Below is my strategy for betting the 2018 Kentucky Derby. I have broken the field into 5 categories: key horse, win candidates, underneath horses, fringe players and tosses, and built some exotic plays off of these categories.
Bolt d'Oro (#11, 8-1) checks off every box heading into the Derby. Bolt has faced the best competition and has run three 100 Beyer Speed Figures. He ran as a 2 year-old and has a mid-pack running style. The colt was battle-tested against McKinzie and dealt with adversity in the Breeders' Cup. He is bred for distance and drew a great post. He makes his 3rd start off a layoff and has trained well. Add all of these factors up and he is the perfect horse to key in exacta, trifecta and superfecta. He will not run worse than second and will only be defeated if Justify or Mendelssohn put forth the superstar effort that they are capable of.
Justify (#7, 3-1) could be racing's next star and is likely the best horse in this field. Being the best horse does not always guarantee victory in a large field however. He has run extremely fast, but faced weak company in his first two starts and was given an easy lead when defeating Bolt d'Oro in the Santa Anita Derby. He will likely have to overcome adversity for the first time in his career while trying to become the first horse since Apollo to win after not racing at 2. His talent could overcome every obstacle and if he is able to work out a good trip, he has already proven he can beat Bolt d'Oro. He is the ultimate boom or bust play as he is too risky to key, but is absolutely capable of winning.
Mendelssohn (#14, 5-1) can also make the argument that he is the most talented horse in this field. Not only did he race at two, but he became a Grade 1 winner in America by taking the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He is bred to handle the dirt and his first race over the surface was simply jaw dropping. This well-bred colt is 3 for 3 since adding blinkers and already owns a win at 1 3/16 miles. Like Justify, there is no question that he has the talent to win this race, but he must overcome obstacles. He must prove he can handle dirt kicked in his face, as he is unlikely to make the lead. He will also try to buck the trend and become the first European to win this race.
Audible (#5, 8-1) was helped by a fast pace in the Florida Derby, but looked awfully good rolling home to victory. He has not run as fast as the top contenders, but he seems to be a horse that only does what he needs to do in his races. When he is asked for his best on Saturday, he may be up for the challenge, but the gamble is that he is just a notch below the cream of the crop.
Good Magic (#6, 12-1) seems too slow off his Blue Grass win to compete with the best in here, but he looked eerily similar heading into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Just like in the Breeders' Cup, he is making his third start of the year and has progressed in his first two. There is little doubt that he is primed by Chad Brown to run the race of his life. I still do not think that is good enough to win this tough Derby, but it will be good enough to put him squarely in the mix.
Solomini (#17, 30-1) always runs his race and will try for the entire 1 1/4 miles. He was stuck 4 wide every step of the way in the Arkansas Derby behind a very slow pace and before that race he had never crossed the finish line worse than second. He has kept top competition throughout his career and is a bit of a forgotten horse who can pick up the pieces late.
Magnum Moon (#16, 6-1) is a tough read in this race. Much like Justify he is undefeated, got away with an easy lead last time out and has the weight of Apollo against him. Unlike Justify, Magnum Moon has never reached 100 on the Beyer scale. I also do not like that he drifted out and was immediately pulled up after the race. Drifting can often be a sign of fatigue or soreness. He has enough raw ability to hit the board, but has too many factors working against him to be considered a win candidate.
Hofburg (#9, 20-1) is a bit of a wildcard as he may possess the most upside in the field. He has improved by leaps and bounds in every start and Bill Mott would not run this colt here if he felt he did not belong. He would have to take another massive step forward to run in the exacta, but a trifecta finish from off the pace is a reasonable possibility.
Combatant (#20, 50-1) has continuously been forced to run wide behind slow early paces. He will grind away at this 1 1/4 distance and should get more pace to run at then he is accustomed to. He drew another wide post, but he should be able to get over to the rail after dropping back to last early. He will need racing luck, but do not be surprised if he rounds out the trifecta or superfecta at a big price.
Flameaway (#4, 30-1) always ensures that the bettor gets his or her money's worth. I have tons of respect for this very game colt. He is too slow to win and could have a tough time working out a trip with inside speed from post 4, but he will try to the wire and that could lead to a nice price at the bottom of your trifecta or superfecta.
Vino Rosso (#18, 12-1) has been a bit of a buzz horse leading up to the Derby, which is never a good thing. He has a tough post and beat a weak field in the Wood Memorial. New York horses have run very poorly in the Derby in recent years. There are only two reasons why he may be worth minimal inclusion underneath for players with bigger budgets. He has looked sensational since arriving at Churchill and John Velazquez chose this colt over Audible.
My Boy Jack (#10, 30-1) is tempting to play as a late running trifecta filler, but I will resist the bait. He has shown a little bit of hang in him and I wonder if he truly is a 1 1/4 mile horse or if he is a pace dependent miler. I do not like that he ran in the Lexington as this will be his third race in six weeks.
Noble Indy (#19, 30-1) showed heart in his first start in blinkers, but he beat a very soft Louisiana Derby field and My Boy Jack was likely best in that race. He will have to work out a pressing trip from post 19 and will likely fade at the top of the stretch.
Instilled Regard (#15, 50-1) looked like a prime contender in this division after his first three route tries, but his Louisiana Derby effort was poor and his Santa Anita Derby performance was even worse.
Lone Sailor (#8, 50-1) is working beautifully for the Derby, but he hung like a television in his last start and that was still his best race to date by far.
Free Drop Billy (#2, 30-1) has not progressed as a three-year-old and is a closer that rarely makes up ground in the stretch. He is hard to endorse from a tough inside draw.
Bravazo (#13, 50-1) deserves respect because he is trained by D.Wayne Lukas, but he is simply too slow to get a piece of the Derby. He has faced a weak crop in Louisiana and is coming off a poor effort in the Louisiana Derby. Look for him to be involved in the early pace before dropping out of contention.
Enticed (#12, 30-1) seems to be better suited to shorter distances and will have trouble finishing at 1 1/4 miles. He beat an extremely poor Gotham field and effort in Florida against Audible left a lot to be desired.
Promises Fulfilled (#3, 50-1) did beat Good Magic in the Fountain of Youth, but he got a very easy lead that day and his rival was not cranked up. He tired badly in the Florida Derby and has never run a race fast enough to contend. He will lead this field as far as he can, which will be about 1 1/16 miles.
Firenze Fire (#1, 50-1) is a one turn miler, who is too slow to compete with these, even at his best distance. He will be outrun early and often from the dreaded rail.
$2 Exacta: 7,14 with 11 11 with 5,6,7,14,17
$0.50 Trifecta: 7,14 with 11 with 4,5,6,7,9,14,16,17,18,20 11 with 5,6,7,14,17 with 4,5,6,7,9,14,16,17,20
7,14 with 11 with 5,6,17 with 4,5,6,7,9,14,16,17,20
11 with 5,6,17 with 5,6,17 with 4,5,6,7,9,14,16,17,20
11 with 7,14 with 5,6,17 with 5,6,17