Belmont Park Picks
Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby Preview: Baffert Holds Strong Hand With Trifecta of Stars

Game Winner in a Recent Workout at Santa Anita (Credit: Jim Safford)

It’s go time! The field for the 145th Kentucky Derby is set, with the major story line being the scratch of Omaha Beach on Wednesday evening, who was made the morning line favorite at Tuesday’s post position draw. His defection from the race has left handicappers scrambling. Another major storyline is the weather once again this season, which looks to be bleak, with rain expect Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Despite the gloomy projected conditions and scratch of the favorite, the race is still shaping up to be a good one. The event will go off as the 12th race of the day on Saturday with a local post time of 6:50 PM ET.

The new morning line favorite for the race is Game Winner, who comes into the Derby off back to back narrow losses in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park and the Santa Anita Derby (G1). However, trainer Bob Baffert has said countless times that this race was the ultimate objective, where he will have him ready to fire his best race of the season. The Candy Ride colt has drawn post 16, with jockey Joel Rosario aboard.

Bob Baffert also has two other strong contenders for the race. Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Roadster has drawn post 17 for the race, while, Arkansas Derby (G1) runner up Improbable has drawn post 5. Both horses had solid workouts leading up to the race, which signals they also could be a handful in this spot. Amazingly, these three horses could give Baffert the top three choices in the race.

The horse with the worst draw in the race is War of Will, who ended up with the dreaded rail spot. He had been turning heads in the mornings leading up to the event with a couple of flashy workouts, which makes this rail draw even more disheartening. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione has the mount for trainer Mark Casse, both of which are looking for their first Kentucky Derby victory.

The full field for the 145th Kentucky Derby includes: War of Will, Tax, By My Standards, Gray Magician, Improbable, Vekoma, Maximum Security, Tacitus, Plus Que Parfait, Cutting Humor, HaikalCode of Honor, Win Win Win, Master Fencer, Game Winner, Roadster, Long Range Toddy, SpinoffCountry House, and Bodexpress.

Kentucky Derby Picks

Top Choice

#16 Game Winner – There is so much to like about this horse coming into the race. He has a win over the Churchill Downs surface, he is bred to run very well at this distance, and his trainer has conditioned him to fire his best race on this day. Trainer Bob Baffert also said to the media late last week that Game Winner “should run a big race” in the Kentucky Derby. Baffert is always important to listen to, with him recently tipping off several of his horses that went on to run well. If there is one horse you can count on in this race it is Game Winner, who is the type that is always going to show up with a solid effort. His two runner-up finishes this season are the only draw back; however, he is two narrow margins away from being undefeated. He will be very dangerous when they turn for home on Saturday.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#5 Improbable – Call it a hunch, but even though all the signs point against this horse, I still believe he is sitting on a big race. He couldn’t have acted any worse in all the pre-race Arkansas Derby (G1) festivities, causing me to believe he was getting ready to run very poorly. Instead, despite the rail draw and poor break, he still ran a huge race to finish second to Omaha Beach, who would have been the favorite in this spot. Many believe his pedigree is not right for the Kentucky Derby; however, he ran his best career speed figure last time out going 1 1/8th miles. Based on pure talent he might be the best of the three Baffert’s. If he can put it together mentally he could make some series noise.

#17 Roadster – This is the Bob Baffert horse that is the toughest to get a read on; however, there is no way you can’t take him seriously. The horse has almost been forgotten a bit after Mike Smith chose to ride Omaha Beach over him, which is a decision he now regrets. Still, you can’t take away his ultra-impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), where he dropped towards the back of the pack, before zooming home to beat Game Winner in the final stages of the race. He is light on experience, though, which could come into play in a race of this magnitude. We’ll see if his raw ability can help guide him to the winners circle. There is no doubt he is not short on talent.

#1 War of Will – This is the horse that could really help your payouts. Many fans who bet on horse racing only look at the horses last start, which is going to turn many people off. He was a well-beaten ninth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) last time out; however, you must realize that he was slightly injured two steps out of the gate. To me, that race is a complete throw out. When judging him off of his other starts, it’s clear to see why trainer Mark Casse has said that he will win the Derby with this horse. This horse has been a star in the mornings leading up this one, while he should be ready to fire with a big effort in this event. However, the rail draw is a total disaster, so that does put a damper on his expectations.

Exotic Plays

#14 Win Win Win – We’ll see if this horse can finally get a decent trip on the perfect day. It’s a plus that he gets his old jockey Julien Pimentel back, who probably shouldn’t have been taken off the horse in the first place. He’ll hopefully get Win Win Win more forwardly placed, after he was taken to the back in his last two starts. If he gets a clean trip here he could turn some heads at what should be a big price. Despite his troubles, he has still proven to not get discouraged, making a run in both the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

#8 Tacitus – In the Kentucky Derby you must pick a couple of horses to take stands against that will take money. That is what I’m doing with Tacitus, who I like, but don’t think he is good enough to be around the 10-1 range, which is probably what he will end up being. There is no doubt his wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) were impressive; however, I don’t think he has faced the type of competition that he will see in this race. Also, this is horse that still may have some developing to do. Still, he has to be taken seriously, especially in the underneath spots.

#13 Code of Honor – This horse has turned into “Mr. Irrelevant” as we just haven’t heard much about him in the weeks leading up the race. That fact is the horse has shown some talent throughout his career, especially when he won what was believed to be a stacked Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) back in March. He backed that up with a decent third place performance last time out in the Florida Derby (G1), where the pace did not set up in his favor. He’ll get a better set up in this one, it will just be a matter of if he is good enough.

#18 Long Range Toddy – The Arkansas Derby (G1) was a disaster for him; however, he may have just not liked the track that day. Before that race we was steadily improving, so to run a clunker in that spot was a bit of a shock. He could rebound in this one, and will be a big price, which makes him even more attractive. The distance should also suit him well. If it doesn’t rain he could play a factor underneath.

#20 Country House – He’s the classic underneath horse. In all of his races he comes with a run down the lane, which could go a long ways in a race like this one, where the pace could zap a lot of the front runners. There is no doubt he is going to pass tired horses down the stretch. It will just be a matter of how many are going to be tired when turning for home. He’s a very logical underneath candidate who will be a big price.

See what Jonathon Kinchen, Saratoga Slim, and more think of this race in the Inside Track to the Kentucky Derby wagering guide!

Party Crashers

#7 Maximum Security – It truly is feast or fathom for this horse. There are so many positives with him, including the fact that he has run back to back triple digit beyer speed figures coming into this race, which is something you can’t say about anyone else in the field. He also has never been close to losing, including the Florida Derby (G1), where he stomped what was hyped up to be a great field. The pace of the race is going to be the major key for him. If he can get the early lead like he did in the Florida Derby (G1), he might take this field a long ways. Whatever you do, don’t make bets where he HAS to perform well for you to win. In this case, you use him defensively, but do not rely on him.

Throw Outs

#21 Bodexpress – The maiden gets into the race with the defection of Omaha Beach. He nearly went into the “exotic wagers” spot; however, I couldn’t go that far. If your budget it big enough, he is a horse to use in deep exotics, with his running style and level of improvement being attractive. His outside post position draw could actually be a positive if he breaks well from the gate.

#6 Vekoma – He is a hard horse to throw out because he does have class, while his talent level is fairly high. The colt also has a running style that should get him in decent position early in the race. His Blue Grass Stakes (G2) victory was solid; however, everything set up perfectly for him in that spot. That is something that won’t happen in this race, which will make things much tougher on him.

#10 Cutting Humor – For a long time it looked as though Todd Pletcher wouldn’t have a Kentucky Derby starter this year; however, he ended up getting two in the race. Cutting Humor won the Sunland Derby (G3) in his last start, which at the time looked like a strong race. However, second place finisher Anothertwistafate came back to only finish second in the Lexington Stakes (G3), which might mean we have overrated both of these horses. Cutting Humor has some proving do to in this one.

#2 Tax – He is a dangerous throw out because he has the running style to hit the board in a race like the Kentucky Derby. Actually winning the race seems like a long shot; however, his grind it out style means he could be able to out-finish several other horses in the race. Still, there are other horses to use underneath that I preferred a bit better.

#11 Haikal – There is no doubt this colt has talent. The distance is the major issue with him. When he won the Gotham Stakes (G3) he showed a major turn of foot going 1-mile. In the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2), he came with a run late, yet lacked the acceleration that he had shown at a mile. That was a bad sign, while the added distance of this race could make him even less effective. SCRATCHED

#3 By My Standards – This is becoming the “wise guy” horse, which is never a good thing. He burst onto the scene with a solid win in the Louisiana Derby (G2), which was very impressive considering it was his first start in a stakes race. This is a big ask for him now, though, while he is not really bred to get the distance. We’ll let him surprise us.

#19 Spinoff – At the top of the stretch in the Louisiana Derby (G2) this horse looked like a serious contender, while also looking like a sure winner. Instead, he hung a bit in the stretch, letting By My Standards rally up the rail to defeat him. That was not a good sign at all; however, the lightly raced horse does have reason to improve today. It may be too much too soon for him, though.

#9 Plus Que Parfait – Give credit to trainer Brendan Walsh for getting this horse to the Derby after he was blown out in a couple of prep races at Fair Grounds to start the year. After those efforts, he sent the horse to Dubai for the UAE Derby (G2), where he was able to beat Gray Magician in the last few strides of the event. It will be tougher for him today, though, as he must come back to face American horses, plus the UAE Derby (G2) has been terrible when it comes to Kentucky Derby success.

#4 Gray Magician – He is another horse who used the UAE Derby (G2) route to get to Louisville. That race was his best effort of the year, as he nearly won it, before finishing second to Plus Que Parfait. In terms of this race, the challenge will be very large compared to the competition he faced in that last start.

#15 Master Fencer – The Japanese shipper probably shouldn’t even be in the race, yet here he is, so we’ll give him a quick look. His races in Japan have not shown us enough to think he can compete today, while he didn’t even win the major Kentucky Derby prep event in Japan. He should be an easy toss.

PP #HORSEJOCKEYTRAINERML ODDSRD RANK
1War of Will (War Front) Tyler GaffalioneMark Casse15-16
2Tax (Arch)Junior AlvaradoDanny Gargan 20-113
3By My Standards (Goldencents)Gabriel SaezBret Calhoun 15-115
4Gray Magician (Graydar) Drayden Van DykePeter Miller 50-119
5Improbable (City Zip) Irad Ortiz, Jr.Bob Baffert 5-14
6Vekoma (Candy Ride) Javier CastellanoGeorge Weaver 15-18
7Maximum Security (New Year's Day)Luis SaezJason Servis8-17
8Tacitus (Tapit) Jose OrtizBill Mott8-15
9Plus Que Parfait (Point of Entry)Ricardo Santana, Jr.Bill Walsh 30-118
10Cutting Humor (First Samurai)Mike SmithTodd Pletcher 30-111
SCRHaikal (Daaher)Rajiv MaraghKiaran P. McLaughlinSCRATCHED14
SCROmaha Beach (War Front)Mike SmithRichard MandellaSCRATCHED1
13Code of Honor (Noble Mission)John VelazquezShug McGaughey 12-19
14Win Win Win (Hat Trick)Julian PimentelMichael Trombetta 12-116
15Master Fencer (Just a Way)Julien LeparouxK. Tsunoda50-120
16Game Winner (Candy Ride)Joel RosarioBob Baffert 9-23
17Roadster (Quality Road)Florent GerouxBob Baffert 5-12
18Long Range Toddy (Take Charge Indy)Jon CourtSteve Asmussen30-110
19Spinoff (Hard Spun)Manny FrancoTodd Pletcher 30-117
20Country House (Lookin At Lucky)Flavien PratBill Mott30-112
21Bodexpress (Bodemeister)Chris LanderosGustavo Delgado30-1NR

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