By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Kentucky Derby is just
nine days away, and the field is pretty much set. All that remains is to watch workouts,
review replays, decipher data, and come up with our selections.
In years past, I've taken
this week before the Derby to highlight live longshots worth considering for
exotic wagers. Many have finished off the board (my apologies!), but there have
been a few live ones along the way.
Without further ado, let's
highlight three (hopefully live) longshots with the potential to outrun
expectations in the 2021 Kentucky Derby:
The undefeated Essential
Quality will be favored to prevail in the Kentucky Derby; final odds around 3-1
ought to be in the offing. So isn't there some appeal to playing Highly
Motivated at 10-1 or so, considering he finished just a neck behind Essential
Quality in the Blue Grass (G2)?
If there's one horse I'm
confident is primed for a career-best effort on the first Saturday in May, it's
Highly Motivated. If I may, allow me to repost a few paragraphs I wrote about
Highly Motivated prior to his performance in the Blue Grass:
...Highly Motivated is conditioned by Chad Brown, who has
done masterful work prepping horses like Highly Motivated to peak during the
spring of their sophomore seasons. A few examples include:
Normandy Invasion, beaten a nose in the 2012 Remsen (G2)
as a juvenile. After coming back with a slightly dull fifth-place effort as the
3-2 favorite in the 2013 Risen Star (G2), Normandy Invasion improved sharply in
his second run of the season, finishing second by less than a length in the
Wood Memorial (G1). Finally, Normandy Invasion ran the race of his life in the
Kentucky Derby (G1), rallying prematurely to seize command in a fast-paced race
before weakening slightly to finish fourth.
Practical Joke, whose two-year-old campaign included wins
in the 2016 Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1) plus a third-place effort in the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). Practical Joke's sophomore debut was rather
unremarkable—he was beaten 5 3/4 lengths when second in the 2017 Fountain of
Youth (G2). But Practical Joke improved in the Blue Grass (G2), finishing
second by less than a length, and later outran expectations (and his pedigree)
to finish a game fifth in the Kentucky Derby at 27-1.
Good Magic, the champion two-year-old of 2017 after
winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). One of the greatest upsets of 2018
came when Good Magic was beaten at 7-10 in the Fountain of Youth (G2), his
first start as a sophomore. But Good Magic improved significantly off that
effort, winning the Blue Grass (G2) before finishing second behind Triple Crown
winner Justify in the Kentucky Derby.
I'm rehashing these details
because Highly Motivated performed to script in the Blue Grass, carving out the
pace before finishing fast (final three furlongs in :36.45) to give Essential
Quality a stiff battle to the wire. This marked a big step forward off Highly
Motivated's 2021 debut, when he received a tricky trip in the Gotham (G3) and
settled for a non-threatening third.
Highly Motivated will be
making his third start off a layoff in the Kentucky Derby, just like Normandy
Invasion, Practical Joke, and Good Magic. He showed substantial improvement in
his second prep run, just like Normandy Invasion, Practical Joke, and Good
Magic. And he's exiting the Blue Grass, just like Practical Joke and Good
Magic. Surely Highly Motivated is poised to produce his best effort yet in the
I understand why some folks
question whether Highly Motivated can handle the Derby's 1 1/4-mile distance;
after all, he's bred for speed, and Essential Quality caught him fair and
square in the Blue Grass. But Highly Motivated's pedigree isn't any more
speed-oriented than that of 2020 Kentucky Derby winner Authentic (they actually
share the same sire), and if Chad Brown can prepare a sprinter/miler like Practical
Joke to outrun all expectations and finish fifth in the Kentucky Derby, I'm
inclined to believe Highly Motivated can rise even higher.
Truthfully, I'm tempted to make
Highly Motivated my top choice in the Kentucky Derby. But we'll have to wait
until next week to see where I finally settle!
I'm not sure how big a
longshot O Besos will actually be, since everyone (myself included) seems to
have identified him out as a live contender at a nice price. But even at 20-1
or so, the son of 2013 Kentucky Derby hero Orb is well worth playing.
After all, O Besos has shown
promising and improving form since stretching out in distance. After rallying
to finish fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star (G2), O Besos improved to third
in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2), a performance that was solid any way
you slice it. Saving ground around the second turn, O Besos rallied boldly from
seven to third place, beaten just two lengths while sprinting the final three
furlongs in an excellent :37.29.
Only three Kentucky Derby
contenders (Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, and Known Agenda) managed to
finish faster than O Besos in their final prep, which bodes well for his
chances on Derby Day. O Besos reminds me a lot of 2017 Arkansas Derby (G1)
third-place finisher Lookin At Lee, who finished second at 33-1 in the 2017
Kentucky Derby after bringing the fourth-fastest final three-eighths fraction
to the Derby field.
Lookin At Lee, of course,
benefited from a ground-saving journey in the Run for the Roses; in fact, the
Equibase result chart called it a "dream ins trip to 1/8," or a dream inside
trip to the eighth pole. I hope to see O Besos employ similar tactics, since he's
already shown in the Louisiana Derby that he doesn't mind rallying up the rail.
An inside post would surely help O Besos receive the trip he needs to crash the
Kentucky Derby superfecta at a solid price.
I'll be the first to admit
there are plenty of obstacles standing between Sainthood and victory in the
Kentucky Derby. He went unraced as a two-year-old... he's unproven against stakes
company on dirt... he's yet to run particularly fast on the speed figure scales... you
get the picture.
But I do believe Sainthood
is better than he appears at first glance. Just check out his effort in the
Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) over the synthetic Tapeta track at Turfway Park. After
tracking the leaders while racing inside, Sainthood got bottled up in traffic
at a key point on the far turn, losing an opportunity to advance. Then, when he
attempted to steer outside for racing room, he got bumped, blocked, and bounced
around in traffic.
Sainthood could have called
it quits, but instead, he re-rallied boldly to fall a length short of victory. Conditioned
by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, Sainthood had
previously displayed impressive tenacity to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden special
weight over the dirt track at Fair Grounds, battling back after losing the lead
to win by a nose.
Sainthood might not be the
most likely winner of the Kentucky Derby, but he has the pedigree to handle 1
1/4 miles, and he may start at around 50-1 in the betting. At that price, Sainthood
is worth including in exotic wagers. At least we know he won't give up if he runs
Now it's your turn! Which
Kentucky Derby longshots have caught your eye?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.