The sun won't be shining, and the track won't be gummed, but the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, much like the U.S. Postal Service, will not be deterred by torrid conditions.
Favorites have emerged atop the field, as they do every year, but this year more so than usual, those odds might be moot. The weather throws an interesting wrinkle into what was already a far-from-starchy affair. Dark horses are indigenous to this sport—it's where the term comes from, for God's sake.
The Orbs and the Goldencents of the world are highly rated for a reason. But they also don't provide you much of a payout. And in a sport as fickle as horse racing—a sport where the sample size for payout consists of one two-minute sprint—that makes them hard propositions to swallow.
Here are three horses that, while not necessarily long shots, provide excellent bang for their buck as bets.
*Here's a list of all the current odds, as of publication (via KentuckyDerby.com):
|4 Golden Soul||31-1|
|5 Normandy Invasion||8-1|
|7 Giant Finish||44-1|
|10 Palace Malice||26-1|
|11 Lines of Battle||42-1|
|13 Falling Sky||49-1|
|15 Charming Kitten||32-1|
|17 Will Take Charge||31-1|
|18 Frac Daddy||15-1|
|19 Java's War||22-1|
Java's War – 22-1
The impressive young thoroughbred has yet to win on dirt in two tries, which helps explain his depreciated odds, but even so, 22-1 is a steal for a horse this good.
He finished second to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, and took the Blue Grass stakes with an incredibly impressive late move. He's got speed, especially in the closing stretch, which has always proved to be of utmost importance in high-profile races.
According to KentuckyDerby.com, Java ranks fourth out of the 19 racers in season points. Which is weird since his 22-1 odds are just 10th-best in the field.
A horse this good, with a payout that high? That's the definition of value. Unless I'm missing something, Java's War seems like a bonafide bet to show, at the least.
Normandy Invasion – 8-1
His odds have taken a slight uptick lately, which puts a cap on his value, but the sharps haven't been betting him for no reason. He doesn't have the household appeal of a Goldencents or an Orb, but Normandy Invasion can run with anybody in this field.
Perhaps similarly important, however, he's also running out of the No. 5 post. As B/R's own Carlos Torres was kind enough to calculate, that ties with post No. 1 as the winningest position in Kentucky Derby history.
And running out of the first gate come Saturday? That would be nobody.
The posts are hardly be-all-end-all, but it's a welcome sign for a horse that was rising up in value regardless. Normandy Invasion is a great stretch runner who could easily become a factor down the wire.
Palace Malice – 26-1
A bit of a long shot, sure, but Palace Malice has a number of things working for him. Especially as a 26-1 shot.
For one, he's ran well in his recent races. He was overtaken by none other than Java's War at the Blue Grass Stakes, but thoroughly dominated most of that race. His fade down the stretch was certainly disheartening, but his ability to stake such a large lead in the first place was impressive.
He also has a history of running well on a wet track. That, as most well know, could prove imperative come Saturday, where the grounds are expected to be mauled by inclement weather.
The No. 10 gate produced a winner as recently as 2005, when Giacomo pulled away from the middle post. Could history repeat itself eight years later? Not quite sure, but at 26-1, I'm willing to pay to find out.