LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Derby might not have a bracket, but for the first time, it had an honest-to-goodness bubble as the 3-year-olds went to post for the final two Derby preps on Saturday.
In Arkansas, Bob Baffert’s Improbable, who was the second-leading vote-getter in the most recent Kentucky Derby Media Poll, needed to place in the top three to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. Omaha Beach, No. 4 in the Derby poll, needed to place in the top three.
Turns out, they ran 1-2, with Hall of Famer Richard Mandella's Omaha Beach holding on for the win over an off track to place his name among the top contenders on the first Saturday in May. Bill Mott’s Country House, who came into the day with 30 points, ran third to punch his ticket for Churchill Downs. Mott also trains top contender Tacitus.
At Keeneland, the news wasn’t so happy, with Rupp Racing’s Owendale, trained by Brad Cox, playing spoiler for a couple of Derby hopefuls. Anothertwistafate ran second for trainer Blaine Wright, but is on the outside looking in unless a current qualifier scratches. The same is true for Keith Desormeaux’s Sueno, who finished third.
The 40 points it takes to qualify for the Kentucky Derby at the moment is the highest total required to get into the field since the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system went into use in 2013. In the points era, the No. 20 qualifier has averaged about 24 points. The most ever needed to make the field was Mo Tom’s 32 points in 2016.
But only five colts in the Derby field have won multiple preps, with 29 different winners in 34 points races. That means some good horses are on the outside looking in.
Anothertwistafate, winner of the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate in February, is one of those, and traffic issues might have played a role.
“I wish I had a better trip,” said Javier Castellano, who rode him in the Lexington as a 7-5 favorite. “I was in tight all the way, and the two horses in front stopped early. But I kept coming and saved ground. The winner got the jump and in the meantime I was bottled up inside on the rail looking for room, and I didn’t have any room.”
With only five colts having multiple prep wins, they likely are the starting point in looking for favorites. Omaha Beach’s win at Oaklawn Saturday may make him the favorite. It was his second prep win, matching Game Winner, War of Will, Tacitus and Long Range Toddy.
The oddsmaker isn’t the only one with an interesting decision. Jockey Mike Smith, who rode Justify to the Triple Crown a year ago, is the regular rider for both Omaha Beach and Roadster, who won the Santa Anita Derby.
“It's a lovely decision to have,” Smith said. “We're going to go back and see how everyone comes back and go from there. Evaluate the situation. Then my agent will make the decision. That's why I pay him.”
Baffert, who had the No. 1, 2 and 3 colts in the last Kentucky Derby media poll, saw his Improbable come up short on Saturday, but he got into the Derby, which was the goal.
“Happy with the way he ran,” Baffert said. “I was a little bit worried in the starting gate. He was acting up in there. I had a few moments there of maybe he was going to rear up or do something and get left. Luckily, they unloaded him and put him back and he left there well. I thought Jose Ortiz did a masterful job of riding him. We got beat by a good horse.”
The highest-priced favorite in Derby history was Lookin’ at Lucky in 2010 at $6.30-1.
“That could be in jeopardy,” Churchill Downs’ Darren Rogers said.
“The Kentucky Derby is already the best betting race of the year, and the 2019 edition is off the hook,” Churchill Downs’ Joe Kristufek said. “If you get it right, you're going to get paid, and then some.”
It has been tough to get into the field of 20 in 2019. Figuring out the winner won’t be easy, either.
A look at the final Road to the Kentucky Derby point totals:
1. Tacitus 150
2. Omaha Beach 137.5
3. Vekoma 110
4. Plus Que Parfait 104
5. Roadster 100
6. By My Standards 100
7. Maximum Security 100
8. Game Winner 85
9. Code of Honor 74
10. Haikal 70
11. Improbable 65
12. War of Will 60
13. Long Range Toddy 53.5
14. Tax 52
15. Cutting Humor 50
16. Win Win Win 50
17. Country House 50
18. Gray Magician 41
19. Spinoff 40
20. Master Fencer (Japan)
On the bubble
21. Bodexpress 40
22. Signalman 38
23. Anothertwistafate 38
24. Sueno 32
25. Bourbon War 31
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