(CBS Chicago/CBS Local) — An already wide-open 2019 Kentucky Derby became even more competitive when the favorite, Omaha Beach, pulled out of Saturday’s race due to a breathing problem. With his removal, the top three favorites are all trained by five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert: Game Winner, who’s now going off at 9-2 as the newly-installed favorite, and Improbable and Roadster, who are both listed at 5-1.
There’s plenty at stake in the 145th Run for the Roses, which has a post time of 6:46 p.m. ET. That’s why some expert help can go a long way when locking in your picks.
SportsLine’s Jody Demling has been a staple of the horse racing world for years. Amazingly, he’s won nine of the last 10 Derby-Oaks doubles at Churchill Downs. That means he’s held a ticket with the winners of the big Friday and Saturday races nine times in the last decade. He’s also called nine of the last 14 Preakness winners and hit the superfecta at this year’s Pegasus World Cup, Arkansas Derby, and Robert B. Lewis Stakes, just to name a few. Now, he’s sharing his picks for this year’s Kentucky Derby only at SportsLine.
Before you decide who to back, here’s a rundown of the entire field:
1. War of Will (15-1)
The winner of the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds suffered a physical ailment in his last race, the Louisiana Derby, and finished ninth. He has been training well since, suggesting everything is fine, but his biggest obstacle may be the post position. No Kentucky Derby winner has come from the No. 1 hole since Ferdinand in 1986.
2. Tax (20-1)
This horse improved significantly since Danny Gargan took over as trainer late last year, eventually resulting in a win in the Withers Stakes in February. Since finishing second to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial, Tax has trained sharply for the Kentucky Derby, suggesting that he’s ready to run a career-best.
3. By My Standards (15-1)
No horse has received as much buzz during the morning training sessions at Churchill Downs than this son of Goldencents, who hadn’t even won a race until February, but is coming off an upset win in the Louisiana Derby at almost 23-1. Given the hype, he’s almost certain to leave the starting gate at odds shorter than the 15-1 morning line.
4. Gray Magician (50-1)
His speed figures are well shy of the best in this field, and he has only one win in eight career starts. But he has kept good company (he was within five lengths of Improbable and Alwaysmining), and he ran arguably a better race in the UAE Derby than winner Plus Que Parfait.
5. Improbable (5-1)
One of three horses trained by Bob Baffert in the race, Improbable impressively won the Los Alamitos Futurity in his final start of 2018. He has finished second in both of his races this year, but Baffert gets horses to peak on the first Saturday in May, not April. Top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. hops aboard, but one big question remains: Can this son of City Zip handle the Derby distance?
6. Vekoma (15-1)
More has been made by how this horse runs — his left front leg resembles an egg beater — than how fast he runs. His victory last year in the Nashua Stakes was one of the fastest by a two-year-old, and he’s coming off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes. His early speed should have him near or on the lead on Saturday, a style that has won the last five Kentucky Derbies.
7. Maximum Security (8-1)
No Derby horse has been as polarizing as this former claimer, whom anyone could’ve bought for $16,000 last year. Some believe his wire-to-wire win in the Florida Derby was the byproduct of him setting a slow early pace and that he won’t be able to pull off the same trick in Louisville. Others believe he’s talented enough to win even if doesn’t go to the lead.
8. Tacitus (8-1)
The most impeccably bred horse in the race (his sire is Tapit, and his dam is Grade 1 winner Close Hatches), Tacitus has won both of his races this year by coming from off of the pace. In his most recent start, the Wood Memorial, he was bumped and clipped and still rallied to win, which bodes well in a race that often turns into a 20-horse rodeo.
9. Plus Que Parfait (30-1)
French for “more than perfect,” Plus Que Parfait had won only once in six starts before going to Dubai to take on a relatively soft group in the UAE Derby. He won that race to earn his way to Louisville. This son of Point of Entry and an Awesome Again mare shouldn’t have a problem with the Derby distance, but that trip to Dubai is known to wear out even the best horses.
10. Cutting Humor (30-1)
This Todd Pletcher trainee bombed as the favorite in the Southwest Stakes in February, but returned a month later to win the Sunland Derby, setting a nine-furlong track record in the process. He didn’t beat much that day, but the performance was a career-best, and his trainer knows how to win the Derby. (Pletcher won it in 2010 and 2017.)
11. Haikal (30-1)
He has won three times in five starts, but all three of those wins came around one turn and at a mile or shorter. The Kentucky Derby is around two turns and 1 1/4 miles. In his last race, the Wood Memorial, he rallied from 14 lengths back to finish third, and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin says Haikal will employ the same late-running tactics again on Saturday. Note that he could be scratched from the Derby with a foot injury.
12. Omaha Beach (N/A)
13. Code of Honor (12-1)
One of the top two-year-olds last year, Code of Honor has won once in three starts in 2019. In that race, the Fountain of Youth Stakes, he capitalized on a pace meltdown to rally for a three-quarters-length win. He didn’t get that meltdown in his next start, in the Florida Derby, and finished a well beaten third.
14. Win Win Win (12-1)
He won the Pasco Stakes in record time in January and then ran two sneaky-good races in the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. In the latter, he was forced to hesitate just as he was making his rally and lost all momentum, but still closed to run second on a speed-favoring track. Jockey Julian Pimentel, who last rode the horse in the Pasco, is back in the irons.
15. Master Fencer (50-1)
The first Japanese-bred horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, Master Fencer was the fourth best horse in that country’s Road to the Derby series and only received a spot in the Kentucky Derby because the connections of the top three horses declined to participate. He has two wins and two seconds in six career starts.
16. Game Winner (9-2)
Last year’s Breeders Cup’ Juvenile winner and champion two-year-old inherited the favorite status after Wednesday’s scratch of Omaha Beach. The Bob Baffert trainee has finished second in both starts this year, losing by a total of less than a length, but he has trained well over the last month. Saving ground in the 20-horse field will be key; he ran wide in both losses this year.
17. Roadster (5-1)
He has been nicknamed the TMZ Horse, because when asked last year by the tabloid news website who might be his next stable star, trainer Baffert said Roadster. The young colt won his first start, but had to undergo throat surgery last year. Since his return, he has shown the promise Baffert hinted at, winning the Santa Anita Derby with quick late acceleration.
18. Long Range Toddy (30-1)
The storylines abound with this one: Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has never won the Kentucky Derby, despite winning more than 8,400 races, and 58-year-old Jon Court will be the oldest jockey ever to ride in the race. Meanwhile the horse is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. But that loss came in the slop, which he might not have preferred.
19. Spinoff (30-1)
The second of two Todd Pletcher trainees, Spinoff was a fast two-year-old and returned even faster this year. He finished a narrowly beaten second in the Louisiana Derby but ran wider than the winner in that race. Jockey Manny Franco replaces John Velazquez and will need to try to save ground from this wide post in order to have a chance.
20. Country House (30-1)
The lesser regarded of the two Bill Mott runners (the other is Tacitus), Country House is the favorite to be last after a quarter-mile. Not only does he like to do his running late, he has a tendency to break slowly from the gate. When you also factor in this wide post, the chances are good he’ll need to pass all 19 horses to score a shocking upset.
21. Bodexpress (30-1)
Winless in five career starts, Bodexpress only got into the race after then-favorite Omaha Beach pulled out on Wednesday. Only three horses have ever made the Kentucky Derby their first victory, the last coming in 1933. But his last two starts, including a runner-up finish in the Florida Derby, have been his best.
SportsLine’s Demling is high on a huge long-shot that would net any backer a strong payday. Visit SportsLine now to see his picks for the Kentucky Derby, and to see which dark horse you need to jump on.