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)

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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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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