Bettors and casual fans will hear a lot about the top choices in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby and for good reason. Zandon, the 3-1 favorite on the morning line, closed sharply to take the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on April 9 and was narrowly defeated by Mo Donegal in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. He was also third behind Epicenter, the second choice in the Derby at 7-2, in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes in December. Meanwhile, Epicenter finished his preps with a big win in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, giving him a 164 Derby points, the most of any horse this year.
As good as those horses are, neither is a lock to win this year’s Run for the Roses. Zandon’s closing style and questionable pedigree leave plenty of doubt he can hit the wire first, while Epicenter will have to deal with an inside post, perhaps causing him to expend more energy than usual to escape from the gate quickly and avoid falling victim to traffic.
So what’s the alternative? You could go with Messier (8-1 on the morning line), my choice to win it all, or you could go bigger and look for one of the many horses that should offer odds of 20-1 or better at post time. If that’s your preference, here are two horses to be optimistic about in this year’s Derby, along with the odds I feel would be fair to warrant a winning wager.
(Of note: In wet or muddy conditions, also take a look at No. 11 Pioneer of Medina, who was 30-1 on the morning line.)
No. 16 Cyberknife (20-1)
Fair value odds: 15-1 or higher
Cyberknife’s win in April’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby was his second in a row, and the Brisnet speed figures he earned in his past two races (94 in each) give him what is referred to as a paired top, a sign of improving form and perhaps a breakthrough performance in his next outing.
A peak effort Saturday wouldn’t be surprising. This son of Gun Runner has finished first or second in five of his six career races, and jockey Florent Geroux, in the irons for the Derby, has been the rider for three of those five first- and second-place finishes. Trainer Brad Cox also has thrown a flat-bet profit in graded stakes races, netting bettors a six percent return on investment on his horses.
No. 18 Tawny Port (30-1)
Fair value odds: 22-1 or higher
Tawny Port, another Cox horse, won twice on the all-weather track at Turfway Park before finally securing a victory on dirt in mid-April in the Grade 3 Lexington (Ky.) Stakes at Keeneland. The dark brown colt’s performance in that contest was better than it looked on paper. He was four wide at the first turn and was shuffled back down the backstretch, forcing him to cover more ground than nine of the other 10 horses. Yet he still crossed the wire first.
That shouldn’t be too surprising. Based on his pedigree, Tawny Port should continue to have success on dirt, especially at the classic distance. His sire, Pioneerof the Nile, finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and went on to sire Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Other horses on his sire line include Empire Maker (who won the Belmont Stakes in 2003) and Unbridled (who won Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990 and was later named the champion 3-year-old).