Every year, one of the highlights of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is the opportunity to uncover a longshot that can lead to a massive return on investment and bragging rights for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, favorites have dominated in recent years, winning each of the last six editions of the run for the roses. With 20-horse fields the new norm, the favorites have returned anywhere from $6.60 (Nyquist, 2016) to $12.80 (Orb, 2013) on a $2 win bet from 2013 through 2018.
Looking a little deeper during the six-year run of favorites, there is money to be made in the exotics with the $2 exacta paying an average of $305.10 – ranging from $30.60 in 2016 to $981.60 in 2013. The trifecta likewise has yielded an enticing return with an average of $4,600.50 over the last six Kentucky Derbys – ranging from $173.40 in 2016 to $16,594.4 in 2017 for a $2 trifecta. Three times during the stretch a $2 exacta paid $336.20 or more and three times the $2 trifecta returned at least $3,424.60.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at three longshots at 20-1 or higher who could really spice up the exotics as well as one 15-1 shot (12-1 after the scratch of morning-line favorite Omaha Beach) at the end that I think is the most likely to pull off an upset victory.
Cutting Humor (30-1) – I’ve not heard much buzz about Cutting Humor this week, and I’m OK with that when trying to identify a longshot. For him, it all comes down to how you rate the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby, in which he set a track record by completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.94. The disclaimer came quickly – the Sunland Park main track was very fast – and it might be true, but this colt definitely also ran very fast. The speed-figure makers were skeptical: 103 Equibase Speed Figure, 95 Beyer Speed Figure, and 112 TimeForm US figure, but Brisnet gave him a more optimistic 99. The First Samurai colt ran poorly in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes before his breakout performance, but other than that race he’s been in the top three in each of his other five races. Cutting Humor is a half-brother to Irish You Well, a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles who was Grade 2-placed at 1 1/8 miles and comes from a very nice family. Most importantly, this colt was within two lengths of a blistering opening half-mile in :45.63 in the Sunland Park Derby and still covered his final three-eighths of a mile in 37.06 seconds with a final eighth in 12.18. He drew a perfect post position (#10) for a trainer in Todd Pletcher who has won this race twice, and of the three here I think he’s the most serious win candidate. NOTE: Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith picked up the mount on Cutting Humor after Omaha Beach was scratched May 1. Smith has won the Kentucky Derby twice from 24 starters – with longshot Giacomo in 2005 and Justify last year. He’s also finished second four times and third once.
Tax (20-1) – I liked the Grade 3 Withers Stakes winner a lot better before he drew post-position 2. As a horse who prefers to stalk or press the pace, if Tax breaks even a step slow he could be in trouble. But he’s been very consistent – never out of the top three in four starts – with Equibase Speed Figures of 100-103-105 for his last three races and 93-96-95 Beyer Speed Figures for his three most recent starts. Tax hails from a terrific Claiborne Farm/Adele Dilschneider family by a nice stamina sire in Arch out of a Giant’s Causeway mare who won at one mile. The family has produced top runners Sea Hero and Elate, among others. I’ll use him to fill out the exacta and trifecta.
Long Range Toddy (30-1) – I generally avoid horses coming into the Kentucky Derby off of poor starts and Long Range Toddy fits that profile after he ran sixth, beaten by 14 ¾ lengths in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. The reason I’m giving him a second chance is because that race was his first try on a wet track (it was labeled sloppy) and if you draw a line through that race, suddenly he looks like a completely different horse. Before the Arkansas Derby he posted four wins, a second, and a third in six races following an unplaced finish in his debut. He won two stakes on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, including beating Improbable (6-1 on the Kentucky Derby morning line) in a division of the Rebel Stakes. Long Range Toddy’s speed figures for the Rebel – 109 Equibase, 95 Beyer, 97 Brisnet, 117 TimeForm US – make him very competitive against this group. His pedigree offers a nice combination of stamina and class and, at his best, he’s fast enough to be a serious player. Post-position No. 18 is not ideal, but I liked that he worked faster than typical for a Steve Asmussen trainee in his final drill in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. If it rains again on Derby day I’ll steer clear – and it sure looks that way from the forecast – but if the track is fast he should offer serious value.
Note: I did not want to include Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Vekoma (#6) because I can’t see anyway he goes off at anywhere near the 20-1 odds he was listed at on the morning line and I wanted to offer real longshots. Plus, I did not like how slowly he finished in the Blue Grass … but at 20-1 he would be very appealing as arguably one of the five or six fastest horses in the field from a speed-figure perspective. He also is bred to love a wet track even though he has yet to show he can handle an “off” track. So much of betting the Derby is finding value, especially if you have you winner picked out and want to build an exacta or trifecta around him. At anywhere near 20-1, Vekoma would offer outstanding value. My hunch is he’ll be in the 12-1 to 15-1 range, but even at that price he’d offer some appeal. I’ll be keeping a close eye on his odds and definitely use him if the main track is muddy/sloppy.
15-1 Win Candidate (12-1 after the scratch of morning-line favorite Omaha Beach)
Code of Honor – While there is a high likelihood that this year’s Kentucky Derby winner will come from one of the six horses listed at 10-1 or less on the morning line, I do view one 3-year-old from outside that group as the best chance to post an upset victory: Code of Honor. I’ve been following this horse closely since he overcame a terrible trip, stumbling badly at the start, in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old to finish second. I loved his Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes victory, albeit with a perfect setup, when he blew past Vekoma (who went on to win the Blue Grass Stakes) entering the stretch and really leveled off nicely in the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length. He earned a 111 Equibase Speed Figure, a 95 Beyer Speed Figure, a 118 TimeForm US rating, and a 95 Brisnet figure for the Fountain of Youth, meaning he was right there with the best 3-year-olds. His final prep for the Kentucky Derby came on a speed-favoring track and he never threatened in the Xpressbet Florida Derby, finishing 6 ¾ lengths behind gate-to-wire winner Maximum Security in third. He did take a step back from a speed-figure perspective, but in our 2019 Derby Data: How Fast the Contenders Finished post from Keeler Johnson, we see that while Code of Honor did not make up much ground late, he was really running with a final three-eighths of a mile in 36.71 seconds. Code of Honor had a strong final workout for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who won the Derby in 2013 with Orb. The possibility of a wet track, something Code of Honor has yet to encounter, scares me a bit, but I think he’s worth a shot at what figures to be a nice price and I’ll really take a swing for the fences if the track is fast on Derby day.