It’s not always the best horse that wins the Kentucky Derby. If only it were that simple.
When spring finally dawns at Churchill Downs, and 3-year-old thoroughbreds compete in Louisville for Saturday’s 144th Run for the Roses, the fun is as much about the overflowing crowd of 150,000 sipping mint juleps — wearing oversized hats and mingling with celebrities — as it is about picking a winner.
But, ultimately, the best way to enjoy the race is to bet right. Late broadcasting mogul John Kluge, perhaps the richest man in America in the 1980s before technology redefined wealth, would bet $2 on the Derby. The fun was in picking winners, he said, not winning money.
[Best bets for the 2018 Kentucky Derby include Bolt d’Oro and other long shots]
Winning $5,000 on a $2 exacta wager — picking the first- and second-place horses in order — wouldn’t change a billionaire’s life, but this year’s race has the potential for big money to everyday folks.
Hofburg is an early 20-1 long shot that can steal this race at the wire, when viewers hearts pound so hard the roar of the surrounding crowd falls quiet. With fellow long shot My Boy Jack right behind at 30-1, coupling the pair could lead to a four-figure exacta and maybe a six-figure superfecta — getting the top four finishers correct in order — if favorites don’t sneak in.
Justify is the early favorite at 3-1, thanks in large part to trainer Bob Baffert, a white-haired Californian who’s already produced four Derby champions. Justify has won all three races he entered this year, including a dominant showing in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, when he beat Bolt d’Oro by three lengths. But Justify could be worn down early by fellow speedsters and have nothing left in his tank for the turn home. The crowd will roar, but it won’t be for him.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has four entrants, including contenders Magnum Moon and Audible, but he’s not a smart pick, either. Pletcher won the Derby last year with Always Dreaming and in 2010 with Super Saver, but this year’s crew drew poor positions in the starting gate, where this race could be decided early because of the oversized 20-horse field.
The Derby sometimes favors long-suffering trainers overdue for the spotlight. This time, the racing gods should reward Hall of Famer Bill Mott, probably the best trainer you never heard of, and the man behind Hofburg. Mott has won dozens of major races, but never finished better than eighth in the Derby over seven tries. He hasn’t even entered since 2009.
Hofburg, the runner-up in the Florida Derby in March, sports a similar résumé to 2008 Derby winner Big Brown, who won from a far outside post and had only raced three times previously. If his Sunday workout is any indication, Hofburg is ready for the big stage.
“He looked smooth as silk coming by me,” Mott said then.
Hofburg’s superb training shows that he can rally from far back and win in the final steps over My Boy Jack, with Vino Rosso third and Mendelssohn fourth. Hofburg isn’t the best horse in the field, but he may finish first Saturday.
Article by Rick Snider