2018 Kentucky Derby: Fair Odds for the Top Contenders and My Picks

The Kentucky Derby takes place on Saturday, May 5. As to be expected the morning line favorite is the Bob Baffert trained Justify. In 2015, Baffert won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah. He’s stated that Justify has the best chance of winning the Triple Crown of any 3-year-old he’s trained since American Pharoah.

That’s high praise. Is Justify the best choice? What are the fair odds before taking the plunge on Bob Baffert’s freakish equine?

2018 Kentucky Derby Picks and Fair Odds for the Top Contenders

Odds listed are morning line odds. No doubt, off odds, the horse’s odds once the starting gate opens, will be different from morning line odds. They always are. That’s why I’ve listed fair odds next to each analysis of the current favorites to win the Kentucky Derby.

Justify  3/1

He’s done nothing wrong in his undefeated 3 race career. Trainer Bob Baffert knows how to get them ready. However, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo did it in 1882. Think about that for a moment. Justify is trying to buck massive history. Can he do it?

Almost assuredly, he can. His sire, Scat Daddy, has turned into one of the top sires in North America.  Scat Daddy produces great racehorses. On his dam’s side is Ghostzapper. Ghostzapper freaked in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’s run about as fast as any horse in the past 20 years. I write about because it’s hard to tell how fast European horses run on the turf.

Justify looked great when he won the Santa Anita Derby. He held off another top contender, Bolt d’Oro, for the Santa Anita Derby win. That means he’s a deserving favorite. But, 3/1 odds are too short to take on Justify. As good as he’s looked, the Kentucky Derby is a whole new ball game. Who knows? What happens if he decides he doesn’t want any part of it?

Fair Odds:  Justify 7/2

Mendelssohn 5/1

There are a few knocks against the Aidan O’Brien trained United Arab Emirates Derby winner. First, the UAE Derby almost never produces a horse that can challenge the American ponies for Derby glory. Second, the UAE Derby was on March 31. That means Mendelssohn will have had 5 weeks between races.  Finally, Mendelssohn looked great crushing a terrible field in the UAE Derby. How bad was the field? The horse that finished second to Mendelssohn, the filly Rayya, is at 15/1 on the morning line to win the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.

Yep, all of those questions are legitimate. But, I’ve got an answer for every one. Although it’s true that the UAE Derby never produces a Kentucky Derby contender, the UAE Derby has also never produced a 3-year-old as good as Mendelssohn. Toast of New York, who won the UAE Derby in 2014, didn’t make his American debut until the Belmont Stakes. Mubtaahij, Lani, and Thunder Snow aren’t close to being as talented as Mendelssohn.

As far as the layoff is concerned, Aidan O’Brien often gives his horses plenty of rest between races. That’s not a concern at all. Finally, the horse can’t help who he faced in the UAE Derby. He beat Rayya by 18 lengths. That means, what, he would have beaten better horses by 10 lengths?

Now that the doubts are out of the way, it’s time to look at the reason Mendelssohn is an overlay at 5/1. Mendelssohn, like Justify, is sired by Scat Daddy. On his dam side is Leslie’s Lady. Leslie’s Lady sired Beholder. Beholder not only won the BC Distaff twice, she also beat the boys in the Pacific Classic going 1 1/4 miles over dirt.

Mendelssohn costs $3 million. Class isn’t a question. Aidan O’Brien might be the best horse racing trainer in the world. Mendelssohn’s connections aren’t a question. He also won the Grade 1 BC Juvenile Turf by tracking the speed.

Mendelssohn’s the horse to beat on May 5.

Fair Odds:  Mendelssohn 2/1

Magnum Moon 6/1

Let’s go over the positives. Magnum Moon, like Justify, is undefeated. Also like Justify, he’s trained by one of the great horsemen of all time, Todd Pletcher. Pletcher saddled Always Dreaming to a Kentucky Derby victory last year. Pletcher routinely dominates the biggest horse races in North America. There’s no doubt, he’ll have Magnum Moon as ready as he can to win on May 5.

Now, the problems. Magnum Moon was all over the racetrack in the Arkansas Derby stretch. He looked like he was trying so hard he couldn’t run a straight path. If he runs like that on Saturday, his chances of winning the Derby will be over before they start. Another issue is that like Justify, he didn’t run as a 2-year-old. Then, there’s the fact that he might have peaked in the Arkansas Derby.

So, at 6/1 we’ve got an undefeated Todd Pletcher trained horse that was as green as a leprechaun in the stretch of his last Derby prep who most likely doesn’t have the experience to win the Run for the Roses. Oh, yes, he might have also peaked.

Yeah, expect double-digit odds before biting.

Fair Odds:  Magnum Moon 10/1

Audible 8/1

Buzz has continued to build on this Todd Pletcher trained 3-year-old that took home the Florida Derby. The Florida Derby has become one of the best places to find Kentucky Derby winners. Since 2001, Monarchos, Barbaro, Big Brown, Orb, Nyquist, and Always Dreaming used the Florida Derby as a springboard to Kentucky Derby victories.

That mean’s history is on Audible’s side come the First Saturday in May.  What’s also on Audible’s side is the fact that he can run either close to the pace, or come from the clouds and win a race. He picks up jockey Javier Castellano because regular rider Johnny Velasquez has chosen to ride Vino Rosso in the Derby.

Castellano isn’t a step down from Johnny V. by any means. Javier should put Audible into the perfect position to win the race. 8/1 is a gift. If he goes off at 8/1 grab it. If you like him, he’s worth a win bet at anything at 5/1 or higher.

Fair Odds:  Audible 5/1

Bolt d’Oro 8/1

The final horse to discuss is Bolt d’Oro. The winter book Derby favorite ran well to finish second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby. Justify wasn’t going to lose after running the Santa Anita Derby half-mile in 47.4. That’s just too slow. The extra 1/4 mile of the Kentucky Derby should really help Bolt d’Oro close the gap on Justify.

In some respects, Bolt d’Oro should beat Justify and Mendelssohn on Saturday. After all, he was, arguably, the best 2-year-old in the nation last year. Not only that, but he’s coming up to the third race in his form cycle. He’s likely to produce his best effort yet this year on May 5. That effort could be good enough to catapult him ahead of Mendelssohn and Justify.

Another reason to love Bolt d’Oro is that like Audible, he can come from the clouds or run right off. He’s a tractable horse. Jockey Victor Espinoza takes the call.  That’s huge. Espinoza won the 2002 Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem. He also road California Chrome to a Derby win in 2014, and American Pharoah to his Derby victory in 2015.

Bolt d’Oro will run well. I like Audible slightly more.

Fair Odds:  Bolt d’Oro 6/1

My 2018 Kentucky Derby Picks

Mendelssohn should win the race. He might win it easily. If Justify doesn’t have the lungs, he could finish off the board. I’m not sure that happens, though. To me, Justify and Mendelssohn are heads and tails above the rest of this group. One of them should definitely be your key horse.

I’m also throwing in Bolt d’Oro, but only in the show slot in my trifecta, and Audible. I like Audible enough to put him in my exacta with Mendelssohn on top. The other horses I’ll use in the fourth slot in my superfecta are Vino Rosso, Magnum Moon, Hofburg, and Flameaway.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson