Who Will Be the 2018 Kentucky Derby Favorite?

The last five editions of the Kentucky Derby have been won by the post-time favorite. This year, there’s no standout horse, and one could make a case for four or five of the contenders.

East Coast-based Magnum Moon and West Coast-based Justify may vie for favoritism. Both are undefeated, yet neither raced as a two-year-old. The last colt to win the Kentucky Derby that didn’t race as two-year-old? Apollo, 136 years ago. Here’s the rundown on the top nine 2018 Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

All odds courtesy of US Racing and current as of April 29.

Magnum Moon (13/2)

Pedigree: Malibu Moon – Dazzling Song, by Unbridled’s Song.
Race Record: 4-4-0-0.
Owners: Lawana & Robert Low.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Derby record: 48-2-2-3. Last win: Always Dreaming (2017).
Jockey: Luis Saez. Derby record: 5-0-0-0. Best finish: seventh (Brody’s Cause 2016).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 150 (first).
Running style: Pacesetter or presser. He doesn’t need to be on the lead, but will likely be in the first flight of contenders in the early going.
Last Race: WON – Arkansas Derby.
Breeding: Borderline/good to win at 1 1/4 miles.

Pros: The East Coast version of Justify. Magnum Moon has done all that was asked of him and he’s beaten some nice horses — easily.

Cons: Like Justify, Magnum Moon will try to buck the Curse of Apollo. He has a bad habit of drifting out to the middle of the track in the stretch, and the farther he goes, the more he bears out. If he’s in contention in the Derby stretch, bearing out could cost him the win.

Good Magic (8/1)

Pedigree: Curlin – Glinda the Good, by Hard Spun.
Race Record: 5-2-2-1.
Owners: e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, & Stonestreet Stables.
Trainer: Chad Brown. Derby record: 4-0-0-0. Best finish: fourth (Normandy Invasion 2014).
Jockey: Jose Ortiz. Derby record: 3-0-0-0. Best finish: fifth (Samraat 2014).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 134 (second).
Last race: WON – Blue Grass Stakes (G1).
Running style: Likes to run in the middle-of-the-pack. May settle into fifth- to 10th-place place early.
Breeding: Excellent to win at 1/14 miles.

Pros: Last year’s Champion Juvenile Colt still has the magic. He won his final Kentucky Derby prep race and should improve with racing and distance.

Cons: Has only two prep races this year and may not be at his peak form in Kentucky.

Audible (4/1)

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Blue Devil Bel, by Gilded Time.
Race Record: 5-4-0-1.
Owners: Same owners as Justify & Noble Indy — China Horse Club International, Head of Plains Partners, LLC, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Derby record: 48-2-2-3. Last win: Always Dreaming (2017).
Jockey: Javier Castellano. Derby record: 11-0-0-0. Best finish: fourth (Normandy Invasion 2014).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 110 (third).
Last race:   WON – Florida Derby (G1).
Running style: Varied, can press the pace or sit mid-pack.
Breeding:  Fair for 1 1/4 miles.

Pros: Audible won his last four starts by a combined 20+ lengths. If he gets a distance-saving trip on the rail, he has a shot to hit the board.

Cons: This year’s Florida Derby didn’t have a strong cast of characters. Audible benefited from a speed duel and was able to sit far back early to reserve energy. How iffy was the Florida Derby field? The second-place finisher, Hofburg, had recently won his first lifetime start, a maiden race. Audible’s pedigree is miler-middle distance. The farther they go, the slower he’ll be.

Noble Indy (18/1)

Pedigree: Take Charge Indy – Noble Maz, by Storm Boot.
Race Record: 4-3-0-1
Owners: Same owners as Justify & Audible — China Horse Club International, Head of Plains Partners, LLC, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Derby record: 48-2-2-3. Last win: Always Dreaming (2017).
Jockey: TBA.
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 110 (fourth).
Last race: WON – Louisiana Derby (G2).
Running style: Likes to be near the front early.
Breeding: Fair for 1 1/4 miles.

Pros: Has never finished off of the board. If he gets a distance-saving trip on the rail, he has a shot to hit the board.

Cons: He had a clear lead entering the stretch in the Louisiana Derby, but was life and death to hold off 1-for-8 Lone Sailor. The extra distance won’t do him any favors, and he appears a cut below the best.

Vino Rosso (12/1)

Pedigree: Curlin – Mythical Bride, by Street Cry (IRE)).
Race Record: 5-3-0-1.
Owners: Repole Stable & St. Elias Stable.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Derby record: 48-2-2-3. Last win: Always Dreaming (2017).
Jockey: John Velazquez. Derby record: 19-2-1-0. Last win: Always Dreaming (2017).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 107 (fifth).
Last race: WON – Wood Memorial (G1).
Running style: Presser/stalker.
Breeding: Excellent for 1 1/4 miles.

Pros: He had a learning moment in the Wood Memorial, when he backed off from Enticed, then made up his mind to pass that rival. Vino Rosso won the race with his ears up, indicating that he had more in the tank.

Cons: Vino Rosso is a steady one-paced runner. Fortunately, that one pace is fairly quick. Late-running types rarely win the Kentucky Derby, unless the track is wet. Over the last several years, the top finishers in the Wood Memorial have reliably filled out the lower exotics in the Derby, and Vino Rosso will be passing tired horses in the stretch.

Bolt d’Oro (13/2)

Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Globe Trot, by A.P. Indy.
Race Record: 6-4-1-1.
Owner: Mick Ruis.
Trainer: Mick Ruis.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza. Derby record: 9-3-0-1. Last win: Won back-to-back Derbies with California Chrome (2014) and American Pharoah (2015 Triple Crown hero).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 104 (sixth).
Last race: Second place – Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Running style: Varied. Can press the pace or sit in mid-pack.
Breeding: Excellent for 1 1/4 miles.

Pros: Named for the “world’s fastest man” Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, Bolt d’Oro was the best three-year-old in California — until he met Justify. Bolt D’oro is battle-tested and proven to overcome trouble and still run his race.

Cons: He has a bad habit of breaking slowly out of the gate. In a field of 20 Derby contenders, that will cost him a tactical position. If he’s stuck in the pack, there will be plenty of bumper-car action.

Enticed (20/1)

Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – It’s Tricky, by Mineshaft.
Race Record: 6-3-1-1.
Owner: Godolphin, LLC.
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin. Derby record: 7-0-1-0. Best finish: second (Closing Argument 2005).
Jockey: Junior Alvarado. 1-0-0-0 Derby record: 9-3-0-1. Best finish: fourth  (Mohaymen 2016).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 103 (seventh).
Last race: Second – Wood Memorial (G1).
Running style: Pace presser, will likely be in the first flight of horses during the early stages.
Breeding: Borderline for 1 1/4 miles.

Pros: Enticed is a nice horse, but not great. He did win a key race from last year, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. This year, he won the one-mile Gotham. There was some slight bumping in the Wood Memorial with Vino Rosso, but Enticed wasn’t going to hold off his rival.

Cons: Enticed has very high leg action, choppy stride and an upright way of moving. It takes energy to sustain this type of movement and the farther they go, the more tired Enticed will get.

Mendelssohn (19/5)

Pedigree: Scat Daddy – Leslie’s Lady, by Tricky Creek.
Race Record: 7-4-1-0.
Owners: Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier & Michael Tabor.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Derby record: 5-0-0-0. Best finish: fifth (Master of Hounds 2011).
Jockey: Ryan Moore. One previous Derby. Best finish: seventh (Lines of Battle 2013).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 100 (eighth).
Last race: WON – UAE Derby, set a new track record for 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles).
Running style: Presses the pace. Will likely be kept on the outside to keep dirt out of his face.
Pedigree: Excellent to win at 1/14 miles.

Pros: He has the best pedigree of this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders to handle the distance and has already won at approximately 1 3/16 miles (1,900 meters; the Derby is about 2,012 meters). The half-brother to champion mare Beholder has it all — breeding, experience and talent. He’s won in four different countries over three various surfaces.

Cons: Aidan O’Brien is a world-class trainer — of turf horses. His record of shipping horses last minute has resulted in out-of-the-money finishes for all of his dirt runners. This year, Irish-based Mendelssohn has traveled to Dubai, back to Ireland, and then to Kentucky. It’s a lot to handle for a colt who won’t be physically three years old until May 17.

Justify (3/1)

Pedigree: Scat Daddy – Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper.
Race Record: 3-3-0-0.
Owners: Same owners as Noble Indy & Audible — China Horse Club International, Head of Plains Partners, LLC, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm.
Trainer: Bob Baffert. Derby record: 27-4-3-3. Last win: American Pharoah (2015 Triple Crown).
Jockey: Mike Smith. Derby record: 23-1-4-1. Last win:  Giacomo (2005).
Kentucky Derby qualifying points (ranking): 100 (ninth).
Last race: WON – Santa Anita Derby.
Breeding: Borderline/good to win at 1 1/4 miles.
Running style: Pacesetter or presser. He will be on the lead or close to it in the early stages.

Pros: Big, undefeated colt has easily beaten the best in California and we still don’t know how good he is. Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said he’ll make Justify the 3-1 morning line Kentucky Derby favorite.

Cons: Horses that didn’t race as 2-year-olds don’t win the Kentucky Derby. The last colt to enter the Run for the Roses as an unraced two-year-old with only three lifetime starts was Curlin, who finished 3rd. Justify is bucking a 136-year trend. He’s never raced outside of California and had it his own way in all 3 starts.

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.

Posted on


Proudly featured on:
{include file='scripts-footer.tpl'}