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The Run for the Roses: Analyzing the Early Contenders for the 2019 Kentucky Derby

Date: 1/11/2019

It might seem a bit crazy to be considering the Kentucky Derby given that the 'Run for the Roses' is still a matter of months away, but the ante post betting market is now open and so there's no time quite like the present to begin analyzing the main contenders for this prestigious prize.

All involved will be hoping the 2019 edition plays out in conditions rather more agreeable than those of the year prior, when a record for most rain on race day which had stood for 100 years was shattered.

The upshot was that the renewal took place on a sealed yet sloppy track that enabled Justify to justify, if you'll pardon the pun, his position as the bookmakers' favourite to clinch a fifth Kentucky Derby title for trainer Bob Baffert. That also secured the first leg of a famous Triple Crown for the horse.

In 2019, trainers will be preparing their charges for much faster conditions, and hoping that a similarly freakish burst of rainfall does not drench the Churchill Downs track.

With that in mind, here's a look at the early leaders in the betting market for this year's Kentucky Derby.

Game Winner

Baffert has trained two of the last four Kentucky Derby winners, and saddled Justify and American Pharaoh the only two Triple Crown winners of the past 40 years - and so it's natural that his horses could be under the most scrutiny. His prized possession at the moment appears to be Game Winner, a rapid two-year-old with a perfect four-from-four win record thus far.

The colt took the spoils on the Churchill Downs dirt in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile back in November, and that followed a comfortable victory at Santa Anita over another potential Kentucky Derby candidate: Gunmetal Gray.

He also outpaced more favoured stablemate Roadster at Del Mar back in September, and there is something reassuring that the foal of Candy Ride should be able to make the step up in trip to a mile-and-a-quarter with ease.

We may be some weeks from the start line, but no horse is setting tongues wagging ahead of the Kentucky Derby quite like the aptly-named Game Winner.


Another unbeaten colt from the Baffert yard is Improbable.

He too has a victory at Churchill Downs to his name albeit at a lower grade than Game Winner's, and that franks a perfect three-from-three return for the chestnut progeny of City Zip and Rare Event.

Lacking the natural turn of speed of Game Winner, that's not to say Improbable couldn't compete on an even footing given a favourable draw.


In the 2018 edition of the race, jockey Drayden Van Dyke helped to deliver a fine performance from Instilled Regard, a 50/1 no-hoper with the bookies from the Jerry Hollendorfer yard.

That pairing could team up again this year with Instagrand; assuming Van Dyke doesn't take the ride on Improbable. A little underworked, with just two runs to his name and no outing since August, the two-year-old is nonetheless unbeaten and has shown a very handy turn of pace on the Del Mar dirt.

As yet to go beyond 6f, doubts will remain about Instagrand's stamina until proven otherwise.

Maximus Mischief

This bay colt has an eye-catching advantage over the majority that could take to the start line on May 4: a win over the 9f mark.

That came at Aqueduct last time out, when the Robert Reid Jr trained speedster overcame a decent field containing fellow Kentucky hopeful Network Effect.

Another with a perfect three wins from as many starts, the only black mark on Maximus Mischief's docket is that he is yet to be tested on the unique conditions at Churchill Downs.

Gunmetal Gray

One of the advantages of acculumator betting is the fact that we can combine all of these top quality runners if we need to and there's certainly scope right through the field.

Having already tasted defeat to both Game Winner and Roadster, there might not be a long queue of punters forming to back Gunmetal Gray for the Derby.

But redemption, of sorts, was secured in his last start when the three-year-old triumphed at Santa Anita with a really solid run.

If Hollendorfer can somehow persuade Mike E. Smith a two-time Kentucky Derby winner to take the ride on Gunmetal Gray, as he did last time out, then who knows what this experienced campaigner over 8f can achieve.

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