The preps, the points and the works are a thing of the past. It’s now a waiting game until the first Saturday in May when months of intense scrutiny will culminate with the 145th edition of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. There are probably a dozen horses who are capable of winning Saturday’s $3 million race at Churchill Downs without any jaws dropping. Oh, and there’s a chance there could be a wet track, which will probably rub salt in the wounds of anyone who placed a future bet on Hidden Scroll. Remember him? If not, don’t worry. By Saturday night, the 3-year-old division will have a new star to celebrate and spark the kind of dreams that only the Triple Crown can.
Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve
Racetrack: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Date: May 4
Purse: $3 million
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Post Time: 6:50 p.m. ET
Notable winners: Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014), Smarty Jones (2004), Sunday Silence (1989), Winning Colors (1988), Alysheba (1987), Genuine Risk (1980), Spectacular Bid (1979), Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (1977), Secretariat (1973)
First held: 1875
1. War of Will (15-1): It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for him. He won the Lecomte and Risen Star to become a top Derby contender. He lost his action in the Louisiana Derby and became as fashionable as bell bottoms. Some sharp recent works triggered a rise in his stock but then he drew post one, aka the black hole. As a result, he’ll probably be on the lead early and it’s unlikely that will work out well for him. If it rains, remember he broke his maiden here in the slop.
JOCKEY: Tyler Gaffalione TRAINER: Mark Casse
2. Tax (20-1): Claimed for $50,000 by trainer Danny Gargan, Tax has put those days behind him and rates as an interesting longshot. A game second to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial, he seems well-equipped to handle the mile-and-a-quarter distance, though the post doesn’t help his chances. He has experience over the track, finishing second in his career debut at Churchill Downs.
JOCKEY: Junior Alvarado TRAINER: Danny Gargan
3. By My Standards (15-1): Two starts ago, he was a maiden. Now he’s as popular as the latest version of an iPhone. Won the Louisiana Derby to earn a spot in the field and some fast subsequent workouts have made him a buzz horse. He’s moving forward at the right time, but with only one big effort to his credit he’s facing a tough challenge in a very deep field. He was second on a sloppy track here in his debut.
JOCKEY: Gabriel Saez TRAINER: Bret Calhoun
4. Gray Magician (50-1): Had to travel to Dubai to earn a spot in a Kentucky race and seems overmatched. The silver lining is that he closed quickly in the final furlong of the UAE Derby. His trainer, Peter Miller, may be best known for his success with sprinters, but if Gray Magician can duplicate the late kick he flashed in Dubai, it bodes well for his chances of sneaking into the picture at the end.
JOCKEY: Drayden Van Dyke TRAINER: Peter Miller
5. Improbable (5-1): A winner at 2 over this track, he lost by a length to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby over a sloppy racetrack. Had to quickly rush into contention as Omaha Beach controlled the pace, and should work out a better trip here with several others on hand who can keep the favorite occupied in the early stages. He’s trained by five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, which helps, but you do have to wonder if being a son of the sprinter City Zip will catch up with him in the final furlong.
JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr. TRAINER: Bob Baffert
6. Vekoma (15-1): He’s one of the speedsters who should be on or near the lead with Omaha Beach. He’s only raced four times but owns three wins and was a decisive winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, albeit the final time was not electrifying. A tepid pace would definitely come in handy.
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano TRAINER: George Weaver
7. Maximum Security (8-1): Like Tax, he ran in a claimer. But unlike Tax, who was claimed for $50,000, he carried a $16,000 tag in his debut and no one dropped a claim slip for him. That was a big mistake by anyone who had the slightest amount of interest in him. He won by nearly 10 lengths in his debut and is undefeated in four career starts, capped by a front-running victory in the Florida Derby. He was able to carve out moderate fractions in that Grade 1 test and win by 3 ½ lengths, but figures to set a more vigorous pace here, especially as a stablemate to 2-year-old champion Game Winner, who needs a quick pace to flatter his late kick.
JOCKEY: Luis Saez TRAINER: Jason Servis
8. Tacitus (8-1): He comes from the same stable that gave us Hidden Scroll, who failed to live up to expectations after a 14-length debut win in the slop. This Juddmonte Farms 3-year-old is also light on experience but heavy on talent and ability. In his two 2019 starts, he won the Tampa Bay Derby and then overcame some early traffic issues to win the Wood. He’s a major player in this field who could be destined to give trainer Bill Mott his first Derby and become the first horse to win both the Wood and Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Also, jockey Jose Ortiz opted to ride him instead of Improbable.
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz TRAINER: Bill Mott
9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1): This U.S.-based runner won the UAE Derby, but what may matter more is that last year he was a sharp second by a neck over a soaked, sloppy surface at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Keep that in mind if umbrellas are needed Saturday.
JOCKEY: Ricardo Santana Jr. TRAINER: Brendan Walsh
10. Cutting Humor (30-1): Rebounded from a disappointing showing in the Southwest Stakes to win the Sunland Derby for two-time Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher. Benefited from a fast pace that day and still has to prove he belongs among the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division.
JOCKEY: Mike Smith TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
11. Haikal (SCRATCHED May 3): Traveled around two turns for the first time in the Wood and closed from eighth to finish third. The added distance should help but he’ll need a smooth trip in a field this big and that’s a risky proposition. Still, at 30-1, using him at the bottom of some exotics may not be a bad idea.
JOCKEY: Rajiv Maragh TRAINER: Kiaran McLaughlin
12. Omaha Beach (SCRATCHED ON MAY 1): In a competitive field, he’s a highly worthy favorite. A different horse since he was switched from turf to dirt, he boasts the best body of work at 3, beating Game Winner in the Rebel and then Improbable in the Arkansas Derby. Faces a tougher challenge here but what stands out is an unwillingness to let rivals pass him in the stretch. The question marks are the pace and how he’ll handle 10 furlongs. A wet track should not be an issue after the Arkansas Derby win and a nine-length maiden romp in the slop at Santa Anita.
JOCKEY: Mike Smith TRAINER: Richard Mandella
13. Code of Honor (12-1): His last two races have been a tale of two fractions. In the Fountain of Youth, when Hidden Scroll hustled through a :45.69 half-mile, Code of Honor was sharp winner by a little less than a length. In the Florida Derby, when Maximus Security jogged through a :48.98 half-mile, he lacked a late kick and checked in third. He’s in the extremely capable hands of trainer Shug McGaughey and with the likelihood of a better pace scenario, he should bounce back.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez TRAINER: Shug McGaughey
14. Win Win Win (12-1): His 7 ¼-length victory in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay generated one of the best speed figures on the Kentucky Derby trail. Not surprisingly, he then bounced and finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby. He ran into a rough trip in the Blue Grass but still managed to close swiftly in the stretch and finish second. He should improve off that race and even if he does not win win win, he might show, show, show.
JOCKEY: Julian Pimentel TRAINER: Mike Trombetta
15. Master Fencer (50-1): The first Japanese-bred to run in the Kentucky Derby, he did a lot of traveling to get here. Whether he’ll do a lot of running is a different story. He was second in his qualifying race but given the sandy nature of the dirt surfaces in Japan and the relatively slow times, he, like Japanese import Lani before him, seems a better match for the Belmont Stakes.
JOCKEY: Julien Leparoux TRAINER: Koichi Tsunoda
16. Game Winner (9-2): Undefeated at 2 when he won the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs and earned an Eclipse Award, he’s winless in two starts at 3. Yet there was no disgrace in either effort as he dropped a nose decision to Omaha Beach and was caught late by a Baffert-trained stablemate, Roadster, in the Santa Anita Derby. His connections viewed the two races as preps to round him into shape to run the race of his life on the first Saturday in May, and judging by his recent works, it may be mission accomplished.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario TRAINER: Bob Baffert
17. Roadster (5-1): Speaking of Roadster, Baffert had high hopes for him at 2, but an injury sidelined him before the Breeders’ Cup. He’s 2-for-2 at 3 and owns a win in the Santa Anita Derby, but he’ll have a much rougher time closing from the middle or rear of the pack in a 20-horse field than he did in closing from fifth in a six-horse field in the Santa Anita Derby. He also landed a post that’s 0-for-40 with one second in the past 89 runnings of the Derby.
JOCKEY: Florent Geroux TRAINER: Bob Baffert
18. Long Range Toddy (30-1): He staged a solid rally to beat Improbable in a division of the Rebel but then failed to fire in the Arkansas Derby and finished sixth. If it was the muddy track that bothered him, that doesn’t bode well considering the weather forecast.
JOCKEY: Jon Court TRAINER: Steve Asmussen
19. Spinoff (30-1): He looked the part of a winner in mid-stretch of the Louisiana Derby, but could not hold off By My Standards in the final yards. Off that effort, even without a stakes win to his credit, he might be the better of Pletcher’s two starters.
JOCKEY: Manny Franco TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
20. Country House (30-1): He grabbed the last available spot in the Derby by finishing third in the Arkansas Derby and now he has last post. Typically post 20 is a bear to overcome, but with so much speed in the race, he should be able to move inside several paths before the first turn. He’s 0-for-3 in stakes this year, but has enough of a late kick to be a part of the exotics.
JOCKEY: Flavien Prat TRAINER: Bill Mott
21. Bodexpress (30-1): He was second as a maiden in the Florida Derby with the help of the soft pace. Gets in the field with the scratch of Omaha Beach, and breaking from post 20 looms an insurmountable obstacle for him.
JOCKEY: Chris Landeros TRAINER: Gustavo Delgado
THE PICK: Game Winner
LIVE LONGSHOT: Code of Honor