Assessing the Sleepers and Long Shots in the 2018 Kentucky Derby
Published on May 03, 2018
The 2018 Kentucky Derby arrives in just a matter of days, and bettors finally have an official field to work with.
Justify leads the way as the clear favorite with most horse racing betting sites (at around +350) and offers more value than your normal first-place lock.
In addition, a less-than-obvious Kentucky Derby looks more wide open than past years, with several horses potentially giving Justify a run for his money.
While this could very well still be Justify’s race to lose, Mendelssohn (+500) and Audible (+650) head a five-pack of viable contenders that could threaten for the top spot.
As tantalizing and “safe” as those horses come off, there are still 14 other horses competing in this race.
Considering how nothing is close to cemented up front, bettors may want to draw back the curtain and take a gander at the betting value lurking behind the would-be frontrunners.
Is there a mild sleeper worth targeting or a longshot that deserves a flier bet? There might actually be a few, but these six horses catch our eye the most and may be worth your time (and money).
I’m not suggesting anyone below +1000 is a true sleeper, but after you pass that threshold, it starts to get interesting in terms of price.
The fact that there are six contenders with odds at +850 or better may make for a logjam up top, but it also may mean there is an insane amount of sleeper appeal.
Here are my favorite Kentucky Derby sleepers for this year.
You can go back and forth all day about which sleepers deserve to make the cut, but I’m stopping at three. It starts with Vino Rosso, which offers solid odds going up against the top contenders.
Vino Rosso is liked by many of the horse racing experts and clearly is getting a little respect from the top horse racing sportsbooks. That has everything to do with this horse being quite competitive and finishing no worse than 4th in any of his five runs.
Those races produced three wins (one at the Wood Memorial), while Vino Rosso has fared well in the face of solid competition like Flameaway and Enticed.
This is not the Todd Pletcher horse everyone is hyping up, but it certainly feels like he is being overlooked.
If Vino Rosso gives it a go early, he probably will get blown away, but if he hangs back and waits for his moment like he did in the Wood Memorial, he may have a shot.
The strategy needs to be perfect, and Vino Rosso needs to execute late, but there’s a chance this horse shines at a solid +1200 price.
Another potential sleeper is Hofburg, who lacks experience but has performed well against high-level competition.
This horse has just three races under his belt, but he’s finished no worse than 4th in each of them and does have a win to brag about.
While the action has been limited, everyone needs to go back and look at how Hofburg fared at the 2018 Florida Derby. He didn’t win, but he took second only to Audible, who is among this year’s top contenders.
Most horses look good during practice runs, but ahead of the Kentucky Derby and may be an under-the-radar option due to his lack of experience.
You can cast a fairly wide net and talk up numerous sleepers this year, but there are only 20 horses in the field, and you have to cut things off somewhere.
I’ll halt the sleeper conversation at My Boy Jack, who offers fun +1800 odds despite being a viable threat outside of the main favorites.
This is another horse routinely working up horse racing experts’ rankings this year and has loads of experience.
It can be very interesting to weigh the importance of experience, the ability to be overlooked due to lack of experience, and runs against elite competition.
My Boy Jack has the latter in spades and actually delivered huge wins at the 2018 Lexington race, as well as the 2018 Southwest Stakes.
Those two events specifically saw him take on some tough competition, with the win at the Southwest Stakes being particularly impressive (edged out Combatant).
In addition, My Boy Jack has looked good in other big races, finishing 3rd at the Louisiana Derby (behind Noble Indy and Lone Sailor) and 3rd again at the Sham Stakes (McKinzie won).
None of this is to say My Boy Jack is going to win the Kentucky Derby, but this horse always seems to be in the mix. In 10 career races, My Boy Jack has finished 3rd or better eight times.
You can back a favorite, you can target a sleeper, and you can dream big and ride with a longshot.
This really is the type of Kentucky Derby where it might make sense to pull the trigger on a big flier bet, both because the top contenders aren’t as dominant as you’re accustomed to seeing and the upside is pretty nice.
If you want a little more upside with your KD wager, consider backing Flameaway as the outright winner. This is another horse the experts have liked all year, and he’s shown to be quite competitive.
Flameaway’s most recent run delivered a 2nd-place showing at the Blue Grass Stakes, where just Good Magic was better. In fact, Flameaway has been close to winning in four straight races, nabbing two second-place runs and two wins during that span.
This is an experienced horse (5 wins in 9 runs) that knows how to win and can compete with stellar talent. He finished second at this year’s Tampa Bay Derby and also snagged solid wins at the Sam F. Davis race, the Kitten’s Joy, and others.
Flameaway’s win at the Sam F. Davis event is worth noting thanks to the Kentucky Derby sleeper sliding in at third place.
This horse doesn’t consistently put the race away, but he’s been in the thick of things and can compete. At this price, he’s worth a look.
It remains to be determined if Promises Fulfilled will tire quickly in a longer race like the Kentucky Derby, but this horse certainly has speed, and he’s flashed upside in just four previous runs.
A bad showing at the Florida Derby (9th) drops this colt down quite a bit, but he’s still won three of his five career races and has had some success against stiff competition.
A win at this year’s Fountain of Youth race (Good Magic was 3rd) and a 3rd-place run at the Kentucky Jones Club event (Enticed was 1st) showed this horse’s ability.
Consistency is already an issue, but this horse can fly and if in position late, he may have a chance to deliver a shocking upset. At +5000, you’re getting a talented horse at insane value.
You can up your value to +6000 with Instilled Regard, which has two wins under his belt and has finished 4th or better in every single race he’s run.
The competitiveness in this horse is tough to ignore, as his worst finishes have come in some pretty stacked events. The most recent came at the Santa Anita Derby, where he fell victim to Justify and Bolt d’Oro ahead of him.
There was also the Risen Star event, where he was fourth with big names like Bravazo and Noble Indy finishing ahead of him.
Failing to even show in some of these races is a little discouraging, but the race that really gets me thinking about Instilled Regard’s upside is a second-place run behind McKinzie at the Los Alamitos Futurity.
That alone doesn’t make him a threat, but that is not a bad horse to finish second to, and there simply aren’t bad losses on this horse’s resume.
I like his ability to hang tight, and he’s bred for pace, so if he can just be in the middle of the pack late, I think he has a chance to pay off. If you don’t love him to win, he could be a solid play to show.
It’s anyone’s guess if any of my favorite Kentucky Derby longshots or sleepers pan out. They are sleepers and longshots for a reason, after all.
These horses are not expected to win or really even finish in the top three on Saturday, yet Vegas is just daring you to place some money on them.
Favorites often start hot and fizzle out, or they can just struggle to get out of the gates cleanly in a 20-horse field.
If you’re dreaming big, this may be the best year to try something different and go out on a limb. I don’t know if I want to dabble with the worst odds in the race (Firenze Fire at +10000), but it really feels like nothing can be fully ruled out until the dust settles.
Ideally, this look at some of the top sleepers and longshots is just the start of your research before you lay your final bets. There is still a lot to consider before Saturday rolls around, and it’s probably still wise to keep the majority of your action on the top contenders.
Personally, I understand the love for Justify, Magnum Moon, and so many others, but the best combination of betting value, safety, and upside resides with Bolt d’Oro. That’s just my take, and there are 20 horses to convince yourself into betting on, but he’s my favorite so far.
Regardless, hopefully a look at these horses helps nudge you in the right direction. Good luck and enjoy the race!