Whether you like a top contender or a long shot, Saturday’s Kentucky Derby promises to offer plenty of solid betting options.
Blue Grass winner Zandon (3-1 odds) and Louisiana Derby Epicenter winner (7-2 odds) are the top picks in the morning lineup released Monday. But there are certainly several other intriguing options in a race considered “wide open” by many.
With that in mind, The Courier Journal offers its annual breakdown of why every horse can and can’t win the Kentucky Derby — a lot of seriousness, a few ironies, one destined to be right and a whole lot more destined to be wrong.
Click on the name of each horse to find out more and watch a video of its last preparation race.
Why he can win: Brisnet Speed Figures loved his victory at Wood Memorial, giving him a figure of 111 which matches the best of any horse in the field. Closer should like the 1 ¼ mile distance.
Why he can’t win: The No. 1 job was not a bit late, with Ferdinand in 1986 being the last winner from there. A new starting gate that debuted in 2020 was intended to prevent the No. 1 horse from getting stuck on the rail, but owners and trainers would still prefer to avoid the place.
Why he can win: Coach Doug O’Neill has won the Kentucky Derby twice, so he knows how to handle it.
Why he can’t win: Happy Jack – who has lost his last three races by a combined 49 lengths – is not I’ll Have Another or Nyquist.
Why he can win: He improved in his last three races and showed some versatility by slowing the pace and then winning the Louisiana Derby. Many thought he would be the morning favourite. A horse raised in Bowling Green – ravaged by tornadoes last December – seems like a feel-good story.
Why he can’t win: Is Steve Asmussen bewitched? No trainer has entered more horses in the Kentucky Derby (23) without winning one. Maybe it’s not for him.
Why he can win: Because you believe in miracles?
Why he can’t win: He has never won a race longer than 7 furlongs. The favorite had his chance in the United Arab Emirates Derby at 1 3/16 miles but couldn’t hold off Crown Pride on the stretch.
Why he can win: He was super impressive at 2 years old with antics at Keeneland and Churchill. Trainer Kenny McPeek has kept it fresh this year with just two races and hopes to trigger a big one on Saturday.
Why he can’t win: It’s 0 for 2 this year with a pair of finalists. He had every chance of winning the Blue Grass but couldn’t hold off Zandon throughout the race.
Why he can win: He’s as talented as anyone and may not have been as fit as needed in the Santa Anita Derby when he faded to second place behind Taiba. It’s hard to imagine it will stay as high as 8 to 1, but can you ignore the high bet?
Why he can’t win: How will the Derby gods judge these horses that were previously trained by Bob Baffert and are now in the hands of Tim Yakteen? And will Yakteen have prepared them as much as Baffert would have? This is one of the most intriguing questions of this Derby.
Why he can win: From last year’s Breeders’ Cup to this year’s Dubai World Cup, Japanese horses have been on fire on the domestic stage. Crown Pride’s training methods at Churchill Downs were unique to say the least, but count it at your own risk.
Why he can’t win: Since 2000, the UAE Derby has produced 16 Kentucky Derby starters and none have finished better than fifth (Master of Hounds in 2011). Thunder Snow may still be out there.
Why he can win: Many believe he would have won the Florida Derby had he not walked through the gate and been slowed down at the start.
Why he can’t win: He didn’t race as a 2-year-old and only competed in three races in his career. Justify has withstood many of these “curses”, but does this one have enough experience to break through?
Why he can win: Throw in the Holy Bull and it’s 5-1-0 in its last six races. A win would be huge for trainer Kenny McPeek and the Magdalena farm he bought in 2006.
Why he can’t win: Almost all of his success has come on all-weather surfaces or turf. He won a first one-mile gravel race at Ellis Park last July, but finished seventh in his other two gravel starts.
Why he can win: No horse has looked so good since the jet-black Zandon arrived here in late April. His four furlong breeze on April 29 had coach Chad Brown beaming, and he earned morning line favorite status for a reason.
Why he can’t win: It’s hard to find a strike against him, but he finished 3 ¼ lengths behind Epicenter in their only match on February 19 in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Why he can win: He hasn’t been able to match Epicenter in his last two races, but he’s not far off either. If he can take a step forward, he has a chance to be in on it at the end.
Why he can’t win: The speed numbers just don’t match the best, and several other closers in the field seem a little better.
Why he can win: A $1.7 million purchase, he is the most expensive horse in the field and perhaps the most talented. He took a big step forward by winning the Santa Anita Derby.
Why he can’t win: Only one horse has won the Derby with just two career starts – Leonatus in 1883. This story is hard to ignore.
Why he can win: He expects a win after finishing third in the Florida Derby. Showed some speed at the start, but couldn’t hang onto the stretch.
Why he can’t win: He had two chances against White Abarrio at Gulfstream Park and was unable to get the job done. He has spent his entire career with Gulfstream, so there are major question marks over his ability on a new surface.
Why he can win: Maybe he finally put it all together after a bunch of close calls in Oaklawn Park. Coach John Ortiz is one of the nice guys in the game and gets his first shot in the Derby.
Why he can’t win: He’s still trying hard, but he’s winless in his last five starts. Its speed numbers lag behind the best in this field.
Why he can win: He feels like he’s been overlooked after winning four of five career starts, including the Florida Derby. Coach Saffie Joseph Jr. was thrilled after his last practice on Saturday in Florida.
Why he can’t win: The only loss of his career came at Churchill Downs. Perhaps he is simply a “horse for the course” at Gulfstream. No gray horse has won the Derby since Giacomo in 2005.
Why he can win: Seems to be the best of three for Louisville coach Brad Cox, who won the Derby last year with Mandaloun by disqualification. Throw in the Lecomte, and his 4-1-0 record in five other starts is hard to ignore.
Why he can’t win: There are big questions about who he beat in the Arkansas Derby and whether he’s able to take the next step he’ll need to compete with the best in the Run for the Roses.
Why he can win: Really only one way – go to War Emblem and take them from the gate to the wire.
Why he can’t win: No horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby since position No. 17. Are you ready to trust a horse that finished 11th in its last race?
Why he can win: This will be his third race in 36 days. Maybe he will be in better shape than everyone else? He finally showed his ability to win on clay with his victory in Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland.
Why he can’t win: The only time he has faced Kentucky Derby caliber horses, he finished fifth in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Why he can win: Showed some speed early in the Louisiana Derby, and maybe better conditioning since then will allow him to steal it.
Why he can’t win: Did not race at age 2 and only three career starts. Impossible to ignore history.
Why he can win: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the horse will arrive late. What a story a win would be for 86-year-old Lukas.
Why he can’t win: Finishing seventh and fourth in your last two races before the Derby does not inspire confidence.
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; email@example.com; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.
This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Derby: Why Every Horse Can and Can’t Win