Which Horses Should You Avoid Betting in the Kentucky Derby?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 29th, 2019

When it comes to handicapping the Kentucky Derby and playing complex wagers like the trifecta and superfecta, eliminating horses from consideration is often just as helpful as identifying the horses you like.

Simply qualifying to the Derby is an accomplishment in and of itself, so it goes without saying that the 20 horses who will line up in the Churchill Downs starting gate are all talented individuals. But in the end, only five horses will earn a check and contribute to the pari-mutuel payoffs, so in theory 75% of the runners can be eliminated from wagering consideration.

The tricky part is determining which 15 runners won’t factor in the outcome. It’s a tough task, but we have to start somewhere. I won’t go so far as to strongly oppose 15 horses, or even ten, but with less than a week remaining until the first Saturday in May, here are five horses I will be tempted to exclude from all my bets.

Plus Que Parfait

He certainly made a nice visual impression while slicing his way through a large field to win the UAE Derby (G2), but it’s fair to question the caliber of competition he faced in Dubai, and his final time was slow compared to the other major races of the evening at Meydan. The good news is his best race on North American soil came at Churchill Downs, but will he be ready to fire off a peak effort just five weeks after a strenuous race halfway around the world? UAE Derby starters are 0-for-14 in the Kentucky Derby and none have finished in the top four.

Gray Magician

Like Plus Que Parfait, the UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician faces the difficult task of wheeling back in the Kentucky Derby just five weeks after his hard run in Dubai. You can argue Gray Magician ran a better race than Plus Que Parfait at Meydan—he certainly endured a wider trip—but his previous form in the U.S. suggests he would have to up his game significantly to challenge at Churchill Downs. His only run in a U.S. graded stakes race yielded a non-threatening fourth-place finish in a slow renewal of the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park.

Master Fencer

Master Fencer adds some international intrigue to the Derby field, and from a sporting perspective I would be delighted to see him score an upset victory in the Run for the Roses. But as I outlined a few weeks back, he’s arguably no better than the fifth-best 3-year-old dirt horse in Japan, and that’s in a nation where dirt racing is decidedly second tier compared to their turf racing. Throw in the long trip from Japan, and it would come as a surprise to see Master Fencer hit the board in the Derby.


This son of Daaher hasn’t missed the trifecta in five starts, a streak that includes a late-charging victory in the Gotham Stakes (G3) and a respectable third-place effort in the Wood Memorial (G2). But Haikal is unproven away from Aqueduct Racetrack in New York, and his pedigree and running style suggest he’ll ultimately prove best as a late-charging miler than a true 1 1/4-mile horse. From a pace perspective he had every chance to close meaningful ground in Wood Memorial, but he wasn’t gaining as much as you’d hope in the final furlong.  The Derby distance might prove to be a couple furlongs too far for Haikal.


With three victories from four starts, Vekoma knows how to find the winner’s circle, and he was a decisive 3 1/2-length winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. But from a Beyer speed figure perspective, the Blue Grass was among the slowest of the major prep races, and Vekoma ran the final three furlongs in just :39.38 after tracking a modest pace over a speed-favoring track. The Derby will mark his third start of the season, so there’s always a chance he could step up his game, but if you want to oppose one of the major prep race winners, Vekoma might be the most vulnerable.