Searching for long shots in America’s most famous race has become an annual tradition as we approach the First Saturday in May.
Next Saturday’s Run for the Roses can provide for some of the most lucrative payouts of the year.
With 20 horses entered in the 145th Kentucky Derby, the stakes are high. Having that big priced colt in your exacta, trifecta or superfecta can mean the difference between tuna fish and caviar for dinner on Derby night.
Not only will there be the rare 20 horses in the gate, but they’ll be running the mile-and-a-quarter distance for the very first time. With 150,000 plus screaming fans at Churchill Downs, they’ll be facing not only a cavalcade of horses running to the first turn, but the loudest environment these 3-year-olds have faced to date.
I’ve narrowed it down to four likely long shots to consider for your exotics betting or ladder bets ($2 to win; $6 to place and $12 to show). Here’s a look at who could crash the party on Derby day at big balloons.
Win Win Win – The son of Hat Trick, a Japanese stallion out of a Smarty Jones mare has the speed on top and the stamina on the bottom from the 2004 dual Classic winner. He did not win a prep race, but his late runs in the Tampa Bay Derby (third) and the Blue Grass Stakes (second) provided him with enough points to head to Louisville and a date in the Derby on May 4.
He closed fiercely in both races and the added eighth of a mile in the Derby could be just what the doctor ordered for trainer Michael Trombetta. It will be his second Derby starter, and first in over 13 years, his last Sweetnorthernsaint was the favorite in the 2006 race won by Barbaro.
While the connections are somewhat Derby inexperienced, you can see this horse getting up late for third or fourth to crash the exotics at odds of over 25-1. Jockey Julian Pimentel, best known for riding the legendary Ben’s Cat to several wins in Maryland, has his first ever Derby mount on Win Win Win.
He sure has that Jazil, Lookin at Lee and Commanding Curve feel to him.
Code of Honor – While this colt won’t be 50-1, he’ll likely be overlooked and if he drifts up over the 20-1 price it will be time to pay attention. Trained by Derby winning conditioner Shug McGaughey, who guided Orb to victory in 2013, the son of Noble Mission has the stamina to stay the 10 furlongs and hit the board.
Draw a line through his effort in the paceless Florida Derby as he was bumped at the start and never a factor, but still managed to finish third in the merry-go-round trip won by Maximum Security.
The winner of the Fountain of Youth, he bested the Blue Grass winner, Vekoma, that day at Gulfstream Park. His damsire Dixie Union has sired a Belmont winner and he is sired by a full brother to Frankel, one of the most dynamic horses of our time.
Add Hall of Famer and two-time Derby winning rider Johnny Velazquez in the irons and he’s worth a shot at double digit odds to be part of the mix.
Spinoff - No one can get a colt to the Derby like Todd Pletcher can. The two-time Derby winning trainer has the most starters as a trainer in the modern era with 52 starters since 2000. In the last six editions he’s had a winner (Always Dreaming, 2016) and three third-place finishers in the first leg of racing’s Triple Crown.
This year, he enters two colts and the one that just snuck into the field is Spinoff, gaining just enough points through his second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby to qualify. While that race hasn’t produced a winner since Grindstone in 1996, in recent years it has had a horse hit the board coming out of that race.
The son of Hard Spun will certainly be a big price on Derby day and could be one of the horses up on the pace, similar to his daddy who led for most of the race only to hold on for second in the 2007 Derby. A similar scenario could unfold next weekend at Churchill Downs. One of the big question marks entering the week is who will be the pace setter and how fast will the pace be?
Spinoff is a lightly raced colt who will be coming into the race third off the layoff on the form cycle for one of the best trainers in the business. Manny Franco gets the call for his second career Derby mount after riding Tencendur in the 2015 Run for the Roses.
Tax – The choice of most accountants in America is the son of Arch, and is Danny Gargan’s first ever Derby starter. The New York-based trainer combined a Withers win with a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial into a trip to Louisville.
Junior Alvarado will ride in his third Derby, his best finish being on Mohaymen, who finished fourth in the Derby three years ago after finishing 14th on Enticed last year.
His numbers seem to fit and with any move forward off his Wood effort could vault him into the mix. He has tactical speed and has the stamina in his pedigree via damsire Giant’s Causeway.
Alvarado is an underrated jockey who has some experience in this race over the past few years and will likely utilize that with a horse who if he stays close to the pace could make his move at the top of the stretch and challenge the leaders.
His connections include the Reeves, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Mucho Macho Man and have already proclaimed Tax day as May 4 on Twitter.
Good luck finding that Derby long shot on the road to Kentucky Derby 145 and be sure to check out the annual Derby Degrees of Separation post online for my annual week-out prognostications.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.