Expert estimates Kentucky Derby 2019 morning line odds

By Travis Stone, Special to HRN
April 24, 2019 10:24am
Expert estimates Kentucky Derby 2019 morning line odds
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Travis Stone, track announcer at Churchill Downs and a former morning line maker by trade, discusses the prospective odds ahead of Tuesday's post position draw for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Follow him on Twitter (@TravisStone) for more insights.
In recent years, the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby became rather obvious. This year? Not so much. On paper, the 2019 race is an extremely competitive and wide-open event, at least when considering the top tier contenders.
Forecasting the public’s wagering in any race is difficult, much less in a race like the Kentucky Derby. But having followed this crop closely over the winter, and calling on past experience making morning lines at Saratoga, here are my thoughts on this year’s running... Morning line favorite: Omaha Beach (9-2) Omaha Beach started his career on turf, and while supported strongly in each start, he was always there but not quite good enough. He was still a maiden as late as February! But then everything came together: big maiden win, a game victory over the 2-year-old campion Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes (G1) and a resounding score over Improbable in the Arkansas Derby (G1) with a decisive mid-race move in the Arkansas Derby. He is truly the “now” horse. Mike Smith’s decision to stick with him rather than go with Roadster says a lot. Finally, Richard Mandella, a Hall of Fame with plenty of big wins to his name (but no Derby) helps in the confidence department. You could argue he falls into the category of, “If not him, then who?” And the answer to that question is less clear. Thus, Omaha Beach would be my choice for favoritism at 9-2… but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends-up closer to 5-1.
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The second choice: Roadster (5-1)
Roadster has done little wrong. He was a good 2-year-old that improved noticeably into his 3-year-old season and will now be third off the layoff in the Derby. In the Santa Anita Derby (G1), he put in a long and sustained run to overpower Game Winner and has improved with each and every start. Figures-wise, he’s right there. Omaha Beach’s 101 earned in the Arkansas Derby in addition to Smith’s decision to bail, I believe, will sway money off of him slightly. Roadster is clearly the second choice. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner at 6-1? I think so! Game Winner is a cool horse with zero poor efforts to his name, but it does seem as though the crop has caught up to him a bit. Like Roadster, he’ll be third off the layoff in the Derby with the powerful Bob Baffert name above his past performances. He’s also shown some versatility to be closer if necessary, or farther off the pace should the pace intensify. This adaptability will suit him well, which could also be said for Tacitus. Mott’s best chance to date: Tacitus (6-1) Though the beneficiary of a supersonic pace in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Tacitus showed the ability to overcome trouble and adapt to changing conditions last time in the Wood Memorial (G2). His figures improved notably from his 2-year-old year, and his trainer, Bill Mott, is popular at the windows. Though Mott is 0-for-8 in the Derby (his best finish came with Hofburg in seventh last year), Tacitus is by far his best chance to date. I believe he and Game Winner will attract similar support.

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The wildcards  Maximum Security is a tricky read. What do you do with a horse that was once available for a claim at a mere $16,000? Perfect records, fast figures and tactical speed typically garner support at the windows, plus he will be forwardly placed in a race lacking a significant amount of speed. Wiring races at Gulfstream Park is easy. Wiring the Kentucky Derby is not. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ended-up in the single digits or well into the double digits.  Improbable was prominent on many Derby lists throughout the winter, but he’s 0-for-2 this year and his sire, City Zip, doesn’t exactly scream Derby, right? Then again, he’s fast enough on paper. One thing I learned while constructing the morning line at Saratoga is the “other (insert trainer name)” is often forgotten. In this case, Improbable feels like the “other Baffert,” and so I believe he drifts in the betting.  Vekoma took advantage of a Keeneland course favoring forwardly placed runners and a field weaker than what he’ll face in the Derby. On speed figures, he’s a few lengths slower than the top tier but with reason to improve. I’d make him 15-1, but if he went off at 20-1 I don’t think anyone would be surprised.  War of Will was a popular horse earlier this year but has since fallen down the list after his unusual trip in the Louisiana Derby (G2). He feels very dichotomous in that either you like him or you don’t. Thus, I could see 20-1 or I could see 30-1. The public likes to bet Mark Casse so I’ll go with 20-1 and put him near the top of the lower-priced longshots.
Speaking of longshots...  I believe this group is fairly well defined, but the two horses that could move down in the betting are Tax and By My Standards. For Tax, he has improving figures and a game runner-up finish to Tacitus, who projects be a fraction of the price. In the Wood, Tax made the first move into the fast pace and sharper horseplayers might pick-up on that. I’ll make him 20-1.  As for By My Standards, he shows noticeable improvement along with tactical speed, but it just feels as though the others will take more money. He’s been stabled at Churchill Downs for a while now and the “first horse to arrive” always seems to get a little extra attention. So, let’s go with a tentative 20-1.

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 The problem for Tax and By My Standards, at least in terms of a morning line, is that Code of Honor, with the ever-popular Derby winner Shug McGaughey as his trainer, will vie for similar money. People like to bet closers in the Derby and he’s exactly that. He’ll be the last of the 20-1s in this race.  Win Win Win, Spinoff, Haikal and Cutting Humor seem fairly solid in the 30-1 range.  The rest (Country House, Gray Magician, Long Range Toddy, Master Fencer and Plus Que Parfait) are big longshots and would be fairly surprising winners. So when you roll all of those thoughts together, here’s where I land as the Kentucky Derby draws ever closer. Good luck!
 Travis Stone's early Kentucky Derby morning line
 Horse Odds
 Omaha Beach 9-2
 Roadster 5-1
 Game Winner 6-1
 Tacitus 6-1
 Maximum Security 10-1
 Improbable 12-1
 Vekoma 15-1
 By My Standards 20-1
 Code of Honor 20-1
 Tax 20-1
 War of Will 20-1
 Cutting Humor 30-1
 Haikal 30-1
 Spinoff 30-1
 Win Win Win 30-1
 Country House 50-1
 Gray Magician 50-1
 Long Range Toddy 50-1
 Master Fencer 50-1
 Plus Que Parfait 50-1


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