A 20-horse field will descend upon Churchill Downs on May 5 as the 144th Kentucky Derby kicks off Triple Crown season in what should be an exciting race.
The Derby is always an interesting race to handicap. With a field that is typically larger than the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the unpredictability is higher. No one knows how these horses will respond in the spotlight and who will rise to the occasion.
The stakes are high. Aside from being written down in the history books of one of the most illustrious races in the sport, there's the $2 million worth of prize money to be had. The top five positions will be paid out as follows:
- Winner (62%) — $1.24 million
- Second (20%) — $400,000
- Third (10%) — $200,000
- Fourth (5%) — $100,000
- Fifth (3%) — $60,000
That's the definition of high-stakes racing.
It isn't just a high-stakes race for the horses' connections, though. It's a big event for bettors as well. Here's a look at the complete field along with their odds, according to OddsShark, and some of the most interesting odds to keep an eye on as race day approaches.
1. Firenze Fire 66-1
2. Free Drop Billy 33-1
3. Promises Fulfilled 40-1
4. Flameaway 40-1
5. Audible 11-2
6. Good Magic 9-1
7. Justify 7-2
8. Lone Sailor 50-1
9. Hofburg 16-1
10. My Boy Jack 22-1
11. Bolt d'Oro 9-1
12. Enticed 25-1
13. Bravazo 50-1
14. Mendelssohn 4-1
15. Instilled Regard 50-1
16. Magnum Moon 7-1
17. Solomini 20-1
18. Vino Rosso 14-1
19. Noble Indy 28-1
20. Combatant 66-1
Favorite to Be Cautious With: Mendelssohn
Aiden O'Brien-trained Mendelssohn currently comes in with the second-best odds to win the race, but buyer's should be ware. There's risk that comes with backing the UAE Derby winner.
The first risk is that he is the UAE Derby winner. Many times the winner of that race has come stateside to compete in the Kentucky Derby with middling results a UAE Derby winner has never won at Churchill Downs and picking Mendelssohn to do definitely presents added risk.
Then there's the question of whether Ryan Moore is capable of leading the horse to victory. The jockey's only Kentucky Derby start resulted in a seventh-place finish in 2013. Overall, he just doesn't have a lot of experience on dirt track.
Then there's the poor post position. Mendelssohn drew post 14, which has been a dry well in producing winners for the race. Chris Fallica of ESPN broke down the history of the post:
Chris Fallica @chrisfallica
Mendelssohn will break from PP 14. No horse has won Derby from PP 14 since Carry Back in 1961. Thats the longest drought for any PP which has produced a winner (no horse has won from PP 17). 7 horses have been Top-5 choice from PP 14 in span, including 1999 fav General Challenge
Mendelssohn is a strong candidate to win. There's a reason he's one of the favorites, his trip in the UAE Derby was a historic win in terms of his margin of victory, but there's reason to be shy on throwing too much support behind him on Saturday.
Long Shot to Like: Vino Rosso
For those looking to make things interesting on Saturday and back a horse that's not at the front of the pack in terms of odds, Vino Rosso just might be the pick.
Todd Pletcher trained last year's Derby champion and will have four horses in this year's race—Magnum Moon, Audible, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso. While Magnum Moon and Audible come in toward the top of the odds list, Vino Rosso is being overlooked despite the fact that he was jockey Johnny Velasquez's choice of Pletcher's four entrants.
Vino Rosso went 2-for-2 as a two-year-old, but struggled at the beginning of his three-year-old season. He took a third and fourth place finish in Tampa Bay before winning the Wood Memorial where he was introduced to a 1 1/4 mile track.
Now, at Louisville where he will run another 1 1/4 mile race, he's catching the eye of those watching the days leading up to the race:
So much of the hype around horses depends on their past results, but this is a case where it seems like he's not yet hit his full potential. It wouldn't be an absolute shock to see him once again hit a new level on the longer track.
The Safe Bet: Justify
Going with the favorite isn't exciting, but winning money is, which is a good reason to back Justify in some way on Saturday.
The odds-on favorite might not win, but he's going to finish in the top four. His success this season all but guarantees that. He's 3-0 as a three-year-old and has won those races by a combined 19 lengths en route to being the favorite.
The hold up, of course is the well-publicized "curse of Apollo" that he'll have to overcome. Justify didn't race as a two-year-old, and no horse has won the Derby after taking a year off since Apollo accomplished the feat in 1882.
Justify trainer Bob Baffert isn't feeling the superstition, though.
"It'll be broken whether it’s this year or whatever. I think it’s changed. In the modern day we don’t get in a rush with these horses," Baffert said, per Dan Wolken of USA Today. "The Apollo curse is something I don't even think about."
If you aren't the type to care about long historic trends, a bet that Justify is going to win is the most logical play. But if you aren't willing to take that kind of gamble, a bet that he'll place is a strong one to make.