A look at the field

Fred Faour's complete, horse-by-horse analysis for the Kentucky Derby (updates with scratch of Omaha Beach and Haikal)

Fred Faour's complete, horse-by-horse analysis for the Kentucky Derby (updates with scratch of Omaha Beach and Haikal)
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The Kentucky Derby is Saturday at Churchill Downs. We will be looking to get back to our pre-2017 form when we owned the Triple crown. I will be doing several stories during the week. This is a breakdown of every horse in the field and their chances to wear the roses on Saturday, with an early look at the horses I like best:

No. 1 War of Will (20-1)

Trainer: Mark Casse.

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione.

Career record: 8 starts, 3 wins, 1 second, 1 third.

Career earnings: $501,569.

Overview: Was a top contender until a bad start in the Louisiana Derby was compounded by an injury. Still, he did not beat much in his prior efforts, even though he was visually impressive. Rail draw does not help, but a return to form could get him a piece.

Contender status: Fringe player. Could get a piece of the exacta or tri but would be a pretty big surprise to win.

2) Tax (20-1)

Trainer: Danny Gargen.

Jockey: Junior Alvarado.

Career record: 5-2-2-1.

Career earnings: $326,300.

Overview: Has done little wrong since being claimed last year, with a win and two seconds in stakes company. He got a pretty good trip in the Wood Memorial and was no real match for Tacitus, who did not have the cleanest run. Still, he should improve, but will need to get significantly better.

Contender status: Bottom of the trifecta at best. Likely toss out.

3) By My Standards (20-1)

Trainer: Bret Calhoun.

Jockey: Gabriel Saez.

Career record: 5-2-2-1.

Career earnings: $653,710.

Overview: Interesting late comer to the party. He didn't get his first win until Feb. 19, the shocked the world by winning the Louisiana Derby. That was not the strongest field in the world, but there is room to improve. Still, this seems like too much of a leap.

Contender status: Would be a big surprise. Maybe third in the tris.

4) Gray Magician (50-1)

Trainer: Peter Miller.

Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke.

Career record: 8-1-3-2.

Career earnings: $584,140.

Overview: Earned his spot with a second in Dubai. His races in the States before that left a lot to be desired. Not sure he beat much of anything in Dubai.

Contender status: Toss-out.

5) Improbable (6-1)

Trainer: Bob Baffert.

Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Career record: 5-3-2-0.

Career earnings: $619,520.

Overview: One of Bob Baffert's three serious contenders. He has been second in both starts this year, but had excuses in both races and should be fully cranked up. Of the top contenders, he might be the least likely, but he has a real chance at the win. Keep an eye on the weather; he did not run his best over a sloppy track in Arkansas (and still finished second).

Contender status: Serious contender; must be used.

6) Vekoma (20-1)

Trainer: George Weaver.

Jockey: Javier Castellano.

Career record: 4-3-0-1.

Career earnings: $788,850.

Overview: He has done little wrong in his career, and even his one blemish was a solid third in the Fountain of Youth. Still, his signature win was in the Blue Grass on a speed-favoring track. He just does not seem fast enough, and has a weird running style that does not seem likely to hold up at a mile and a quarter. Still, worth tossing on the bottom of exotics.

Contender status: Fringe, but would not be a shock. Will use in trifectas.

7) Maximum Security (10-1)

Trainer: Jason Servis.

Jockey: Luis Saez.

Career record: 4-4-0-0.

Career earnings: $649,400.

Overview: He has done nothing wrong, dominating all four of his races. If you can ignore the fact that he started as a $16,000 claimer, he looks as good as any. He wired the field in the Florida Derby with soft fractions, which he won't get here. Still there is no reason he can't improve. He might be the lone speed, and that could carry him a long way. Has the look of a horse who wins or misses the board.

Contender status: No one will fault you for tossing him, but I will be using him with my key contenders.

8) Tacitus (10-1)

Trainer: Bill Mott.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz.

Career record: 4-3-0-0.

Career earnings: $653,000.

Overview: He has had two meaningful starts this year. In the Tampa Bay Derby, he grinned his was up the rail to overcome adversity. In the Wood, he was stopped more than once and still grinned his way to victory. He's not flashy and he has not faced the best horses, but he is improving, has handled trouble and will be one of our top selections.

Contender status: Win candidate.

9) Plus Que Parfait (30-1)

Trainer: Brendan Walsh.

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Career record: 7-2-1-2.

Career earnings: $1,590,400.

Overview: A curious horse. As a 2-year-old, he just missed at Churchill. He also beat Cutting Humor and was a neck away from Signalman. But his first two starts at 3 at Fair Grounds were disasters. Maybe he just did not like that track, because he went over to Dubai and won the Derby there, earning his spot. Can't see him winning here, because that path to the Derby has not worked. But will put him on the bottom of tickets.

Contender status: Possible trifecta factor.

10) Cutting Humor (30-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

Jockey: Mike Smith.

Career record: 6-2-2-1.

Career earnings: $516,967.

Overview: Pletcher usually has several serious contenders, but this year has not been his best. Frankly, this horse probably does not belong here. He earned enough points by winning a really shaky Sunland Derby. He does not have another race on his resume that gives you any hope he can beat the top horses. Picks up Smith, who was available when Omaha Beach was scratched.

Contender status: Toss.

11) Haikal (30-1) *SCRATCHED* 

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin.

Jockey: Rajiv Maragh.

Career record: 5-3-1-1.

Career earnings: $373,900.

Overview: Scratched Friday morning.

Contender status: Had a shot at the trifecta but obviously not now.

12) Omaha Beach (4-1) *SCRATCHED*

Trainer: Richard Mandella.

Jockey: Mike Smith.

Career record: 7-3-3-1.

Career earnings: $1,121,800.

Overview: He was scratched on Thursday.

Contender status: His scratch changes the betting.

13) Code of Honor (15-1)

Trainer: Shug McGaughey.

Jockey: John Velazquez.

Career record: 5-2-1-1.

Career earnings: $478,820.

Overview: Interesting horse. Won a very good Fountain of Youth, holding off Bourbon War, who would have been a contender had he earned enough points to get in here. In the Florida Derby, he fell victim to the conveyor belt pace and had no real shot. He will get a better pace here. Not sure he is fast enough to win this, but no reason he can't earn a piece.

Contender status: Possible trifecta factor.

14) Win Win Win (15-1)

Trainer: Michael Trombetta.

Jockey: Julien Pimentel.

Career record: 6-3-2-1.

Career earnings: $367,300.

Overview: He ran third behind Tacitus at Tampa, then backed that up with a good second in the Blue Grass on a speed favoring track. He is a stone closer who will appreciate the extra ground. Another of many who could clunk up for a piece at a nice price.

Contender status: Should be on the move in the late stages and could be in the mix. Like him as a potential long shot win threat but more likely second or third.

15) Master Fencer (50-1)

Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda.

Jockey: Julien Leparoux.

Career record: 6-2-2-0.

Career earnings: $234,392.

Overview: Got in on a ridiculous system that allows a horse from Japan with the most points in prep races there to come for the Derby. He got in on the strength of a fourth and a second. Unless he suddenly improves dramatically, there is little reason to think he has any shot of hitting the board.

Contender status: Toss out.

16) Game Winner (5-1)

Trainer: Bob Baffert.

Jockey: Joel Rosario.

Career record: 6-4-2-0.

Career earnings: $1,846,000.

Overview: Oh man, I like this horse. The 2-year-old champ has finished second in both starts at 3, but had good excuses. He was part of the California contingent that had to change plans after the problems at Santa Anita. He was off schedule in his first start and came within inches of beating Omaha Beach after a wide trip. In the Santa Anita Derby, he basically only needed to finish second to make the field, while his stablemate Roadster needed the points. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but...Baffert knows how to get a horse ready for the Derby, so he should be 100 percent on Saturday.

Contender status: Serious win contender.

17) Roadster (6-1)

Trainer: Bob Baffert.

Jockey: Florent Geroux.

Career record: 4-3-0-1.

Career earnings: $706,200.

Overview: His only blemish is a solid third behind Game Winner as a 2-year-old. Baffert thought this one might be his next Justify, but injuries slowed him down. He came back with an easy win in an optional claimer, then won the Santa Anita Derby mentioned above. The injury and a tough effort in the SA Derby might have him behind the eight-ball, but if he is right, he can win this. Note that jockey Mike Smith had a choice between this one and Omaha Beach, and he went the other way. Jockeys and their agents have to make decisions like this all the time. They are not always right.

Contender status: Chance for the win.

18) Long Range Toddy (30-1)

Trainer: Steve Asmussen.

Jockey: Jon Court.

Career record: 8-4-1-1.

Career earnings: $854,459.

Overview: OK, let's start with the obvious; what a terrible name. Who would name a horse this? Derby winners should have majestic names like American Pharaoh or Justify. Monarchos. The horse won us some money two back in Arkansas with a perfect inside trip to beat Improbable. He was no match for that horse or Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby, but like a lot of these could see him sneaking up for a piece.

Contender status: Trifecta factor.

19) Spinoff (30-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher.

Jockey: Manny Franco.

Career record: 4-2-1-1.

Career earnings: $260,000.

Overview: Lightly raced Pletcher runner gave a big effort in finishing second in the Louisiana Derby. But the concern is that race just was not very good. Has every right to improve, but will need a huge jump to contend here.

Contender status: Throw him in that "might run third" group.

20) Country House

Trainer: Bill Mott.

Jockey: Flavian Pratt.

Career record: 6-1-2-1.

Career earnings: $260,175.

Overview: A classic purse nibbler, he will be up against it in the 20 post. He is not fast enough to win this, but could easily be another that gets a late piece.

Contender status: Won't win, but could be in for a minor award if all goes perfectly.

21) Bodexpress (ALSO ELIGIBLE - gets in with scratch of Omaha Beach)

Trainer: Gustavo Delgado.

Jockey: Chris Landeros.

Career record: 5-0-3-0.

Career earnings: $208,700.

Overview: Will get to run since Omaha Beach was injured. Really don't see any chance he does anything here.

Contender status: Toss out.

The bottom line

We will have our bets out later in the week, but we will build everything around Tacitus and Game Winner in first and second and will be using other horses like Roadster, Win Win Win, Maximum Security and Improbable with them and as many horses as possible in third. So stay tuned for actual plays.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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