Happy Derby! It's always my great pleasure to share my annual Kentucky Derby selections and commentary. First, let's start off with an updated table of past Derby winners below, with their speed ratings and final tune-up race. My analysis of past data indicates that horses with strong 100+ speed ratings in preparatory races have a better probability of winning the big race. Justify's Derby victory last year renewed the best profile of 2 straight 100+ ratings before the big race, though that had not been seen previously since Big Brown won in 2008. The weather in Louisville on Saturday is expected to be rainy, so there's a good chance of a muddy or sloppy race surface. That could benefit the horses on the front end who don't experience as much kickback and mud buildup during the 1-1/4 mile classic.
Derby Winner BRIS Speed Rating Last race (# weeks before Derby)
JUSTIFY 114, 104 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
ALWAYS DREAMING 102, 84 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
NYQUIST 97, 103 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
AMERICAN PHAROAH 102, 99 Arkansas Derby (4 weeks)
CALIFORNIA CHROME 106,102 Santa Anita Derby (5 weeks)
ORB 97, 102 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
I'LL HAVE ANOTHER 95, 102 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
ANIMAL KINGDOM 100, 89 Turfway Spiral (5 weeks, poly)
SUPER SAVER 92, 94 Arkansas Derby (3 weeks)
MINE THAT BIRD 96, 98 Sunland Derby (5 weeks)
BIG BROWN 106, 104 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
STREET SENSE 98, 101 Bluegrass Stakes (3 weeks, poly)
BARBARO 104, 104, 97, 97 Florida Derby (5 weeks)
GIACOMO 100, 96, 98, 96 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
SMARTY JONES 105, 109, 101, 103 Arkansas Derby (3 weeks)
FUNNY CIDE 111, 103, 97 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
WAR EMBLEM 109, 105, 88, 94 Illinois Derby (4 weeks)
MONARCHOS 108, 108, 106, 98 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
FUSAICHI PEGASUS 110, 103, 100, 98 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
CHARISMATIC 104, 94, 94, 94 Lexington (2 weeks)
REAL QUIET 107, 103, 73 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
SILVER CHARM 102, 98, 105 Santa Anita Derby (4 weeks)
GRINDSTONE 101, 102, 93 Arkansas Derby (3 weeks)
THUNDER GULCH 98, 103, 106 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
GO FOR GIN 104, 105, 99, 100 Wood Memorial (3 weeks)
SEA HERO 96, 85, 77 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
LIL E. TEE 102, 96, 107, 100 Arkansas Derby (2 weeks)
STRIKE THE GOLD 109, 100, 99, 87 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
UNBRIDLED 108, 101, 104, 98 Blue Grass (3 weeks)
This year is truly up for grabs after the past 6 years we've seen the Derby favorite or co-favorite win the race. The favorite Omaha Beach was scratched on Wednesday with a throat condition, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has the top 3 betting choices. I'm going to bet that the trend for favorites can end. I prefer to include a couple of sleepers that show good speed numbers with much more attractive odds. Remember the Derby is the biggest field of any race in the States all year with 20 horses typically, so in addition to talent, racing luck is needed. That's why I like to find value in the 5-1 to 20-1 range typically for the greatest 2 minutes in sports.
My favorite in this year's race is Maximum Security (Post Position 7, 8-1 odds). Fresh off winning the Florida Derby, which 2 of the last 3 Derby winners have used as their prep race, he looks like the best front runner to be able to hold up for the full distance. He is 4-for-4 in wins with the BRIS rating at 102,100 in the last 2 wins. Is he a "cod lock cinch" as my dad would say? No. But I think he's a "safe" bet compared to the rest.
Here are my top challengers to get in the picture at the finish line:
Tax (PP 2, 20-1): I hate taxes, but I really like Tax. With a BRIS rating of 101, 102, 103 in his last 3 races, this one looks like a sound play to hit the board in the top 3 positions, to include in all exotic bets of 3 more horses.
Vekoma (PP 6, 15-1): With speed ratings of 101, 92, 101 this one is slightly less consistent but clearly has the potential to get it done as a convincing winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Javier Castellano was the new rider in the latest win and should be a valuable part of Vekoma's Derby quest.
Improbable (PP 5, 5-1): After a game 2nd in the Arkansas Derby to Omaha Beach on a sloppy track, he sports a 98, 97, 100 speed combo which is solid if not spectacular. "Probably" gets a 3rd or 4th place finish for exotics.
*Deep Closer Alert* Win Win Win (PP 12, 12-1): This horse has been closing fast from behind in recent races, and the extra distance could see him flying at the end. Worth a flyer for a modest "Win Only" bet.
So my theoretical bets on a sample $100 model portfolio look like this:
$15 Win on 7
$10 Win on 2
$10 Win on 6
$10 Win on 12
$5 Exacta box 2, 6, 7
$5 Exacta 7 with 5
$1 Trifecta 7 with 2,6 with 2,5,6,12,14