-1)
3) Improbable (15-1)
4) Code of Honor (30-1)
5) Tale of the Union (40-1)
6) Cruel Intention (50-1)
6) Knicks Go (50-1)
6) Maximus Mischief (50-1)
6) Mucho (50-1)
6) Roadster (50-1)
Game Winner: No surprise – the unbeaten three-time Grade 1 winner and recent Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is the clear early Kentucky Derby 2019 favorite. Of course, the key word here is early. There’s so much to like about his connections – Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, elite jockey Joel Rosario, prominent owners Gary and Mary West – and his pedigree (by leading stallion Candy Ride and out of a dam [mother] who is by the great stamina sire A.P. Indy). But again, it’s early. Look for him to return to the track early next year at Santa Anita Park. Mike Curry goes into much further detail on this very promising colt in his latest Making the Grade profile.
Instagrand: This Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Into Mischief colt was the preeminent buzz horse on the California summer racing circuit after annihilating his competition in two races at Del Mar, including the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes. He was then kept out of the Del Mar Futurity (won by Game Winner) and then the American Pharoah Stakes (ditto) and shelved by owner Larry Best of OXO Equine for the rest of 2018 in a decision that generated heated debate in the horse racing social media-sphere. Given the long break, and bloodlines that are a bit suspect for the Derby’s classic 1 ¼-mile distance, early 10-1 odds for the Derby are very questionable. But there is no doubting his talent.
Improbable: Another from Bob Baffert’s typically loaded stable of prospects, this colt broke his maiden by a neck on Sept. 29 at Santa Anita but took the next step in his progression in an eye-catching manner on the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup undercard at Churchill Downs when he won the one-mile Street Sense Stakes by a widening 7 ¼ lengths. His sire (father), City Zip, is versatile but has generally been regarded as a sire of sprinters and milers, but his dam’s (mother’s) pedigree is more stamina-oriented, as she is by the aforementioned A. P. Indy and closely related to 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up and top-class dirt racehorse Hard Spun. And his ownership group of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing is in the midst of incredible success, as WinStar and China Horse Club are part-owners of Justify and all three are part-owners of Grade 1 winner Yoshida.
Code of Honor: Aside from Game Winner, this colt may have the most fervent backers as a viable 2019 Kentucky Derby candidate, and here’s hoping that his recent setback – a fever that kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – has no lasting impact on his training. He’s under the supervision of Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, is a homebred of Will Farish, the patriarch of Lane’s End Farm, and is a son of the young stallion Noble Mission, a full brother (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to recent superstar international racehorse Frankel. A poor start in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes on Oct. 6 cost him any chance of winning, but he was running well late to get second and appears to be the type who will relish extra distance.
Tale of the Union: The third Bob Baffert-trained colt in the early top 5 has only appeared on the racetrack once, but it was an authoritative performance at Del Mar back on Aug. 26, when he won by eight lengths in a 5 ½-furlong maiden race. He has not had a published workout since Sept. 18, and it will be interesting to see where this colt surfaces next and at what distance – perhaps during Del Mar’s Bing Crosby meet in November. He’s a son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags but the bottom half of his pedigree is more sprint-oriented.
Three to Watch:
Knicks Go: This burgeoning fan favorite sits at 50-1 odds in William Hill’s book after silencing skeptics with his strong runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. That followed an upset win in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland where he got loose on the lead at 70-1 odds and was never threatened in a 5 ½-length romp. He showed he could rate just off of the pace in the Breeders’ Cup, and battled with Game Winner in early stretch before settling for second. Pedigree-wise, he’s the first Grade 1 winner by the young sire Paynter, who nearly won the 2012 Belmont Stakes and won that year’s Haskell Invitational Stakes. Look for him to start his 3-year-old season in one of Tampa Bay Downs’ Derby preps.
Vekoma: Another son of Candy Ride, this colt improved to 2-for-2 with a 1 ¾-length win in the one-mile, Grade 3 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 4 for trainer George Weaver. That followed a first-out win in a six-furlong maiden race in September at Belmont Park. His pedigree is a mix of stamina, through Candy Ride, and speed, as his dam (mother) Mona de Momma was a Grade 1-winning sprinter and is related to multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter and sire Mr. Greeley. However, 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is also part of his female family. He’s listed at 125-1 odds in William Hill’s Nov. 3 sheet.
Aurelius Maximus: This colt, trained by Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, broke his maiden going a one-turn mile at Belmont Park by an impressive 7 ¾ lengths on Sept. 9 and then ran decently in his stakes debut when fourth in the Champagne Stakes. He’s got a pedigree that is promising for stretching out in future races, as a son of Pioneeerof the Nile (the sire of American Pharoah) and out of an A. P. Indy mare who was a graded stakes winner and is related to several top-class milers. He currently posts 75-1 odds at William Hill.