2019 Kentucky Derby Contenders — Pros and Cons

Speculation and hype surround the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders.  This year’s field has several hopefuls who could be the next Kentucky Derby hero.

Let’s take a pro/con look at the top contenders, plus a couple of possible surprises to hit the board at longshot odds.

Omaha Beach (right forefront) edges Game Winner in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (photo via Oaklawn Park).

Omaha Beach (right forefront) edges Game Winner in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (photo via Oaklawn Park).

Game Winner (5-1)

Pros:  Last year’s two-year-old champ made a strong charge in the second-division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) to miss by a short nose to Omaha Beach in his first start off a long layoff.  This versatile colt isn’t dependent on one running style and has a strong classic distance pedigree.

Cons:  Two-year-old form rarely holds up in the Kentucky Derby.  Game Winner was struggling in the stretch of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) after being wide throughout. He was all out to put away a clearly tired Instagrand, then was reluctant to close on Roadster.  Questions surround his form this year. Will he be able to rebound in Kentucky?

The Play:  Post position shouldn’t be a factor. Use him in win and exotic bets.

Roadster (6-1)

Pros: The son of Quality Road has raced just twice this year, and his only stakes victory was in the Santa Anita Derby, where he handed stablemate Game Winner his second defeat in as many starts.

Cons: Roadster’s drawbacks are that his pedigree is light for 1 1/4-miles and he lacks experience in large fields. He also loses the services of his regular jock Mike Smith. Plus, he drew the dreaded 17 post. Nobody has won from there.

The Play:  He’ll need to save ground on at least one of the two turns, which will be tough to do from the outside.  Exotics.

Improbable (6-1)

Pros: Although he lost both preps this year, he had excuses both times: a tough, wide trip in the first division of the Rebel Stakes, where he was caught at the wire; in the Arkansas Derby (G1) he clearly resented the blinkers, but still finished second.  Improbable’s speed ratings improved in his second start. He’s a winner over the Churchill surface and Baffert has discarded the blinkers.

Cons: Improbable’s drawback is pedigree, which is borderline for classic distances.

The Play: He should be able to save ground on at least one of the turns. Use him in win and exotic bets.

Maximum Security (10-1)

Pros:  Bettors either love this guy or toss him completely.  Not me. I’m on the fence.  At first glance, Maximum Security has a strong miler/middle distance pedigree, but his dam is a half sister to multiple Grade One stakes winner and sire Flat Out, who captured back-to-back Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) victories.  Plus, he’s the only undefeated horse in the Derby. One who, in just about every race he’s ran, has run faster at the end of his races, and who has improved in each start. He has rated in the past and simply has a high cruising speed.  Is he really that good?

Cons:  All of those races were over the Gulfstream Park speedway, where pace setters/pressers won 60 percent of the races this past winter.  How fast was the track on FL Derby day? The top five finishers all got their final furlong in :12 and change.  Front runners don’t do well in the Derby. Only four in the last 30+ years have wired the field.

The Play: Maximum Security needs to save ground on at least one turn. Jockey Luis Saez should be able to pop him out of the gate to grab a good position up front or sit off the flank of whoever goes for the lead. One of two things will happen: They’ll either leave him alone early, or speed duel him into submission. Use him in win and exotic bets. 

Tacitus2

Tacitis

Tacitus (10-1)

Pros:  Well-bred colt won both of his Derby preps and leads the Derby qualifying points list. He overcame a troubled trip in the Wood Memorial (G2) to prevail by 1 1/4-lengths, and his speed figures are improving.

Cons:  Put him in the “he’s talented, but what did he beat?” category. Wood Memorial winners and runners up usually fill out the lower exotics or finish off the board in the Kentucky Derby, despite misplaced hype surrounding them.  The last horse to pull off the Wood Memorial/Kentucky Derby double?  Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

The Play: Exotics.

Win Win Win (15-1)

Pros: He’s made up ground or extended his lead in all six career starts.  His original jock, Julian Pimentel, was aboard for Win Win Win’s victories and knows how to time his ride. Lately, the colt has a deep closer style, but two of his victories were earned when he pressed a quick pace, so we know he has tactical speed.

Cons:  Deep closers get the “most likely to have trouble” award. They have a 28 percent success rate since 1980. More often, they close swiftly for a minor placing.

The Play: Exotics.

By My Standards (20-1)

Pros:  By My Standards benefited from a tactical ride in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Gabriel Saez tucked him behind the pace for much of the race. By My Standards turned back a strong challenge by Spinoff, and prevailed by 3/4-length, getting the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.52, and his final furlong in an excellent 12.69 seconds.

Cons: Nine furlongs is at the top of the pedigree range for By My Standards. The rail trip in the Louisiana Derby helped him immensely.  By My Standards should be able to get a rail position behind the top pace, but he’ll be feeling the burn about four strides after 1 1/8 miles in the Kentucky Derby.

The Play:  Louisiana Derby winners and runners’ up don’t win the Kentucky Derby, but they do fill the lower exotics.

Tax (20-1)

Pros:  Tax has one of the classiest, classic distance pedigrees in the field. He’s an athletic, determined gelding, and showed it by overcoming trouble in the Withers Stakes (G3). In the Wood Memorial, the larger Tacitus had Tax pinned on the rail with no place to go. Tax may be the fittest horse going into the Kentucky Derby. Both Derby preps were at 1 1/8-miles, plus Tax also placed in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes (G3) in December.

Cons: Tax’s speed figures are nothing to write home about, and his Wood Memorial final furlong was a yawning :13.34.  The last gelding to win the Derby was Funny Cide, who was also second in the 2003 Wood Memorial. Coincidence?

The Play:  The latest trend for Wood Memorial runners is to hit the lower exotics in the Derby. Exotics.

Vekoma (20-1)

Pros: Speed figures improved in the Blue Grass Stakes. Javier Castellano is a tactical rider and will get this colt in a good position if possible.

Cons:  His pedigree is light for 1 ¼ miles, and his late pace speed figures show it. Plus, that awkward gait takes precious energy.

The Play:  He should be able to save some ground on one of the turns. Use in lower exotics.

Laurie Ross has successfully picked the winner, plus exactas and superfectas in 11 consecutive Kentucky Derbies.  Her 35-page Kentucky Derby Betting Guide gives you easy-to-read, detailed information about each contender.  US Racing members get 10% off! Use coupon code newtc2019.

Laurie Ross
Laurie Ross is a handicapper, pedigree consultant and published author. She is also a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. Laurie maintains her pedigree website Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds and pedigree handicapping blog, IMTBreds, where she focuses on two-year-olds and maidens through the Triple Crown Trail.

Since 2008, Laurie has been a featured writer and pedigree analyst with Horse Racing Nation. Laurie’s yearly publications contain tremendous insight and value for bettors and horsemen. The Freshmen Sire Guide has received accolades from leading trainers and handicappers. Her Triple Crown e-books continue to be a best-selling feature. Laurie’s work has been featured on numerous websites and she is a recurring guest on sports radio programs.

Laurie has been around horses for most of her life, working in racing stables as a hot walker and exercise rider in her teenage years, and later as a volunteer with rescued and retired racehorses. She attends thoroughbred auctions year round on behalf of clients and manages the breeding operations for a racing/breeding syndicate.

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