HomeThe ShuffleTop 5 Kentucky Derby Horses for your Betslip

Top 5 Kentucky Derby Horses for your Betslip

Looking for foundations in building your Kentucky Derby tickets? Here are five horses for this famous race to consider.

Constructing your Kentucky Derby tickets is an exercise in creativity, optimism and more than a bit of legwork. For that latter factor, you can thank the points system that came into being for the 2013 Derby.

That points system awarded points to horses running in a lengthy series of Derby preps that began last September and ended last week, with the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. In between, trainers had a veritable plethora of races to choose from to amass points. Only the top 20 horses get into the Derby, although there is attrition every year that allows horses on or near the bubble to get into the field.

Horses like last year’s 80-1 freak-show winner, Rich Strike. He got in with five minutes to spare after another horse was scratched. After an incendiary early pace wiped out five horses, Rich Strike cruised in from 17th with a half-mile to go and stole the Derby in the last 50 yards.

Points System Discriminates against Sprinters

The points system eliminates sprinters, which used to set suicidal paces that would allow a closer to sail in out of the clouds and win the Derby. Since 2013, only three closers: Orb (2013), Country House, (2019*) and the aforementioned Rich Strike, have worn roses. And Country House, he of the asterisk, wears that courtesy of his inheriting the win due to Maximum Security’s disqualification for interference.

Freak-shows aside, your usual Derby winner in this era owns plenty of front-end and tactical speed. Or he’s comfortable pressing or stalking off the pace, waiting for the right moment to fire the jets coming into the stretch. The key? Being close enough to the pace to avoid the traffic minefield of no-hopers or tired horses you find in a 20-horse free-for-all.

When constructing tickets, you want a good mix of those pacesetters, pressers and stalkers, especially when you factor in the all-important post-position draw. You want horses with good speed figures, since 27 of the last 31 cashable Derby winners came in with a Beyer Speed Figure of at least 95 on their resume.

In reverse order, here are five horses to include on your tickets with their Caesars future board odds.

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5. Verifying (12-1)

Verifying is one of your Derby sleepers. The horse finished fourth and second in his last two Derby preps. He clocked a 99 Beyer in his last one—a neck loss to Tapit Trice in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. That featured a furious battle between the two down the stretch in which Verifying took the lead back twice before losing it at the wire. A great pedigree (the son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, a half-brother to 2019 Champion Older Mare Midnight Bisou) adds to the appeal. But more than any horse on this list, Verifying needs a good post and a great break to factor.

4. Forte (2-1)

Why, you ask, is the Champion 2-year-old Forte and winner of six of his seven races—including four Grade 1s—this far down the list? There’s his 100 Beyer, making him one of three horses (Practical Move and Two Phil’s being the others) with a triple-digit Beyer.

What has he done wrong? Well, a few things. There’s his declining Beyers, which dipped from the 100 in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to a 99 in March’s Fountain of Youth to a 95 in April’s Florida Derby. His final quarter in that Florida Derby score was a mediocre 25.72 seconds. And yes, Forte will need to avoid traffic for his lethal finishing kick to pay off. Speaking of which, the Todd Pletcher mainstay has—and will—draw plenty of money, making him a potential odds underlay in this field.

3. Angel of Empire (14-1)

The fact standout rider Flavien Prat—he of the nation’s best 15 graded-stakes wins this year–opted to ride this Brad Cox charge instead of Pletcher’s Kingsbarns speaks loud volumes. Volumes that drown out the fact that this Pennsylvania-bred’s best Beyer is a 94. You can ignore that slight Beyer bobble when you watch his victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. There, he validated Cox’s assertion that Angel of Empire relishes longer distances by blowing the doors off of favorite Rocket Can, second-favorite Reincarnate and pacesetter Two Eagles River down the stretch. Angel of Empire led by 2 ½ lengths with a furlong to go and opened up to an eventual 4 ¼-length romp. Barring traffic or post problems, Angel of Empire will be a factor in Derby 149. At 14-1 right now, he’s a value-screaming factor.

2. Tapit Trice (6-1)

It shows you how ridiculously deep Pletcher’s barn is this year—almost Bob Baffertesque in its sophomore depth and talent—that Tapit Trice takes a back seat to Forte among his Derby hopefuls. We’ve chronicled his gritty neck victory over Verifying above, which illustrates a refuse-to-lose attitude that can’t be overrated. But what else can’t be overrated is Tapit Trice’s powerful move at the six-furlong call to put himself in that position to put away Verifying.

T.D. Thornton in Thoroughbred Daily News noted no other horse on the Derby trail pulled off a move like this from that far back. That is frightening to the rest of the field because it shows the ability to get to the front with a furlong remaining. According to Santa Anita Park morning-line architect and Xpressbet columnist Jon White, 56 of the last 60 Derby winners were first or second a furlong from the wire. Tapit Trice checked the Beyer box (a 99) and needs merely to overcome his penchant for slow starts to be a presence here.

1. Practical Move (9-1)

Say “hello” to Practical Move, the only Derby horse with multiple triple-digit Beyers, which this Tim Yakteen product recorded in his last two wins: a 100 in both the Grade 2 San Felipe and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. While you’re at it, as Thornton noted, say “hello” to the horse with the fastest time in all the 1 1/8-mile Derby preps (a 1:48.69 in the Santa Anita Derby).

Practical Move’s tactical speed and stalking style always plays in a Derby, as does the ability to find that last reserve to put away rivals, vividly displayed in his Santa Anita Derby victory. There, he held off a surging Mandarin Hero by a nose. Pedigree honks throw out the fact that Practical Joke, Practical Move’s sire, was a miler who never won a two-turn race. Yet take the family tree back to his maternal grandsire and you find Afleet Alex, who finished third in the 2005 Derby before winning the Preakness and the Belmont.


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