John Rothschild’s Kentucky Derby Contenders & Pretenders

by John Rothschild

I’m a horse owner and handicapper who may see things just a little differently than the average player.

Each week I’ll be looking at:

  • A few angles that will help with your Kentucky Derby selections.
  • My current contenders.
  • Longshots that have a chance to convert.

Angle #1

Be wary of wagering on horses that have only won on the front, even if they previously dominated by open lengths. Many, when eventually challenged, will back down. These horses are usually overvalued, and over-bet.

There have been lots of examples in recent memory. The best would arguably be Barbaro. This colt faced quite a few who won their prior races effortlessly on top, while his preliminary wins were challenging efforts.

Angle #2

Look for a horse that was passed and then came back on. Thoroughbred horses, unlike some other athletes, typically don’t start up again once they’ve hit the “off” switch.

As for the 2019 Kentucky Derby, let’s hope for a dry, honest surface. The last two years, Churchill Downs could have used a lifeguard. This year’s exotic ticket payout could look like a telephone number. 

Who’s in or likely to race on the first Saturday in May:

War of Will (scheduled to race next in the Louisiana Derby)
Code of Honor (Florida Derby)
Haikal (Wood Memorial)
Tacitus (Wood Memorial)
Game Winner (Santa Anita Derby)
Long Range Toddy (Arkansas Derby)
Improbable (Arkansas Derby)
Omaha Beach (undetermined)
Gunmetal Gray (undetermined)

On the bubble:

Mind Control (Wood Memorial)
Bourbon War (Florida Derby)
Somelikeitbrown (Blue Grass Stakes)
Country House (Louisiana Derby)
Outshine (Wood Memorial)

The Good and the Bad

Game Winner and Improbable

The Good:

  • Both undefeated before last week, won Grade 1 stakes, each seeming to have more to give after the wire.
  • Both finished second in divisions of the Rebel.
  • Each may have needed a prep.
  • Trainer is Bob Baffert.

The Bad:

  • Trainer is Bob Baffert, whose entries are often over-bet.
  • Unlike years ago, most horses don’t need prep races.
  • Game Winner’s time in his final race of 2018 was relatively slow.
  • Improbable’s final race in 2018 was in a small field with two rivals who blew turns.


The Good:

  • He won the Tampa Bay Derby in record time (1:41.90).

The Bad:

  • As simple as this sounds: It matters who you’re racing against.
  • Except for Street Sense, few from this race have triumphed in Kentucky.

 War of Will

The Good:

  • He won The Risen Star, which is often loaded with talent.
  • This was accomplished pretty easily while leaving from post position 14.

The Bad:

  • Not much, but stock from this race just don’t seem to win the Derby. 

Code of Honor

The Good:

  • Won the prestigious Fountain of Youth.
  • The race featured fast fractions, so he had “pace to chase” (as the track announcer noted).

The Bad:

  • This colt took the least circuitous route possible in the Fountain of Youth. He probably won’t get that kind of trip in the Derby.
  • He also got to take advantage of a relatively short Gulfstream stretch, while two others ran out of track.


The Good:

  • Found a sixth gear to impressively win the Gotham.
  • The splits in that race were very fast, featuring a :44.42 opening half-mile.
  • Wasn’t blowing that hard in the winner’s circle.

The Bad:

  • Not much, but he’ll need to go longer and stay a little closer in the Derby.

Long Range Toddy

The Good:

  • Won the first division of the Rebel in a pretty speedy time, out-gaming Improbable.
  • Interesting to note that the fractions in both divisions were very similar.

The Bad:

  • Couldn’t have asked for a better trip, while Improbable (second) was wide throughout.

Omaha Beach

The Good:

  • While winning the second division of the Rebel, he turned away the heavily favored Game Winner.
  • Baffert’s horse caught up, got close, but wasn’t passing, even after the wire.
  • He may not be bred as well for dirt (first four starts on turf), but he doesn’t know it.

The Bad:

  • This colt showed promise, but didn’t break his maiden until his fifth start.
  • Although separating the field with the winner, his future rivals will be tougher and Game Winner should be tighter.

Live Longshots

Bourbon War

Just the Good:

  • This colt was arguably best in the Fountain of Youth. He was shuffled to last at the start, then had a huge wide move, but ran out of track. Gulfstream has a short stretch; he could have won at another venue.

Win Win Win

Just the Good:

  • Should have some value, finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby.
  • He had been off for 50 days and did have some pop at the end.
  • Most impressively, he had never run in a route. In his prior race at Tampa Bay Downs (at 7 furlongs), he set the track record — something you just don’t see from a young three-year-old.

Country House

Just the Good:

  • I’m not sure this one ever sees Kentucky on May 4, but if he does, he was second to War of Will in the Risen Star with a bad trip. The last 150 yards he raced greenly, zig-zagging down the lane. It’s not a stretch to argue he could have won the race.

Stay tuned. This may be the year you finally get to cash that big ticket! Things can change in an instant. We’ll do our best to give you the most current news before anyone else.

I always try to be available for questions

Good luck!

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