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February 18, 2019, UTC, 13:27 pm
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2019 Kentucky Derby: An Early Look at the Top Contenders

Some onlookers might think the Kentucky Derby happens over a few minutes on the track each May. In actuality, all 365 days of the year are Derby Day.

As early as autumn, advance betting markets for hundreds of potential qualifiers begin to appear for the next year’s race at Churchill Downs. Action drives the lines as Thoroughbreds shoot up or slide down the racebook board. Trainers, jockeys, and (of course) promising animals are scrutinized in every sweepstakes. Owners of colts and fillies live and breathe for a single weekend in spring.

By February a sharper picture of the potential field begins to come into focus. Here’s a brief look at a quartet of potential betting favorites in April and May…along with each Thoroughbred’s current odds to win.

Game Winner (6/1 at MyBookie)

Yet another Bob Baffert-trained colt sailed through the competition as a 2-year-old by going undefeated in 4 starts. Wins at the American Pharaoh Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile have Game Winner tabbed as a futures-betting favorite for Louisville.

The colt secured his best Equibase speed figure of 107 at American Pharaoh’s namesake race, cruising to a 4+ length victory. But what sets the animal apart is its dynamic skill-set. Game Winner has impressed with blistering speeds out of the gate, but the Thoroughbred also has the mental fortitude and late bursts of pure power to come from 4-5 lengths behind when necessary.

Improbable (18/1)

Baffert not only has the favorite, he might have the best underdog. Improbable is coming off a blistering 2018 that included a win at Los Alamitos Futurity in December. The 3-year-old also wowed spectators by a dominating victory of 7+-lengths at the Street Sense Stakes. Resiliency has been the calling card – the colt is not the best starter but recently clocked a 108 Beyer speed in one thrilling charge around the turn.

Jockey Drayden Van Dyke has guided Improbable to his first 3 victories and earned his maiden Breeders’ Cup race win and Del Mar riding title in ’18.

Gunmetal Gray (25/1)

This colt recently turned-in a signature performance, winning the Sham Stakes Grade 3 to begin 2019. But after an impressive 2nd-place finish at the American Pharaoh Stakes, Gunmetal Gray struggled to a 5th-place finish at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His Equibase speed figure dropped from 100 down to 82.

The Thoroughbred’s jockey is Mike Smith, who rode Justify to the Triple Crown.

Knicks Go (20/1)

This horse’s line began to shorten after a victory at the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and a thrilling place finish in a race against Game Winner. Knicks Go’s pedigree includes having been sired by Paynter, a brave horse who often won by charging out of the pack.

That’s a good sign, since as is usually the case, it won’t be a surprise to see tight squeezes and aggressive jockeying on the Derby track this May.

Photo from Flickr.

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