The 2019 Kentucky Derby is finally here. A field of 20 3yr olds will head to the gate for the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. They will battle for 1-1/4 miles around 2 turns over the Churchill Downs dirt course looking for their place in history and the winner’s share of the $3,000,000 purse. With the Wednesday scratch of morning line favorite Omaha Beach, will this be the year where the streak of 6 consecutive winning favorites is broken?
According to weather.com, there is a 60% chance of rain on Friday and a 90% chance on Saturday. Handicapping in advance will be done with the assumption of a wet track.
Over the past 5 years the winner of the Derby has come from no worse than 3rd at the half mile. But nobody has wired the Derby field since War Emblem in 2002, so stalking has been the preferred running style. The most recent closer to beat the field was Orb in 2013 when he closed from 16th at the half mile.
With a 20 horse field, most of whom are coming out of a handful of prep races, it is easier to start off by eliminating the majority of the field based on Kentucky Derby history. Horses with declining speed figures, those who could not maintain their speed in the final 3/8ths of their last race, those who have not won or finished in the money in recent stakes, and those who did not do their best running in 2-turn races are throw-outs for me. Based on these criteria, the list of horses I will not consider for the win are longshots Master Fencer, War of Will, Long Range Toddy, Haikal, Vekoma, Country House, Bode Express, and Tax.
Additionally, these criteria eliminate several of the shorter morning line choices as well. 5-1 morning line favorite Game Winner has shown precarious late pace figures. Win Win Win is also showing a decline in late pace. Code of Honor, Plus Que Parfait, Gray Magician, and Roadster have not posted speed figures competitive with this field.
The survivors of the initial screening are By My Standards, Improbable, Maximum Security, Tacitus, Cutting Humor, and Spinoff. This group has shown they are near the top of their form cycles and look to have a bigger chance at handling the 1-1/4 Derby distance.
The horse I landed on is Tacitus. Trying to become the 1st horse since 2003 to win the Derby coming out of the Wood Memorial, Tacitus overcame monumental trouble through the first turn in that race to win rather easily. In that first turn he was immediately herded out by Tax, the horse to his inside, then clipped heels entering the turn, and then was herded/bumped around again immediately after. Jockey Jose Ortiz, who will ride him in the Derby, did a masterful job of relaxing Tacitus behind a speed duel. When the speed collapsed, Tacitus had plenty left in spite of the early troubles and prevailed by a widening 1-1/4 lengths.
The fact that Tacitus had early trouble, settled well, then had another gear for the stretch leads me to believe that his form cycle is peaking and he has the ability to handle the increased distance. With rain in the forecast for the Kentucky weekend, it should also be noted that Tacitus broke his maiden on a wet track.
Let’s take Tacitus for the win, and play Improbable, By My Standards, Cutting Humor, and Spinoff underneath.