The 144th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the start of the Triple Crown and much of it has to do with a couple of familiar faces: Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.
Justify and Mendelssohn are both favored at +400 heading into the race. Justify is the lead story, though, as he has an all-star cast supporting him. The three-year-old colt is trained by Baffert and jockeyed by Smith, both Hall of Famers in their own realm. Justify is a perfect 3-for-3 so far in his career, including the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in early April. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby four times (most recently in 2015 with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah).
As for Mendelssohn, he is trained by Aidan O’Brien, the Irish trainer who has never won the Kentucky Derby and would love to add it to his resume. Mendelssohn has won his last three races and, most impressively, he has won those races on three different surfaces. This will be his first race in the United States as he is coming off a dirt win at the UAE Derby (G2).
Audible comes in at +600 after winning the Florida Derby (G1), which followed a victory in the Holy Bull (G2). He is trained by Todd Pletcher, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby who has a slew of horses in this race. His stable includes Magnum Moon, which comes in at +800. Magnum Moon won the Rebel Stakes (G2) as well as the Arkansas Derby (G2). Pletcher could have his hands full as two other horses he trains are among the top possible contenders at Churchill Downs on Saturday with Vino Rosso (+1600) and Noble Indy (+2000).
Bolt d’Oro is posted at +900 after finishing second to Justify at the Santa Anita Derby. Prior to that, he won the San Felipe Stakes (G2) and placed third at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, so there have been high hopes for him. Good Magic comes in at +1100 as the winner of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. However, he followed it up with a third-place run at the Fountain of Youth (G2) before bouncing back with a win at the Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Like Bolt d’Oro, Good Magic has proven that he can run with the top horses, though the loss is a mild concern.
Keep an eye on the post positions as obviously those will be a factor. Gate 5 has produced the most wins (10), including Always Dreaming last May. Over the years, 11.4 percent of wins have come from this starting gate and the horse in this spot finishes in the money 23.9 percent of the time. Gates 2, 10 and 13 also tend to produce competitive horses. Horses in Gate 10 have finished in the money 29.6 percent of the time, 28.4 percent from Gate 2 and 26.8 percent from Gate 13. The one starting spot you’ll want to avoid is No. 17 as no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby from that slot, while finishing in the money just 7.7 percent of the time. No gate is less successful in that category.