The Run for the Roses is almost always one of the most wide-open events of the sporting year. It opened up even further Wednesday when favored Omaha Beach dropped out of the race due to a medical condition that has impacted horse's breathing ability.
An entrapped epiglottis caused the horse's connections to cancel his plans to run in the Kentucky Derby, and that means Saturday's featured race at Churchill Downs could go to a horse that is considered a long shot or an outsider.
However, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert still has his three entries in the race, and all three are leading contenders. Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster are the betting favorites with two days to go before the race.
Post position, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Odds
1. War of Will, Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione, 15-1
2. Tax, Danny Gargan, Junior Alvarado, 20-1
3. By My Standards, Bret Calhoun, Gabriel Saez, 15-1
4. Gray Magician, Peter Miller, Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1
5. Improbable, Bob Baffert, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-1
6. Vekoma, George Weaver, Javier Castellano, 15-1
7. Maximum Security, Jason Servis, Luis Saez, 8-1
8. Tacitus, Bill Mott, Jose Ortiz, 8-1
9. Plus Que Parfait, Brendan Walsh, Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1
10. Cutting Humor, Todd Pletcher, Corey J. Lanerie, 30-1
11. Haikal, Kiaran McLaughlin, Rajiv Maragh, 30-1
Scratched—12. Omaha Beach, Richard Mandella, Mike Smith
13. Code of Honor, Shug McGaughey, John Velazquez, 12-1
14. Win Win Win, Michael Trombetta, Julian Pimentel, 12-1
15. Master Fencer, Japanese qualifier, Koichi Tsunoda, Julien Leparoux, 50-1
16. Game Winner, Bob Baffert, Joel Rosario, 9-2
17. Roadster, Bob Baffert, Florent Geroux, 5-1
18. Long Range Toddy, Steve Asmussen, Jon Court, 30-1
19. Spinoff, Todd Pletcher, Manny Franco, 30-1
20. Country House, Bill Mott, Flavien Prat, 30-1
AE-21. Bodexpress, Gustavo Delgado, Chris Landeros, 30-1
Updated odds courtesy of Churchill Downs PR.
Game Winner is the slight favorite at 9-2, with Improbable and Roadster just fractionally behind at 5-1.
The 9-2 price would provide an excellent return considering the favorite status of the colt. A bettor wagering $2 on Game Winner would get a return of $11 for that bet, while successful Improbable and Roadster backers would get $12 for their $2 bets.
Of course, many of those wagering on the Kentucky Derby dream of backing a long shot or dark horse that brings a much greater return than the favorites.
Gray Magician and Master Fencer are the two longest shots in the field at 50-1, and while either one would give backers a massive return for a winning bet—$100 profit on a $2 bet—neither horse has much to recommend against the powerful Derby competition.
Here's a look at the favorites and dark horses that have the best odds relative to their chances of winning the race.
Game Winner came into prominence last year when he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he has not been as successful this year with a pair of second-place finishes. Game Winner likes to come from off the pace and grind down the competition as he runs around the far turn and down the stretch.
Joel Rosario is one of the best stretch-running jockeys, and Game Winner could be tough to beat if he is on his best form.
Roadster had throat surgery several months ago to correct a breathing issue, and he has recorded two victories since returning to the track. One of those wins came in the highly regarded Santa Anita Derby, so it's clear that Roadster deserves respect when handicapping the race.
Florent Geroux earned the mount here, and even though Mike Smith is available as a result of the Omaha Beach scratch, Baffert has said that he will stick with Geroux.
Improbable is a game and competitive horse that finished second to Omaha Beach in two races this season. If he can handle the 1 ¼-mile Derby distance, he has a chance to be running with the leaders in deep stretch.
Tacitus is trained by Bill Mott and comes into the race with 10-1 odds. He appears to be running in top form with recent victories in the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial. Tacitus has the kind of breeding (Tapit-Close Hatches) that suggests he can handle the distance.
Jockey Jose Ortiz is a capable rider who understands that Tacitus likes to come from behind, and he won't rush the horse before he is ready to start a winning run.
Long shot players may want to consider Code of Honor, who is trained by Shug McGaughey and ridden by John Velazquez.
Code of Honor comes into the race at odds of 15-1, and he showed off his ability in winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes. This horse is another come-from-behind runner, and the faster the early pace, the better off it is for him.
Code of Honor did not fare as well in the Florida Derby when the pace was slow and he did not get a chance to use his late speed to pass tiring horses.
Long Range Toddy is one of the outsiders in the field at 30-1. His best performance came when he ran in one of the divisions of the Rebel Stakes and beat Improbable. That's a feather in his cap and gives handicappers something to consider, but it does not mean he has the ability to run back to that form against top competition.
However, he is clearly worth consideration for those looking for a long shot with potential.