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2019 Kentucky Derby betting primer

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The 145th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4 at Churchill Downs shapes up as one of the most wide-open, competitive Derbys of this decade. A diverse group of 3-year-olds is slated to fill the 20-horse field for the world’s most popular race, including last year’s champion 2-year-old male in Game Winner, an up-and-coming West Coast-based star in Roadster, and a regally-bred East Coast contender in Tacitus as well as several other highly regarded horses.

The 2019 Kentucky Derby, held at 1 ¼ miles, boasts an increased purse totaling $3 million, with $1.86 million going to the winner. The Derby will be televised nationally on NBC with a post time of approximately 6:50 p.m. ET.  To watch the race, click here.

Follow America’s Best Racing’s Triple Crown page and social media feeds  (TwitterInstagramFacebook) for the latest information on the Derby as well as live videos and feature stories. For more, click here.

Read on for information on all of the contenders, presented in post-position order and with morning-line odds.

1. War of Will (20-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Mark Casse

Owner: Gary Barber

Career record: 8 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $501,569

Earnings per start: $62,696

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 107

Kentucky Derby points: 60

Pedigree: War Front – Visions of Clarity, by Sadler’s Wells

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This talented colt will is facing stiff historical odds in his quest for the Derby, as since 1940, no race winner has finished worse than fifth in his final prep race – and that only happened twice, in 1951 and 1957. War of Will enters off of a ninth-place finish in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, where he took an unusual step a few strides out of the starting gate and ended up behind a pack of horses entering the first turn. That position negated his usual pace-pressing running style, and the colt was never involved thereafter. Trainer Mark Casse said following the race that War of Will checked out fine, and he’s been working very well at Keeneland since then through the week of April 20. Prior to his Louisiana Derby mishap, he had won all three of his starts on dirt by a combined 11 ¼ lengths, including the Lecomte Stakes and Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds. Like Omaha Beach, War of Will is a son of top global sire War Front, who has had more success with turf runners but has sired some top-class dirt horses as well. War of Will’s female pedigree tilts toward turf, and he began his career with four starts on that surface, but he has shown greater affinity for dirt and overall he has a good stamina foundation for the Derby. This colt is eligible for a big bounce-back race in the Kentucky Derby, but he will need to achieve that and improve even more to topple the top pack of contenders who enter off of much better finishes in stronger prep races at Oaklawn ParkAqueduct, and Santa Anita Park. Drawing the inside post position means he will have to break well and move swiftly to gain a prominent position as the field passes through the stretch for the first time. This horse does his best running close to the pace and any sort of early misfortune similar to what happened in the Louisiana Derby will ruin his chances at bucking history and winning the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby history: Gary Barber has co-owned two prior Kentucky Derby starters, and this will be his first appearance since 2011. War of Will is Mark Casse’s sixth Derby horse; his best finish came with fourth-place Classic Empire in 2017. Talented young jockey Tyler Gaffalione returns to the Derby two years after his debut, when he finished 14th aboard fan favorite Patch.


2. Tax (20-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Danny Gargan

Owners: R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch, and Corms Racing Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $326,300

Earnings per start: $65,260

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 105

Kentucky Derby points: 52

Pedigree: Arch – Toll, by Giant’s Causeway

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding carries one of the most appealing backstories to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, having been claimed by trainer Danny Gargan for current co-owner Hugh Lynch after his second start last September at Keeneland. Tax won that 1 1/16-mile race by two lengths and was moved up to stakes company in his very next start, where he’s remained ever since. He finished a good third in the Remsen Stakes to close out his juvenile campaign, and returned on a winning note in the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in early February, holding on to score by a head after stumbling at the start. Returning in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct, he battled with Tacitus in midstretch before settling for second, 1 ¼ lengths behind that foe (he was also slightly nudged toward the rail by Tacitus in the final sixteenth, but that occurred after Tacitus had forged ahead and no claim of foul was lodged). Tax will be a longshot in the Kentucky Derby but he is a hard-trying type who figures to bring his ‘A’ game to the sport’s biggest stage. The main concern is that other horses who share his stalking running style – Game Winner and Improbable, to name two – are faster and should be in better position to vie for the lead at the top of the Churchill Downs stretch, especially if Tax gets crowded and pushed back after breaking close to the rail. Tax has a classy pedigree that is a plus for the Kentucky Derby, as he was bred and originally owned by the successful partnership of Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. 2017 Alabama Stakes winner Elate is one of several accomplished stakes-winning relatives on his dam’s side.

Kentucky Derby history: This will be the Kentucky Derby debut for trainer Danny Gargan and most of Tax’s ownership group, save for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing. Dean and Patti Reeves co-owned 2011 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man, winner of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Co-owner Raymond Hill III (R. A. Hill Stable) also is part-owner of Vekoma. Jockey Junior Alvarado returns for his third Kentucky Derby; he finished fourth in 2016 aboard Mohaymen.


3. By My Standards (20-1)

Jockey: Gabriel Saez

Trainer: Bret Calhoun

Owner: Allied Racing Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $653,710

Earnings per start: $130,742

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby points: 100

Pedigree: Goldencents – A Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: If this fast-improving colt manages to take another step forward in form on May 4, he could hit the Kentucky Derby tote board at long odds. After two runner-up finishes as a juvenile last year, By My Standards tired late to finish third in his 3-year-old debut at Fair Grounds but then rebounded to break his maiden and then post a 22.50-1 upset in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, both at the New Orleans track. He enjoyed a clean trip in the latter race under rider Gabriel Saez (who has been aboard for all five of this colt’s starts) and showed good courage in the stretch to overtake Kentucky Derby foe Spinoff and win by three-quarters of a length. Given that Louisiana Derby favorite War of Will had a poor start that compromised his chances, By My Standards’ win in that race is suspect in some circles, but he has been training well since then as one of the first horses to ship to Churchill Downs and has a good, stalking running style for the Derby. His sire, Goldencents, won the 2013 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles but did his best racing at a mile, winning two Breeders’ Cup races at that distance. Read Mike Curry’s ABR profile for more in-depth analysis.

Kentucky Derby history: Gabriel Saez makes his third Kentucky Derby start this year; he finished second in 2008 aboard the filly Eight Belles. This will be the first Kentucky Derby appearance for both owner Chester Thomas’ Allied Stables and veteran trainer Bret Calhoun.


4. Gray Magician (50-1)

Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke

Trainer: Peter Miller

Owners: Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Gary Barber

Career record: 8 starts – 1 win – 3 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $584,140

Earnings per start: $73,018

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby points: 41

Pedigree: Graydar – Burg Berg, by Johannesburg

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After racing on the West Coast with a modicum of success through his first six starts, this Peter Miller trainee shipped to Laurel Park in February and finished a nonthreatening second to probable Preakness Stakes starter Alwaysmining in a listed stakes and then made his bid for Kentucky Derby points by taking the transcontinental trip to Dubai for a start in the United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group. Gray Magician responded with a career-best effort in the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby, gamely engaging Plus Que Parfait in deep stretch before losing by three-quarters of a length. That was his first start beyond a mile, and it will be interesting to see how Gray Magician responds in a race at a similar distance but against a much more formidable field come May 4. He projects to be one of several stalkers in a crowded middle group in the Kentucky Derby, and it’s worth noting that his only career win – a runaway 9 ½-length score last November at Del Mar – came in a race where he faced just five other horses. Based on his overall body of work and his miler’s pedigree, Gray Magician will be one of the longest shots in the 2019 Kentucky Derby field.

Kentucky Derby history: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners has co-owned three prior Kentucky Derby starters, including 2014 third-place finisher Danza. Gary Barber, the sole owner of War of Will, has co-owned two prior Kentucky Derby starters, and this will be his first appearance since 2011. Barber’s Comma to the Top finished 19th that year, and represents Peter Miller’s lone Derby starter to date. Young jockey Drayden Van Dyke made his Kentucky Derby debut last year, and finished fourth aboard Instilled Regard.


5. Improbable (6-1)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Starlight Racing

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $619,520

Earnings per start: $123,904

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Kentucky Derby points: 65

Pedigree: City Zip – Rare Event, by A.P. Indy

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Like stablemate Game Winner, Improbable has seen his reputation dwindle slightly over the past couple of months after spending much of the winter ranked either first and second on most Kentucky Derby contender lists. A physically well-built colt with a fluid racing motion, he was undefeated in three starts as a juvenile, romping in the Street Sense Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup Friday undercard at Churchill Downs and finishing off his 2018 campaign with an easy win in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity. In his first start at 3, he took a clear lead in the first division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park but was unable to hold off a late challenge from Long Range Toddy, finishing second by a neck. He returned to Oaklawn for his final prep in the Arkansas Derby, and had leader Omaha Beach in his crosshairs at the top of the stretch only to settle for second once again, this time by a length. Bob Baffert put blinkers on Improbable for the first time in the Arkansas Derby to help keep him focused during the race, but the colt reacted poorly to them when he acted up in the starting gate, according to his trainer. They’ll be removed for the Derby, and Improbable also adds the reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey in Irad Ortiz, Jr. Since he enters on a two-race losing streak, there’s a chance that Improbable may be somewhat of an overlay in the Kentucky Derby, but this colt’s best effort places him right among the top win contenders. Ortiz Jr. is riding in career-best form and his judicious in-race decision-making skills will be put to the test in the Derby, where Improbable figures to be situated among the first five or six horses through the first mile. Look for Ortiz to urge Improbable for his run earlier in the Derby than in the colt’s prior two races, possibly as the field enters the far turn. Improbable’s pedigree is suitable for the Kentucky Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance, even if several other contenders appear stronger in this category. He is a close relative to 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun on his dam’s (mother’s) side.

Kentucky Derby history: Irad Ortiz Jr. will be making his fourth Kentucky Derby start, finishing seventh aboard Hofburg last year. Co-owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Starlight Racing also campaigned last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Justify and third-place finisher Audible with Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners. Jack and Laurie Wolf’s Starlight Racing has also owned or co-owned seven other Derby starters, while WinStar Farm won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver as sole owner. WinStar has also finished second and third once each as sole owner and third in partnership. Bob Baffert can tie Ben “Plain Ben” Jones for most wins (six) in the Kentucky Derby this year, and he has three chances to do it. His previous five winners from 29 starters are Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). The last two won the Triple Crown. Baffert has also finished second in the Derby three times, and third three times.


6. Vekoma (20-1)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Trainer: George Weaver

Owners: R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $788,850

Earnings per start: $197,213

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Kentucky Derby points: 110

Pedigree: Candy Ride – Mona de Momma, by Speightstown

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This talented son of top sire Candy Ride enters the Kentucky Derby off of a strong 3 ½-length win in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, his third win in four career starts and his first victory around two turns. He benefited from a clean trip and well-timed ride from Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano in the Blue Grass, stalking the pace and taking over on command at the top of the stretch to draw away from the rest of the field. Vekoma has a visually awkward running style where his right front leg kicks higher than normal and grabs at the ground in a choppy motion while his front left moves slightly sideways. Although it appears taxing, that is his normal motion, according to trainer George Weaver. Still, it’s a concern racing in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby against 19 other horses, and Vekoma’s dam, Mona de Momma, was a graded stakes-winning sprinter (although his extended female family features more stamina, including horses such as 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense). Vekoma shapes up as a middle-tier Kentucky Derby candidate who could very well be among the first flight of horses as the field hits the top of the stretch, but he’ll need to move forward even more off of his Blue Grass effort to reach the Churchill winner’s circle on May 4. Read Mike Curry’s ABR profile for more in-depth analysis.

Kentucky Derby history: Vekoma is George Weaver’s second horse to run in the Kentucky Derby; he finished 17th with Tencendur in 2015. Owners Raymond Hill III (R. A. Hill Stable) and Ted and Mike Gatsas (Gatsas Stable) are making their first Derby appearance. Hill also co-owns Tax. Javier Castellano has competed in 12 prior Derbys, and his best finish came in last year’s edition, when Audible finished third.


7. Maximum Security (10-1)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Jason Servis

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Career record: 4 starts – 4 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $649,400

Earnings per start: $162,350

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Kentucky Derby points: 100

Pedigree: New Year’s Day – Lil Indy, by Anasheed

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt entered the March 30 Xpressbet Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park as a wild card, having been offered in a maiden claiming race by owners Gary and Mary West in his very first start but then winning that race and two others by a combined 34 ½ lengths. He aced his class test in the Florida Derby with an unchallenged, pacesetting 3 ½-length score, and now he heads to Louisville as the only pure front-running horse in the field – which makes him a wild card yet again. The Florida Derby was Maximum Security’s first two-turn race, and he showed he could carry his speed over a route of ground, although skeptics will point out that the horse expected to challenge for the early lead, Hidden Scroll, was taken back early and never was a factor. Still, it would appear to be in the Wests’ and trainer Jason Servis’ best interests to send Maximum Security to the front early in the Derby as this colt clearly prefers to race on the lead and did not appear to be tiring much, if at all, in the late stages of the Florida Derby. That the Wests also have another contender lined up for the Derby in champion Game Winner, who employs a stalking running style, could set up a “best of both worlds” scenario for them, giving them a solid chance at winning the Derby no matter how the pace scenario turns out. Maximum Security’s young sire, New Year’s Day, won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but has not sired a classic-distance horse yet; his dam’s (mother’s) side of the family includes Flat Out, a two-time winner of the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Read Mike Curry’s ABR profile for more in-depth analysis.

Kentucky Derby history: Jason Servis finished 11th in last year’s Kentucky Derby with Firenze Fire, his first appearance. Maximum Security and Game Winner will be Gary and Mary West’s fourth and fifth Derby starters, and first since 2005. Luis Saez was aboard Maximum Security in the Florida Derby and is one of the best pace jockeys currently riding, a big plus for this colt’s Derby chances. This will be Saez’s seventh mount in the Kentucky Derby.


8. Tacitus (10-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: Juddmonte Farms

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $653,000

Earnings per start: $163,250

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Kentucky Derby points: 150

Pedigree: Tapit – Close Hatches, by First Defence

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has reached the sport’s heights with stars such as Cigar, Theatrical, and Royal Delta, but he has yet to win the Kentucky Derby. Tacitus gives Mott perhaps his best chance to do so, coming into the Derby off of two impressive graded stakes wins earlier this year. A Juddmonte Farms homebred, the striking gray or roan colt is a testament to Mott’s renowned patience in training. He finished fourth in his career debut last fall and won his next start before a winter break. Tacitus came back to post visually impressive wins in both the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. Tacitus overcame early trouble in the Wood, getting bumped and having to check entering the first turn, but recovered to grind out a 1 ¼-length victory over Tax. He is bred to handle the Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance as a son of leading sire Tapit and out of a dam (mother) in Close Hatches who was champion older dirt female of 2014 and who won seven graded stakes at 1 1/16 miles or longer. Tacitus is a closer, and there’s not a lot of speed lined up in this year’s Derby, but the fact that he’s already shown the ability to handle traffic trouble is a big plus. Read Mike Curry’s ABR profile for more in-depth analysis.

Kentucky Derby history: Mott has sent eight horses to the Kentucky Derby, and his best finish came last year when Hofburg finished seventh. Hofburg was the fourth Derby starter for Khalid Abdullah’s international powerhouse Juddmonte Farms, who has finished second twice with Aptitude in 2000 and eventual Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker in 2003. Jockey Jose Ortiz has ridden Tacitus in all four of his career starts; the 2017 Eclipse Award winner finished second in last year’s Kentucky Derby with Good Magic, his best showing in four starts.


9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Brendan Walsh

Owner: Imperial Racing

Career record: 7 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $1,590,400

Earnings per start: $227,200

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby points: 104

Pedigree: Point of Entry – Belvedera, by Awesome Again

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Plus Que Parfait earned his position in the 2019 Derby starting gate via the international route, flying half a world away to Dubai and winning the lucrative United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group in late March. He began his career in Kentucky, however, and arguably his career-best race came not under the lights at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, but instead last fall under the Twin Spires at Churchill, when he ran a fast-closing second to Signalman in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Plus Que Parfait returned at 3 to post disappointing finishes in both the Lecomte Stakes (fifth) and the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (13th) at Fair Grounds before shipping to Dubai, where he rallied through the stretch to defeat fellow U.S.-based traveller Gray Magician by three-quarters of a length. The ridgling stayed in Dubai for several days after his breakthrough win before shipping back to the States, and has only had light galloping since his return through April 22, which is not unusual as horses coming back from Dubai usually need a break before returning to serious training. He is a one-dimensional closer whose speed figures are lower than most of the 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders, but he has a jockey in Ricardo Santana Jr. with a lot of experience riding at Churchill Downs and also has a good stamina pedigree for the Derby as a son of 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Point of Entry. Look for Santana to sit well back of the early leaders in the Derby and position his horse to make one run at the top of the stretch with the hopes of weaving through tired horses and capturing a share of the purse.

Kentucky Derby history: This will be Santana’s fifth Derby starter, all coming this decade. The Imperial Racing ownership group is making its first Derby appearance, as is trainer Brendan Walsh, a native of Ireland who has risen through the ranks with several stakes winners over the past couple of years.


10. Cutting Humor (30-1)

Jockey: Corey Lanerie

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Starlight Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $516,967

Earnings per start: $86,161

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: First Samurai – Pun, by Pulpit

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Cutting Humor earned his qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby with a win in the Sunland Park Derby, easily his best performance. He’ll need to take another step – more of a leap, actually – to win the Kentucky Derby, as his overall career form is substandard when compared with the Derby’s top contenders. After finishing second and third in his first two races last fall, he easily won a one-mile maiden at Gulfstream Park West in November against suspect competition, and then ran a decent second in his 3-year-old debut to Bourbon War in January at Gulfstream Park. But in his stakes debut, Cutting Humor failed to fire in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, fading to finish seventh, which earned him a trip to Sunland Park and a final prep start in a race that usually draws second-tier Derby hopefuls. He showed grit in turning back a stretch-long challenge from West Coast-based Anothertwistafate to win the Sunland Park Derby by a neck, and has been training well in Florida through April 20 for two-time Derby-winning conditioner Todd Pletcher since then. Cutting Humor set a track record for 1 1/8 miles in the Sunland Park Derby, but the track was excessively fast that day and his overall speed figures place him in the lower ranks of Derby contenders. This colt has a good female family pedigree for the Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance, although his sire, First Samurai, has so far has had more success with sprinters and milers.

Kentucky Derby history: Jack and Laurie Wolf’s Starlight Racing has either owned or co-owned nine Derby starters. They co-owned last year’s winner Justify with Head of Plains Partners and the two co-owners of their other 2019 Derby starter Improbable, WinStar Farm and China Horse Club. Todd Pletcher earned his first Kentucky Derby winner when Super Saver took the roses in 2010. He tallied his second Derby in 2017 with Always Dreaming, and has finished second twice and third four times among 52 overall starters prior to this year. Corey Lanerie, a veteran jockey who has won the riding title at Churchill Downs several times this decade, will be making his fifth Kentucky Derby start. He finished second aboard longshot Lookin At Lee in 2017.


11. Haikal (30-1)

Jockey: Rajiv Maragh

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Owner: Shadwell Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $373,900

Earnings per start: $74,780

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Kentucky Derby points: 70

Pedigree: Daaher – Sablah, by Distorted Humor

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Shadwell Stable homebred ran well in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, finishing third in his first start around two turns. He’ll need to improve substantially, however, to hit the board in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby. Haikal is a closer who has fired in each of his five starts, taking two stakes races in a row around one turn – including the one-mile Gotham Stakes – earlier this year before his third-place Wood finish. All of his races have come at Aqueduct, however, and he’ll have to carry that strong form to a new racing surface for the Derby. His sire, Daaher, was a miler, and Haikal is a half-brother (same sire, different dam) to Grade 1-winning sprinter Takaful, who was first tried in longer-distance races but didn’t have success. Despite his decent showing in the 1 1/8-mile Wood, Haikal profiles as a late-closing sprinter/miler to date in his racing career, which is not a good omen for his Derby fortunes. He does bring connections with prior Derby experience to Louisville, and their strategy could very well have Haikal sitting off the pace in the rear group through the backstretch before jockey Rajiv Maragh weaves his mount through traffic on the far turn and gets him clear for his patented closing rally.

Kentucky Derby history: Maragh has competed in five prior Kentucky Derbys, finishing third in 2011 with Mucho Macho Man. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stable has sent three horses to the Derby, finishing fourth twice, with both of those trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. Haikal will be trainer McLaughlin’s ninth Derby starter. He nearly pulled off a huge upset with his very first entrant in 2005, but Closing Argument could not withstand fellow longshot Giacomo in the final strides and settled for second.


12. Omaha Beach (4-1) — Scratched 

13. Code of Honor (15-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Shug McGaughey

Owner: W.S. Farish

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $478,820

Earnings per start: $95,764

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Kentucky Derby points: 74

Pedigree: Noble Mission – Reunited, by Dixie Union

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt races for elite connections and was one of the highest-regarded members of his juvenile class last fall, but enters the Kentucky Derby somewhat under the radar based on his inconsistent 3-year-old form. He missed the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November due to an elevated temperature but made his first 2019 start in early January, only to disappoint with a well-beaten fourth-place finish in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Overlooked in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes, Code of Honor rebounded with a three-quarter-length score that placed him back among the top tier of Kentucky Derby contenders. In his final start, he finished third in the Xpressbet Florida Derby, making up some ground in the stretch but not threatening runaway winner Maximum Security and runner-up Bodexpress, who ran 1-2 for the entire race. Code of Honor is a hard-trying colt with an interesting pedigree (his sire is a full brother [same sire and dam] to former European superstar racehorse Frankel) who nevertheless has credentials on the track that are a cut below this year’s top Derby contenders. He is a closer who will be dependent on a solid early pace and also needs a clean trip as he’s shown a tendency to get into race trouble in his past starts. But if he can replicate the form he showed in the Fountain of Youth he’ll have a chance to upset the Kentucky Derby and add to the sterling résumés of his trainer, owner, and jockey.

Kentucky Derby history: Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will be making his 21st start in the Kentucky Derby. He’s won the race twice, with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2017, and also finished second once. Will Farish of prominent Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky has only campaigned three Kentucky Derby starters, two of them in partnership, the last coming in 2002. Shug McGaughey has sent seven prior horses to the Kentucky Derby, and the Hall of Fame trainer renowned for his patient approach broke through with his first Derby winner when Orb captured the roses in 2013, his most recent appearance. McGaughey also finished second and third in 1989, with runner-up Easy Goer coming up short to Sunday Silence in the beginning of a classic rivalry.


14. Win Win Win (15-1)

Jockey: Julian Pimentel

Trainer: Michael Trombetta

Owner: Live Oak Plantation

Career record: 6 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $367,300

Earnings per start: $61,217

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Hat Trick – Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A swift stretch rally to gain second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes by a nose earned this colt 40 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, securing his spot in the starting gate. Had he finished third, Win Win Win would have his fortunes exchanged with those of Signalman, who lost the place photo in the Blue Grass and currently stands as the second also-eligible for the Derby. Win Win Win first turned heads at Laurel Park, where he won his two initial starts, both coming at 5 ½ furlongs, by a combined seven lengths. He then finished second to probable Preakness Stakes starter Alwaysmining in a listed stakes at Laurel before shipping to Tampa Bay Downs and romping by 7 ¼ lengths in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes. That gave his connections confidence to test their charge at longer distances. Although he’s not disappointed them with a third-place showing in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and then his late-closing second in the Blue Grass, he didn’t threaten the winner in either race. Win Win Win shapes up as a horse that could very well be the prohibitive favorite in the Pat Day Mile Presented by LG & E and KU on the Kentucky Derby undercard but one that appears to be a cut below the top contenders in the 1 ¼-mile run for the roses. Julien Pimentel, who rode Win Win Win in his first four starts, regains the mount after Irad Ortiz Jr. was named to ride Improbable.

Kentucky Derby history: This will be Pimentel’s first Derby appearance. Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation has campaigned three prior Derby horses, and finished second in 1982 with Laser Light. Win Win Win is Michael Trombetta’s second Derby starter; he finished seventh in 2006 with Sweetnorthernsaint, the post-time favorite.


15. Master Fencer (50-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda

Owner: Katsumi Yoshizawa

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $234,392

Earnings per start: $39,065

Top Equibase Speed Figure: N/A

Kentucky Derby points: Automatic qualifier

Pedigree: Just a Way – Sexy Zamurai, by Deputy Minister

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate via Churchill Downs’ Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby race series, finishing fourth and then second in the final two preps in that schedule and then accepting the bid when connections of the top three points earners decided to remain home. He’ll be a mystery horse to U.S. handicappers and fans but is sure to draw interest from supporters in Japan, which has a fervent fan base for horse racing. After finishing second and fourth in his first two career starts on turf, Master Fencer switched to dirt and won twice at distances of about 1 1/8 miles before his two abovementioned stakes starts. He rallied to a runner-up finish in the about 1 1/8-mile Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse in late March, his most recent start, and overall this foreign invader profiles as a closer who could be trailing the Kentucky Derby field through the backstretch before picking off a few tired horses in the late going. Anything more than that would be a major surprise. Master Fencer is from the first crop of young Japanese sire Just a Way, who was a Japanese champion racehorse who won a top-level stakes there at 1 ¼ miles and also scored a major stakes win in Dubai, both of those coming on turf.

Kentucky Derby history: This will be the first Derby start for Master Fencer’s owner and trainer. Jockey Julien Leparoux, on the other hand, is a Kentucky Derby veteran and a regular rider at Churchill Downs, which is a plus for this colt’s connections. Leparoux has had 10 prior Derby mounts, and finished fourth in his most recent appearance aboard Classic Empire in 2017, his best showing.


16. Game Winner (5-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Career record: 6 starts – 4 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,846,000

Earnings per start: $307,667

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Kentucky Derby points: 85

Pedigree: Candy Ride – Indyan Giving, by A.P. Indy

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: With the recent emergence of Omaha Beach and Roadster, the luster surrounding 2018’s champion 2-year-old  male has dimmed slightly entering the Kentucky Derby, but it would be foolish to dismiss his chances. Game Winner returned to the track after an undefeated 2-year-old season to post runner-up finishes to Omaha Beach (by a nose in the second division of the Rebel Stakes) and to Roadster (by a half-length in the Santa Anita Derby), and his connections felt there were legitimate excuses for each start. The Rebel Stakes near-miss came after a 3 ½-month break, while both trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Joel Rosario felt that Game Winner moved a bit too soon for the lead in early stretch of the Santa Anita Derby – “When he gets by himself … he needs company,” Baffert said afterward. The five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer is a master at bringing his horses along patiently and having them peak at the right time, and Game Winner already has racing experience on Churchill Downs’ main track as he won the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile there last fall. In addition, Game Winner’s classy pedigree contains a good dose of stamina to help him get the Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance, and Rosario, one of the best finishing jockeys around, retains the mount for Baffert and owners Gary and Mary West, who also campaign the probable Derby pacesetter in Maximum Security. Look for Rosario to keep Game Winner as clear as possible somewhere in the first third of the crowded Derby field before making his move in the far turn.

Kentucky Derby history: Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with deep-closing Orb, and will be making his ninth Derby start this year. Maximum Security and Game Winner will be Gary and Mary West’s fourth and fifth Derby starters, and first since 2005. Bob Baffert can tie Ben “Plain Ben” Jones for most wins (six) in the Kentucky Derby this year, and he has three chances to do it. His previous five winners from 29 starters are Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). The last two won the Triple Crown. Baffert has also finished second in the Derby three times, and third three times.


17. Roadster (6-1)

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Speedway Stable

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $706,200

Earnings per start: $176,550

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Kentucky Derby points: 100

Pedigree: Quality Road – Ghost Dancing, by Silver Ghost

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Along with Omaha Beach, this colt from the stacked stable of two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert carries the most buzz into the Kentucky Derby, based on his impressive return to racing as a 3-year-old after a six-month break due to throat surgery. After taking a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita Park in early March, Roadster rallied strongly from fifth of six in the Santa Anita Derby to edge Baffert-trained champion Game Winner by a half-length, securing 100 qualifying Derby points and joining Game Winner and Improbable to give Baffert a formidable trio for the 145th run for the roses. Roadster was highly regarded from the outset last summer, winning his debut by 4 ¼ lengths at Del Mar and then running third behind Game Winner in the Del Mar Futurity before the long layoff. Jockey Mike Smith has been aboard Roadster for all of his races but chose to ride Omaha Beach in the Derby. That opponent has more tactical speed than Roadster – a running style that has been more conducive to winning the Kentucky Derby this decade. Still, Roadster clearly is one of the most talented horses in this year’s Derby, with a good stamina pedigree to boot, and he has shown the ability to sit closer to the lead in his races prior to the Santa Anita Derby. He also picks up a rising star jockey in Florent Geroux, who is very familiar with Churchill Downs and is coming off of a red-hot spring meet at Keeneland. Geroux is a patient rider and will seek to work out a good trip from midpack before angling Roadster out through the far turn in hopes of setting up an explosive late kick through the stretch. Read Mike Curry’s ABR profile for more in-depth analysis. Roadster is the highest-priced horse sold at auction in this year’s Derby field, purchased for $525,000 by owner Speedway Stable from breeder Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm consignment at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Kentucky Derby history: Florent Geroux will be making his fourth start in the Kentucky Derby; he finished third in 2016 with Gun Runner, who went on to be named Horse of the Year in 2017. This is the first Derby appearance for Speedway Stable (Peter and Ann Fluor and K.C. Weiner). Bob Baffert can tie Ben “Plain Ben” Jones for most wins (six) in the Kentucky Derby this year, and he has three chances to do it. His previous five winners from 29 starters are Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify(2018). The last two won the Triple Crown. Baffert has also finished second in the Derby three times, and third three times.


18. Long Range Toddy (30-1)

Jockey: Jon Court

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Willis Horton

Career record: 8 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $854,459

Earnings per start: $106,807

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Kentucky Derby points: 53.5

Pedigree: Take Charge Indy – Pleasant Song, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Oaklawn Park-based contender enters the Kentucky Derby off of his first poor showing through eight career starts, a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby where he was defeated by 14 ¾ lengths. That race was run on a sloppy track after a deluge of rainfall pelted Oaklawn for several hours, and it’s very possible that Long Range Toddy simply did not handle the racing surface. Prior to the Arkansas Derby, he had finished either first, second, or third in every start other than his debut, culminating with an impressive neck win over Improbable in the first division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. If he can rebound from the Arkansas Derby and put forth an effort similar to his Rebel win, Long Range Toddy has shown the consistency and has a good enough pedigree to merit consideration as a trifecta or superfecta filler in the Kentucky Derby. He prefers to race at a target and has a veteran jockey in Jon Court who should work out a good trip from a midpack position and move him into contention at the top of the stretch. In his other two starts of 2019 aside from the Arkansas Derby and Rebel, however, his closing rally wasn’t enough to get him to the winner’s circle (finishing second and third in two Oaklawn stakes), so he’ll need to take a great leap forward in form on May 4 to post the upset.

Kentucky Derby history: Jon Court is making his fourth career Derby start this year, and first since 2013, when he finished eighth aboard Willis Horton-owned Will Take Charge, the eventual champion 3-year-old male for that year. Horton also co-owned 18th-place Combatantlast year. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has sent 19 prior horses to the Kentucky Derby, finishing second with Nehro in 2011 and Lookin At Lee in 2017 and third with Curlin in 2007 and Gun Runner in 2016. Both of those third-place Derby finishers would eventually be honored as Horse of the Year (Curlin in 2007 and 2008, Gun Runner in 2017).


19. Spinoff (30-1)

Jockey: Manny Franco

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: Wertheimer & Frere

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $260,000

Earnings per start: $65,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Hard Spun – Zaftig, by Gone West

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Spinoff returned after a long break in February and kicked off his 3-year-old campaign with an 11 ¾-length runaway win in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance race that reminded onlookers of the talent he flashed in his two juvenile starts during summer 2018. He had won on debut at Gulfstream Park and then finished third in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga before being sidelined, and his Tampa win generated plenty of excitement as the Todd Pletcher trainee prepared for his sophomore stakes debut in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. Spinoff took the lead in upper stretch after pressing the early pace, but could not hold off an inside challenge from By My Standards and lost by three-quarters of a length. He did finish five lengths clear of the third-place finisher in the Louisiana Derby and has been training steadily since then for Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs in Florida through April 20. Spinoff shapes up as an intriguing longshot candidate to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby. He’s a lightly raced colt with a very good stamina pedigree that may be developing late, and he gained valuable experience in his first two-turn graded stakes start – a recipe that Todd Pletcher has used before to Derby success with horses such as 2017 Derby winner Always Dreaming and 2014 third-place finisher Danza.

Kentucky Derby history: Pletcher earned his first Kentucky Derby win when Super Saver took the roses in 2010. He tallied his second Derby in 2017 with the aforementioned Always Dreaming, and has finished second twice and third four times among 52 overall starters prior to this year. Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, owners of such star racehorses as Goldikova and Halfbridled, have never started a horse in the Kentucky Derby before. This will also be the debut Derby for jockey Manny Franco.


20. Country House (30-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Mrs. J. V. Shields Jr., E. J. M. McFadden, and LNJ Foxwoods

Career record: 6 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $260,175

Earnings per start: $43,363

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Lookin At Lucky – Quake Lake, by War Chant

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: As opposed to Tacitus, the other Bill Mott trainee in the Kentucky Derby, Country House shapes up as one of the probable longshots in the 20-horse field. He earned his spot in the starting gate by picking up qualifying points in three consecutive preps – a runner-up finish in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, a fourth-place effort in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, and a third-place showing in the Arkansas Derby. His best performance came three starts back in the Risen Star, where he managed second to War of Will but raced greenly in deep stretch. Country House impressed Derby trail onlookers with a rallying win in a January allowance race at Gulfstream Park, but his three stakes appearances since then have shown this son of 2010 Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky to be more of a methodical, grinding-type racehorse that may have the stamina to stay the Kentucky Derby’s distance but lacks the speed and professional makeup to compete against the best of his class. He won’t be compromised by the far outside post given his come-from-behind running style, however.

Kentucky Derby history: This will be the first Kentucky Derby appearance for Country House’s ownership group. Hall of Famer Mott has sent eight horses to the Kentucky Derby, and his best finish came last year when Hofburg finished seventh. This will be Flavien Prat’s third mount in the Kentucky Derby. He finished third on Battle of Midway in 2017.


21. Bodexpress (also-eligible, 30-1)

Jockey: Chris Landeros

Trainer: Gustavo Delgado

Owners: Top Racing, Global Thoroughbred, and GDS Racing Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 0 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $208,700

Earnings per start: $41,740

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Bodemeister – Pied a Terre, by City Zip

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Still a maiden, Bodexpress will need one defection Kentucky Derby qualifiers prior to May 3 to secure a spot in the starting gate. If he does gain access, he’ll be one of the longest shots in the field and would have to unleash an otherworldly performance to win. He earned his 40 qualifying points for the Derby with a runner-up effort in the Xpressbet Florida Derby at 71.50-1 odds behind unchallenged pacesetter Maximum Security in a race where the top two horses ran in that order from start to finish. (Spinoff also has 40 total Derby points but has accrued more earnings in nonrestricted stakes races.) Once again, Maximum Security projects as the early, and perhaps lone, speed in the Kentucky Derby, but this race is certain to be much more hectic and difficult for a relatively inexperienced colt such as Bodexpress than the Florida Derby was. On the positive side, his sire, Bodemeister, finished a very good second in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and has already sired a Derby winner in 2017 hero Always Dreaming.

Kentucky Derby history: If Bodexpress draws in, it would be the first Derby appearance for his ownership group. Florida-based trainer Gustavo Delgado finished 18th with Majesto in 2016. Chris Landeros, a regular rider on the Kentucky circuit, would also be making his first Derby start.

Mr. Money is the horse to beat in the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby

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Six three-year-olds are expected to line up in the gate for this year’s Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing and there are no shortage of opinions among fans on who should emerge victorious. Improbable, winner of the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity last year, will probably be the public betting choice now that Maximum Security will not run, though Improbable was winless in four races this year until victorious in the Shared Belief Stakes last month in California. Considering his trainer Bob Baffert has won the last two editions of this race with West Coast and McKinzie, Improbable likely deserves that amount of respect. Mr. Money has reeled off four straight graded stakes wins including the Grade 3 Indiana Derby and Grade 3 West Virginia Derby and also is a strong contender. Spun to Run is the local hero as he won the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes 19 days ago at Parx, while Grade 1 Preakness Stakes winner War of Will hopes to rebound off ninth and fifth place efforts in his two most recent races. Math Wizard has finished third and sixth, respectively, behind Mr. Money, in his two most recent starts although he was the runner-up in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby prior to that. Shanghai Superfly rounds out the field.

Mr. Money just wasn’t ready for the 3-year-old classics earlier this year but has become one of the leaders in the division and will be formidable in this year’s Pennsylvania Derby. Considering he finished seventh then fifth in his first two starts as a 3-year-old, both around two turns, it was with much confidence trainer Bret Calhoun entered Mr. Money in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG and E and KU on Kentucky Derby day. That one-turn mile trip suited Mr. Money perfectly as he dominated to win by five and one-quarter lengths to earn a then career-best 104 Equibase Speed Figure. Stretching out to two-turns in the Matt Winn Stakes in June, Mr. Money was equally impressive when coasting home by six lengths, improving to a 106 figure. Showing even more improvement one month later with a 114 figure, Mr. Money won the Indiana Derby by two and one-half lengths then returned three weeks later to win the West Virginia Derby by six lengths. If this was May and this race was the Kentucky Derby rather than the Pennsylvania Derby, based on those efforts Mr. Money would be among my top contenders because he has shown tremendous acceleration with a quarter mile to run in his last four races. Most notably, in the West Virginia Derby, Mr. Money went from a head in front at the quarter pole to five lengths in front at the eighth pole. The way jockey Gabriel Saez is able to get Mr. Money to change gears at that critical stage of the race is the reason I believe Mr. Money will win the Pennsylvania Derby to earn his fifth straight graded stakes victory.

Spun to Run is the “under the radar” horse in this talented field. Among the field, he is the most familiar with the dirt track at Parx, having won three of five races here, and he comes off a career best effort and is on a pattern to improve upon it. After finishing fourth in a sprint to start his 3-year-old campaign, Spun to Run stretched out to two turns and won as he pleased in January. Returning in March, Spun to Run ran even better when drawing off by seven lengths and earning a then career-best 99 figure. Although third behind Maximum Security in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park with a 96 figure in his next start, when returning to his home base for the Smarty Jones Stakes on September 2, Spun to Run ran the best race of his career. The 113 figure earned is also the best last race figure in the field, although not the best earned by any horse as that belongs to Mr. Money’s 114 figure in the Indiana Derby. Nevertheless, Spun to Run was exceptionally game in the blinkers he was wearing for only the second time in the Smarty Jones as he battled head-and-head down the entire length of the stretch before asserting himself by a head on the wire. That kind of competitive spirit may serve Spun to Run nicely in the Pennsylvania Derby and as such I think he has a slight chance to upset and a big chance to be part of the exacta.

Improbable added blinkers for the Shared Belief Stakes last month in California and apparently that did the trick in getting him to win for the first time since last December. Blinkers were tried once before, in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, and it’s debatable whether they did anything to motivate the colt as he was one length behind winner Omaha Beach for the entire length of the stretch. However, after non-threatening efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the equipment change seemed to help as Improbable earned a career-best 112 figure while retaining a strong three length lead in the last eighth of a mile. Making his second start off a layoff, Improbable can take another step forward to win the Pennsylvania Derby but in my opinion he’s no more probable to win than either Mr. Money or Spun to Run and will be the much lower odds of the trio.

The rest of the Pennsylvania Derby field with their best representative figures: Math Wizard (113), War of Will (107) and Shanghai Superfly (88)

Win Contenders:

Mr. Money

Spun to Run

Improbable

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Cotillion Stakes from Parx Racing on September 21. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.

Betting an off-the-pace longshot in the Cotillion Stakes

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Win and you’re in. It sounds simple in theory. But the winning part will be easier said than done for the 11 fillies set to square off in Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing.

The 1 1/16-mile race has been gaining prestige in recent years and now offers a “Win and You’re In” qualifying berth to the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. With this bonus prize added to the rich purse, the Cotillion has attracted some of the most talented and accomplished three-year-old fillies in North America.

The 9-5 morning line favorite is understandably #8 Guarana. Conditioned by the three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, Guarana is undefeated in three starts and showcased her budding brilliance with victories in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes and the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks during the spring and summer.

But could there be a crack in Guarana’s armor? She raced a bit greenly in the homestretch of the Coaching Club American Oaks, ducking out late in the race while leading clearly. And while she’s shown some versatility in terms of running style, winning the Acorn Stakes from a few lengths off a fast pace, two of her victories have come in gate-to-wire fashion.

Guarana’s front-running tendency could prove problematic in the Cotillion, a race that’s absolutely packed with speed horses. The Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks winner #1 Serengeti Empress knows of only one way to run – fast and furious right from the start – and the same goes for #11 Jaywalk, gate-to-wire winner of the 2018 Grade 1 Tito’s Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The speedy six-time graded stakes winner #10 Bellafina also tends to set or press the pace, while the longshots #5 Collegeville Girl#6 Horologist, and #9 Sweet Sami D have also shown a fondness for front-running tactics.

So who can take advantage of this presumably fast and contested pace? How about #3 Street Band? This daughter of Istan might not be a winning machine, but she’s quietly compiled an admirable record this year, highlight by blowout victories in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks and the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks.

Street Band’s Indiana Oaks triumph was eye-catching, since she exuded power and looked like a winner from start to finish, but I was just as impressed by her third-place finish in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 Alabama Stakes on Aug. 17 at Saratoga. Racing over a sloppy, sealed track, Street Band did not receive the cleanest trip. Instead of enjoying a wide, unencumbered rally, she found herself racing between and behind horses for most of the race, a tricky position that forced her to wait in traffic on the far turn.

However, at the top of the stretch, Street Band gamely split horses and seized a brief lead. She remained thoroughly in contention until the eighth pole, after which she weakened slightly to finish third, but under the circumstances I thought Street Band ran a great race.

Street Band will be cutting back significantly in distance for the Cotillion, which should sharpen her finishing speed, and I’m also optimistic she’ll receive a perfect setup rallying into a fast pace. The best part? She’s 8-1 on the morning line, so if she wins, the payoff will be lucrative.

As a result, I don’t see any reason to get too complicated with wagering strategies. If you’re playing on a small budget, just bet Street Band to win and place. But if you have a little extra cash to spend and want to seek a truly memorable payoff, try keying her in the exacta and trifecta with Guarana, Serengeti Empress, Jaywalk, and the improving Horologist, a 15-1 shot with four consecutive victories to her credit.

Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget

$5 to win on #3 Street Band

What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, 10th race, $5 to win on #3 Street Band

$5 to place on #3 Street Band

What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, 10th race, $5 to place on #3 Street Band

Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget

$10 to win on #3 Street Band

What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, 10th race, $10 to win on #3 Street Band

$4 exacta box: 3,8 ($8)

What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, 10th race, $5 exacta box 3,8

$1 trifecta: 3,8 with 3,8 with 1,6,11 ($6)

What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, 10th race, $1 trifecta 3,8 with 3,8 with 1,6,11

$1 trifecta: 3,8 with 1,6,11 with 3,8 ($6)

What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, 10th race, $1 trifecta 3,8 with 1,6,11 with 3,8

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Cotillion Stakes from Parx Racing on September 21. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.