2019 KENTUCKY DERBY CONTENDERS & ODDS
Affectionately known as the Run for the Roses and sitting proudly among the top horse races in the world, the Grade One Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the historical Triple Crown of racing and the 2019 event is the 145th renewal.
The fastest two minutes in sports takes place on Saturday May 4 at Churchill Downs in Louisville and below you will see information relating to each of the entries for 2019.
** KY DERBY UPDATE: Omaha Beach Has Scratched **
Churchill Downs confirmed that Omaha Beach has scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis. Bloodhorse.com describes the condition as "an upper airway abnormality that can cause poor performance in athletic horses. The condition was discovered after a cough and scope, his trainer, Richard Mandella, told the track.
** KY DERBY UPDATE: Haikal Has Scratched **
Haikal will miss the Kentucky Derby due to an ill-timed foot abscess.
War of Will (Odds 20-1)
CONFIRMED - War of Will is a son of hot Sire War Front and out of the Sadler's Wells dam Visions of Clarity (IRE). The family line is very strong with this bay colt. Starting his racing career at Woodbine in Canada, the Southern campaigns have proven more fruitful for the Mark Casse trainee.
War of Will won the Lecomte Stakes and Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, but won a sneaky maiden special weight at Churchill Downs prior to those efforts. He did finish a competitive 5th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, 4th in the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland and ran second in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes at Woodbine in September.
With a strong turf favorability in his pedigree, the wins at Fair Grounds leaves no doubt that he can run on dirt as well.
Tax (Odds 20-1)
CONFIRMED - Tax improved from a third place finish in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, with a first place win in the Withers Stakes. Having traveled over the Churchill Downs surface to place second and eventually break his maiden at Keeneland in his second start, the bay gelding by Arch shows growing potential on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
Trainer Danny Gargan confirmed Saturday morning that Tax is doing well and preparing to ship Sunday from Belmont Park to Churchill Downs. The son of Arch has two wins, two seconds and a third from five career starts and had his final serious breeze Thursday, going a half-mile in 47.80 (fourth-fastest of 79) over the Belmont training track.
"He worked really good the other day and we just jogged him today," Gargan said. "We only worked him once, with only four weeks between races, since the Wood (Memorial). He's been doing great, but it's the best 20 3-year-olds in the country, so he's going to have to be good. It's all about the post and draw.
"I'd like to be closer to the rail," he continued. "Churchill seems to be a track where you're better drawn down inside and-like I said-it's all about the post. If he's drawn well, I'd like to see him in fourth or fifth early on. If he's outside in 18 or 19, he'll be third or so early and we'll have to use him."
Hailing from a deep Claiborne Farm pedigree, Tax is a grandson of multiple graded stakes-winning Yell, who was third in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks (GI) and second in the following year's Louisville Breeders' Cup (GII). He made his first two starts for Claiborne and Adele B. Dilschneider, while trained by Ben Colebrook, but was claimed by Gargan for owners R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable. He has subsequently made three starts, including a third in the Remsen (GII), his aforementioned Withers win and a last-out runner-up effort to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial (GII).
"When I claimed him, I had seen his run first time out," Gargan said. "I actually thought he was going to be a grass router, being an Arch out of a Giant's Causeway mare, but when I breezed him, I saw that he was a dirt horse-and a good one. He showed he had speed when he ran first time out and a big horse who has that kind of speed is a good thing to have."
Junior Alvarado, aboard for his past two runs, keeps the mount.
By My Standards (Odds 20-1)
CONFIRMED - By My Standards has been training up to the 145th Kentucky Derby off a 22-1 upset score in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds in late March. The bay colt was making his stakes bow in that nine-furlong affair after breaking his maiden by 4 1/4 lengths in his fourth try one race prior.
By My Standards is the first Kentucky Derby runner for his trainer, Bret Calhoun, who saddled the son of two-time Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) king Goldencents to a runner-up effort at Churchill Downs in his debut last November. Campaigned by Allied Racing Stable LLC, the Kentucky-bred colt is out of dual stakes winner A Jealous Woman.
This is an inexperienced but clearly improving horse. Assuming he is fit enough to do himself justice we could see a big performance from this son of Goldencents.
Gray Magician (Odds 50-1)
CONFIRMED - Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber's Gray Magician put in his final breeze for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday morning at San Luis Rey Training Center. The last-out UAE Derby (GII) runner-up was worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 with Drayden Van Dyke up for trainer Peter Miller.
"He worked super and came home really well," Miller said. "I couldn't be happier with how he did it. He came home (his final quarter-mile) in :23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth (to get six furlongs) in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.
"Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own," he continued. "He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead. Drayden got along well with the horse and in all likelihood, unless the owners think otherwise, he would ride him (in the Derby).
"As long as he comes out of the work well tomorrow, he will ship on Monday."
Improbable (Odds 6-1)
CONFIRMED - Given that this exciting colt beat Mucho Gusto easily, who then went on to defeat another Derby contender in the shape of Gunmetal Gray, Bob Baffert must feel like he has a pretty good handle on where this one sits in the rankings right now.
Unlike Game Winner, Improbable wasn't ready to contest a Breeders' Cup race in November but he did run in a lower grade event on the same card and was successful by an easy 7¼ lengths. Undefeated in three starts, with a win in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, the West Coast based chestnut colt did win the Street Sense across the Churchill Downs dirty track. This is a promising sign that he could be a horse for the course when time comes to potentially enter the starting gates for the Kentucky Derby.
Much like Game Winner he was beaten at odds-on upon his return and then was again forced to settle for second place in the Arkansas Derby behind Omaha Beach although he retains potential.
Vekoma (Odds 20-1)
CONFIRMED - Another colt who could keep improving; despite having been beaten on his first prep he returned to win the Blue Grass Stakes in good style and if handling the extra distance could be one to watch.
Vekoma is by Candy Ride (ARG) out of the Las Flores H. and Humana Distaff winner Monda De Momma by Speightstown. Vekoma is trained by George Weaver and has a solid record of hitting the board with wins in his first start, the Nashua S. and most recently the Blue Grass Stakes. His only non winning placement was a third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Maximum Security (Odds 10-1)
CONFIRMED - Maximum Security is by lightly raced sire New Year's Day, who suffered an injury two months after taking the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and was retired to stud. The bay colt wired the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park to earn 100 points and give trainer Jason Servis another shot at Kentucky Derby (G1) glory following Smarty Jones' 2004 victory.
Maximum Security was making his stakes bow in the Florida Derby and moved his record to a perfect four-for-four for owners Gary and Mary West. The Kentucky-bred moved up the ranks from a maiden claimer to Grade 1 fame in very short time, something his dam, Lil Indy, was never able to accomplish. Lil Indy was no slouch in the pedigree department, though, being by Anasheed and a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Flat Out.
This horse could be the real deal having made every post a winning one in the Florida Derby, recently the most informative Kentucky Derby prep. If that form is taken literally then Jason Servis' runner has a huge chance of taking this prize, but as a former claimer who it is argued set easy fractions at Gulfstream and won't be able to reach the same level in the quicker pace of this race he may be a little vulnerable but that said; he is potentially a serious improver.
Tacitus (Odds 10-1)
CONFIRMED - Tacitus is a gray homebred of the impressive Juddmonte Farms and out of 2014 Champion Older Mare Close Hatches. Close Hatches finished 2nd to Beholder in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Tacitus' pedigree suggests minimal concerns with the ability to hit the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles and his racing record shows he is on a roll in putting pieces together. He demonstrates a lot of upside to watch for while breezing at the track.
Mott and Prince Khalid Abdullah probably thought their main chance fell with Hidden Scroll this year, but as that horse fell by the wayside this son of Tapit came to the fore.
We can question the form, but what we can't question is that Tacitus is the only horse in this list to have won two strong Kentucky Derby preps this spring having taken both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial Stakes.
Plus Que Parfait (Odds 30-1)
CONFIRMED - Trainer Brendan Walsh will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby runner when sending out Plus Que Parfait on the first Saturday in May. The chestnut ridgling awarded his conditioner with this opportunity by earning his first stakes victory in the U.A.E. Derby (G2) at Medyan in Dubai.
Plus Que Parfait picked up 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in that Middle Eastern venture and added it to the four points he garnered last November as a two-year-old when finishing second by a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
By Point of Entry, who racked up five Grade 1 victories and nearly $2.5 million in earnings on the turf, Plus Que Parfait is campaigned by the Dubai-based Imperial Racing LLC.
The UAE Derby hasn't exactly been the strongest trial for this event in recent years, but we cannot afford to ignore the chance of this year's winner entirely.
Cutting Humor (Odds 30-1)
CONFIRMED - Cutting Humor placed in his first two starts, including a third at Keeneland to Derby rival Plus Que Parfait, before breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park West. Next he was runner-up to well-regarded Bourbon War (who's currently stuck in number 24 on the "bubble" list awaiting Derby defections), and a badly troubled seventh in the Southwest (G3). Cutting Humor enjoyed a better trip in the March 24 Sunland Park Derby (G3), scoring in track-record time and propelling himself into Derby 145.
Haikal (Odds 30-1)
SCRATCHED - Haikal has scratched due to an foot abscess.
Shadwell Stable homebred Haikal will be trainer Kiaran McLaughlin's ninth runner in the Kentucky Derby (G1) when lining up on the first Saturday in May. The bay colt will also be making his first start outside of New York's Aqueduct, where he has spent his 5-3-1-1 career thus far.
At the Big A, Haikal broke his maiden by a neck in his second try and took the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes by that same margin one race later. Following a length victory in the Gotham Stakes (G3) in early March, the son of Grade 1 scorer Daaher came running late from well back in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) to be third on the wire.
Haikal is out of the unraced Distorted Humor mare Sablah, making him a half-brother to Grade 1-winning sprinter Takaful.
Omaha Beach (Odds 4-1)
SCRATCHED - Omaha Beach has scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis.The last major Kentucky Derby prep of the season was won by Omaha Beach. Worth 100 points for the winner, Omaha Beach would cross the wire in a muddy affair, worth noting if rain should arrive on Derby day.
Having beaten Game Winner in a division of the Rebel Stakes he is in this list on merit and he followed that up by beating Baffert's other main contender in Improbable with a great performance in the Arkansas Derby. The bay son of hot sire War Front is owned by longtime Thoroughbred racing entity Fox Hill Farms and trained by Richard Mandella.
Unlike many Grade 1 prep winners he still has some improvement to come and that could be a crucial factor on the big day.
Code of Honor (Odds 15-1)
CONFIRMED - William S. Farish homebred Code of Honor has ping-ponged between talented and mediocre for trainer Shug McGaughey, who claimed his first Kentucky Derby win in 2013 with Orb. Code of Honor broke his maiden at Saratoga and ran second in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in his two juvenile starts, but was a lackluster fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park to open his sophomore campaign in January.
Despite a disappointing start to the year, the balance of this horse's form is pretty strong considering he was beaten only three lengths when still very much not the finished article in a Grade 1 event last season and he beat some top contenders in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in early March.
Remaining at that South Florida venue, the chestnut son of multiple Group 1 winner Noble Mission pulled away to a nice win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) before finishing a well-beaten third in the Florida Derby (G1) last out. Code of Honor receives distance and turf influence from his sire while his dam, Reunited, was a Grade 3 winner sprinting on the main track.
Win Win Win (Odds 15-1)
CONFIRMED - Live Oak Plantation's Win Win Win galloped a mile and a half under exercise rider Melanie Williams. Saturday's exercise was his second over the track and first here with trainer Mike Trombetta looking on in person.
"Everybody is happy with what he did this morning," Trombetta said. "I could see he was checking things out yesterday and I can see why. He picked it up on the second day."
Win Win Win is scheduled to work Sunday morning with jockey Julian Pimentel coming in for the breeze.
Win Win Win's home base is the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.
"It is a lot quieter there," Trombetta said. "But he has been around. He wintered at Tampa Bay Downs, came back to Fair Hill, went to Keeneland and then came back to Fair Hill. He is getting used to the project.
Master Fencer (Odds 50-1)
CONFIRMED - The first Japanese-bred horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, Master Fencer, has settled in nicely at Keeneland and quickly taken to his American surroundings. He is scheduled to make the short van ride from Lexington to Louisville on Monday evening. He went through his paces Saturday morning under Yosuke Kono and the watchful eye of Mitsuoki Numamoto, racing manager and shipping agent for owners Katsumi and Yasuyo Yoshizawa.
The son of Dubai Turf (G1) winner Just A Way-the world's top-rated horse of 2014 and Japan's champion freshman sire of 2018-did three circuits during the course of his morning routine.
"He jogged one lap around the training track, then went to the main track and did an easy gallop one time around and then a fast-paced gallop," Numamoto said. "He's working great and he was really enjoying the run."
Master Fencer exits a good second in the Fukuryu Stakes, the final leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, and already has raced over the 1¼-mile distance two times in his six efforts. Both of those were his initial two starts, over the turf, netting a second and fourth. Switched to dirt, he subsequently won two nine-furlong affairs and was then fourth in the Hyacinth Stakes (Listed) prior to his aforementioned Fukuryu run.
"The dirt here is different than in Japan," Numamoto explained. "It's more sand in Japan and it is lighter here. It fits Master Fencer, who can run on dirt or turf, and the rider said he felt very good for him. We expected it to be wetter here, but the Keeneland track drains very well and the track was great.
"We are happy because the horse is enjoying it and he has looked good while doing it," he continued. "He will work on Wednesday with Julien Leparoux at Churchill Downs."
Game Winner (Odds 5-1)
CONFIRMED - Hall of famer Baffert oversaw an unbeaten juvenile season for this tough and admirable type, his winning debut being followed up by wins in the Del Mar Futurity, American Pharoah Stakes and then the Breeders' Cup Juvenile itself.
Although his sire Candy Ride was top class over a mile-and-a-quarter, a lot of his progeny tend to show as much speed as stamina leaving some doubts as to whether he will last home coming off a fast pace.
He was surprisingly beaten in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in March then again in the Santa Anita Derby leading to some handicappers wondering whether he has truly trained on as a three-year-old.
Trained by Bob Baffert and currently ridden by jockey Joel Rosario, the West Coast based Thoroughbred has strong potential entering the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Roadster (Odds 6-1)
CONFIRMED - Just when his two major contenders had faltered, the amazing Bob Baffert pulls another one out of the bag in the shape of this striking improver.
Having done very little wrong beforehand, Speedway Stable LLC's Roadster catapulted into Kentucky Derby contention with a nice half-length victory over stablemate and champion Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and must now be considered a leading contender for this event.
The gray son of 2009 Florida Derby (G1) hero Quality Road enters the Run for the Roses boasting a two-for-two mark on the year and 4-3-0-1 career line. His only loss to date came as a third behind Game Winner in last September's Del Mar Futurity (G1), but the Kentucky-bred has been unbeatable since stretching out past that seven-furlong trip.
Roadster is out of the stakes-winning Ghost Dancing and is a half-brother to Grade 1-scoring and track record-setting gelding Ascend.
Long Range Toddy (Odds 30-1)
CONFIRMED - Long Range Toddy is by accomplished dirt runner Take Charge Indy. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he has settled in a nice circuit between Remington Park and Oaklawn Park.
With wins in the Clever Trevor and Springboard Mile Stakes, the latter of whic his a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep-race, he further advanced into the Smarty Jones Stakes and showing gradual improvement.
He may be a rising star among his other barn mates and worth a watch along the Kentucky Derby trail.
Spinoff (Odds 30-1)
CONFIRMED - The 24-year-old Manny Franco picked up the mount on the Todd Pletcher-trained Spinoff, who is pointing towards the "Run for the Roses" on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
The Hard Spun colt earned a personal-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure following a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 23 at Fair Grounds, finishing three-quarters of a length behind By My Standards in his best career stakes performance.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez was aboard for both the Louisiana Derby and the third-place finish in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in August, but Velazquez is slated to ride Fountain of Youth-winner Code of Honor for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
That allowed Franco to pick up the mount, which would be his second career Kentucky Derby start.
"I've watched the replays of him and saw the way he runs," Franco said. "From the races I've seen, I think he has speed. I don't think he'll be too far out of there, because he puts himself close. We'll see how the race develops."
Country House (Odds 30-1)
CONFIRMED - The late owner/breeder Joseph V. Shields Jr. campaigned several major winners, but none took him to the Kentucky Derby (G1). After his passing last October, however, homebred Country House has emerged as a classic contender for his widow, Maury, and nephew Guinness McFadden.
Country House got his early education at Blackwood Stables, co-owned by McFadden and Matt Hogan. Then he went off to school at the Webb Carroll Training Center in St. Matthews, South Carolina.
Last summer, Country House joined Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott at Belmont Park, where he was a regular presence on the worktab until ready to start. As the type to prefer a route of ground, Country House tried turf in his October 6 debut, but he broke slowly and never got involved.
Four days later, "Jerry" Shields died, aged 80, in his sleep. As his obituary pointed out, it was the 20th anniversary of Wagon Limit's famous victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Country House made his next start for Mrs. Shields and McFadden. Whether it was the switch to dirt at Aqueduct, the benefit of raceday experience, or a combination thereof, he took a leap forward to finish second by a half-length. Another substantial jump came in his Gulfstream Park maiden romp, with Country House overcoming a debacle at the start to crush the field. Afterward he picked up a new co-owner in LNJ Foxwoods.
That breakthrough performance also persuaded the conservative Mott to give Country House a chance on the Derby trail in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds. Although still a work in progress, as evidenced by his slow start and lugging in down the stretch, he passed the class test when second to the professional War of Will.
Bodexpress (Odds 30-1)
CONFIRMED - Bodexpress needed one defection from the Kentucky Derby qualifiers prior to May 3 to secure a spot in the starting gate, and he got it. He takes the 20 spot because the favorite Omaha Beach had to scratch.
He'll be one of the longest shots in the field and will have to unleash an otherworldly performance to win. He earned his 40 qualifying points for the Derby with a runner-up effort in the 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.
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.
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