2019 Kentucky Derby: Top 5 Burning Questions

CAUTION: EPA guidelines suggest wearing gloves when handling Kentucky Derby material as hot as the following paragraphs. However, judicious use of this material can pay your energy bill.

Ever since I published The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby in 2013, I’ve beamed with confidence during Derby week. Each year the Guide pointed to one horse as clearly superior. Betting decisions were easy. Winners were abundant (five Kentucky Derby winners in five years)! This year, though, Derby prep races seem to have raised more questions than they answered.

Five questions in particular cause my synapses to smoke as I seek my sixth Derby winner in a row.

1. Should Tacitus be the top pick because of his similarities to Orb?

Has anyone else noticed how Tacitus’ resume resembles that of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb?

  • Both hail from breeders geared toward producing graded stakes winners.
  • Both spent their developmental years handled by New York-based Hall of Fame trainers.
  • In November 2012 Orb won a one-mile race at Aqueduct in a time of 1:38.3 to end his two-year-old campaign.
  • In November 2019 Tacitus won a one-mile race at Aqueduct in a time of 1:38.3 to end his two-year-old campaign.
  • Orb captured his first stakes win in Florida at 8.5 furlongs. He rallied from sixth place at the four-furlong mark to win in a time of 1:42.1 (at Gulfstream Park).
  • Tacitus captured his first stakes win in Florida at 8.5 furlongs. He rallied from sixth place at the four-furlong mark to win in a time of 1:41.4 (at Tampa Bay Downs).
  • The six-furlong split and final times for both horses in those stakes victories qualified them as Silver Standard horses per the Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby.
  • Both horses returned from those 8.5-furlong victories to win at 9 furlongs.

In my annual Kentucky Derby Preview (available May 1 at lazybettor.com), I’ll deliver an educated guess about the significance of these similarities.

2. Should we rate Mike Smith’s decision to ride Omaha Beach instead of Roadster as a key performance factor (equal, say, to pace or final time)?

With Mike Smith as their jockey, Omaha Beach and Roadster both notched victories in their final Derby preps. Both won nine-furlong races. Both defeated Game Winner.

Mike Smith will likely end his career a few years from now as racing’s all-time leading money winner. He knows, as well as any jockey in the sport’s history, how to evaluate stakes potential.

To secure the mount on Omaha Beach, Smith risked damaging his enormously lucrative relationship with Bob Baffert, trainer of Roadster. Nothing justifies that risk other than certainty on Smith’s part about which horse is superior.

Readers of The Lazy Bettor’s Guide know that early speed dominates the Kentucky Derby. Omaha Beach has early speed. Roadster does not.

Based on Smith’s credentials and the research underpinning the success of The Lazy Bettor’s Guide, it’s probably safe to assume Mike Smith decided correctly. Even if that assumption is true, keep in mind that Smith’s decision says nothing about Omaha Beach’s chances to defeat horses other than Roadster.

3. If Mike Smith prefers Omaha Beach to Roadster and made his decision based on each horse’s defeat of Game Winner, should we downgrade Game Winner’s chances to win the Kentucky Derby?

Game Winner hit his peak as a two-year-old when winning the BC Juvenile Stakes last November. But he posted a slower final time for that race than did the winner of the BC Juvenile Fillies. His three-year-old season consists of two high-profile defeats. In his longest race to date, the Santa Anita Derby, he surrendered ground in the stretch despite enjoying a perfect stalking trip. Roadster, his less experienced stablemate, defeated him in his final prep race and stole GW’s place in the pre-Derby spotlight.

On the plus side, Game Winner is trained by Bob Baffert. Baffert’s first two Kentucky Derby winners, Silver Charm and Real Quiet, both finished second in their two races preceding the Derby. Indian Charlie, the less experienced stablemate of Real Quiet, defeated Real Quiet in his final prep race and stole his place in the pre-Derby spotlight.

4. Is Maximum Security the next Big Brown or the next Bellamy Road?

Big Brown, winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, raced around two turns only once before his Derby score. That one race was a victory in the Florida Derby. Ditto Maximum Security. Big Brown preferred to race with the lead but showed a willingness to slow down in the opening furlongs if his jockey asked him to. Ditto Maximum Security. Both horses owned tremendous early speed and could be rated to stretch that speed over 9 furlongs. Big Brown successfully stretched his excellent speed to 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May.

Like Bellamy Road, who traveled the Derby trail in 2005, Maximum Security enters the Derby starting gate off an eye-catching win and without ever being challenged for the lead in a two-turn race. Like Bellamy Road, who won the 2005 Wood Memorial by more than 15 lengths, Maximum Security’s resume sports a victory with an astounding winning margin (18-lengths). Despite his impressive front-running victories and demonstrated dominance in prep races, Bellamy Road finished seventh in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

In my upcoming Kentucky Derby Preview, I’ll venture to guess which of these two horses Maximum Security most closely resembles.

5. Should we strip foreign-raced horses (like this year’s Master Fencer and Plus Que Parfait) of their spots in the Derby and give those spots to the Louisville 4H Club instead?

Surely I jest! Maybe I jest. Umm…I don’t think I’m jesting.

Foreign-based horses haven’t come close to making a winning Derby run. The Louisville 4-H Club? It remains undefeated in the Kentucky Derby.

Be sure to check in at lazybettor.com on Thursday to read the 2019 Kentucky Derby Preview, a proven cure for Derby bettors’ blisters and burns. Until then you can visit the site to read prior Lazy Bettor predictions about Kentucky Derby winners Justify, Always Dreaming and Nyquist, as well as interesting stats and comparisons of this year’s contenders.

Roger LeBlanc
April 28, 2019

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