Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: A New Leader

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April 15th, 2019

The final prep races have been run, the field is pretty much set, and less than three weeks remain until the 2019 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

It’s being called one of the most wide-open Kentucky Derbys in recent memory, but one thing seems certain—the California contingent is strong, as usual, with four of the five probable betting favorites.

Not surprisingly those four are all ranked near the top in my latest Kentucky Derby Top 10, but the order is a bit different compared to last week. Here’s how they stack up.
  1. Omaha Beach (#3 last week)

He’s tactical, with the ability to make a move at any point in a race and still have something left for the homestretch. He’s fast, with increasing Beyer speed figures of 90, 96 and 101 in his last three starts. He’s beaten two of Bob Baffert’s three highly regarded Derby contenders. What’s not to like? For the first time since August of 2018, there’s a new name at the top of my Kentucky Derby rankings. Omaha Beach earned the title with his eye-catching victory in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) last Saturday.
  1. Game Winner (#1 last week)

After a seven-month reign at the top of my rankings, Game Winner has slipped down a spot, but I still have a lot of respect for this gallant grinder. He might be 0-for-2 this season, but he came within a nose of catching Omaha Beach in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and has been the victim of wide trips in both his defeats this year.
  1. Roadster (#2 last week)

Jockey Mike Smith has a tough decision to make—will he ride Omaha Beach or Roadster in the Kentucky Derby? It’s a decision that many handicappers will carefully scrutinize and perhaps overemphasize. I wouldn’t read too much into it. We’re talking about quite possibly the two betting favorites for the Kentucky Derby, and there really isn’t a bad choice to be made.
  1. Maximum Security (#5 last week)

True to the tendencies of trainer Jason Servis, Maximum Security’s first workout since the Florida Derby (G1) was a modest one—officially a half-mile in :54.85, though the work was more like a fast gallop than a breeze at racing speed. Along with Omaha Beach and Improbable, Maximum Security will be one of just three horses to enter the Kentucky Derby with a triple-digit Beyer in tow, and he’ll be the only runner with two such figures under his belt.
  1. Improbable (#4 last week)

He had every chance to run down Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby, but after reaching nearly even terms at the top of the stretch, Omaha Beach turned him back and Improbable had to settle for a strong second-place finish. The concerning thing is that Improbable was again sluggish into stride during the opening furlong, a tendency that could lead to a tricky trip in the Kentucky Derby, unless he draws one of the outside post positions and just stays wide all the way around.
  1. Tacitus (#8 last week)

Jockey Jose Ortiz had a few potential Kentucky Derby mounts to choose from, but he’s already made the decision to stick with Tacitus, a logical choice since the son of Tapit is 2-for-2 in graded stakes company this year. But it’s been a long time since a Wood Memorial (G2) contestant came back to win the Kentucky Derby. You have to go all the way back to Funny Cide in 2003, while Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 was the last to win both races.
  1. Anothertwistafate (#6 last week)

I feel like we really didn’t learn anything new about Anothertwistafate in the Lexington Stakes (G3), because he spent the majority of the race buried behind horses and wasn’t able to put his powerful stride to good use. When he did find racing room in the homestretch, it was too late to catch the winner (who ran a big race in his own right), but Anothertwistafate still clocked the final sixteenth in about :06 flat while posting a career-best 95 Beyer. I continue to believe there’s more to this colt than meets the eye.
  1. By My Standards (#9 last week)

The form of By My Standard’s Louisiana Derby (G2) victory was more or less upheld over the weekend, when third-place finisher Sueno came back to finish third in a quality renewal of the Lexington and fourth-place finisher Country House came home a distant third in the Arkansas Derby. By My Standards is shaping up to be a forgotten contender at Churchill Downs, but there really isn’t anything to dislike about his Louisiana Derby performance. On paper it stacks up well against the other major prep races.
  1. Code of Honor (Unranked)

Shug McGaughey shipped Code of Honor to Keeneland with hopes a change in scenery might trigger an improvement in his training, and so far it seems to be working. McGaughey was pleased with Code of Honor’s :49 flat half-mile breeze April 12, in which the son of Noble Mission ran the final quarter-mile in :23 1/5 before continuing past the wire for five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. I’d call that a step in the right direction.
  1. Win Win Win (#10 last week)

Considering the Churchill Downs main track has a reputation for playing kindly toward turf horses, the fact that Win Win Win’s sire Hat Trick was a high-class turf miler (and is generally known for siring good turf horses) could be considered a positive more than a negative. Throw in the fact that Win Win Win’s grandsires both won the Kentucky Derby, and I don’t see a reason to knock Win Win Win’s pedigree.