This year’s Kentucky Derby is one of the deepest and strongest fields in years. And with 20 horses breaking out of the gate, the biggest field in America, anything can happen from start to finish. The payouts will be large, especially in your vertical wagers (exactas, trifectas, and superfectas). The average $1 Trifecta payout since 1995 is $5,845.50. The starting favorite has won the last five Derbys, but payouts for the winning exotic tickets still paid handsomely.

The last six Derby winners were unbeaten as three-year olds, another fact to keep in mind. The Kentucky Derby is the Super Bowl for racing fans, the most wagered horse race year-after-year. It would be rude not to put a little wager on it and have a vested interest in the race. Plus, there are many trends and extras leading up to this year’s Derby.

The biggest is to break the “Apollo curse” that started in 1882. Apollo is the last horse to have won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year old. This year’s crop has two legit contenders who will attempt to break this long standing curse in JUSTIFY and MAGNUM MOON.

There is a lot of early speed in the field, and expect Justify and Magnum Moon to be involved from the beginning. Closers will have their work cut out for them, trying to maneuver their way through the congested field, but there just might be enough of a rapid pace for them to mow down their rivals ahead of them.

There are many ways to go in this race at the betting window, but I’ve been a Justify fan since his first race.

I’m not jumping off now.

Here are my top contenders and my tickets for Saturday’s 144th Kentucky Derby.


This 3 year old colt is extremely talented and tactical enough to go to the lead or sit off-the-pace with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard. Smith can do whatever he chooses. I don’t think any horse can run with Justify, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Smith guns him out of the gate and plays catch-me-if-you-can. He’s going to have speed to the inside and outside of him, so sitting behind the wall of speed, ready to attack, is what I expect to see. Besides not racing as a 2 year old, he only has three races under his belt, but he’s undefeated and won them by a combined total of 19 lengths. I think he’s the real deal to break the Apollo curse, and the only horse in the field with a shot at winning the Triple Crown. If Justify can avoid a bad start, I think he gets his fourth straight win and moves on to the Preakness undefeated. 


This deep closer is my long shot play (30-1 in the morning line), but expect him in the 20-1 range by post time. He was the winner last out in the Lexington Stakes, after picking up the pieces along the way to clear the field. The thing I like most about him is that he’s small enough to maneuver his way through the traffic, and he’ll start his late kick quicker than the other big closers. Derby winners for the most part, are near the front at the final 1/8 pole. This is even more important with a big field, and I think My Boy Jack can be right there when the race gets serious in the stretch. 


This colt is the buzz horse at Churchill this week for trainer Chad Brown. He’s been training well and looking strong, so the 12-1 morning line might be a little high at post time. He won the Breeders Cup Juvenile in November with his first 100 speed figure, and the Bluegrass Stakes in his last time out. Expect him, with hot jockey Jose Ortiz aboard, to be sitting in the main body of runners before cutting loose and pouncing on the leaders.


This strong colt comes in with four consecutive wins and is unbeaten for 2018, including the Florida Derby in his last effort. Another runner who will come off the pace and talented enough to sit close or sit back if pace is heated enough. He should be plenty fit and fresh, because the Florida Derby was 35 days ago. A slight concern for me is not having a April prep race, and jockey Javier Castellano has had a tough time even hitting the board with with his Derby mounts.


These two runners are two long-shot plays and are must-use runners on your exotic tickets. Both will be gathering momentum late, and if a speed meltdown occurs, it could be bombs away! Both have been training solidly and will be 30-1 or more at post time.

Kentucky Derby morning line odds are here.

How to bet the race:

50-cent Trifectas (Justify over Audible, Good Magic, Lone Sailor, Hofburg, My Boy Jack, Bolt d’Oro for second and the entire field for third) and (Justify with the field second and the horses above third in a pair of $54 wagers with All with Audible, Good Magic, Lone Sailor, Hofburg, My Boy Jack, Bolt d’Oro) $54 each for a $108 total wager.

Good Luck!

Former professional wrestler Johnny Love is the Star Tribune's horse racing handicapper. Follow him on Twitter at @StribLove and see his picks daily in the Star Tribune and at