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There’s only three horses that can actually win the Kentucky Derby. “But there’s 20 horses David, how can there only be three?!” It’s pretty simple actually. Only three horses have shown that they can win both on the front end, and from sitting just off the pace. There’s only three horses who have already run a race that would have beaten a previous recent derby winner from a timing and rating perspective. Epicenter, Taiba, and Messier are those three horses.
(3) Epicenter: Morning Line Odds- 7/2
The distance can cause problems for a ton of horses. For 75% of this field, this is going to be the longest race they ever run. Most horses can’t handle, nor are bred to handle, the distance. Unless some of these horses find a real niche going long, probably on the turf, this race truly does seem to tire horses because they just aren’t ready to run this long. The key here is to find horses bred to go over a mile, with winners on both the mare and stallion side. Even though speed does rule the day here, it doesn’t pay to pick someone who only has one speed. It truly takes a versatile runner to win here. This is why Epicenter is the real deal. He can win from off or on the pace. He has one of the best jockeys in the world, Joel Rosario. He has one of the best trainers in the world in Steve Asmussen. He won the Louisiana Derby which is the closest prep race distance-wise to the Kentucky Derby. He has beat Smile Happy, Zandon, and Zozos as well as others here in impressive fashion. The only thing that can stop this one is getting wrecked at the beginning of the race, getting shuffled too far back, or a monster horse stepping up so much in class from their last start that they blow the competition away.
(12) Taiba: Morning Line Odds- 12/1
Taiba is a freak who ate up 1 ⅛ miles like it was nothing. Ridden by multiple Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Smith, this will be only his third race. He won a Maiden Special Weight and then won the Santa Anita Derby beating Messier. A former Baffert trainee, now under Tim Yakteen, he seems to have a world of potential. What he also seems to have from time to time, is getting on the track for training. This one from time to time seems unsteady. His races though have shown him to be an absolute freight train. No one has ever raced less and then won the Run for the Roses. If Taiba does win, does the win vindicate his banned former trainer? Does it prove horses don’t have to run in preliminary races at two to show they are talented? They’ve won going away and then stalking, and from the looks of it, the only thing stopping them is history, and maybe a little karma. These two favorites are coming out of the two best circuits from a prep race standpoint, Louisiana and California. The next best circuit in my opinion was Kentucky, Florida, and then New York.
(6) Messier: Morning Line Odds- 8/1
Messier is the “other” former Bob Baffert trainee who looked to be the Kentucky Derby favorite until he lost in the Santa Anita Derby. Messier does have an excuse though. He was so focused on giving another horse pressure, Forbidden Kingdom, and knew he only needed to take a second to get into the Run for the Roses. Once Messier buried Forbidden Kingdom, Taiba came sweeping around both and Messier just didn’t see him. For trainer Tim Yakteen, this one has early speed. He won other derby preps. He’s the most realistic horse to hit the board if you are a Win/Place/Show bettor and will be betting across the board.
I’m betting these live longshots underneath in exotic plays:
(8) Charge It- 20/1
This Todd Pletcher trained runner is lightly raced and took second in the Florida Derby. He’s had good workouts coming in and has early speed. Luis Saez is a solid jockey who knows he will need to break well to be in the contention.
(19) Zozos- 20/1
This horse has early speed coming out of the Brad Cox barn. He is lightly raced and took a nice second in the Louisiana Derby. Jockey Manny Franco took second two years back on Tiz the Law and will have this horse out and over in the front back.
(15) White Abarrio- 10/1
Churchill Downs leading jockey Tyler Gaffalione is aboard this Jo Saffie Jr. gray beauty. He has a nice third at Churchill in the Kentucky Jockey Club Grade 2 last fall. He then won the Holy Bull prep and won the Florida Derby. He has tactical speed and has beaten a good chunk of this field.
(9) Tiz the Bomb- 30/1
He was seventh in the Holy Bull prep which leads most to believe he doesn’t run well on dirt. Winner of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes and the Jeffy Ruby Stakes both on synthetic, he seems to be in good form and may get a nice sitting trip to pounce coming home.
I wouldn’t be shocked but I am not touching them:
(10) Zandon- 3/1
The morning line favorite won the Bluegrass Stakes closing from deep in the pack. Closers do not win the Kentucky Derby as of late. Trainer Chad Brown and jockey Flavien Prat are both respectively great, and when they team up are dangerous. Before the Bluegrass though, they were third in the Risen Star behind Smile Happy and Epicenter and second in the Remsen to Mo Donegal.
(1) Mo Donegal- 10/1
Irad Ortiz Jr. may be the best jockey in the country. Todd Pletcher may be in the Top 5 trainers of all time. They won the Remsen Stakes in New York. They went to Florida and took third in the Holy Bull. They then came back to New York and won the Wood Memorial closing. Closers do not win the derby.
My bets: (12) Taiba to Win. Exacta Box with Taiba (12), Epicenter (3), and Messier (6). And for those who play big, Trifecta (12,3,6 over 3,6,8,9,12,15,19 over 3,6,8,9,12,15,19).