After scanning many of these current Derby lists (which, by the way, mean less this year than any other year, if that's possible), the consensus seems to be that the favorite is Dialed In. Rounding out the top 5, in no particular order, are Archarcharch, Nehro, Toby's Corner, and Uncle Mo.
The interesting thing about the new consensus top 5 is that three of three of them--Dialed In, Nehro, and Toby's Corner--are dead closers and a fourth, Archarcharch, came from way off the pace in his Arkansas Derby win despite laying closer to the pace in most of his previous starts. So if things stay the way they are, a lot of the public's money will be landing on closers two weeks from now. It has already become increasingly clear to me that Nehro is going to the wise guy horse. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see him as the third choice by post time.
But how realistic is it that a dead closer will win the Derby? Obviously, pace has a lot to do with it. If horses like The Factor and/or J.P's Gusto run, which will pretty much ensure at the very least a solid pace, it helps Dialed In, Nehro, and Toby's Corner. But even if the pace does favor deep closers, history doesn't. Longshot winners like Giacomo are easy to remember recently, but over the years it has been horses that have remained closer to the front that have had more success.
According to research compiled by TrueNicks's Ian Tapp, since 1950 77% of Derby winners had the lead at eighth-pole. Of all eighth-pole leaders, 95% finished in the exacta and 98% in the trifecta. The only horse to have the lead at the eighth-pole and not finish in the money in the last 60 years was Sea Cadet in 1991, who finished eighth after having to lead with a furlong remaining.
Here are the 14 horses that did not win the Derby after having the lead at the eighth-pole:
2005 Closing Argument (finished 2nd)
2001 Congaree (3rd)
1999 Cat Thief (3rd)
1996 Cavonnier (2nd)
1992 Casual Lies (2nd)
1991 Sea Cadet (8th)
1987 Bet Twice (2nd)
1975 Avatar (2nd)
1967 Barbs Delight (2nd)
1962 Roman Line (2nd)
1961 Crozier (2nd)
1959 Sword Dancer (2nd)
1958 Lincoln Road (2nd)
1956 Fabius (2nd)
Now, just because a horse has the lead at the eighth-pole doesn't necessarily mean he isn't closing from off the pace. In 2009, Mine That Bird came from last but had still taken over before the eighth-pole. But in many cases, horses that have tactical speed have an advantage in the Derby for the simple fact that many of them are going to be backing up in the stretch because they are running 1 1/4 miles for the first time.
For these reasons, I am inclined to favor horses that will be on or near the pace. In this year's Derby, that might include Uncle Mo, Soldat, and/or Shackleford. There is good reason to believe that one of them will have the lead at the eighth-pole.