CHAMPAGNE’S CAMPAIGNS: 2018 Kentucky Derby Morning Line

I have a tremendous amount of respect for morning line makers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in all of racing. Nobody congratulates them when they correctly peg the way the public bets a race, but when they get a favorite wrong in a big race, out come the Twitter barbarians.

I’m guilty of criticizing morning lines, but it’s my view that, if you’re going to do that, you need to be prepared to make your own attempt at it. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in races with large fields. Not only do you need to accurately gauge how gamblers will play it, but it needs to mathematically check out with a point total between 115 and 125 points (for an explanation on odds lines and point values for certain values, click here).

With all of this in mind, I’m going to take a stab at a Kentucky Derby morning line. Mine comes out to 124.2 points, which just barely checks out from a math standpoint. One disclaimer before we dive in: This is not an indication of the way I will analyze the race, nor an indication of which horse I will pick. This is my guess at the way the public will bet the race, and on that note, let’s take a look!

THE FAVORITE

Justify: 4-1

Justify will almost certainly be favored. His three races this year have all been impressive victories, including his Santa Anita Derby score over Bolt d’Oro. There’s a chance he goes off lower than this, but I couldn’t make a morning line that checked out mathematically with him lower than 4-1 (late defections could, of course, change this).

THE EASTERN JUSTIFY

Magnum Moon: 6-1

Like Justify, Magnum Moon will look to defy the Apollo Curse on the first Saturday in May. He didn’t race as a 2-year-old, but he’s 4-for-4 this year, with runaway wins in the Arkansas Derby and Rebel. The way he drifted out in his most recent start is a bit of a concern, but ultimately, I think he’s the most likely second choice.

THE OTHER MAIN CONTENDERS

Audible: 8-1
Mendelssohn: 8-1

Audible has only run twice this year, but both of those starts have been visually-impressive wins in Florida. The Todd Pletcher trainee showed versatility in the Florida Derby, when he rated well off of an insane early pace and made a big move. Meanwhile, Mendelssohn crushed an overmatched group in the UAE Derby and has shipped to the States successfully before. He’s Beholder’s younger half-brother, and while Aidan O’Brien has not won this race before, few conditioners in the world are better than he is.

WAIT, THEY’RE DOUBLE DIGITS?

Bolt d’Oro: 10-1
Good Magic: 10-1

If I had told you, in November, that these two horses would be double-digits on the Kentucky Derby morning line, you probably wouldn’t have believed me. However, Bolt d’Oro was second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, and while Good Magic won the Blue Grass, memories of his dud in the Fountain of Youth could be fresh in the minds of horseplayers. It’s possible either or both of these horses come down a point or two, but I couldn’t put them below my projected top four.

IS THE WOOD STILL A MARQUEE DERBY PREP?

Vino Rosso: 15-1

First of all, can the tradition-first stalwarts among us begrudgingly admit that the graded stakes committee made the right call downgrading the Wood a few years ago? OK, good. Anyway, Vino Rosso finally took a long-awaited step forward in that race, and despite having to sweat out an inquiry/objection, he has the look of a horse that could be moving forward. He’s got a substantial distance to close on the divisional leaders, but the presence of trainer Todd Pletcher and his recent victory ensure that he won’t be an outrageous price.

THE “WISE-GUY” HORSES

Hofburg: 20-1
Noble Indy: 20-1
Quip: 20-1
Solomini: 20-1

Each of these horses has angles to like. Hofburg is still eligible for a non-winners-of-one allowance, but he ran second in the Florida Derby, which doubled as just his third career start. Noble Indy may be Todd Pletcher’s fourth-best 3-year-old, but he showed grit in taking the Louisiana Derby. Quip won the Tampa Bay Derby and was a game second behind Magnum Moon. Finally, Solomini hasn’t crossed the wire first since the Los Alamitos Futurity (which featured a controversial disqualification), but he’s trained by Bob Baffert and has a running style that hints the added distance of the Derby won’t be a problem. If you ask 10 handicappers their opinions of this race, chances are at least one or two of them will bring up one of these horses as a threat to hit the board at a nice number.

GOOD, JUST NOT THIS GOOD (AND A FANCY NAME)

Enticed: 30-1
Flameaway: 30-1
Gronkowski: 30-1
My Boy Jack: 30-1
Promises Fulfilled: 30-1

We’ll get to Gronkowski in a minute. The other four have all won races on the road to the Kentucky Derby, but they seem outclassed by the best of the best in this spot. One or two of them may drift down a few points (most likely hard-trying Flameaway and/or late-runner My Boy Jack), but I felt more comfortable putting them here than anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Gronkowski earned a spot in the starting gate thanks to success in Europe. By any conceivable measure, he’s outclassed in this spot, and on ability alone, he should be 50-1. However, I think he’ll get plenty of money from once-a-year bettors and those betting based on name. That meant I couldn’t put him with my last group, which is below.

UP AGAINST IT

Bravazo: 50-1
Firenze Fire: 50-1
Free Drop Billy: 50-1
Lone Sailor: 50-1

Bravazo and Free Drop Billy may drift down a few points, but when Magnum Moon moved forward enough to be my clear second choice, I had to drop them from 30-1 to 50-1 on my line for it to mathematically check out. Meanwhile, Lone Sailor hasn’t won in a while, and Firenze Fire will almost certainly be the longest shot on the board given his apparent distance limitations.

ALSO-ELIGIBLES

Combatant: 30-1
Restoring Hope: 30-1
All Others: 50-1

Of the horses on the outside looking in, only Combatant and Restoring Hope strike me as anything other than hopeless longshots. Combatant (21st on the list) has had some rough racing luck and could come running late, while Restoring Hope (26th) is a Bob Baffert trainee, which alone is likely enough to move some money. None of the others seem logical, and if those horses get in, they’ll be 50-1 on my line (and other horses will likely come down in price if I have enough wiggle room to do that).

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