2018 Kentucky Derby Odds, Betting Trends, Picks
Favorites Must Overcome Historical Trends
Much is made of Kentucky Derby trends, but none more so than this: no horse has won the big race without racing as a two year-old since Apollo in 1882. “The Apollo Curse” as it’s known will be repeated ad nauseam by the pundits this year and possibly for good reason. Justify is tabbed as the 3/1 morning line favorite, and despite his sparkling speed figures and undefeated record, the Bob Baffert trainee did not race at 2 and has just three careeer starts under his belt.
But Justify is not alone among short-priced favorites in this year’s field attempting to buck history. Magnum Moon, who also did not race as a juvenile, is the third choice on the morning line at 6/1 and has credentials nearly identical to Justify’s. He too is undefeated (4 for 4), and like Justify who won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in his last start, Magnum Moon captured another prestigious Derby prep, winning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in his final tune-up.
So, while it’s hard not to like undefeated horses with seemingly limitless potential, there is 135 years of history standing in the way of confidently picking either Justify or Magnum Moon on top. To complicate matters, the second betting choice on the morning line is also trying to break a trend.
Mendelssohn (5/1) won the UAE Derby by a jaw-dropping 18 1/2-lengths in his last start, but no horse has successfully used that prep race to win the Kentucky Derby. Granted, the history here is less significant as the UAE Derby has only been in existence since 2000, and been considered a major prep race for the last decade or so.
So what to make of the top three choices? Betting favorites have won the last five runnings of the Kentucky Derby. Is 2018 a year primed for an upset?
Meet the Field
|2||Free Drop Billy||30/1|
|10||My Boy Jack||30/1|
- 21-Blended Citizen 50/1
Historical trends are nice to keep in the back of your head, but talent, racing luck and a multitude of other factors win horse races. In this year’s field, here are three of the more important nuggets:
- Only four horses in the field have earned a Beyer Speed Figure of at least 100
A Beyer Speed Figure of 100 is big boy territory and Justify has done it in all three career starts, including a sterling 107 in the Santa Anita Derby. Bolt d’Oro has also done it three times, including a 103 Beyer as a two year-old. In two starts this year, Bolt d’Oro has recorded figures of 101 and 102 – the latter in a second-place effort to Justify in the aforementioned Santa Anita Derby. Good Magic eclipsed the triple digit Beyer once as a juvenile and Mendelssohn received a Beyer of 106 for his UAE Derby effort – a number with questionable validity given that Beyer Speed Figures are not regularly assigned to horses competing at Meydan Racecourse.
- Pedigree matters
Whenever you are looking at entire field of runners who will all be doing something for the first time, bloodlines can play a vital role. This is always true with the Kentucky Derby, where everyone in the field will be running further than they ever have. Only Mendelssohn has attemped a distance beyond 1 1/8 miles. Without getting into a mini-pedigree lesson, Justify, Good Magic, Bolt d’Oro, Free Drop Billy, Bravazo, Magnum Moon, Solomini and Vino Rosso are all particularly well-bred for the additional ground.
- Workouts reveal readiness
What happens in the weeks and days before a race can provide significant clues about fitness and which animal is sitting on a peak performance. More often than not, a particularly fast workout is a good sign. Of course, there’s such a thing as working too fast, but for this handicapper, working fast beats working slow any day of the week. Derby is filled with lore of Secretariat’s pre-Derby work and horses like Monarchos (2001 Derby winner) touting themselves in morning workouts with powerful performances.
This year, there are a handful of horses in the field who seem to be coming into the big race the right way. Longshots Flameway, Lone Sailor and Vino Rosso have been impressive over the last 7-10 days, working swiftly on the Churchill Downs dirt. Vino Rosso’s April 27 drill covering four furlongs in 47.01 seconds was the fastest of 75 runners working at the distance that day. The Wood Memorial winner recorded a 98 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start and would only need slight improvement to give a big account of himself on Derby day.
The Kentucky Derby is the hardest race of the year to handicap for a variety of reasons and 2018 is no different. Justify is the most talented horse in the race, but so too was Curlin in 2007. Things typically don’t go smoothly for lightly-raced horses in the Derby, but there are exceptions. Big Brown won the Derby in 2008 off just three starts and is still the only horse to win the race breaking from post 20.
Getting down to brass tacks, I’ll swing against Justify and Magnum Moon for the top honors here. As usual, there’s a plethora of betting value to be had in this face and taking a short price on anyone seems pretty unappealing. Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic are my top picks as both fit the classic profile of a Derby contender (two year-old foundation, good speed, good pedigree, and battle-tested).
- 1st: Bolt d’Oro
- 2nd: Good Magic
- 3rd: Vino Rosso
- 4th: Justify
- 5th: Magnum Moon
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