2019 Kentucky Derby: Keeler Johnson's Morning Line Projection

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 22nd, 2019

In recent years post-time favorites in the Kentucky Derby have been starting at relatively short prices, especially when you consider the uncommonly large size of the annual Derby field.

This has coincided with a historic streak of six consecutive winning favorites. Orb, who prevailed in the 2013 Derby at odds of 5.40-1, has been the only member of the current streak to start above 5-1. He’s been followed into the Derby winner’s circle by California Chrome (2.50-1), American Pharoah (2.90-1), Nyquist (2.30-1), Always Dreaming (4.70-1) and Justify (2.90-1).

Four of the last five Derby favorites may have started at less than 3-1, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see any such short prices in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. No clear favorite has emerged for this year's big showdown at Churchill Downs, and there are at least half a dozen contenders who could conceivably start at single-digit odds.

To get a better idea of just how wide open the tote board figures to be on the first Saturday in May, I’ve calculated my own chart of morning line odds. I’ve even followed the unwritten rule of listing no runner at higher than 50-1.
Article Image
The challenges are obvious when you dig into the math. Despite listing half of the expected starters at 30-1 or higher, I’m unable to push the odds on the top-ranked contenders particularly low, because there are too many top-ranked contenders to consider.

As a result, I’m left with as a tenuous 5-1 favorite, which would make him the sixth-highest-priced Derby favorite in history. The record price of 6.30-1 was set by Lookin At Lucky in 2010.

Other well-regarded contenders are listed higher than you might expect, including the popular duo of Tacitus and Improbable, both at 10-1 on my chart. Major prep race winners like Vekoma (Blue Grass Stakes), Cutting Humor (Sunland Derby), and Plus Que Parfait (UAE Derby) are even higher at 15-1, 30-1 and 30-1, respectively.

The problem is, if you lower the projected prices on horses like Improbable and Tacitus, then you have to raise the prices on other short-priced contenders. If you drop Improbable and Tacitus to 8-1, then you’re left with no logical choice but to raise horses such as Omaha Beach, Roadster and By My Standards up a notch (or two or three). At that point you’re looking at Omaha Beach as a 6-1 favorite, and Lookin at Lucky's record could well be in danger.

This is good news for handicappers, because if you feel confident in any one horse—even the favorite—you’re going to get a pretty nice price. And for players tackling the trifecta or superfecta, the number of realistically viable outcomes is large enough that the payoffs for winning tickets should be higher than we've typically seen in recent years.

Which horse do you think will start as the favorite in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, and what odds will he offer?