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2019 Kentucky Derby


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Many different people will read this from sophisticated horse aficionados to some who watch one race per year. For the casual fans, please understand in a race like this, the best horse doesn’t always win. There are so many factors to consider like pace of the race, trip, positioning, traffic, track condition, distance and many others. Think about a mile and a quarter human race and put yourself in it. Let’s say you had the lead after a half mile and had been setting a slow, casual pace up to that point. You’d still have a lot of “gas left in the tank” and it would be difficult for the others at the back to gain ground late. Conversely, if you had the lead after a half mile yet had been facing all sorts of competition and had to fight to fend everyone off early on, you might already be on “fumes”, which would set the race up for other runners at the back of the pack. That sums up a lot about horse racing right there. Now, when handicapping a race, the key it not necessarily to pick the most likely horse to win the race, rather to find the best value. The key may be to find a horse that may not be the most likely to win, but based upon his much higher odds, offers the best value. Simply put, let’s say there was a three horse race and I told you #1 would win 50% of the time, #2 will win 30% of the time and #3 will win 20% of the time. Who would you pick to win? If you answered the question already, you are getting left back to repeat this course. You don’t have enough information. The key to betting on horse racing is VALUE and you would need to know more about the odds to ascertain where the value is. Now, let me add in the odds in this fictitious horse race, #1 is 1:2 odds, #2 is 2-1 odds and #3 is 6 to 1. So, if we run this race 100 times, and you bet $2 to win on each, #1 would be a losing proposition (-$50) winning 50% of the time, #2 would be a losing proposition (-$20) winning 30% of the time and #3 would be a winning proposition (+$40) winning 20% of the time. So the best value would be #3 despite the fact that he is the least likely to win.

GameHunter wouldn't be GameHunter without making this point. I love horses. They are beautiful animals. Unfortunately there has been a black cloud looming over the industry lately particularly at Santa Anita where numerous horses have broken down since December. There are many beautiful aspects of this sport yet there are many evils, another of which focuses on tracks such as those in Louisiana where underperforming horses on many occasions end up in kill pens (and the Racing Commission often turns a blind eye) being shipped out of the country to slaughter. It breaks my heart. This preview took close to 10 hours to put together and I could easily charge money for it. I don't (I never do). I just ask that if you win today, or even if you don't, please consider making a donation to a horse cause or an animal rescue in general and make a difference!

Use my guide to help you handicap. Look at some the replays I posted and formulate your own opinion. You don’t necessarily have to follow mine. I will play many different combinations with my top horses but for the casual better, use this guide to fall in love with one of the Derby entrants and enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports.


#1 WAR OF WILL – Trainer Mark Casse said, "If he's more than four or five behind going into the first turn, we're in trouble," The reason why is no horse has won the Derby from the rail since 1986 and in a field of 20, if you don’t get away quickly, you get buried in a wave of traffic. Won the Risen Star (G2)
and Lecomte (G3) but suffered his first dirt loss in the Louisiana Derby, where he was ninth an awkward start. No Kentucky Derby winner since 1940 has finished worse than 5th in their final prep, although he did have an excuse coming out of the gate awkwardly with his butt almost hitting the ground. He had already qualified for the Derby prior to the flop in Louisiana and some say they were trying a different style to prep him for the Derby. Got his maiden victory in November on a sloppy track here at Churchill Downs. Was one of the perceived favorites in the Derby before flopping in the Louisiana Derby. Has some recent eye-popping workouts. If he avoids early trouble, he’s not out of the question at all.

# 2 TAX – Won the Withers (G3)
after stumbling early then getting a cushy trip behind the leaders and squeezed through on the rail to win it. I don’t feel it was overly impressive but he backed up that effort with a clear second in the Wood Memorial chasing a hot pace but was beaten by Tacitus, who had a much rougher trip. Not in love with him but has a chance to get a paycheck.

#3 BY MY STANDARDS –Won the Louisiana Derby at 22-1 with a super cushy trip right behind the leaders.
Speed figure was good, with final furlong a quick 12 2/5. No horse has received as much buzz during the morning training sessions at Churchill Downs than this son of Goldencents who hadn't even won a race until February. He’s certainly getting better but looks a bit below the top horses here. Paycheck is not out of the question but I won’t be using except for maybe the bottom of a saver ticket.

#4 GRAY MAGICIAN - UAE Derby runner-up looked an unlikely Derby candidate before stepping up that night. His only win in 8 tries was at a mile in November at Del Mar, and his speed figures are mediocre. He has yet to win a stakes race and his Beyer numbers haven't been impressive. But Gray Magician has kept good company (he was within five lengths of Improbable and Alwaysmining), and ran arguably a better race in the UAE Derby than winner Plus Que Parfait. He adds first time Lasix today which is always an interesting angle but a small paycheck would be his ceiling.

#5 IMPROBABLE - A bit immature and a troublemaker. "He can be a little bit feisty," Baffert said. "He's got a bigger engine on him, he gets excited a bit, but that's just him.” He's certainly shown he has talent, but he acted up in the gate with blinkers on in the Arkansas Derby. Baffert is taking the blinkers back off for this race. Improbable is owned and trained by the same connections as 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. He'll likely be up near the pace. Romped in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1)
but truth be told, it was just a 6 horse field, he was 1:5 odds and 3 of the horses ran into trouble on the first turn. He was a runner-up in the Rebel (G2) going 4 wide on both turns and runner-up in the Arkansas Derby (on a sloppy track). Serious buzz about him lessened after those two close seconds and his stamina may be a concern after seeing him caught late by Long Range Toddy and failing to overtake Omaha Beach. Sire, City Zip not known for fathering distance types, although Improbable’s dam is Belmont winner A.P. Indy (and has great lineage beyond that), who liked distance. The key is his manners before the race starts and whether or not he is fractious and expends energy. He’s a real “X” factor and still has to be seriously considered.

#6 VEKOMA - More has been made by how this horse runs, his left front leg resembles an egg beater, than how fast he gallops. His victory last year in the Nashua Stakes
was one of the fastest by a two-year-old, and he's coming off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes where he exploited a strong speed bias to cruise by 3 1/2 lengths in a so-so Blue Grass, whose winner hasn’t taken the Derby since 1991. Watch the video above of his Nashua win and watch him run through the stretch. It’s like watching an egg beater and he drifts in and out yet still galloped out strongly. His early speed should have him near or on the lead on Saturday, a style that has won the last five Kentucky Derbies but his speed figures don’t seem to measure up to the top horses in here; however he can’t be completely discounted, as he has the best 2 year old figure of any of these, achieved in his second start. Will be on or near the lead. I probably won’t use but it’s tough to completely toss him.

#7 MAXIMUM SECURITY - Anyone could've bought him for $16,000 last year. His wire-to-wire win in the Florida Derby https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldL7skghYGY
was aided by him setting a slow early pace, which certainly won’t be the case here. Speedy colt is 4-for-4, winning by a collective by 37 3/4 lengths, so how can you knock him? I don’t think he’s good enough but he does have a hot trainer in Jason Servis. Should be on the lead as far as he can go but the distance is a big question mark. A cheap claiming horse less than a year ago would make a wonderful Disney-like movie but tough to see him wiring this field. Has a shot but I’m inclined not to use him much.

#8 TACITUS - Regally bred (his sire is Tapit, and his dam is Grade 1 winner Close Hatches), Tacitus has won both of his races this year by coming from off of the pace. In his most recent start, the Wood Memorial, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl6sphb_0Tk he was bumped and clipped and still rallied to win and galloped out extremely well, which bodes well in a race that often turns into a 20-horse rodeo (well maybe 19). Watch him before and into the first turn (#2) in the Wood and he really gets jostled twice and responded extremely well. Hall of Famer Mott is 0-for-8 and has never been in the money in the Derby, but this colt represents his best chance ever. Strong distance pedigree, has a nice mid-pack runner running style has strong late-pace figures. Seems very likely to enjoy the long 1 1/4 mile distance, and you count on Ortiz to deliver a smart ride. Strong contender.
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#9 PLUS QUE PARFAIT - Struck it rich in Dubai by winning the $2.5 million U.A.E. Derby after running 13th and 5th in minor preps in New Orleans. Had only won only once in six starts before beating a relatively soft group in the UAE Derby
where he used a ground saving trip to win it. If you watch the flow down the backstretch, horses are staked 5, 6 and 7 wide whole “Plus” stayed inside and hugs the rail on a ground saving trip. His speed figure was actually lower than 2nd place finisher Gray Magician. He won that race to earn his way to Louisville. This son of Point of Entry and an Awesome Again mare shouldn't have a problem with the Derby distance, but that trip to Dubai is known to wear out even the best horses; and he’s not one of them. French for “more than perfect” but he doesn't look good enough to me to live up even close to his name and will lucky to get a low-end paycheck. Not for me.

#10 CUTTING HUMOR - This Todd Pletcher trainee bombed as the favorite in the Southwest Stakes in February, but returned a month later to win the Sunland Derby
setting a nine-furlong track record in the process. He didn't beat much that day, but the performance was a career-best and his trainer knows how to win the Derby (he won it in 2010 and 2017). John Velazquez, Pletcher’s main guy jumps off to stick with Code of Honor, which isn’t much of a recommendation for this colt but he inherits Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith after the scratch of Omaha Beach. Not for me.



13. CODE OF HONOR - One of the top two-year-olds last year, Code of Honor has won once in three starts in 2019. In that race, the Fountain of Youth Stakes
he capitalized on a pace meltdown to rally for a three-quarters-length win. He didn't get that meltdown in his next start, in the Florida Derby, and finished a well beaten third while bobbing in and out in the stretch. Strong connections in Hall of Famers Shug McGaughey and Johnny Velasquez. Not sure he will love the distance. Training well. Not a complete toss, but will only use on bottom of tickets.

14. WIN WIN WIN - He won the Pasco Stakes in record time in January and then ran two sneaky-good races in the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. In the latter, he was forced to check just as he was making his rally and lost all momentum, but still closed to run second on a speed-favoring track. Jockey Julian Pimentel, who last rode the horse in the Pasco, is back in the saddle. Deep closer who has been in the money in all 6 career races. Should benefit from a sloppy track. If you’re sprinkling in some longshots in trifectas and supers, he’s definitely worth including.

#15 MASTER FENCER - He’ll be the first Derby runner bred in Japan, and it doesn’t sound as if his trainer is aiming high. “I hope he comes back from the race safely most of all,” Tsunoda said. “I feel lucky to be able to race my horse in Kentucky.” Master Fencer was the fourth best horse in that country's Road to the Derby series and only received a spot in the Kentucky Derby because the connections of the top three horses declined to participate. Japan’s passionate bettors will put many yen on him, and they won’t get any back. He deserves a participation trophy for making the 13,000-mile round trip. Complete toss.

#16 GAME WINNER - Last year's Breeders Cup' Juvenile winner
was super impressive overcoming a 3 and 4 wide trip and drew away in the stretch despite being bumped in the drive to the wire. He inherited the favorite status after Wednesday's scratch of Omaha Beach. The Bob Baffert trainee has finished second in both starts this year, losing by a total of less than a length, but he has trained well over the last month. Saving ground in the 20-horse field will be key; he ran wide in both losses this year. The 2-year-old champ and winter-book Derby favorite lost some luster after close seconds in the Rebel and Santa Anita Derby, although he and Omaha Beach were well in front of the rest of the field in the Rebel. He seems to find troubled trips often. In the Santa Anita Derby he somehow was 4-wide around both turns and it was only a 6 horse field. He’s a bit of a grinder and tends to drift in the stretch and doesn’t necessarily have an explosive gear, which isn’t the best style for the Derby but he’s definitely one of the top contenders.

#17 ROADSTER - Surged late to win Santa Anita Derby
with change-of-pace tactics and a ground saving trip. As the pace heated up entering the final turn, he dropped back significantly saving his energy and closed stoutly to beat a tired Game Winner. Doesn’t seem to like dirt kicked in his face and this is his first time he will likely see mud. Has never seen a field of more than 10 horses. The word last summer was that he was Baffert’s best 2-year-old before throat surgery ended his season prematurely. Solid pedigree for 1 1/4 miles, and should be ready to peak in third race off layoff. He’s dangerous, even if post 17 is 0-for-40 all-time; although technically he now moves into the 15-post. Definite contender although I don’t think I will be using all that much on the top of the ticket.


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#18 LONG RANGE TODDY - Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has never won the Kentucky Derby despite winning more than 8,400 races, and 58-year-old Jon Court will be the oldest jockey ever to ride in the race. Few had heard of him “Toddy” until he jumped up and upset Improbable in a division of the Rebel, where he benefited from a cushy inside trip (which he won’t get here) and a great ride by Court. A distant sixth in the Arkansas Derby, failing to cope with post 11 and a sloppy track (which isn’t a good sign with today’s weather forecast). Looks like a one-hit wonder, because besides the Rebel he hasn’t dazzled or run very fast. Figures do not look fast enough. Fifth race of the year won’t help. Not for me.

#19 SPINOFF - The second of two Todd Pletcher trainees, Spinoff was a fast two-year-old and returned even faster this year. He finished a narrowly beaten second in the Louisiana Derby but ran wider than the winner in that race. He’s never won beyond a mile and 40 yards, and that was in a 5 horse optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs. Should be involved in the early pace, but he’ll be up against a lot of high-quality speed and this may be too tall of an order to overcome. Jockey Manny Franco (who took a tumble in yesterday’s Oaks) replaces John Velazquez and will need to try to save ground from this wide post in order to have a chance but should be forwardly placed early.

#20 COUNTRY HOUSE - The lesser regarded of the two Bill Mott runners, Country House is likelyto be last after a quarter-mile. Not only does he like to do his running late, he has a tendency to break slowly from the gate. When you also factor in this wide post and likely a sloppy track, just how many horses can he really pass late? This should be asking a bit too much in his 5th race of the year. Not for me.

#21 BODEXPRESS - Winless in five career starts, Bodexpress only got into the race after then-favorite Omaha Beach pulled out on Wednesday. Only three horses have ever made the Kentucky Derby their first victory, the last coming in 1933. But his last two starts, including a runner-up finish in the Florida Derby, have been his best. Not for me.

I’m not overly impressed by this 2019 field for the Kentucky Derby. Personally, I only see three horses having a strong chance at winning:

Top Tier: #5 Improbable, #8 Tacitus, #16 Game Winner.
My 2nd tier is #1 War of Will, #2 Tax, #6 Vekoma, #13 Code of Honor, #14 Win Win Win and #17 Roadster.
My 3rd tier is #3 By My Standards, 7 Maximum Security, #19 Spinoff
My tosses: #4 Gray Magician, #9 Plus Que Parfait, #10 Cutting Humor, #15 Master Fencer, #18 Long Range Toddy, #20 Country House, #21 Bodexpress

GameHunter’s selections (although I play a bunch of combinations with my top choices sprinkling in others):



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Great stuff. Thanks for the countless hours you spend on it.

No doubt our sport is in turmoil right now and we mostly have ourselves (the industry itself) to blame. Accountability and change need to happen. The 1950s way of doing things doesn't work anymore. Hopefully now that this is getting the publicity it helps spur change. Thanks for your efforts and passion.


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Being a horse racing fan since I can remember, and living across the street from Santa Anita, the amount of negativity that has me completely soured from the sport. I agree changes need to be made, but things have gone well overboard here. From the PETA group with picket signs I had to drive by daily, to a horse tripping on the downhill turf course (now all hill racing has been banned), and to the local news stations who mention SA with a horse falling every time I'd see them reporting live, it has become too much for me to handle.

Great write up on the Derby. I'd add to the fact that the local SA horses missed quite a bit of training when the track was shut down for a month or so. Baffert is a magician but missing training time I'd lean against the SoCal contingent. Best of luck today guys...


Coattailing Cheerleader
Good luck, Game. Thanks for the thread and super post. I left out Improbable, and put the other two Baffert plus Code of Honor and Tacitus in my trifecta box. If I can’t win, I hope you do.

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