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Assessing the Horses Most Likely to Win the 2018 Kentucky Derby

By Noah Davis
Published on May 02, 2018
Kentucky Derby Logo and Bolt d'Oro

By now, the favorite for the Kentucky Derby has usually been hyped up for weeks, if not months.

That may have at one point been McKinzie, but with Bob Baffert’s (and possibly all three Triple Crown races), the top horse racing betting sites had to scramble for a new favorite.

It’s still pretty arguable that bettors don’t have one.

Justify (+400) has been the main threat to be seen as the leading favorite, but depending on which Kentucky Derby betting sites you go to, the odds (and the favorite) can change.

The inconsistency can be maddening for die-hard horse racing bettors. There needs to be a baseline to accurately assess the field. That, or bettors need to put in the time and effort to figure out which horses they believe in themselves.

While that probably should be the case anytime you’re throwing big money at a horse race, the odds should help you to some degree.

It’s possible they still will. Horse racing experts do like Justify as a top threat, but this horse is far from a lock, and he also isn’t alone up front.

The final field, final odds, and final post positioning will factor into how bettors react, but there is still plenty to see that can formulate your betting stance.

All you can work off of is what information is out at the moment, though, so let’s start off with a look at the most recent Kentucky Derby odds. I’ll then assess the top contenders and provide my pick for this year’s winner.

All odds that are referenced in this article were available online at 2:36 pm CT on 4/30/2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

2018 Kentucky Derby Odds

Here are the latest betting odds for the 2018 Kentucky Derby as of the time of writing.

Justify+400
Mendelssohn+400
Audible+600
Magnum Moon+800
Bolt d’Oro+900
Good Magic+1100
Vino Rosso+1600
Hofburg+1600
Noble Indy+2000
Solomini+2000
My Boy Jack+2200
Enticed+2500
Promises Fulfilled+3300
Free Drop Billy+3300
Flameaway+3300
Firenze Fire+4000
Combatant+4000
Lone Sailor+5000
Bravazo+5000
Instilled Regard+5000

The main takeaway here is that while Vegas seems to like Justify the most, they have Mendelssohn right there with him, and the gap up top is not wide at all.

Five horses have odds below the +1000 range, and nine are listed at +2000 or better.

That equates to a laundry list of outs for this year’s Kentucky Derby and also opens the door to some ridiculous value – even for the likely winners.

A long shot could easily emerge from the pack here. That’s partially because no clear-cut favorite has taken form and because the top horse racing sportsbooks are going to hand out value to encourage betting away from the top contenders.

Perhaps the post positions will dictate how Vegas looks at the field. Here’s :

  • Firenze Fire
  • Free Drop Billy
  • Promises Fulfilled
  • Flameaway
  • Audible
  • Good Magic
  • Justify
  • Lone Sailor
  • Hofburg
  • My Boy Jack
  • Bolt d’Oro
  • Enticed
  • Bravazo
  • Mendelssohn
  • Instilled Regard
  • Magnum Moon
  • Solomini
  • Vino Rosso
  • Noble Indy
  • Combatant

The post positions were announced on Tuesday, May 1st, and don’t necessarily project how the race will unfold, but history may put a few horses in some tough spots.

Looking back at past Kentucky Derby races, the winner has come from a litany of spots. Always Dreaming emerged out of the five spot in 2017, and that post position has produced a winner six different times since 1991.

That’s not necessarily predictive, but a single-digit post position has provided a Kentucky Derby winner 13 times during that same span. Of course, double-digit post position horses have won 14 times, so the logic there is basically a wash.

For the most part, putting too much stock in the post position can be a dangerous game. If anything, you maybe just want to note where the top contenders are riding out of, and if you’re eyeing some specific sleepers, note their starting position as well.

Top Contenders

The main thing bettors need to acknowledge is the fact that there are several viable contenders and that when it’s all said and done, you’re probably getting a winner out of that group.

The odds are going to change a bit over the course of the week, but I’m not sure the top favorites will.

Based on what the Kentucky Derby experts have been saying and what I’ve seen over the past few weeks, these are the top four horses going into this weekend’s race.

Justify (+400)

Most horse racing experts still point to Justify as the main favorite. There is the asterisk of Justify suffering from the “Apollo’s Curse” since only horses that have also run as two-year-olds have won the Kentucky Derby since 1882.

I’m not sure that alone can take Justify off of your radar, though. The top experts and Vegas like Justify for good reason.

Bob Baffert lost McKinzie but has a great second option in Justify. He’s obviously a legendary trainer and has had success here, winning in 2015 with American Pharoah and also snagging wins three times before.

Baffert is also going with jockey Mike Smith, who got him a win here in 2005. From an experience, pedigree, training, and riding perspective, it all adds up for Justify to pull out the win.

Justify is also coming in red hot. He’s secured three straight wins, with the most impressive coming at the Santa Anita Derby. In that race, Justify edged out another top KD contender in Bolt d’Oro.

If you’re looking for knocks against Justify, they come in a lack of experience or prolonged success.

This horse has just three runs, and while he’s undefeated and had an impressive win against stiff competition, it doesn’t mean he’s a lock to win one of the biggest races of the year.

Justify has elite speed, but another issue could be his post-position draw.

It could be nothing, but he’ll be coming out of the 7 spot, and no horse has won from there since Street Sense in 2007. Street Sense was just the second horse to do so since Pleasant Colony in 1981.

That isn’t a death sentence, but it’s a bad draw for an inexperienced horse. I fully expect Justify to run well and be in the mix, and this is still a very solid pick as the top favorite.

Mendelssohn (+400)

Justify’s top challenger has long been Mendelssohn, which currently boasts the same exact odds.

This is certainly another horse to consider betting on, as Vegas clearly likes him, and even as a co-favorite, he still offers nice betting value.

Mendelssohn will be firing out of the 14th spot, from where Carry Back produced the only winner way back in 1961. Bettors can’t say it hasn’t been done, but it’s not an ideal narrative for Mendelssohn to be just the second horse ever to win the Kentucky Derby from the 14th hole.

Still, there is a lot to like about this horse.

Mendelssohn doesn’t have the training and pedigree of Justify, but that hasn’t been a problem in the past 18 years. During that stretch, 10 newcomers have stolen their first win at one of horse racing’s biggest events.

That doesn’t mean a win is a lock, but it’s worth pointing out.

Beyond that, Mendelssohn has shown well in some tough spots, earning a win at the UAE Derby in his last race, which capped a nice three-race winning streak. That run included victories at the Patton Stakes and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf event.

If you’re looking for a reason not to bet on this horse, factor in his inconsistency. Mendelssohn is on fire at the moment, but he’s finished 7th or worse two other times and has three non-win runs under his belt.

He is a threat to win and certainly to place, but if Mendelssohn doesn’t bring his A-game early, this could be a problematic bet.

Audible (+600)

While Mendelssohn got the odds nod recently, it’s Audible that I would personally pencil in as Justify’s main threat.

Audible still gets solid odds as a stiff challenger, but you’re getting a little more bang for your buck here.

Anytime Todd Pletcher has a horse in the race, you need to pay attention. Pletcher won with Always Dreaming just last year and also secured a win via Super Saver in 2010.

There is more good news for Audible, who will be operating out of the five spot. As I touched on earlier, the Kentucky Derby has delivered winners there six times since 1991. No post position has produced more winners in the race’s history (10), either.

That’s worth noting, while Audible also has the benefit of history after winning the Florida Derby. The winner of that race has secured KD wins in three of the last five runs, after all.

Recent form is the big draw here, of course.

Audible has looked fantastic in recent runs, winning each of his last four races and finishing 3rd or better in every event he’s competed in. The recent run includes some impressive victories, too, with a win over Free Drop Billy at the Holy Bull especially standing out.

Bolt d’Oro (+900)

Of all the top Kentucky Derby contenders, Bolt d’Oro might be my favorite. Every horse here has something going for them, but when you throw in betting value, d’Oro may have the best overall resume on hand.

The first thing to keep in mind is the fact that d’Oro already showed he can compete with the very best talent in this event. He finished second in his most recent run (Santa Anita Derby), but that was a race where he fell just behind Justify.

Bolt d’Oro has been quite stout throughout his career and is about as battle-tested as any colt in this thing. Not only did he compete in a race with Justify, but he also stole the show at the San Felipe Stakes, knocking out previous Kentucky Derby challenger, McKinzie.

This horse has really fared well against a ton of high-level competition. Strong runs include a 3rd-place finish at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, as well as victories at the 2017 Frontrunner Stakes and the 2017 Del Mar Futurity.

In those events, d’Oro fell behind Good Magic and Solomini and topped Solomini.

You can’t win them all, but d’Oro was at least in the mix in virtually every race he ran (never finishing worse than 3rd, winning four times).

As far as experience, talent, and production go, d’Oro is as interesting as any contender in this year’s field.

Who Will Win?

As the 2018 Kentucky Derby odds shift, so too should your stance on some of these horses.

You’re also going to want to target some bets outside of just nailing the winner, while some light money tossed on some interesting long shots isn’t a bad idea, either.

Of the top contenders, though, my favorite bet is Bolt d’Oro.

The big challenge will be closing the deal with the favored Justify. He couldn’t do that at the Santa Anita Derby, but the fact that he was even in the mix is what makes him an interesting wager.

I just love the talent, experience, and value here. One huge reason to pivot off of Justify and think about eating up some value? .

That doesn’t mean d’Oro has to be your pick, that a long shot can’t win, or that this actually isn’t Justify’s time to shine.

It might mean that this feels like about as wide open of a Kentucky Derby as we’ve seen in some time, however.

I do tend to favor the top contenders here. But if you’re getting value everywhere, that leaves some wiggle room for a contender slightly down the pecking order to emerge from the pack.

If that’s going to happen, I love the value and upside associated with d’Oro. This has been one of my favorite horses to target throughout the process, and I haven’t wavered as the race has drawn closer.

PICKBolt d’Oro+900

Even if you’re not with me in this being a challenger worth backing, this still may be one of the better options to place or show.

My final piece of advice for this post is to make sure you use a suitable betting site for your Kentucky Derby wagers. There are plenty of options, and it’s important to choose wisely. If you live in the United States, you should definitely consider our featured site for this year’s race:

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Assessing the Horses Most Likely to Win the 2018 Kentucky Derby
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Assessing the Horses Most Likely to Win the 2018 Kentucky Derby
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Looking at the most recent Kentucky Derby odds. Then assessing the top contenders with my pick for this year’s winner. Continue reading to get a good idea as to where to place your bet!
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