OK, folks, all the barbershop talk is about horses right now! Since the opening of the Oklahoma track, and the Kentucky Derby being only a short time away, everyone wants to talk horses. Well, at Woody’s Barbershop, owners, trainers, trackmen, jockeys and everyone involved in the racing industry like to share an opinion or two while getting their haircut. That said, being quite the horse handicapper myself—at least in my own mind—I’ll share the knowledge I’ve gained from various sources, including my past handicapping knowledge, and the knowledge passed down by my grandfather and father, and give you a few picks for the biggest race until the Saratoga meet.
Take the following information with a grain of salt—and hopefully, a shot of tequila. And hope for the best, because unlike most years, where there are three or four top contenders who might win and another five or six that wouldn’t surprise anybody if they did, this year, anything could happen! This is a deep and wide-open race, and post position, like always, will be a determining factor. There could be two monsters in here with Justify and Mendelssohn, but then again, I say something like that every year.
Below, there’s no particular order, exactly, but these are the horses I’ll be looking at and the reasons why I think they’re poised to win. As always, odds the day of the race will play a factor in my final betting decisions, as will the day’s track conditions and biases. Not to mention those post positions! Take a look:
I gotta to tell you, the way he beat Bolt D’oro in the Santa Anita Handicap was visually impressive, but as the likely favorite, odds will be a determining factor for me. If the public gives me 5-1 or more, I’m in! He has the talent, and Bob Baffert in his corner, but I will be hoping his superstar days will not be on Derby Day, because again, I want odds today. Twenty horses means 17 of the losers will have excuses after they lose! My excuse for this horse is that he has only three races (all wins), and all three at the same track with much smaller fields—although if he just gets away too easy, he might be long gone by stretch time.
Hmm. Where should I start? Let’s say that the bumping in the Wood Memorial was a great learning lesson, and it will surely only toughen him up for a 20-horse field. Todd Pletcher is a master with young horses and certainly one of the greatest trainers of all time, and he’ll most definitely have this horse peaked and ready to fire here. It also looked like he actually had more in the tank at the end of that last race, so don’t leave him out of the mix in the Derby. You will get good odds, and his 98 Beyer showed he’s ready for even more improvement with the stretch out. He has the chance to pull off a big upset!
Don’t be discouraged because of that third-place finish in the fountain of Youth. This horse has so much room to grow, and that race was a jump forward even though he didn’t win. Last year, he got better each time, and this year, I see a very familiar trend, and rest assured, it’s not a coincidence. Good trainers know what to do, and I willing to bet this horse if he’ not stuck in a rotten post position. He has great pedigree and Jose Ortiz on him, which assures you of a great ride. And I think he has a good shot here, though I hope everyone else disagrees, and he goes off at double-digit odds. (Read more about his ownership team here.)
Don’t disregard this horse because Justify just spanked him in his last race. He was chasing a horse who got out to a lone lead, so coming down the stretch, one would expect him to have gained some ground, right? But if you think about it from a jockey’s perspective, he knew he couldn’t catch him and that this was really only a small prize and not the big one, so maybe he just wound him down and saved him. Now, I watched the races a few times, and he was hard-pressed visually, but I just don’t think he had it that day. So I’m going to toss that race from my mind, and in the Derby, it’ll be hard to believe Justify will just get away easy. If the odds are right, he could have a lot of value, so don’t forget this horse!
Another Todd Pletcher winner here, Magnum Moon has the talent and breeding to win this race. Visually impressive in his races so far (other than some minor drifting problems), he could stalk the leaders and come from behind to win this race if they press Justify. He really is a horse that I think could win, but I just don’t want to take a short price on him. He’s working sharply for this race, so I’ll be taking the post position and odds into account. But he’ll be in all of my exotics.
I don’t usually even account for horses shipping from overseas, but this horse could be a monster. His breeding suggest he could win this race for fun. Three wins on three different tracks in three different countries gives me a reason not toss him like usual. In fact, just the trainer and jockey alone make him a contender to win this. Watch out!
He could come from anywhere, which is a nice bonus, but then you add in Pletcher and Castellano and he looks even more playable…and with double-digit odds, especially.
He really has room for improvement, and that’s always a good thing in a race like this. You might even get 30-1 or 40-1 on him along with Bill Mott and Irad Ortiz. Nice!
I like his running style in this race, and he has the right to improve and surprise everyone but me. Of course, I’ll need 15-1 or better, but look for him coming down the lane late.
Good luck, and call an Uber when you’re done celebrating!