2019 Kentucky Derby Betting: Risers and Fallers on ‘Whisper Wednesday’

2019 Kentucky Derby Betting: Risers and Fallers on ‘Whisper Wednesday’ article feature image
Credit:

Jamie Rhodes, USA Today Sports.

  • The 2019 Kentucky Derby takes place at 6:50 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 4 on NBC.
  • Bob Baffert's three entrants - Game Winner (4-1), Roadster (9-2), and Improbable (5-1) - are the current favorites.
  • Sean Zerillo offers an early betting preview with what he's been hearing after 'Whisper Wednesday.'

On Tuesday, post positions were drawn and the morning line odds were set for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby:

Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby champion Omaha Beach was installed as the 4-1 morning line favorite, ahead of each of two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert’s three entrants: Game Winner (5-1), Roadster (6-1), and Improbable (6-1).

However, Omaha Beach was scratched from the race on Wednesday afternoon, and a suddenly wide-open Derby could see some surprising horses finish in the money on Saturday.

Maximum Security: The Unknown Commodity

The Florida Derby has traditionally been a telling final prep race for potential Triple Crown contenders. Eighteen winners of the Florida Derby have gone on to win at least one Triple Crown race, including recent Kentucky Derby champions Always Dreaming (2017), Nyquist (2016), Orb (2013), Big Brown (2008), and Barbaro (2006).

Maximum Security is a pace-setter, and led gate-to-wire at Gulfstream Park in  his Florida Derby win:

However, the rest of the field at the Florida Derby let Maximum Security get out to the front and jog around most of the track before he put them away by 3.5 lengths in the stretch. He was never pressed early and mostly set reasonable fractions around the track.

It was a solid effort, to be sure, but it was also the perfect race setup for him. Maximum Security seems unlikely to get the same setup in the Kentucky Derby, especially while contesting with all of the other speed to his inside.

If the rest of the field does let him get out to a comfortable lead, he could run away with the race.

How the Post Draw Changed the Pace and the Race

The pace setup for the Kentucky Derby is never what it initially appears to be on paper. After the post draw, things always start to fall into place.

The first opinion on this 2019 Derby field was its noted abundance of tactical stalkers, mid-pack horses, and closers, without many frontrunners.

Pretty much all of the early speed in this race (notably War of Will, Vekoma and Maximum Security) drew Posts 1-7, meaning that there should be an honest pace, maybe even a fast pace, as all of the potential early leaders chase one another on the inside to get to the first turn ahead of the pack.

Horses with tactical speed like Game Winner, drawn on the outside, should be able to sit just off of the pace, and closers like Code of Honor, Country House and Haikal will look to drop back and make one big late run.

War of Will was the only contender hurt by the post draw. He has been a buzz horse in workouts, but a horse hasn’t won the Derby from the rail since 1986 (Ferdinand). The last winner from the second post was in 1978 (Affirmed). The last winner from the third post was in 1998 (Real Quiet).

Yikes.

In a 20-horse field, War of Will is in danger of either getting closed off and into the rail by 19 horses or running himself out by the end of the first turn to to get ahead of that traffic. Either way, it’s the worst possible spot for what was shaping up to be a wiseguy horse.

If you’re looking for positive post position trends, focus on horses on the outside, particularly in the auxiliary gate (Posts 15-20).

Per Christina Moore of America’s Best Racing, “In Kentucky Derbys contested since 2000, all 19 used the auxiliary gate and seven of 19 winners broke from post 15 or higher.” Nine of those 19 winners have started in posts 13-20.

Moving Horses Up and Down the Board in Wet Weather

Rain is in the forecast for both the Oaks and Derby this weekend, and the morning-line odds may shift as a result of a sloppy track.

Justify won the 2018 Kentucky Derby over a sloppy (sealed) track at Churchill Downs, but a big story on race day was the odds for My Boy Jack dropping from 20-1 on the morning line to under 7-1 by post time (he finished fifth), due to previous wins in the mud.

Naturally, horses that have a winning racing history in the slop will gain steam on a rainy Derby day, while those with marks against them will fall off of tickets.

Some horses who will likely move up the power rankings in the mud:

  • By My Standards
  • Improbable
  • Maximum Security
  • Plus Que Parfait.

Improbable put up a very honest effort in the slop against Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby, and might have the most overall upside of Baffert’s three entrants:

He also has a win over the track at Churchill Downs, as does his stablemate Game Winner.

One potential live longshot that you might consider crossing off in bad weather is Long Range Toddy, who didn’t appear to like an off-track during his sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.

A Recent Trend to Consider

Under the current Kentucky Derby scoring system, which began in 2013, every Derby winner has met the following criteria:

  • Earned 100+ points on the Derby trail
  • Won their final prep race
  • Undefeated at Age 3

Vekoma, Plue Que Parfait and By My Standards meet the first two criteria.

Only Tacitus, Roadster and Maximum Security fit all three. Roadster also defeated his stablemate Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby:

The Derby is a Unique Mix of Sharp and Amateur Action 

Early Derby wagering begins on Friday, but that will be a mix of sharp and amateur action until Saturday afternoon — when the sharps start to weigh in closer to post time (6:50 PM EST).

Keep in mind that everyone is betting off of the information that is already public.

With three Bob Baffert horses so close in odds, it’s unclear as to which horse (likely Game Winner or Roadster) will go off as the first choice by post time.

People focus on big names and public trends. You will hear that Tacitus’s trainer Bill Mott is 0-for-8 in the Kentucky Derby, as often as you will hear that Bob Baffert has won two Triple Crowns in the past four years.

Such easily digestible information sticks with people and influences their betting decisions. Public perception can always move odds, particularly in the Kentucky Derby.

Some other buzz horses from workouts over these past two weeks have included: By My Standards (20-1), Code of Honor (15-1), Long Range Toddy (30-1), War of Will (20-1), and Win Win Win (15-1).

Code of Honor should get a good pace to run into at the Kentucky Derby, as he did in the Fountain of Youth on March 2:

There was no pace in the Florida Derby outside of Maximum Security, and he never had a chance for anything other than a minor award.

Code of Honor’s trainer, Shug McGaughey, has said that his horse is ahead of where his 2013 Kentucky Derby Winner, Orb, was at this point.