It hasn't been easy to make a big score with win bets on the Kentucky Derby. The average return on the last six Derby winners has averaged $8.90 on a $2 wager, a fraction of the average return ($36.03) over the six previous years. To see boxcar returns like that in this year's Run for the Roses, one of the favorites would have to underwhelm on Saturday.
That's not too far fetched. Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite, was scratched on Wednesday. Roadster hasn't shown enough speed either at the half-mile mark or overall. And both Game Winner and Improbable are winless in their two starts as 3-year-olds.
Plus, over the past decade, both times the morning-line favorite scratched from the race — I Want Revenge in 2009 and Uncle Mo in 2011 — bettors were rewarded with nice returns. Mine That Bird hit the wire first at 50-1 in 2009 and Animal Kingdom paid out $43.80 in 2011.
Here are three horses to be optimistic about in this year's Kentucky Derby, along with the odds I feel are fair to warrant a win wager on Saturday:
No. 6 Vekoma (15-1)
Fair value odds: 16-1 or higher
Since breaking his maiden at Belmont in 2018, Vekoma has been in three straight races with an above-average pace: a win in the Nashua Stakes as a 2-year-old, a third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth in March and again in his victory in the Blue Grass at Keeneland in April.
His latest resulted in a career-high Brisnet pace figure (114) and another triple-digit speed figure (101), giving him all he needs to keep up with the field. His stalking style from the No. 6 post is a plus, too, allowing him to use his tactical speed rather than forcing him to adopt a less-comfortable style.
"This is a perfect spot," trainer George Weaver said after Tuesday's draw. "We wanted somewhere between post five and 10 and we got a great spot."
No. 7 Maximum Security (8-1)
Fair value odds: 7-1 or higher
Five of the last six Kentucky Derby winners had a front-running style, preferring to stalk the early pace and make their move after the second call (three-quarter-mile mark). All six of the past winners had a pedigree heavily weighted toward speed, a trend that has been slowly in effect over the past 78 years. In terms of dosage index — a numerical expression of a horse's ratio of speed to stamina found on the Pedigree Online thoroughbred database and first introduced in the Daily Racing Form in 1981 — every winner since 2013 inherited at least three times as much speed than stamina from their lineage (a dosage index of 3.00 or higher).
Maximum Security's pedigree also leans toward speed (3.00 dosage index) and the Florida Derby winner has shown he can win wire-to-wire or slightly off the pace, like he did in January's six-length victory in the mud at Gulfstream Park. The Florida Derby showed us something else, too: This horse has an extra gear for the stretch.
During his victory in his last prep he set a career low pace figure but closed the last three-eighths of a mile in less than 36 seconds and he covered the last eighth-mile in less than 13 seconds, two strong indicators of a horse's ability to win the Kentucky Derby. No other horse in the field had a better final fraction time and you have to go back to Street Sense in 2007 to find a Kentucky Derby winner with a faster closing time in his final prep.
No. 19 Spinoff (30-1)
Fair value odds: 12-1 or higher
Spinoff finished second in the Louisiana Derby, earning a career-best Brisnet speed figure (102) in the process. His final fractions during the last three-eights of a mile (37.95 seconds) and last eighth-mile (12.82) were also impressive.
Post position 19 isn’t doing him any favors — I’ll Have Another (2012) is the only horse from the No. 19 post position to hit the board this century, per The Post’s Matt Bonesteel — but don’t completely discount this son of Hard Spun because Spinoff’s breeding is impeccable.
In 2007, Hard Spun finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness during the Triple Crown and followed that up with a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic a few months later. Spinoff’s grandsire, Danzig, boasts 188 stakes winners among his progeny, the most among North American stallions. Spinoff’s broodmare sire, Gone West, sired 98 stakes winners.