Welcome to one of the most sacred days on the entire sports betting calendar.
The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, May 1 at 6:57 p.m. ET on NBC. While the Derby is certainly the main attraction on Saturday, there are several world-class races for bettors to sink their teeth into before the Run for the Roses.
Below I’ve rated every horse in the field from contenders to potential sleepers to horses you should throw out. This way you will get a good idea not only of the horse I think is the best bet to win, but also the longshots I’ll be using in exotics and why I like them.
But before we get into my power rankings, check out a quick refresher on the basics of betting the ponies:
New to Horse Racing?
For those of you that might be new to horse racing, the wagering pools are pari-mutuel, which means that, unlike in sports betting, you aren’t trying to beat the house but rather the public at large. The key to long-term success in betting the ponies is being disciplined in identifying value in the pools.
Speed Ratings and Beyer Speed Figures
Speed ratings are relative performance indicators that allow us to compare performances across tracks where not all factors are even. Some tracks might be naturally faster like Gulfstream or Santa Anita, where the surfaces are harder, compared to a track like Belmont or Aqueduct, where the surfaces are generally a bit deeper.
They also account for the condition of the track as most horses will travel slower over softer ground. This means that simply comparing times is ineffective as they need some kind of leveling factor.
That’s what is built into speed ratings and they give a nice, although imperfect indicator of relative performance and ability.
A relative strength index for the field of a specific race. This gives you an idea of the level of the competition the horse was facing, as it can vary wildly from track to track even with the same win conditions.
How often do favorites win in horse racing?
Generally speaking, the favorite in horse racing wins at about a 35% rate but that number varies depending on the number of horses in the field. Armed with that knowledge you might want to just pick the favorites, frequently known as the chalk, but a closer look at the implied odds shows that you’d need average odds of 2-1 or better to break even on “win” bets.
So, in order to profit horseplayers must pick and choose the horses that they feel have a better chance to win than their implied odds, which is known as positive expected value (+EV). Expected value is not unique to horse racing and something that all bettors should get familiar with if they want to succeed.
No. 15 Rock Your World (5-1)
The Santa Anita Derby has proven to be one of the most successful prep races for the Kentucky Derby and last time out Rock Your World took the field gate-to-wire to win the Santa Anita Derby. He is 3-for-3, but the Santa Anita Derby was his first race on dirt.
Trainer John Sadler said that was the plan all along; start on the turf and then try the dirt, as the turf tends to be less taxing. Rock Your World is out of Candy Ride, whose offspring win at 21% in Grade 1 stakes races, which is unheard of, and the fact that Rock Your World has shown he can win in gate-to-wire fashion or that he can sit a stalking trip makes him a win contender and my top choice in this field.
The Horse To Beat
No. 14 Essential Quality (2-1)
Essential Quality comes in with a perfect record at 5-for-5. The two-year-old champion came back as a three-year-old to win the Grade 3 Southwest and G2 Blue Grass. While his Beyer speed figures didn’t pop as much as I would like to see from his last two-year-old start to his first three-year-old start, it’s hard to argue against the morning-line favorite.
Essential Quality showed his ability to wear down a foe late in the Blue Grass, just getting his nose down to beat Highly Motivated. While he hasn’t done anything wrong, 2-1 or anything less is too short for me to take as a win bet in the Derby.
That said, Essential Quality is definitely a horse to use in horizontal and vertical exotics.
No. 1 Known Agenda (6-1)
Known Agenda is one of four Todd Pletcher trainees in the race. He’s coming in off a win in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, which after the Sanita Anita Derby has proven to be the most successful prep race over the last 30 years.
A lot is being made out of his post position, but this is the new starting gate; it’s one continuous gate and the gates are a little more narrow, so the one hole is not as big of a disadvantage as it once was. In addition, Known Agenda keeps jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, who is one of the best jockeys in the world and always knows how to put his horse in position to give them a chance to win.
Known Agenda’s speed figures have progressively improved as a three-year-old and if he can make another step forward he has every chance to win this race.
No. 17 Highly Motivated (10-1)
The Chad Brown trainee is coming in off a second-place finish in the Blue Grass, where he finished a head back of Essential Quality. Not only did that race prove that Highly Motivated could get the distance, but it showed that he belongs with the cream of the crop.
I’m not sure that he will get the lead as he did in the Bluegrass, but the Derby could be the race where Highly Motivated turns the tables on Essential Quality.
Chad has yet to win a Derby but it’s only a matter of time and at a price, I’m not going to let this be the one who beats me.
No. 9 Hot Rod Charlie (8-1)
Hot Rod Charlie is trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neil and is coming in off a win in the Lousiana Derby, where is was able to dig in late and put away his competition.
The Beyer speed figure came back as a 99, which is the second-highest of any horse in this field behind Rock Your World. The Louisiana Derby hasn’t been as successful of a prep race in recent years, but that being said he just missed in both the Robert B Lewis (head) and the Breeders Cup Juvenile (¾ of a length) right before the Louisiana Derby.
Longshots To Use in Exotics
No. 7 Mandaloun (15-1)
This is the wise guy horse and the entry who has generated the most interest from the backstretch throughout the last couple of weeks. He is the “other” Brad Cox trainee and frankly if you draw a line through his effort in the Louisiana Derby, he more than fits in here.
Cox has risen quickly to become one of the elite trainers in the game and his first-call jock, Florent Geroux, retains the mount on Mandaloun. If he’s able to convert his am workouts to the afternoon on Saturday, he stands a huge chance at a big price to upset the field.
No. 6 O Besos (20-1)
O Besos is my best longshot play in this field. He comes in off a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, but he was flying late. In that race, O Besos ducked down to the rail and ended up winning the gallop out.
He’s another one who, if he can take another step forward from that race, stands a chance in here at a big price. I will be including him in both vertical and horizontal wagers.
No. 8 Medina Spirit (15-1)
You can’t talk about the Kentucky Derby without talking about Bob Baffert. He has won this race six times and, although a number of his horses were pulled off the Derby trail this year, he still has Medina Spirit running for him.
Medina Spirit is not your typical Baffert trainee though; he doesn’t have the early, flashy speed; he’s more of a grinder. You know what you are going to get every time from Medina Spirit, but that might not be a win. He is definitely a horse that you have to use in all of your vertical wagers, but he’s a toss in horizontal wagers for me.
No. 18 Super Stock (30-1)
Super Stock is trained by Steve Asmussen and is coming in off a win in the Arkansas Derby. Since breaking his maiden, he’s only missed the board once and that was a fourth-place finish in the Rebel.
Being towards the outside should suit him well as he likes to sit a stalking trip and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. should be able to do just that with this post position. Super Stock has continually progressed from a speed figures standpoint as a three-year-old and if he’s able to continue that trend he’s another big price that could be in the mix.
No. 13 Hidden Stash (50-1)
This is a horse who I’ve liked throughout this three-year-old campaign, though he would need to take a massive step forward to be considered a win contender after finishing fourth in the Blue Grass, second in the Tampa Bay Derby and third in the Sam F Davis as a three-year-old.
That said, Hidden Stash has shown that regardless of his ability to win, he will always come with a late kick that gives him a chance to get involved for the lesser awards.
No. 5 Sainthood (50-1)
Another Pletcher trainee, Sainthood qualified for the Derby with his second-place finish in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. Lion the King, the winner of that race, is a toss for me, but I’m including Sainthood as a longshot due to the fact that he had such a troubled trip and was still able to find a way to finish a close second.
He will need to take a step forward in here, but the fact that he was able to find a way to finish second shows his promise of being a horse who could be involved in the superfecta at a huge price.
Horses To Toss
No. 19 Soup and Sandwich (30-1)
While a lot of people seem to love this horse’s name, he just isn’t up to the quality of the others in this field.
Soup and Sandwich ran a huge race in the Florida Derby to finish second behind Known Agenda, but Gulfstream is known to have speed bias and while he held on for second that day, there are too many other horses that will be picking up pieces late for Soup and Sandwich to even get a piece in here.
No. 11 Dynamic One (20-1)
Dynamic one was nipped at the wire by Bourbonic in the G2 Wood Memorial. Prior to that, he broke his maiden in his fourth try and while one of those four three loses came against Great Honour, he’s just not up to snuff to contend in this field.
No. 20 Bourbonic (30-1)
He won the Wood Memorial in order to qualify for the Derby. He was last for the majority of that race before making a move on the far turn, sweeping wide and getting up late to win.
Frankly, he would need to somehow pull off the same huge upset in here to even be considered as a longshot possibility, so he’s a toss for me.
No. 12 Helium (50-1)
Helium is another one that I’m tossing. He’s undefeated and won the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, but we haven’t seen him since. The long layoff, in addition to him needing to take a major move forward if he was even to be competitive in this spot, make him a toss for me.
No. 4 Keepmeinmind (50-1)
While he showed great promise as a two-year-old finishing second in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity, third in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and winning the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, he has significantly regressed as a three-year-old. And even during his competitive races as a two-year-old, those speed figures won’t make him competitive in here.
No. 3 Brooklyn Strong 50-1
He finished a disappointing fifth in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last month in his first start as a three-year-old. In that start, his Beyer speed figure number regressed from his last start as a two-year-old, which is not a good sign.
While I’m glad that jockey Umberto Rispoli got a derby mount, Brooklyn Strong only drew into this field because of scratches.
No. 2 Like the King (50-1)
Simply put, I cannot find a reason to like this horse. Yes, he qualified for the Derby by winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks, but that was over the tapeta surface at Turfway Park.
While trainer Wesley Ward has been very successful with younger horses, this is his first Derby starter and typically his horses are more of the sprinter type.