Whether you like one of the top contenders 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 winner Epicenter (7-2 odds) are the top choices in the morning line released Monday. But there certainly are 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 each horse can and can’t win the Kentucky Derby – many serious, a few tongue in cheek, one destined to be right and a bunch more destined to be wrong.
Click on each horse’s name to learn more and watch a video of his last prep race.
Why he can win: Brisnet Speed Figures loved his Wood Memorial victory, giving it a 111 figure that matches the best of any horse in the field. Closer should love the 1 ¼-mile distance.
Why he can’t win: The No. 1 post hasn’t been kind of late, with Ferdinand in 1986 the last winner from there. A new starting gate that made its debut in 2020 was meant to keep the No. 1 horse from getting squeezed at the rail, but owners and trainers still would prefer to avoid the spot.
Why he can win: Trainer Doug O’Neill has won the Kentucky Derby twice, so he knows how to get it done.
Why he can’t win: Happy Jack – which has lost his past three races by a combined 49 lengths – is not I’ll Have Another or Nyquist.
Why he can win: He’s improved in his last three races and showed some versatility in laying off the pace and then winning the Louisiana Derby. Many thought he’d be the morning-line favorite. A horse bred in Bowling Green – ravaged by tornadoes last December – seems like a feel-good story.
Why he can’t win: Is Steve Asmussen jinxed? No trainer has entered more horses in the Kentucky Derby (23) without winning one. Perhaps it’s not meant to be for him.
Why he can win: Because you believe in miracles?
Why he can’t win: He’s never won a race longer than 7 furlongs. The front-runner had his chance in the UAE Derby at 1 3/16 miles but couldn’t hold off Crown Pride down the stretch.
Why he can win: He was super impressive as a 2-year-old with romps at Keeneland and Churchill. Trainer Kenny McPeek has kept him fresh this year with just two races and is hoping to unleash a big one Saturday.
Why he can’t win: He’s 0 for 2 this year with a pair of runner-up finishes. He had every chance to win the Blue Grass but couldn’t hold off Zandon down the stretch.
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 behind Taiba. It’s hard to imagine he’ll stay as high as 8-1 odds, but can you pass on betting him that high?
Why he can’t win: How are the Derby gods going to judge these horses who were previously trained by Bob Baffert and now are in the hands of Tim Yakteen? And will Yakteen have them as prepared as Baffert would have? It’s 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 national stage. Crown Pride’s training methods at Churchill Downs have been unique to say the least, but count him out at your own risk.
Why he can’t win: Since 2000, the UAE Derby has produced 16 Kentucky Derby starters and none has finished better than fifth (Master of Hounds in 2011). Thunder Snow might still be out there hopping around.
Why he can win: Many believe he would have won the Florida Derby had he not hit the gate and been slowed at the start.
Why he can’t win: Didn’t race as a 2-year-old and has only three races in his career. Justify bucked a lot of those “curses,” but does this one have enough experience to break through?
Why he can win: Throw out the Holy Bull and he’s 5-1-0 in his past six races. A victory would be huge for trainer Kenny McPeek and the Magdalena Farm he bought in 2006.
Why he can’t win: Nearly all of his success has come on all-weather surfaces or turf. He did win a one-mile maiden race on dirt at Ellis Park last July but finished seventh in his other two starts on dirt.
Why he can win: No horse has looked better since the jet-black Zandon arrived here in late April. His four-furlong breeze April 29 had trainer Chad Brown beaming, and he garnered status as the morning-line favorite for a reason.
Why he can’t win: It’s hard to find a strike against him, but he did finish 3 ¼ lengths behind Epicenter in their lone matchup Feb. 19 in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Why he can win: He hasn’t been able to match Epicenter in his past two races, but he hasn’t been far back, either. If he can take a step forward, he has a chance to be in the mix at the end.
Why he can’t win: The speed figures just don’t match up with the best, and several other closers in the field seem a bit better.
Why he can win: A $1.7 million purchase, he’s the most expensive horse in the field and may be the most talented. He took a huge step forward in winning the Santa Anita Derby.
Why he can’t win: Only one horse has ever won the Derby with just two career starts – Leonatus in 1883. It’s hard to ignore that history.
Why he can win: He’s won every other race in his career and is due a victory after finishing third in the Florida Derby. Showed some early speed in the Florida Derby but couldn’t hang on down the stretch.
Why he can’t win: He’s had two chances against White Abarrio at Gulfstream Park and hasn’t been able to get the job done. He’s spent his whole career at Gulfstream, so there are major question marks about his ability on a new surface.
Why he can win: Maybe he finally puts it all together after a bunch of close calls at Oaklawn Park. Trainer 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 always tries hard, but he’s winless in his past five starts. His speed figures lag behind the best in this field.
Why he can win: Feels like he’s being overlooked after winning four of five career starts, including the Florida Derby. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was thrilled after his final workout Saturday in Florida.
Why he can’t win: The only loss of his career came at Churchill Downs. Perhaps he’s simply a “horse for the course” at Gulfstream. No gray horse has won the Derby since Giacomo in 2005.
Why he can win: Looks to be the best of the three for Louisville trainer Brad Cox, who got the Derby win last year with Mandaloun via disqualification. Throw out 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 capable of taking the next step forward he’ll need to compete with the best in the Run for the Roses.
Why he can win: Really only one way – go War Emblem and take them gate to wire.
Why he can’t win: No horse ever has won the Kentucky Derby from the No. 17 post. Are you ready to trust a horse that finished 11th in his last race?
Why he can win: This will be his third race in 36 days. Maybe he’ll be in better shape than everyone else? He finally showed the ability to win on dirt with his victory in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland.
Why he can’t win: The only time he faced horses of the Kentucky Derby-caliber, he finished fifth in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Why he can win: Showed some early speed in the Louisiana Derby, and perhaps some better conditioning since then will allow him to steal it.
Why he can’t win: Didn’t race as a 2-year-old and only three career starts. Can’t ignore the history.
Why he can win: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the horse will be coming late. What a story a victory would be for the 86-year-old Lukas.
Why he can’t win: Finishing seventh and fourth in your last two races before the Derby doesn’t inspire confidence.
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; email@example.com; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Derby: Why each horse can and can’t win