We are now just a week away from the 2018 Kentucky Derby and a few clear favorites have emerged to seize glory at Churchill Downs. The Run for the Roses is the biggest race of the year and it never fails to draw a superstar field and provide a thrilling spectacle. The prize purse stands at a cool $2 million, with the winner taking home the lion’s share of that, while the prestige is enormous. Here are the leading contenders to write their way into the record books:
Bob Baffert’s colt won the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Stakes on just his third start, totally justifying the hype. He is now bidding to go one better in his fourth race by emerging victorious from the most exciting two minutes in sport. To do so, he will have to break the notorious Curse of Apollo: no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without at least one race as a two-year-old since Apollo pulled it off in 1882. Justify, purchased for $500,000 from the from the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale, made his debut aged three and won by 9½ lengths in a maiden special weight race at seven-eighths of a mile at Santa Anita, dazzling with a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. He then won over a mile at the same track in muddy conditions, before beating multiple G1 winner Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Stakes. His speed figures have been consistently strong, and unbeaten three-year-old from the stable of a Hall of Fame trainer is a thrilling prospect.
Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has a real superstar on his hands in Mendelssohn, purchased by Coolmore Stud for $3 million in 2016 following a bidding war with Spendthrift Farm, as the Irish operation moved to replace Scat Daddy. He was the most expensive yearling sold at a North American auction that year, and he has more than justified the hype. He was green in his first few starts, winning just one of them, but he then he won the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar to close out his two-year-old season in style. He won his first race this season, the Patton Stakes over Dundalk’s polytrack surface, before heading to Dubai for the $2 million UAE Derby. Mendelssohn produced a stunning performance, winning by 18 1⁄2 lengths and breaking the track record by more than a second. He was instantly installed as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but he has since been overtaken by Justify. However, betting sites offer a variety of odds and Mendelssohn is an attractively priced second favorite, so he is sure to gain plenty of attention in the days ahead. UAE Derby winners have not fared well at the Kentucky Derby over the years, but Mendelssohn was bred for dirt, has form in the US and he should enjoy the Churchill Downs track.
While Mendelssohn was dazzling in Dubai, Audible was turning heads Stateside by landing the G1 Florida Derby with a three-length victory. Trainer Todd Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby last year, with Always Dreaming, and Audible looks to be another exciting prospect. He has won four out of five starts, and he has followed a well-trodden path: Always Dreaming, Nyquist, Orb, Big Brown and many more won the Florida Derby before going on the land the Run for the Roses.
Pletcher has another strong runner in Magnum Moon, who is attractively at +800 to +900 with various betting sites. He is unbeaten in four starts and comes off winning the Arkansas Derby on April 14. Bolt Doro is currently fifth in the betting, although his reputation was dented somewhat when outclassed by Justify. Trainer Chad Brown says Good Magic provides his best ever chance to win the Kentucky Derby, while Vino Rosso and Hofburg are also in strong form. It is another fantastic field packed full of talent, and it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds, but right now Mendelssohn seems like the one to beat.