The “Run for the Roses” is just days away and this year’s field is as wide open as any Derby race in memory, which allows bettors a great chance at landing a longshot in the top spot
The race is unique in the sense that all entrants are three-year-olds that have never ran the Derby distance of 1 1/4-mile in their careers, which certainly allows for longshot opportunities. Handicappers will tell you that distance is the single-most important factor in judging the race, as normally a lot of horses can be thrown out of the mix due to this angle.
It’s also important to point out that in the last seven years, Giacomo ($50.30-1) in 2005 and Mine That Bird ($50.60-1) in 2009, came from well back to provide backers with an incredible triple-digit return on a simple two dollar win wager. Of course no race is the same when going against fields of 20 or more, but it’s very rare to see a longshot win this race with a front running style.
Pants On Fire is still getting little to no respect in the Derby conversation and that’s just fine from my perspective. The three-year-old is coming off a prep victory at the Louisiana Derby and will be ridden once again by female jockey Rosie Napravnik. After his mid-pack finish in the Risen Star, Pants On Fire avenged his loss to Mucho Macho Man with a close win and compiling a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Rating. It’s also important to note that Pants On Fire delivered his first stakes win in a million dollar race despite an abbreviated training schedule because of an infection that limited him to one workout between his last two races. He may offer the right price in a wide-open field just for the sake of holding off two main derby contenders in the lane last time out.
Twice the Appeal will get some attention due to drawing jockey Calvin Borel for the mount, but he will likely go off at odds of 25-to-1 or more. He deserves a long look from bettors for other reasons and none more important than his success on dirt tracks. In running his last four races over the natural surface, Twice the Appeal has won three races and finished second in the other. He earned a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure in his last race by winning the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Sunland Derby. With improving figures over the last four races, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this horse makes some noise over the final furlongs with a rider that’s done it before (Mine That Bird).
In my experience of handicapping the Kentucky Derby over the last decade, Saturday’s field is as wide open as I can ever remember. The spotlight will certainly be placed on Uncle Mo and others, but no horse in this field has been spectacular during its three-year-old campaign.
This simple fact alone offers value to the entire race and warrants at least one longshot play.