Tacitus and Omaha Beach are the horses to watch at the 145th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, 4 May. There is also room for other strong contenders, such as Roadster and Game Winner, at this year's race in Louisville.
It's difficult to look beyond the leading pair, though, with Tacitus garnering attention thanks to a recent win at the Wood Memorial Stakes earlier this month. Omaha Beach had already got heads turning by finishing first in the Arkansas Derby recently.
Date: Saturday, 4 May
Post Time: 6:50 p.m. ET/11:50 p.m. BST
TV Info: NBC
Live Stream: NBC Sports App.
Omaha Beach to Beat Tacitus to the Post
Few horses are going to be as well-prepared as Omaha Beach thanks to the presence of Racing Hall of Fame member Mike Smith. Putting the 53-year-old in the saddle gives a strong horse a rider who knows what it takes to win in Louisville, having enjoyed two previous derby victories.
It says a lot that Smith still chose Omaha Beach despite riding Roadster to a win at the Santa Anita Derby. Smith's decision could be a sign the record Breeders' Cup winner knows which is the stronger horse.
Smith's confidence is growing after he dubbed the three-year-old colt "the now horse," per Ed Golden of Horse Racing Nation.
Smith also talked up how Omaha Beach will adapt to different conditions if needed: "I love his running style, and I love that he’ll handle mud and different surfaces, because that certainly can happen. There’s always a chance it can be muddy at Churchill (Downs)."
Having Smith's experience and expertise at the reins of a powerful horse looks like a winning combination.
Even so, Tacitus is likely to provide Smith's toughest competition. He's collected 150 points ahead of the race, making him the leader in the standings, according to Frank Angst of BloodHorse.
If there's an obvious reason to believe Tacitus won't finish ahead of Omaha Beach, it's the dubious records of the men involved. Trainer Bill Mott hasn't won in eight attempts at Lexington, while jockey Jose Ortiz has drawn a blank in four races, per Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Frakes also noted how Tacitus doesn't possess "much speed from the gate." Falling behind early to Omaha Beach, a horse Frakes accurately described as "up front" will leave Tacitus with too much to do.
Of the other top contenders, Game Winner has a stronger case than Roadster and Improbable. For one thing, the Bay colt is a two-year-old champion who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in Louisville.
Winning experience at Churchill Downs is useful, and nobody has more of it than trainer Bob Baffert. The Hall of Famer has five wins to his credit.
Baffert has also seen Game Winner push some of the leading contenders all the way at different times this year. He couldn't catch Roadster at Santa Anita but still made it a tough slog for the victor.
Prior to impressing at Santa Anita, Game Winner stayed in touch with Omaha Beach during the Rebel Stakes back in March.
Performances like those, combined with the presence of 2013 Derby winner Joel Rosario in the saddle, make Game Winner the most likely to put Tacitus and Omaha Beach under real pressure on race day.