Happy Derby! It's the most wonderful time of the year, to see the greatest 2 minutes in sports on the first Saturday of May. 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 2 strong 100+ speed ratings in preparatory races have a better probability of winning the big race. The weather in Louisville on Saturday is expected to be cloudy and cool but rain should not be a factor for the 1-1/4 mile classic.
This year's race shows only 2 horses that meet my criteria for 2 straight 100+ speed ratings coming into this Run for the Roses. And it's not the favorites Zandon or Epicenter! I tend to bet against the favorite in the Derby in most cases anyway, as this first leg of the Triple Crown is typically jam packed with up to 20 horses and so plenty of racing luck is needed for a smooth trip. I like to find value in the 5-1 to 20-1 range typically for the greatest 2 minutes in sports.
My pick to win the Derby is:
Messier(Post Position 6, 8-1 odds) is my top selection to win the Kentucky Derby, with Brisnet speed ratings of 100, 104 and most recently 108 for an impressive ascension in his last 3 starts. Sired by Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, this horse is bred to go longer distances which is ideal for the Derby. Named for NHL hockey legend Mark Messier, this Canadian-bred colt is ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has scored in 3 prior Derby wins. Look for Messier to make it a 4th for Johnny V, winning mainly from the front of the pack all the way around the track.
Taiba (PP 12, 12-1): This Santa Anita Derby winner beat Messier and posted a 111 speed rating in the process, bettering his only prior race speed of 100. The knock on this horse is that with only 2 starts before the Derby, he would be the first to win his 3rd ever race since Leonatus in 1883. The lack of experience is a major concern, and at the same time, this colt gets Mike Smith in the irons who knows how to win Derbies and classic races, having piloted Justify to the Triple Crown in 2018. As long as Taiba can handle the traffic in a 20-horse field, I look for him to be in contention at the finish.
Mo Donegal (PP 1, 10-1): This colt looks to close late, and he posted a 111 speed rating in winning the Wood Memorial in early April. I expect him to be surging in the final furlong and likely needing a few more strides to catch the front runners. The 1 post is considered a problem at Churchill Downs in a large field, but this horse will be tucked in behind the field early so I don't see any issue there. Definitely use him in exotic bets.
Epicenter (PP 3, 7-2): A wonderful horse, but horses born in January typically do not win the Derby often as their maturity advance is more pronounced earlier in the season. That's why I would only use Epicenter in exotic bets and play for value elsewhere.
Zandon (PP 10, 3-1) and Simplification (PP 13, 20-1) and White Abarrio (PP 15, 10-1) are other contenders though I consider them a step below my top 4.
Here's my plays I plan to make for the 148th Kentucky Derby: