by Jon White
April 24, 2019
The field for the upcoming $3 million Kentucky Derby has taken shape. With that in mind, it seemed this would be an appropriate time to calculate projected odds for the 20 horses to have earned enough points and are currently listed as intended starters in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
Ever since Churchill Downs instituted the points system in 2013 to determine eligibility to start in the Kentucky Derby, six straight favorites have won: (Orb in 2013, California Chrome in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015, Nyquist in 2016, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018).
Who will be the favorite this year? And will the favorite extend the string of punctual Kentucky Derby favorites to seven?
When the 2019 Run for the Roses commences on May 4, I expect Omaha Beach to be the favorite. I am projecting his odds at 9-2. He might end up being a smidge lower or higher, but I think 9-2 certainly is in the ballpark.
Omaha Beach goes into the Kentucky Derby following back-to-back wins at Oaklawn Park. He took a division of the Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 16 and then the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 13.
Hall of Famer Richard Mandella trains Omaha Beach. In Omaha Beach’s two races at Oaklawn, he beat two different talented runners conditioned by another Hall of Famer, Bob Baffert.
Omaha Beach won the Rebel by a nose when the Baffert-trained Game Winner finished second. Omaha Beach subsequently prevailed by one length in the Arkansas Derby when the Baffert-trained Improbable had to settle for second.
Game Winner, victorious last year in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and two other Grade I races, was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Improbable took the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity last year.
Baffert has not one, not two, but three Kentucky Derby contenders this year. In addition to Game Winner and Improbable, the white-haired horseman will be represented by Roadster. After Omaha Beach at 9-2, I have Roadster at 5-1 in my projected Kentucky Derby odds.
Hall of Famer “Big Money” Mike Smith won the Santa Anita Derby aboard Roadster on April 6 and the Arkansas Derby with Omaha Beach on April 13. The fact that Smith has opted to ride Omaha Beach on May 4 instead of Roadster is one of the reasons that I envision Omaha Beach being sent away as the Kentucky Derby favorite.
If Baffert does win another Kentucky Derby this year, he will equal Ben Jones’ longstanding record for most victories in this race by a trainer.
Jones has six wins to his credit: Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952).
Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby five times: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2015).
I have a gut feeling that Wood Memorial winner Tacitus is going to get quite a lot of support in this year’s Kentucky Derby. I have pegged him at 6-1.
There is a lot to like about Tacitus. He has an outstanding trainer in Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Tacitus also sports an enviable pedigree. He’s a son of premier sire Tapit and multiple Grade I winner Close Hatches.
Tacitus will be taking a three-race winning streak into the Kentucky Derby. In his most recent start, he proved his mettle by registering a 1 1/4-length victory in Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles despite getting knocked around early.
I have projected Improbable’s Kentucky Derby odds at 10-1, followed by undefeated Florida Derby winner Maximum Security at 12-1.
I think Maximum Security is the trickiest horse to try and forecast what his odds will be when he leaves the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby. There are those who like Maximum Security a lot, while many others are throwing him out. I decided to put him at 12-1, but I would not be shocked if Maximum Security does start at a shorter price off his speed figures.
Maximum Security is the only horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby to boast two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures. He recorded a 102 Beyer when he won a seven-furlong allowance/optional claiming race by 18 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20. Maximum Security then earned a 101 when victorious by 3 1/2 lengths in Gulfstream’s Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles on March 30.
Omaha Beach will be the only other starter in this year’s Kentucky Derby to have ever posted a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. He was credited with a 101 Beyer in the Arkansas Derby.
These are my projected odds for each of the 20 horses listed by Churchill Downs as one of the 20 intended starters in the 2019 Kentucky Derby:
9-2 Omaha Beach
6-1 Game Winner
12-1 Maximum Security
15-1 Code of Honor
20-1 By My Standards
20-1 War of Will
20-1 Win Win Win
30-1 Country House
30-1 Cutting Humor
30-1 Long Range Toddy
30-1 Plus Que Parfait
50-1 Gray Magician
50-1 Master Fencer
There are no changes to my Kentucky Derby rankings from last week:
1. Omaha Beach
2. Maximum Security
3. Game Winner
4. War of Will
9. Code of Honor
10. Long Range Toddy
In 1999, I formulated my Derby Strikes System. The system consists of nine key factors that attempt to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors (or categories) are explained at the end of this column.
Based on past results, a horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. Going back to 1973, 38 of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike.
Six of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
Though it’s not out of the question for a horse with more than two strikes to win the Kentucky Derby, it is a tall order. Of the last 46 horses to win the Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird and Justify are the only two horses to do so with more than two strikes.
Horses just do not race as much these days as when I developed the Derby Strikes System in 1999. I now consider Category 6, in which a starter gets a strike for having made fewer than six career starts, to be by far the least important of the nine categories. Category 6 just isn’t as important as it was during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
From 1973 through 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was the only Kentucky Derby winner to get a strike in Category 6 for making fewer than six career starts prior to the Run for the Roses.
But from 2001 through 2018, seven Kentucky Derby winners -- Barbaro, Big Brown, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah, Always Dreaming and Justify -- got a strike in Category 6.
Put another way, only 3.5% of the Kentucky Derby winners in the 28 years from 1973 through 2000 had a strike in Category 6. But 36.8% of the winners in the last 18 years from 2001 through 2018 had a strike in that category.
In terms of the Derby Strikes System, it’s not until a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby that a horse’s number of strikes can be determined. Of the 20 horses currently listed by Churchill Downs as intended starters in this year’s Kentucky Derby, only Omaha Beach and Game Winner have zero strikes. Eight of the 20 have only one strike. According to the Derby Strikes System, there is a very good chance that the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner is going to be one of the 10 horses with zero strikes or one strike.
Below are the strikes for each horse listed by Churchill Downs as one of the 20 intended starters in this year’s Kentucky Derby:
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE
By My Standards (Category 6)
Code of Honor (Category 6)
Cutting Humor (Category 6)
Game Winner (0 strikes)
Maximum Security (Category 6)
Omaha Beach (0 strikes)
Plus Que Parfait (Category 7)
Tacitus (Category 6)
Vekoma (Category 6)
War of Will (Category 5)
Country House (Categories 2 and 3)
Gray Magician (Categories 2 and 3)
Haikal (Categories 3 and 6)
Roadster (Categories 1 and 6)
Tax (Categories 6 and 9)
Win Win Win (Categories 2 and 3)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES
Improbable (Categories 4, 6 and 7)
Long Range Toddy (Categories 3, 4 and 5)
Master Fencer (Categories 1, 2 and 3)
Spinoff (Categories 2, 4 and 6)
Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6
2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2017 Always Dreaming (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 6
2018 Justify (3 strikes) Categories 1, 6 and 8
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:
1. THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race as a 3-year-old before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition at 3 prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012, American Pharoah in 2015, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown and Justify had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 are the only Kentucky Derby winners who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. Through 2018, the score is 142-2 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to win, place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; Battle of Midway, third in 2017; and Justify, first in 2018.)
9. THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)
Jockey Craig Perret and female racehorse Royal Delta have been elected to the Hall of Fame this year, it was announced Monday.
Perret, who won 4,415 races during his career, was voted a 1990 Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey. He finally received enough votes this year to get into the Hall of Fame after having coming up short as a finalist many times.
Royal Delta won three Eclipse Awards. She was voted champion 3-year-old filly in 2011 and champion older female in 2012 and 2013.
Perret and Royal Delta were the only two of the nine finalists on the contemporary ballot this year to receive the majority approval (50.1% or higher) from the voters required for Hall of Fame induction.
The contemporary finalists this year who did not receive enough votes to get into the Hall of Fame were trainers Mark Casse, Christophe Clement and David Whiteley, along with racehorses Blind Luck, Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace and Rags to Riches.
This was the first year that Rags to Riches was a Hall of Fame finalist. As I have stated many times, I believe she belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Rags to Riches is one of just four fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 95 years. In 2007, she became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years.
Female racehorses My Juliet and Waya also will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. They were chosen by the Historic Review Committee.
Additionally, the Hall of Fame’s Pillars of the Turf Committee has chosen to honor 12 individuals this year: James E. “Ted” Bassett III, Christopher T. Chenery, Richard L. “Dick” Duchossois, William S. Farish, John Hettinger, James R. Keene, Frank E. “Jimmy” Kilore, Gladys Mills Phipps, Ogden Phipps, Helen Hay Whitney, Marylou Whitney and Warren Wright Sr.
The 2019 Hall of Fame ceremony will take place on Aug. 2 at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 341 Bricks and Mortar (11)
2. 323 Gift Box (6)
3. 261 Midnight Bisou (2)
4. 244 McKinzie (1)
5. 239 Monomoy Girl (7)
6. 168 City of Light (11)
6. 168 Roy H
8. 110 Thunder Snow (5)
9. 111 World of Trouble
10 110 X Y Jet (1)
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 448 Omaha Beach (32)
2. 370 Roadster (5)
3. 344 Tacitus (7)
4. 322 Game Winner (1)
5. 271 Improbable
6. 183 Vekoma
7. 177 Maximum Security
8. 87 Code of Honor
9. 67 War of Will
10. 57 By My Standards (1)