5 under the radar horses to keep an eye on for the Kentucky Derby

Justify will likely be the Derby favorite. Santaanita.com

The final Kentucky Derby points races took place over the weekend, and the field is taking shape. It is an intriguing year; the main contenders will be bucking history; no horse has won the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since 1882. Expect to hear that stat many times over the next three weeks because it applies to two horses; Justify and Magnum Moon.

Justify has just three starts. He is unbeaten, including an impressive win in his last race, the Santa Anita Derby. It was the fastest points prep in the six-year history of the system. Trainer Bob Baffert has won four Derbies and a Triple Crown with American Pharoah so he knows how to prepare for this race.

Justify will be the likely favorite, but he has beaten a grand total of 14 horses combined in his three races, and will face 19 on Derby Day alone. He is fast, but lacks the base of a Derby winner.

Magnum Moon is now 4-for-4 after winning the Arkansas Derby in impressive fashion. Trainer Todd Pletcher has four of the top five points earners for the Derby. Magnum Moon, like Justify, did not race at 2. He won the Arkansas Derby on Saturday by four lengths, but did it in front-running fashion, set soft fractions and drifted out badly in the stretch. Those are things that will get him beat in Kentucky.

Another serious contender is Mendelssohn, who will be trying to be the first horse to prep in Dubai and win the Kentucky Derby. He won by 18 lengths in Dubai, and also won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, so he has experience winning while shipping over. More on him in a minute.

So we won’t know who all will be in the gate in three weeks; injuries will happen. We also need to wait for the draw and see the works over the track before making any final determinations. In general I like to play against Pletcher horses in the Derby, but it will be hard to get around all of them (Audible in particular). Justify will probably have to be used as well. But after watching all the preps, here are five not-so-0bvious horses I might be using on Derby Day. They all should provide some value at the windows.

  1. Mendelssohn. Usually Dubai horses are instant bet-againsts, but he was incredibly dominant in the UAE Derby, has shipped back and forth before with success and was battle tested as a 2-year-old. You have to worry about whether or not he will bounce off such a huge effort, but if not he could be a serious factor. 

  2. Bolt D’Oro. Another battle-tested sort who was no match for Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, but he should fare better with a legitimate pace in front of him and will appreciate the extra distance. 

  3. Combatant. Currently 21st on the list, he will need a defection to get in, but he is the kind of stretch running nibbler who can blow up the trifecta at a nice price. He was fourth in Arkansas, but had little pace to run at. That should not be the case in Kentucky. This year’s Lookin’ at Lee?

  4. Enticed. Has a win over the Churchill surface and his second in the Wood should have him perfectly set up for the Derby. Will likely get overlooked, but has a real shot.

  5. Good Magic. Last year’s Juvenile winner has raced just twice this year, a third in Florida and a win in the Bluegrass Stakes. Has not been the fastest runner in 2018, but he should be sitting on his best race.

While all of these are interesting, the post position draw the week of the race will be critical. Also, there is usually one standout horse in the works over the track the week before, and that will certainly impact which direction we will go.


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