Hanson: How to bet the Kentucky Derby

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 3rd, 2018

Post-time favorites in the Kentucky Derby have not exactly been my friend. They've reached the winner's circle five years in succession, none without my support in the Win pool.

The last two favorites I did back in the race disappointed. Point Given chose the first Saturday in May to run his worst race of the 2001 season. He proved head and shoulders above his peers in the other two legs of the Triple Crown and beyond, just not on Derby Day.

The other was Bodemeister, the most recent losing favorite in 2012. The speedy colt and future sire of Always Dreaming zipped the opening mile in 1:35.19 and was still up three lengths at the eighth pole. He wound up second, 1 1/2 lengths behind I'll Have Another.

Both were trained by Bob Baffert, who also trains this year's favorite Justify. The fast, physically imposing son of Scat Daddy might turn out to be another Point Given – best in his crop, perhaps not on Derby Day – but has more in common experience-wise with Bodemeister as he, too, was unraced as a two-year-old.

While I've been routinely averse to supporting Derby favorites, the above examples show I'm not totally immune to the idea. In the case of Bodemeister, I was seemingly not too concerned with the "Apollo Curse" either.

This is all a roundabout way of proclaiming support for Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner JUSTIFY on Saturday. While this obviously will prove a much sterner test for a horse less experienced on the track than all but one other horse in the race, he looks, acts, and has run like a very special colt. If he breaks clean, he figures to be prominently positioned and to get a favorable trip.

Justify's odds will undoubtedly be higher than Point Given's 1.80-1 and presumably lower than Bodemeister's 4.20-1. Most analysts standing against him at 3-1 or 7-2 say that price is simply too low against this quality of competition. They might be proved right, but I'm willing to accept 3-1 or slightly higher.

Justify won't be a key for me in multi-race exotics, though. Audible and Bolt d'Oro are confirmed talents and fairly quick themselves, so I'll use them, too. Good Magic, Hofburg, Vino Rosso, Mendelssohn, and My Boy Jack are horses I'll use spreading out in the lower rungs of the vertical exotics.

Mendelssohn might be nearly as talented as my top choices, but I'm not quite convinced I can take the UAE Derby (G2) blowout entirely at face value given the way the Meydan track seemed to be favoring horses with his style. It obviously didn't carry him to victory against that suspect competition, but the margin might have been inflated as a result.

Magnum Moon, the other "Apollo" horse, is one I'm content to have beat me. His tendency of getting out late could be magnified in front of a screaming throng of more than 150,000.

Good luck!

(Holly Smith Photography)