Which Horses Should You Bet in the 2019 Kentucky Derby?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 29th, 2019

We’re less than 24 hours away from the 2019 Kentucky Derby post position draw, but with the field essentially set, it isn’t too early to start pondering betting strategies.

But which horses should you bet on the first Saturday in May? That depends on what you’re looking for. Are you searching for the most likely winner? The most likely horse to finish on the board? Or are you looking for a win contender who figures to be overlooked in the wagering, offering you more value for your money?

Perhaps you’re looking for all three, in which case I’ve got you covered. Pending the post position draw, here’s my take on three horses that you should consider betting in the Kentucky Derby…

Most Likely Winner: Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach may have needed five starts to break his maiden, but since he scored that elusive first victory in February, he’s progressed rapidly to emerge as the Kentucky Derby favorite. By defeating champion Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and grade 1 winner Improbable in the Arkansas Derby (G1), Omaha Beach has beaten tougher company than any horse in the Derby field, and he’s done so while recording fast times, solid speed figures and two triple-digit Brisnet Late Pace ratings.

Omaha Beach has the tactical speed to work out a perfect trip under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. Just look at how he ran in the Arkansas Derby, where he made a big early move to take the lead before settling back down and re-breaking around the far turn. That kind of versatility is the mark of a good horse, and as long as Omaha Beach draws an outside post position (allowing him to stay out of traffic), he should be tough to defeat in the Kentucky Derby.

Most Likely to Hit the Board: Game Winner

He’s not as flashy as some, but Game Winner was the champion 2-year-old male of 2018 and has yet to run a bad race in six starts. He’s just a half-length away from being undefeated, an impressive feat for a grinding, mid-pack closer prone to enduring wide trips.

As a son of Candy Ride out of an A.P. Indy mare, Game Winner can boast the most classic-oriented pedigree in the Derby field, so the 1 1/4-mile distance shouldn't be an issue. He’s trained well since his close runner-up effort in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and taking a scenic outside route around Churchill Downs could actually be beneficial in the Derby, because it will allow Game Winner to stay out of trouble and make an uninterrupted rally. That trip certainly worked out well in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs in November, when Game Winner unleashed a relentless rally to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths.

Game Winner might not be the most likely winner of the Kentucky Derby, but he seems like a strong candidate to finish in the superfecta, especially while making his third start off a layoff for five-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert.

Most Likely to Offer Wagering Value: Maximum Security

A major wildcard runner is Maximum Security, who has won his first four starts (all at Gulfstream Park) by a combined 38 lengths. He enjoyed an easy, uncontested lead in the Florida Derby (G1), but he also sprinted home the final three furlongs in a sensational :35.96, and is the only horse in the Derby field with two triple-digit Beyer speed figures under his belt.

A lot of handicappers seem to be writing off Maximum Security because of his beneficial setup in the Florida Derby, but who’s to say that he won’t secure another easy lead in the Kentucky Derby? He’s the only true frontrunner in the field, and he should start at double-digit odds, an enticing price on a horse who would probably be favored if he were trained by Bob Baffert. Considering the tactical advantage that he might enjoy at Churchill Downs, I wouldn’t want to leave Maximum Security off my tickets, especially multi-race wagers.

Good luck!