Who's the Favorite?- by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the April 21, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell A year ago racing fans were scratching their heads over the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contenders. What to do with a field of longshot horses that kept beating each other up throughout the spring with no one able to string together consecutive victories, or even good consecutive finishes, in the prep races?

For the 2012 Kentucky Derby, we have the opposite problem—too many good horses.

“Normally, three weeks out from the Derby, I can say it is between A and B,” said Mike Battaglia, the morning line oddsmaker for the Derby about determining the favorite. “This year it is between A, B, C, D, and E. I cannot remember a year when I thought it was so close between this many horses.”

Incidentally, Battaglia has been making the Derby morning line since 1975.

“All I know at this point,” Battaglia continued, “is that whoever it is, 5-1 is going to be the lowest, maybe even 6-1.”

A possibility exists for co-favorites, though Battaglia said he’s never done that before. In hindsight, he said he could have made Street Sense and Curlin co-favorites in 2007 because only 10 cents on the dollar separated their final odds.

We’re seeing the stage set this season for the longest-priced favorite in the Kentucky Derby’s 138-year history.

The record for highest-priced favorite isn’t an old one. Two-time champion Lookin At Lucky holds the title after breaking from unlucky post 1 in 2010 at odds of 6.30 to 1. Before Lookin At Lucky, the longest-price was 6.00-1 on Harlan’s Holiday in 2002.

The leading contenders for favoritism make great fodder for debate. But before we jump in, it is important to remember the favorite is not the horse an oddsmaker believes will win. The favorite is the horse the oddsmaker believes the betting public will put most of its money on.

In order to separate the leading contenders, Battaglia said he’ll be closely watching the morning works, not just the times but how easily they’re covering ground. He’ll also be talking to the clockers, who have sharp eyes for an improving horse and listen to the buzz among serious horseplayers.

Santa Anita Park oddsmaker Jon White has said Bodemeister’s 91⁄2-length romp in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) makes him a deserving Derby favorite.

“This was Bodemeister’s third straight triple-digit figure after he earned a pair of 101 Beyers at Santa Anita,” White said. “I definitely think Bodemeister is going to be the Kentucky Derby favorite based on that speed-figure power and his brilliance in the Arkansas Derby.”

Not so fast, says Battaglia. Bodemeister’s win at Oaklawn Park was impressive, but prior to that race his only win out of four lifetime starts was in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita in February.

“It is tough for a lightly raced horse to come back in three weeks and run well in the Derby,” Battaglia said.

Dullahan also ran a tough race in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), but his previous win came on the turf and the win at Keeneland was over a synthetic surface, which the public tends to knock at the mutuel windows. Look no further back than last year with Animal Kingdom, who raced for the first time on dirt in the Derby and exited the gate at odds of 20-1. Animal Kingdom came into the Derby off a win in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) on Turfway Park’s Polytrack.

Because Hansen didn’t win the Blue Grass, New York Racing Association line maker Eric Donovan believes Union Rags could still wind up the favorite.

“There are a lot of people who are very much in the corner of Union Rags and believe he had a troubled trip the last time out,” Donovan said. “Hansen has done very little wrong, but there is sentiment he is not a mile and a quarter horse.”

And what about undefeated Gemologist, winner of the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I)?
“He is proven in both his races and trained by a top guy (Todd Pletcher). He’ll be right there,” Donovan said.

Then we’ve got I’ll Have Another, winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), and Creative Cause, who won the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) and finished a nose back in second in the Santa Anita Derby.
“There are just too many of them right now,” Battaglia said.

OK, so how about who’s likely to win the Derby?

“It is amazing to me how much they move forward; the right one peaks at the right time,” Battaglia said. “It happens every year. A horse jumps up and runs out of his skin. It is the hardest race to handicap.”


Leave a Comment:


Well, I am partial to I'll Have Another mostly because Mario rode here at Hastings, even on a few of our horses! So he's my sentimental choice, but at the same time, I think the horse is good, I think he can get the distance, he'll rate in behind the speed of Hansen (and hopefully others), and I believe he'll dig in against all comers down the lane.

Not to mention, the great Lava Man is heading to CD in order to accompany IHA to the gate on Derby Day! What better good luck charm and coach can a horse have!

17 Apr 2012 12:09 PM
John from Seattle


I believe that Steve Haskins might have it right.  Creative Cause, in just eight lifetime starts, has already beaten or finished ahead of the winners of the Bluegrass Stakes, Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, UAE Derby, Del Mar Futurity, CashCall Futurity, Breeders' Futurity, and Withers.  

17 Apr 2012 12:13 PM
Your Only Friend

Thats horse Racing....Derby Day the one with his "A" game will win.

17 Apr 2012 12:19 PM
Indiana Johnny

It looks like it coming down to the workouts(who works and looks best), and who gets a clean trip in the calvary charge of 20 horses, and a little racing luck doesn't hurt either:-)

What a great time to be a handicapper!

17 Apr 2012 2:33 PM
Mike Monarchos

I think Union rags will be the favorite because alot of people like him and his trainer. I think Bodemeister is a freak who could wire the Derby field. I LOVE and his trainer, Bob Baffert. I also LOVE Gemologist because he's by Tiznow and he's undefeated! He also wone twice at Churchill Downs as a two year old.

I'm not sure about Dullahan, because his last two races were on tury and poly. He closed well in the Bluegrass, but Bodemeister, Gemologist and a few others could be too far ahead for him to catch.

I think Bodemeister could get the lead and run 5 straight 24 second quarters. If he does he'll win the Derby in a time of 2:00 flat. Only a couple of Derby colts have ever done that. Bodemeister is a freak though!

17 Apr 2012 3:11 PM

If there is a triple crown winner this year....who is it?

It's gotta be one of these three:

1) Gemologist

2) Alpha

3) Bodemeister

17 Apr 2012 3:49 PM


i would think that if Lava Man came east with I'll Have Another, that would be an omen to run up the track. After all - That was Lava Man's true specialty. Coming east to get thumped.

17 Apr 2012 3:58 PM

As always, it will be the horse/jock combo with the best trip that will get the job done at CD.  The race has turned into the worst calvery charge ever.  So far I'm looking at Dullahan,Gemologist,Bodemeister and Union Rags.  I could honestly give pros and cons for each of them.  I do wish all 20 a safe and sound trip.  A TC would be nice - ok, now I'm pushing my luck. Whatever horse wins the KD will be the best horse in that race on that day.

17 Apr 2012 4:26 PM

There are some good horses out there but not at the level Union Rags is at.  Union wins.

17 Apr 2012 4:46 PM

The differences I see are that at least half the field that ran in the Breeders Cup is running in the Derby.Another difference is not that many dropouts as compared to last year due to injury, even in the race Arch Arch Arch was hurt.The week everyone was sure it was chalk Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby one of the winners was the highest price winner of a prep in I dont know how many years.

17 Apr 2012 6:07 PM
The Deacon

Plodderman: That remark was uncalled for. People have a right to have an opinion without some yahoo coming up with a snide remark............

17 Apr 2012 6:50 PM
Old Timer

This year may be the best Derby in years and certainly a handicapper's dream. Steve Haskin has Gemologist as # 6 and he is undefeated and two for two at CD. That right there says it all.

Plus it is not because of a lot of mediocrity. We have one heck of a 3 yo class this year IMO.

I can see about ten different horses as very logical.

Bode may be the monster. But I have to agreee with Dray that Union Rags looks to have the class and Matz is a master.

What to do when you have Pletcher; Romans; Baffert and Matz all vying for a winner? (among others)

What a great race this will be!

17 Apr 2012 6:54 PM

Remember the best horse in the field does not always win the Derby.

17 Apr 2012 7:38 PM
Stellar Jayne

Eric - Interesting article and Mike Battagia's thoughts and insights about this years Derby prospects.  But as one of the bloggers above wrote - the derby is calvary charge, and in my thoughts a stampede!

However, I do wonder what in the world Ramon Dominguez was thinking taking Hansen out to the lead all the way when his previous race showed he could rate and wait.  I think Ramon was stupid or over confident and blew for Hansen.  Could Dr. Hansen have given him instructions to be out front???  If they keep running him that way I doubt that he will ever be a distance horse even though he has Secretariat and Raise a Native in the Sire and Dam.

I have many favorites for the Derby, but I have learned in the past several years they don't usually make it to the winner's circle - only exception for me was Big Brown - I had dreamed he would win the race.

17 Apr 2012 9:52 PM

Union Rags is poised to win the Triple Crown. He's never been passed in the stretch and is being primed to inhale everything in front of him turning for home, beginning at Churchill Downs.

17 Apr 2012 10:53 PM

Who wins and who is the favorite will be different.  I see a lot of late money going on Union Rags after his odds range up to almost 10-1.  Still think Hansen will be close for all the people who bet the "pretty horse." As for who wins, I think Hansen may actually try to rate in the Derby and leave Bode on an easy lead.  If he gets 1:11 with a length lead, he's gone.  

18 Apr 2012 6:01 AM


Alpha can barely stay healthy race to race much less win 3 of the biggest races in a 5 week span... No way he has a shot at a Triple Crown. Why you think there has been so much ducking and dodging where to run him in his last prep. Now he isn't even coming to CD as planned due to small setbacks. What does all this spell IF he makes the race he is a throw out to win.

18 Apr 2012 7:03 AM

If anyone wins the Triple Crown it will be Bodemeister or Creative Cause those two horses look to be the most talented (Bode) and/or seasoned (CC). I think Union Rags is not seasoned enough this year to win the roses but has a really good chance winning the Preakness after he comes up short in the Derby. Just my view but anymore anyone can win the Ky Derby after seeing Mine that Bird winning it! lol

18 Apr 2012 7:09 AM

Horseplayers anyone that knows the answer especially the blogmaster post it on here if possible.Can you post the actual birthday of the top twenty on the Kentucky Derby earnings list?

18 Apr 2012 8:31 AM

Glad to know Stellar that I'm not the only one concerned about Hansen's running style. However, I don't hold a bias against milers, Caleb's Posse and Jackson Bend are 2 of my favorite horses, and I adore Goldikova. Hansen is the pony I'm pulling for to win the Derby, but a wire to wire win at Churchill is against all odds, not entirely impossible, but certainly not likely.

18 Apr 2012 9:01 AM
Pedigree Ann

S.J. said -

"However, I do wonder what in the world Ramon Dominguez was thinking taking Hansen out to the lead all the way when his previous race showed he could rate and wait.  I think Ramon was stupid or over confident and blew for Hansen."

Did you see Hansen in the Post Parade and coming to the gate? The horse was fidgeting and jibing, on edge, ready to GO. If a horse wants to go to the lead, it is counter-productive for a jock to wrestle him back to follow orders. Not everything a horse does during a race is under the jock's control.

18 Apr 2012 10:31 AM
Don from PA/DE

Moving target type of question, once post positions are established and entries are finalized this should be a very good betting race, I just continue to hope that my top selection "Gemologist" will not be favored and that his current odds will continue to grow interest from the future surplus jackpot that will await me if he runs the race that I believe he will. My guess will be that Union Rags will go off at post being slight favorite. Enjoy the next two weeks as the dynamics will sparkle up...

18 Apr 2012 10:51 AM

Good point about Battaglia setting the odds based on public perception as opposed to his own evaluation. Almost all the public polls I have seen still have Union Rags rated as the favorite so I don't expect Mike to install another horse as the top choice.

18 Apr 2012 10:51 AM

chief picawinna, you can find their actual birthdays by doing a workout search for each horse in DRF--it's free.

hansen turns 3 april 22, 2012--he's one of the youngest of the crop, which puts his success in perspective.

stellar jayne--hansen had no choice but to take the lead in the blue grass. he was the fastest horse in the race and had in inside post.

anyone who thought he'd be able to sit behind a bunch of horses in the bluegrass hadn't looked at those other horses figures--only heavy breathing had showed similar speed but was likely to bounce given how hard the spiral was for him.

also, ramon couldn't hold him at the break and risk having him pinched and bumped--when you are inside, you have to send or hold--you don't hold a speed horse, you hold a closer.  

in the race at all hansen wasn't and he wasn't pulling--he was running well within himself and finished very strongly--much more strongly than the winner. he's just fast--on dirt, it would have been almost impossible for him to have been caught in the bluegrass, because he didn't fade, he was still running 12s.

the worst thing ramon could have done was choke him back to make people like you happy--not only would it have made hansen rank it likely would have made him swollow his tongue or flip his palette.

the only mistake ramon made was not floating him wide in the stretch so that he could see dullahan coming--had he seen him soon enough the outcome would have been different. if you watch the race closely in the last 70 yards, it looks pretty clear that both ramon and hansen thought they had it won--even dale romans said he thought hansen had it won until the 16th pole, and he had the benefit of the wide view and could see dullahan making his move.

it's funny that people think that hansen can't get a mile and quarter because he's a front runner, yet think bodemeister, who's also a front runner can.

people--even the "experts"--don't stop and think about things logically in horse racing. take the old "rules" about what it takes to win the derby--

1. can't be a gelding (this was true for so long because good horses were never gelded back in the day no matter how awful they behaved--it is not true now)

2. have to have had at least 3 preps (this died because of lasix--horses can't race frequently anymore--and the fact that so many horses are raced so lighlty now)

3. has to have raced at 2--this one is still around--why? because horses that raced at two often have already begun carrying real weight, so that they aren't shocked by an 8-10 lb jump on derby day (like bode will be) and because most 3 yos that didn't race at 2, didn't do so because of problems.

problems at 2 tend to be confirmational in nature and will  plague the horse for its entire carreer.  

the reason this rule still holds true is that many horses still race at two. thus the circumstances, unlike with the other two, hasn't changed.

since the conditions that created the 2 year old rule haven't changed, the rule is still valid.

18 Apr 2012 12:01 PM

ok  after much  thought

im  going   with  

daddy nose best



take  charge  indy

i  think  daddy  nose best   1  looks  the part

most  experienced  horse

wonderful stride

can  be anywhere in the  pack

Bodemeister  wonderful  display   to  win a late  prep on  dirt close  to condiotions like churchill this  time of the year  is  over the  top impressive

Hansen   if  they  get  him like  he was for the gotham  he  could  do it      to be  that  rank in the post  parade  for the blue  grass and  still perform   was more  than  enough  for me  to respect him        he  has the best  record  going into  the  derby

Take  charge  indy    one  word   his mama     what  a fighter she  was  and  he  is  the  splitting image  of her     His Florida  derby  win off  a long  layoff  was over the top impressive

18 Apr 2012 12:34 PM

to  ericwizeguy

ramon  had  no  choice    hansen  was so  rank  in the post  parade   had  he tried  to rate  he  would have  fought  him the whole  way     ending  up  not  hitting the  board  or  possibly  giving  the  horse  a  bad feeling  thus  prevent any  chances  for  a derby  win

i  think he  did th right  thing

18 Apr 2012 12:37 PM

quick  thought

since the  derby   union  rags  has  had  one  good  trip     now  we are upping the  ante  to  20   and  you  think  he  will win

someone  needs to tell that  to the  jockey        better  be  outside  sitting  4th  my  far  turn   if  hes  to have  a   shot   imo

my  thoughts     another  troubled  trip  for  union rags

18 Apr 2012 12:41 PM

Personally, I think the smart money stays with Creative Cause. From the BC to the SA Derby, no other horse has consistently run as well. And then of course there is the Derby King himself on Take Charge Indy. El Padrino? What a tough, tough race this will be. I'm just hoping everyone makes it home okay, b/c this will not be a strung out bunch.

18 Apr 2012 1:08 PM


   Alpha's got NijinskyII, Alydar and Key to the Mint on his tail female line! Smells like 126 lbs. to me! He,as well as Gemologist, have 2 potential "moves" in a race. That'll come in handy!

18 Apr 2012 5:41 PM

Bornahorseman, bingo! Wondered when someone would point this out about Union Rags, that he seems too dependent on a "good trip". Of course, all horses run better with a good trip, but a great horse will be the one that will overcome any bad trip issues.  Think Afleet Alex in the 2005 Preakness, think Alysheba in the 1987 KY Derby.  These horses got there in spite of bad trips. Maybe Union Rags comes through, maybe not. If he needs a good trip, though, then he better stay home from the Derby!  JMHO!

18 Apr 2012 5:48 PM


19 Apr 2012 9:49 AM

personally  i  think   alpha  wont  run    hes  has  some  issues  with his  leg  coming  out  of  the   wood      not  to mention  hes  a  basket  case

plenty of  talent  but  i think the  derby is  to much  for  him

i  also  believe  dullahan  has  an  injury  they arent  talking  about       no  jockey in  their  right  mind  pulls a  horse  to an  abrubt  halt  right  after the  finish  line           throw  both of those  two  out   imo

19 Apr 2012 3:52 PM

i"ll have another is battle tested and lucky(he wins)rags looks like this years afleet alex(most talented  but likely 2nd or 3rd (traffic problems). just pick a dieing speed horse to complete exacta and or triple box.

19 Apr 2012 7:31 PM

I always say the Derby is not to the best horse, but the one that can get out of the traffic - too may horses in the race make it a crap shoot. But this year I am going to go with my heart, and my heart is with Hansen. <3 <3 <3

19 Apr 2012 8:00 PM
Blind Luck

It sounds like I think like severl of you.  I have always loved Union Rags and Mike Mantz, but, it seems he has too many excuses and in the Derby there is no time for excuses.  I'm sentimental though, so he's in my think he can.

I loved Gemologist, especilly since he is a son of Tisnow and undefeated.  He has to be in my really can do it list.

I think Bodemeister really showed his stuff.  I think he could pull it off. Now that would be exciting.

Hansen, I don't know.  He is a really nice horse but question if he can get the 1 1/4.  I thought Union Rags should have gotten the 2 year old Championship.  He should have won that breeders cup and almost did.  He certainly went the longer way around.

I know a lot of you think creative cause could do it, and you are probably right.  But I just don't feel it.

One thing we can all agree on is this is gonna be one "heck" of horse race and I am really looking forward to it.

May they all come home safely.

19 Apr 2012 10:08 PM

some really insightful comments here. Everyone agrees on one thing -this is a tough call and as long as all come home safe, it is going to be an amazing race.  Hansen would look especially lovely in red roses!

20 Apr 2012 8:00 PM
Pedigree Ann

Who will be the favorite? Probably either Gemologist or Bodemeister. The key thing is the mass that creates the favorite is the general public, not regular followers of the sport. The public (lead by the press) will latch onto one thing - he's unbeaten! or look how much we won by in Arkansas! and ignore the subtleties.

How do you think Saarland went off as a near favorite? The press loved him because he was a gorgeous animal and 'always coming at the end', even though he rarely won. He had a gilt-edged pedigree, too; ended up being best at around a mile (2nd Met Mile).

We must bless the fun-crowd public, because they make the wonderful prices we often can profit greatly from on Derby Day.

21 Apr 2012 10:19 AM

Hansen is a champion,but one thing his backers better hope for is that on the day of the race he doesn't expend so much nervous energy before the race.If he draws well inside of Bode,I think he will be the pacesetter.

21 Apr 2012 10:37 AM

Dullahan is just fine and Desormeaux is not in his right mind as he also pulls horses up that are attempting to win the Triple Crown at the top of the stretch. Hmm?

21 Apr 2012 4:28 PM

Can we get a fact check? It's my understanding, Bode's Arky Derby win WAS his fourth lifetime start. If that is the case, you can't truthfull SAY "prior to that race his only win out of four lifetime starts was in a maiden special weight..." The knock against Bode therefore would read a more muted "Out Of THREE Lifetime Starts." ...That maiden win incidentally was sensational, by the way. I've had Bodemeister at the top of my list since mid February.

21 Apr 2012 8:17 PM

Or, perhaps what was meant was "Bodemeister’s win at Oaklawn Park was impressive, but ([OTHER THAN ...not "/p/r/i/o/r/ /t/o/"] that race his only win out of four lifetime starts was in a maiden special weight..."

21 Apr 2012 10:12 PM
Lise from Maine

There are too many great horses in the Kentucky Derby this year, and I am having some problems deciding who to bet on.

I like Gemologist but Todd Pletcher has a pattern of medicating his horses so I am not sure if I want to place my money on him. Gemologist is the son of Tiznow, and he is a great horse.

Sometimes I bet on the jockeys and not only the horses. Hopefully, there won't be any "deals behind the scenes" such as happened last year regarding John V. and Robby A. which turned me off. I have lost a great deal of respect of the trainers/owners in that deal. Taking Robby off his Derby horse at the last minute was just plain wrong in my opinion.

I like Hansen, Union Rags, Daddy Long Legs, and Bodemeiser, too.

A part of me would like to see Michael Matz win the Derby once again.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

25 Apr 2012 11:30 AM

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