So we finally turn the page onto 2019 with the hopes and dreams of six horseplayers wondering if they’ve got the goods to win the second annual Derby Day Racing Fantasy Triple Crown Challenge. I’ll spare you the intrigue of who won the first challenge because that would be me, as I had the foresight to draft Justify with the second to last pick of our 2018 draft. More on that later.

Like just about all fantasy sports out there the five partners of Derby Day Racing along with handicapper extraordinaire Jasen Mangrum draft horses they think can make some noise running in Kentucky Derby preps from January 1 through the final leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes. We gather points along the way by mirroring the Churchill Downs qualifying points earned on the Road to the Roses schedule that the actual aspiring horses have to follow.

Early prep race finishers receive points first through fourth place as follows: 10-4-2-1, later preps: 50-20-10-5 and the last round of mostly Grade 1 preps: 100-40-20-10. The only difference is DDR’s challenge gets serious for the Derby, Preakness and Belmont by upping the point possibilities to 200-80-40-20 with 10 bonus points for any horse that actually runs in one of those races. You can imagine having the Triple Crown winner gave me enough points to lap the field of my sorry “competition.” My winnings was a modest $100, but the bragging rights are real. I didn’t accept the my prize pool, instead asking it to be donated to Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund.

So who are the players/partners of DDR that finished along with Jasen, behind me? There’s our principal partner, Brian Zipse, a horse racing encyclopedia in the flesh. Matt Shifman, handicapper and DDR blog runner as well as the “co-host from the east coast” of HorseCenter. Scott Dick, late blooming handicapper and horse race lover, and rounding out our crew of “playas” is the man behind the camera – producing, editing, and posting – Horse Center videos, Brett Workman. I’ll forego letting you know who finished last, but really after first there are no winners.

Enough of my bragging from the championship past, whom do we like to win those early preps, make it to the Kentucky Derby gate, and possibly take home a blanket of roses this year? Given his status as the all time Triple Crown winning trainer, Bob Baffert dominated the early draft board garnering five out of the first six picks with Improbable, Coliseum, Game Winner, Tale of the Union, and Mucho Gusto going 1,2,4,5 and 6. Basically if he had a two-year-old maiden winner out there, then a Baffert trainee was going to be picked. Given Justify’s lack of 2-year-old racing, a maiden win at two is a head start for all Baffert trainees in the new year.

The lone Baffert hold out was Jasen picking the Shug McGaughey trained, Code of Honor, who last out was second in the Champagne Stakes in October. Jasen did pick up Baffert’s Roadster in the second round either from peer pressure or thinking the stakes-placed Quality Road offspring just will be the best of Baffert’s 3-year-old barn.

Looking back to last year’s first round, there were two solid Triple Crown performers and point producers taken – my choice Vino Rosso and Jasen’s Good Magic. Who was the first pick, the underwhelming, Bolt d’Oro by Brian. Rounding out the top picks were Brett’s Principe Guilherme (who dat?), Matt’s Catholic Boy, and Scott’s Avery Island. So even for “insiders” who play and own horses, the Triple Crown draft can be a crapshoot, five months out. Justify wasn’t chosen until our supplemental draft in March after he’d won just a maiden and allowance race. So the 2019 Derby winner could still be out there waiting for me…again!

Looking over the current draft board, I notice that there are 13 of the top 20 American Road to the Derby point-getters. Of course, you’ve got to have horses get into the Kentucky Derby gate to have a shot at 200 win points. Looking back at the final 2018 board, the DDR Fantasy held 14 of the 20 starters, including the top four finishers which ended with 85-1 shot Instilled Regard! With almost the whole field covered we also nabbed the final five to cross the finish line including disappointments Mendelssohn and Magnum Moon.

What are we to make of all this? Gearing up for the Kentucky Derby is fun! Even when you love horse racing as much as we do, choosing which 3-year-old will be best on May 4 five-months earlier is no easy task. Heck, it’s hard enough picking them right before they enter the gate, never mind 150 days in between where injury and disappointment can set in, even after a spectacular prep race performance.

Follow along if you like – we’ll be updating the fantastic and dismal results along the way – or start your own fantasy league. It will certainly test your patience and skill. Either way, the DDR racing team will be with you at every stop along the way until June 8 and our second annual champ is crowned. I hear early money is on me…again!

Photo of Improbable courtesy of Benoit Photography