** Note: Derby favorite Omaha Beach has scratched late Wednesday with an entrapped epiglottis (breathing issue). This shakes everything up now. Good luck. **
1. War of Will (20-1)
This poor bugger got stuck on the rail post. If there was ever a question whether he’ll be sent early, we know the answer now. He’ll need the fastest start out of the gate, otherwise will be buried, shuffled back, and out of the race early. Now that the bad stuff is out of the way, let’s talk some positive shall we? War of Will was well on his way to solidifying himself as a serious Derby contender before straining a muscle in the Louisiana Derby. If his injury is healed, as evidenced by his great workouts over the last few weeks, he’s a threat. Now that we know he’ll have to set the pace out of the #1 spot, if he can make it through, anything can happen. At 20-1 or more, could be a play worth the risk.
2. Tax (20-1)
Getting claimed for $50k then entering the Derby starting gates four starts later is quite the feat. He has been holding his own at Aqueduct, hitting the board in all three graded races, with the most recent place finish to Tacitus in a fun Wood Memorial stretch run. It should be noted that he had a much cleaner trip in the Wood than Tacitus, and he will face several other stalkers with a bit more polish. He, along with War of Will, will have to get out early to avoid getting crushed on the rail. Good story and big price, just prefer some others in the field with similar styles.
3. By My Standards (20-1)
All eyes were on War of Will at the Louisiana Derby, but this one brought home the bacon at 22-1 after graduating from the maiden ranks. He’s steadily coming into his own and getting stronger by the day from all reports. Like others, he’s a stalking type horse and would benefit from any type of fast early pace. Of all the longer priced horses with similar styles, I’d say he has more upside than most of them and he’ll go off around 20-1.
4. Gray Magician (50-1)
Smart move joining Plus Que Parfait in going the Dubai route, finishing second in the UAE Derby and earning a slot here. He’ll be facing much stiffer and faster competition in Kentucky though, and it would be a major upset to hit the board.
5. Improbable (6-1)
In any other year, a Baffert horse with career line of 5 starts: 3 win 2 place for $619,520 would seal him as the Derby favorite, but this year he may not even be a top-2 choice in the same barn. Wild. Physically dominant, his blemish is losing to Omaha Beach by a length and getting nipped at the wire in the Rebel. Look for him to sit just behind the front and be an imposing presence all the way around.
6. Vekoma (20-1)
Blue Grass champ has a goofy running style but it’s worked so far (3 wins and 1 third in 4 starts). Another stalker, he’ll be forwardly placed and has the speed to stick around longer than others in the field. Possesses one of the top power figures in the field. Still prefer others on top, but he could make it interesting around the far turn.
7. Maximum Security (10-1)
We have to play this horse right? He’s 4 for 4 in his blossoming career, with victory margins of: 3 1/2, 18, 6 1/2, and 9 3/4 lengths. He made complete fools out of the Florida Derby field, setting an easy and uncontested pace and coasting to an easy win. He probably won’t have the same luxury here, but he’s still probably the most dangerous runner in the field. Don’t overlook.
8. Tacitus (10-1)
Derby points leader Tacitus has tactical speed that sure proved a lifesaver after nearly getting railroaded into the parking lot during the Wood Memorial. I mean, he got absolutely pinballed and still came back to win. Son of Tapit runs his best stalking (even closing) and his proven ability to maneuver through traffic will be helpful in the 20 horse field. Dangerous.
9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1)
Another American runner shipping from Louisiana to Kentucky by way of Dubai. He won the UAE Derby and earned a starting spot here, although he will be facing several horses in the field which he couldn’t beat stateside. He’s a closer and will benefit from any type of fast early pace.
10. Cutting Humor (30-1)
Ran the best race of his life in the Sunland Derby and will have to do it again here to compete. Up until then, he was a nice horse but not one you’d pin for the Derby. Never count Pletcher out to make it interesting though. Still prefer others to back for the exotics.
11. Haikal (30-1)
Gotham winner will be praying for any type of early speed meltdown so he can try and circle the field. That scenario seems unlikely on paper, but crazier things have happened. Never out of the money in five career starts, he will be stretched out beyond his comfort zone. Consistent horse, big price, maybe a shot underneath?
12. Omaha Beach (4-1)
Mike Smith trying to make it two in a row and Mandella is shooting for his first ever Derby win. Swept the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, narrowly edging out a pair of Baffert Derby runners. He seems to have been getting even stronger since. Expect him to be a part of the pace early and if his previous races are of any indication, the stretch run will be a battle, true to his name. Gotta be happy with the post draw, Smith can avoid the early mash that will ensue on the inside. He’s the favorite and with good reason.
13. Code of Honor (15-1)
Fountain of Youth winner and another closer with a tall task of getting a clean trip. A bit of a frustrating horse — he’s been both inconsistent and has also shown flashes that makes him look like a real contender. Whichever Code of Honor shows up on Derby day wouldn’t surprise.
14. Win Win Win (15-1)
Earned his spot in the Derby by rallying for a second place finish in the Blue Grass. He’s another closer who has always been in the win conversation, always well bet, and lately finishing just short of a big prize. He’s a consistent performer in that respect, but might be just a cut below the top shelf here. Nice horse who, with a big run, could bust up some exotics tickets.
15. Master Fencer (50-1)
Not much to report on this Japanese import, who sneaks into the Derby after the first three Japanese points leaders took a pass. So knowing that, watch this mystery horse go out and win.
16. Game Winner (5-1)
He’s an Omaha Beach nose away from probably being the Derby favorite. Never finishing worse than second in 6 starts, he’ll be breathing fire within striking distance. All systems go.
17. Roadster (6-1)
Baffert sure wasn’t lying when he said this colt was firing on all cylinders before the Santa Anita Derby. He was content enough to sit back and let the early pace unfold before storming home down the stretch. A lot of fuss will be made about Mike Smith going with Omaha Beach rather than this one, but new rider Florent Geroux is a more than capable replacement and could still do some damage here.
18. Long Range Toddy (30-1)
Rebel split winner is coming off the worst start of his career in the sloppy Arkansas Derby. Aside from that he has been a consistent performer giving honest efforts in the rest of his starts, finishing in the money in six of eight. He should be sitting off the pace and look to make one move. Asmussen will have him ready, so we’ll see if he has the speed to hang with this group.
19. Spinoff (30-1)
Just got caught in Louisiana Derby by By My Standards, this lightly raced colt and son of Hard Spun seems to be on the improve after a six month layoff between his two and three year old campaigns. He does have raw speed and could be a sneaky pick at a long price to get a share of the prize.
20. Country House (30-1)
Late flier always seems to pop up for a share of the purse once the dust settles. He’s faced several of these familiar foes and has never really turned in a clunker. Closers trying to get a clean Derby trip amid the traffic is always a tall order, but I wouldn’t count him out hitting the board and playing him underneath in the exotics.
Derby favorite: Game Winner
ORC pick to beat favorite: Tacitus/Maximum Security
Longshot play: War of Will