Any gambler in his right mind loves the Kentucky Derby because it is the only time overlays are a given.
With 20 horses in the field (the Derby is the only horse race in the United States in which that many runners are allowed), heavy betting action on the favorites drives the prices way up on horses that otherwise normally take a lot of money. Derby linemaker Mike Battaglia has set Florida Derby winner Orb as the lukewarm 7-2 favorite, followed by Wood Memorial winner Verrazano (4-1) and Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents (5-1).
From there, there are 17 horses at 10-1 or higher, and for value hunters, that is a smorgasbord of opportunity.
The Derby draws casual players to the track and betting windows like no other race. These people not only do not like to lose, but they usually don't know what they're doing. They will follow the favorites—the horses they read about in the media—and bet on them.
Since racing is a pari-mutuel game, in which everybody is trying to win everybody else's money, you want to have these casual fans there. The question, however, is which horse with high odds you, the sharpie, should take a shot with.
Here are a lucky-seven batch of sleepers that could win the Run for the Roses at odds of 10-1 or higher.
Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary
Post position: No. 3
What makes him a sleeper: Quite simply, Revolutionary is a sleeper because of his odds. Here is an animal that has been heavily favored in all six of his starts, with his highest odds being a skimpy 2.40-1 in the 14-horse Louisiana Derby.
As fourth choice on the morning line, Revolutionary is by no means considered an outsider. But his price will be outsized in comparison to his talent.
How he can win: One of the prized skills of a racehorse, particularly in the Kentucky Derby, is the ability to pass other horses. Revolutionary does this as well as any of them.
Drawn toward the inside, Revolutionary's relative lack of early speed will actually benefit him in the Derby. He can drop back, avoid a mad scramble into the first turn and save precious ground staying close to the rail.
When the field hits the top of the lane, Revolutionary can launch his finishing kick. And look who's riding: Calvin "Bo-Rail" Borel.
Morning-line odds: 10-1
Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze
Post position: No. 9
What makes him a sleeper: In a Todd Pletcher Derby five-pack, Overanalyze gets a little lost in the shuffle. Yet he has won the Grade 2 Futurity, the Grade 2 Remsen and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
This is a sterling resume for a horse with such long odds, and he has been bet pretty hard in the past, going off at 3.70-1 in the 10-horse Arkansas Derby. Only once has Overanalyze run a Beyer Speed Figure exceeding a 90 (a 99 for the Remsen as a two-year-old) and his most recent numbers will not inspire Beyer disciples, who are legion.
How he can win: Like his stablemate, Revolutionary, Overanalyze does not have too much of a problem passing horses. Indeed, his four victories from seven starts show he has a knack for finding the finish line.
While not a particularly tactical runner, he makes up for it with determination. He grinds the opposition down.
For the Derby, Overanalyze draws a sweet middle post position, and jockey Rafael Bejarano showed in the Arkansas Derby that they make a nice team.
Overanalyze is considered a mid-pack closer, but handicappers should look long and hard at that Remsen running line. He raced in second the entire way around and got up by a nose to beat Normandy Invasion.
Morning-line odds: 15-1
Java's War, on the outside, works in company prepping for the Kentucky Derby.
Post position: No. 19
What makes him a sleeper: Seeing a pattern develop here? Like the prior two horses on this list, Revolutionary and Overanalyze, Java's War likes to pass horses. Unlike those runners, however, he doesn't take a lot of betting action.
While 4-1 in his Blue Grass Stakes victory, Java's War went off at 32-1 and 22-1 in his two prior starts. His sixth-place finish in a race at Churchill Downs as a two-year-old could scare off players who like horses for courses, as might the dicey nature of the stamina influences in his pedigree.
How he can win: In his two most recent starts, Java's War has come from 14th in a field of 14 and ninth in a field of nine to pass every single horse except one, Verrazano, who beat him two races back in the Tampa Bay Derby. After a pretty good, but not great, two-year-old season, this horse has clearly started to put it all together.
Java's War barely came out of the gate in the Blue Grass, yet first-time rider Julien Leparoux kept his poise and set him up perfectly for a flying outside run to victory.
He draws to the far outside for the Kentucky Derby, so he should stay clear of early traffic trouble. Leparoux will have plenty of time to survey an open path on the long journey to the top of the lane, so Java's War could come flying.
Morning-line odds: 15-1
Post position: No. 12
What makes him a sleeper: After two big scores at Gulfstream, Itsmyluckyday lined up as the favorite for the Florida Derby. He subsequently got his doors blown off in the lane by Kentucky Derby favorite Orb.
Itsmyluckyday looked like he literally was moving out of the way of a locomotive.
A loss in his only try at a mile and one-eighth whispers distance limitations. Coming from the barn of trainer Eddie Plesa, 90 percent of the people at the track Saturday will be saying, "Eddie who?" Ditto jockey Elvis Trujillo.
How he can win: A case can be made that Itsmyluckyday is the fastest horse in the field. He put together back-to-back Beyer Speed Figures above 100 this past winter and broke a Gulfstream Park track record when beating champion Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 3 Holy Bull.
Hardly one-dimensional, Itsmyluckyday is extremely comfortable tracking horses through slow or fast paces. He has 10 races under his belt and has faced a variety of scenarios.
Likely not to be shaken up by the enormity of the field or situation, Orb just may be the only horse Itsmyluckyday needs to worry about. Trujillo should not worry about his horse at all and just concentrate on riding his race.
Itsmyluckyday sits a good stalking trip out of an ideal post. Odds are that he makes his move somewhere on the turn and hopes Orb finds traffic trouble.
Morning-line odds: 15-1
One of two Derby entrants from the barn of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Will Take Charge.
Post position: No. 17
What makes him a sleeper: Will Take Charge won the Rebel Stakes in mid-March. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas then curiously skipped the Arkansas Derby, the logical next objective, and decided to train Will Take Charge up to the Kentucky Derby.
The horse has never run beyond a mile and a sixteenth. He was drilled in the Southwest Stakes on a sloppy track, and showers are in the forecast. He has also never had lower than 5-1 odds in seven career starts, meaning he has not been highly regarded.
Jockey Jon Court is a journeyman, not a go-to superstar.
How he can win: There was not a single thing wrong with Will Take Charge's Rebel Stakes victory. He came flying at the finish, out of traffic and then off the rail to run down his stablemate, Oxbow, and win by a head.
The Beyer Speed Figure of 95 for that race stacks up well with what others in the field are running.
Sired by the sensational Unbridled's Song, Will Take Charge cost $425,000 at auction and has always been cut out to be a good one. He has enough speed to get position from the No. 17 post and track from where Court sees fit.
Will Take Charge's dam, Take Charge Lady, was a top-shelf performer. If he can find a little of her locomotive, he could be a big factor when the real running begins.
Morning-line odds: 20-1
Palace Malice = Palace intrigue.
Post position: No. 10
What makes him a sleeper: Despite always being highly regarded in the Todd Pletcher barn, Palace Malice has a mere maiden victory to his credit and a bunch of close-but-no-cigar finishes. He looked at home in the Blue Grass Stakes only to get nailed on the line by Java's War.
Adding blinkers for the Kentucky Derby, and sometimes enormous changes at the last minute, raise the red flag. Adding his fifth jockey in five starts makes you wonder, why doesn't anyone stick with him?
How he can win: That fifth jockey happens to be Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has won each of the three Triple Crown races and 17 Breeders' Cup races.
Palace Malice, sired by champion Curlin out of a Royal Anthem mare, is bred to run all day. He has shown excellent tactical capability, seizing the Blue Grass lead when asked. In the Louisiana Derby, he loomed boldly on the inside, only to run into a nightmarish wall of runners squeezing him against the rail. Still, he didn't completely collapse and only lost by a little more than seven lengths.
The blinkers may be just what the doctor ordered if they can keep his mind on business. Palace Malice has ample seasoning, a good post position and could strike first if and when the front-runners begin to tire.
If he can hold off the closers after that, he's going to be draped in roses.
Morning-line odds: 20-1
Post position: No. 2
What makes him a sleeper: After drawing miserable outside posts in five of his past six starts, Oxbow gets an even more dreaded inside slot for the 20-horse cavalry charge known as the Kentucky Derby.
Normally out and stalking, he threw what looked like a stink bomb in his most recent start, trailing in last place before rallying mildly in the Arkansas Derby. With just two victories in nine starts, he could not hold off his stablemate, Will Take Charge, in the Rebel Stakes.
Oxbow appears fast but rarely the fastest.
How he can win: Oxbow is in masterful, Hall of Fame hands with both trainer and jockey. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas loves this little horse, and jockey Gary Stevens got to feel him out in the Arkansas Derby.
Lukas rarely uses jockeys for morning workouts, preferring exercise riders, but he has allowed Stevens to climb aboard in preparation for this major goal.
The post may not be as bad as it looks, as none of the horses in Oxbow's immediate vicinity have much early lick. I can visualize him getting out fast, avoiding a crush going into the first turn, by scooting out into the three or four path and setting sail on the front end, just as he did in his authoritative victory in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes.
Fast works recently may be setting up Oxbow for a theft on the front end. If the other jockeys let him go winging alone, he may never look back.
Morning-line odds: 30-1