America’s most famous race has been won by the betting favorite in six consecutive years. If the Kentucky Derby trail results in March are any indication, it’s a streak whose days are numbered.
Another week, and another pair of heavy favorites have gone down in defeat. What happened to the respective choices in this weekend’s Louisiana and Sunland Park Derbies is becoming a very familiar refrain on the road to this year’s run for the roses. In each and every major prep for the Kentucky Derby run this month, the favorite has been beaten. The string of upsets on the Derby trail is now at seven and counting.
The madness began back on March 2 at Gulfstream Park. Hidden Scroll, off his stunning debut victory, was sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. In a pace scenario that has played out more than once in recent weeks, the highly regarded chalk went way too fast in the early stages of the South Florida prep. The testing fractions left the talented son of Hard Spun with little left for the stretch drive. He fought on valiantly, but could only manage a fourth-place finish. Code of Honor, at 9-1, was more than happy to pick up the pieces. One week later, it was more of the same.
Sizzling early fractions in New York’s Gotham opened the door for a closer to kick it in late, and this time it was Haikal taking full advantage with a late burst. Among those who felt the effects of the taxing early pace was the returning Instagrand, who despite running for the first time in seven months, was bet down. He ran third at odds of even money.
That same afternoon down at Tampa Bay Downs, bettors showed their approval of Win Win Win’s dominating victory in the local Pasco Stakes by pegging him as the 7-5 choice in a seemingly wide open Tampa Bay Derby. He also could do no better than third, while Tacitus moved seamlessly from a maiden special weight victory to a graded stakes win at odds of nearly 9-1.
Speaking of horses moving right from a maiden win to the big time, Omaha Beach continued the streak of upsets when he won the second division of the Rebel Stakes over the 2-year-old Champion, Game Winner at Oaklawn Park on March 16. Previously unbeaten, the champ ran big in defeat, and in his first race since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but could not quite get by Omaha Beach in the final strides, as a prohibitive 1-2 favorite.
It took a little bit of chaos for Game Winner even to be in Arkansas last weekend, as all the trouble at Santa Anita had rerouted both of trainer Bob Baffert’s top two Kentucky Derby candidates from their base in Southern California to the Rebel at Oaklawn. The other being Improbable, who made the lead in mid-stretch of the first division of the Rebel, only to see that advantage evaporate at the hands of the 8-1 shot, Long Range Toddy.
Bet down to 2-5, Improbable, like his champion stablemate, had to settle for second-place money. With all the recent upsets, you had to wonder how War of Will and Mucho Gusto would fare this weekend. As you already know, they too went down to defeat.
In fairness, War of Will never had much of a chance yesterday as the 4-5 Louisiana Derby favorite. Taking an awkward stride or two soon after the start of the million-dollar race, the Mark Casse trainee came out of his ninth-place finish with a minor injury leaving his status for the Kentucky Derby very much up in the air. With the favorite struggling, it was By My Standards, another colt with only a maiden victory in the win column coming in, who had his day. He did so at odds of 22-1.
There was no longshot winner today at Sunland Park, but once again, the favorite was beaten. This time it was Mucho Gusto, another from the barn of Bob Baffert, who could not live up to his odds. A fast pace likely did in the 4-5 Sunland Park Derby favorite, as he finished a well beaten third. That left it up to a battle between Cutting Humor and Anothertwistafate, with the former winning the photo, for only his second career victory.
Surely the string of upsets will end. Perhaps it will be one, or both, of the Baffert runners, who can finally win on this Kentucky Derby trail as a favorite. Game Winner will get his shot in the Santa Anita Derby, while Improbable will look for redemption in the Arkansas Derby. Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine as to who possibly will end up the betting favorite on the first Saturday in May.
The fact that the favorite has won the Kentucky Derby in six straight years is quite a startling stat, considering that in most years a full field of 20 enter the starting gate. It’s a trend that has to end soon, and with one upset after another happening on this year’s trail, it would seem that 2019 is as good a year as any year for the streak to be broken. I say it’s time for some big odds in the Derby — Let chaos reign!
By My Standards photo courtesy of Hodges Photography