As the Spring season of prep races for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands comes to a close (it officially ends with the Derby Trial (gr. 3) at Churchill Downs, Saturday, before Apr. 30) it has been no secret that this group of 3-year-old thoroughbreds have been difficult to decipher and will be equally, if not more challenging to handicap on the first Saturday in May.
Dialed In will likely be the favorite in the Kentucky Derby this year and the win price may be even higher than some expect. Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form currently has Dialed In as the favorite at 4-1 odds, just ahead of Uncle Mo at 6-1, Nehro at 8-1 and Toby’s Corner and Archarcharch at 10-1. There is also plenty of chat on Twitter, Facebook and other horse racing blogs and columns about the possibility that Dialed In may even go as high as 5-1.
I see no reason why the favorite this year can’t be as high as 6-1. The field is certainly befuddling enough with only Toby’s Corner and Dialed In among the probably Kentucky Derby starters with more than one victory in a graded prep race this year. Even those two were not the favorites in their respective last starts. Dialed In was the second choice at 2.90-1 behind favored Soldat at 1.5-1 in his Florida Derby victory and Toby’s Corner was the 8.70-1 second choice behind 1-10 Uncle Mo while winning the New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. 1).
The 4-1 mark also seems to be the natural over-under point for the Kentucky Derbies run since the field wagers were eliminated in 2001. Prior to that, wagering on the Run for the Roses was limited to 14 betting interests because of the technological limitations of that time. In the ten Kentucky Derbies since, the favorite has been below 4-1 five times and the above 4-1 five times.
Last year, Lookin at Lucky was the highest price favorite during that time at 6.30-1. His rough trips in the Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) at Oaklawn and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) combined with his number one post position in Kentucky, of course, contributed to the high price. But also remember that undefeated Barbaro was just a little more popular as the favorite in the 2006 Kentucky Derby at 6.10-1. 2002 Derby favorite Came Home was also 6-1 so having a Derby favorite with odds that high may not be such an anomaly - especially with as many as 20 betting interest in modern Kentucky Derbies.
The most popular horse in the last ten runnings of the Kentucky Derby was Point Given at 1.8-1 in 2001. With slightly less betting appeal were Big Brown in 2008 at 2.40-1; Empire Maker in 2003 at 2.50-1; and Bellamy Road in 2005 at 2.60-1. Empire Maker and Point Given were also in the only two Kentucky Derbies during that span with less than 18 wagering interests. There were 16 betting interests in 2003 and 17 in 2001.
Give credit where it is due to those four however. Point Given had romped through southern California’s San Felipe Stakes (gr. 2) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1). Bellamy Road came into the Derby off of a 14-1/2 length win the Wood Memorial while Empire Maker had won both the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial. Big Brown overcame a bad post position in the Florida Derby (gr. 1) breaking from the 12 gate, but still won easily by five lengths.
Uncle Mo was certainly on his way to that kind of popularity this year before his disappointing third-place finish in the Wood. He stumbled at the start and grabbed a front hoof in that race, but trainer Todd Pletcher said neither was an excuse. Two days later, it is determined that Uncle Mo had a gastrointestinal infection but again, there is no way of knowing if that affected his race in the Wood.
Horses like Archarcharch, Nehro, Toby's Corner, Mucho Macho Man and frankly, quite a few others also have a chance to take some unpredicted late action. Soldat certainly has the credentials to regain some respect in the weeks leading up to the Derby, just as prep race upset winners Midnight Interlude, Brilliant Speed and Pants on Fire have the opportunity to build on their races.
Regardless of the many excuses and reasons that have seemed to plague this group headed for the Kentucky Derby, it is almost certain that the post time favorite is going to be at a healthy price. Placing 4-1 odds on Dialed In seems perfectly reasonable to me, as it does many others opinionating throughout the social media circles and horse racing journals and papers.
But with the uncertainty that seems to follow these 3-year-olds, it would also not be too surprising to see the favorite as high as 6-1.