By John Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH—Derby 145 might be Richard Mandella’s time. Seeking his Kentucky Derby maiden-breaker, the Hall of Famer has gotten Omaha Beach to achieve the status of America’s leading three-year-old in the run-up to the sport’s most coveted two minutes.

As if that weren’t enough, 2019’s leading sophomore drew slip #12 in a field of 20 with no fewer than five possible early-pace types drawn to his inside, assuring excellent position into the first turn, assuming a clean break.

As regards his rider, it’s always Mike Smith’s time.

Per usual, the luck of the draw helped some and hurt some major players, others falling into the neither good/nor bad category.

[Ed note: Weather forecast changed dramatically after this was posted: Chances 60% + with thunderstorms late Friday and 90% chance of rain Saturday. It's 6:36 p.m. Tuesday, so who knows?]

If the draw moved up the chances of Omaha Beach (4-1), the #1 post assures that War of Will (20-1), the early-season divisional leader will have a tough time at the Downs on Saturday.

Best stalking horses from the outside, Tyler Gaffalione must break War of Will #1 sharply away from the barrier to avoid being shut off and virtually eliminated before the real running starts.

With Tax #2, Improbable #5, Vekoma #6 and Maximum Security #7 also seeking good early position from near-by, his task will be that much harder.

Defending divisional champion second-favorite Game Winner (5-1) should have clear sailing from the outside #16, while leaving from the auxiliary gate. Stablemate Roadster 6-1), drawn in the slip next door, #16, will likely drop back, like he did winning the Santa Anita Derby, and make one run.

Traffic issues apply to everyone equally as all bets are off once the field breaks away from the barrier. Conceivably, Improbable (6-1) and Vekoma (20-1) are well drawn, providing they can save ground while covered-up into the lower turn.

Hall of Famer Bill Mott, another Derby virgin, had his pair draw well and neutrally. Tactical Tacitus, co-fifth choice at 10-1, drew post #8, also outside the five potential speedsters. Slow-starting, fast-finishing Country House drew #20. From there, Prat can take back and drop over to the fence.

Also drawn well, given their top form and running styles, are Code of Honor (#13, 15-1) and Win Win Win (#14, 15-1). The speedy Spinoff, one of two Todd Pletcher trainees (Cutting Humor), will have to scoot from post #19.

It all adds up to a fascinating handicapping exercise unless--as even veteran horseplayers do--overthink the Derby puzzle: Simply take the best sophomore thus far, with Hall of Fame of Fame connections and a good post, and pray to get an improbable 4-1. (Did I just out-hunch myself there)? You decide:

Derby-145: Post order, with jockey and early line odds: War of Will, 20-1, Gaffalione; Tax, 20-1, Alvarado; By My Standards, 20-1, G. Saez; Gray Magician (50-1), Van Dyke; Improbable, 6-1, I. Ortiz; Vekoma, 20-1, Castellano; Maximum Security, 10-1, L. Saez; Tacitus, 10-1, J. Ortiz; Cutting Humor, 30-1, Lanerie; Haikal, 30-1, Maragh; Omaha Beach, 4-1, Smith; Code of Honor, 15-1, Velazquez; Win Win Win, 15-1, Pimentel; Master Fencer, 50-1, Leparoux; Game Winner, 5-1, Rosario; Roadster, 6-1, Geroux; Long Range Toddy, 30-1, Court; Spinoff, 30-1, Franco; Country House, Prat, 30-1.


And No Excuses for Oaks Favorite, Either


Bellafina was installed when the 2-1 morning line favorite versus 13 rivals after drawing post position 4 on Monday morning. Flavian Prat, the only rider the filly has known, is in the boot for trainer Simon Callahan.

Three-for-three this year, the daughter of Quality Road, from the Malibu Moon mare, Akran Moon, returns to the surface over which she suffered her lone career out-of-the-money finish.

The 2018 Juvenile Fillies favorite broke awkwardly from the 10-slip on the extreme outside last fall, was bumped at the juncture, recovered, but forced to chase the pace throughout before eventually weakening to finish fourth.

A speedy pace presser, her position should enable to take an attending position just off/covered up behind the speed in a race loaded with early gas. To wit:

Jaywalk (8-1), the defending Juvenile Fillies champion, drew well in post 7 in her third start this year. Next door in post 8 is Motion Emotion (15-1), with one-dimensional speedster Serengeti Empress (8-1) forced to send hard from post 13.

Meanwhile, Grade 1 Alcibiades winner Restless Rider (6-1), narrowly defeated in her season’s debut, Keeneland’s G1 Ashland, is a mid-race presser who figures to be compromised by her extreme outside draw.

The 14-post was somewhat mitigated with the announcement that Jose Ortiz had picked up the mount. However, should Dunbar Road draw in from also-eligibles, there could be an issue since Ortiz gave first call to the Chad Brown trainee. Rules are rules, but politics is as politics does.

Oaks-145 has also attracted several fillies with a solid late kicks, which will make this renewal one of the more competitive in recent years given the disparate dynamics, even with the presence of the accomplished Bellafina.

But the Oaks is still the favorite’s to lose. She is the fastest of the group by any metric, is well drawn with a versatile running style, and has handled wet footing in the past, should the need arise.

Weather handicappers are predicting a 40% chance of rain in Louisville Friday; 20% on Saturday. Rain would move up several of Bellafina’s rivals. Another possible concern for her fans is her tendency to react off big efforts, such as the G1 Santa Anita Oaks last out.

Oaks Day- Friday, May 3rd, 2019
Race Post Time Wagering

1 10:30AM WPS EX DD P3 P5
2 10:58AM WPS EX DD P3 P4
3 11:26AM WPS EX DD P3 P5
4 11:59AM WPS EX DD P3 P4
5 12:35PM WPS EX DD P3
6 1:17PM WPS EX DD P3 S6
7 2:00PM WPS EX DD P3 P5
8 2:53PM WPS EX DD P3 P4
9 3:53PM WPS EX DD P3 P5
10 5:04PM WPS EX TRI SUPER P3 DD SH-5
11 6:12PM WPS EX SH5 P3 (O/D-DBL)(O/W/D-P3)(Longines-Kentucky Oaks
12 6:48PM WPS EX DD
13 7:23PM WPS EX

Derby Day- Saturday, May 4th, 2019
Race Post Time Wagering

1 10:30AM WPS EX DD P3 P5
2 11:01AM WPS EX DD P3 P4
3 11:31AM WPS EX DD P3
4 12:03PM WPS EX DD P3 P5
5 12:35PM WPS EX DD P3 P4
6 1:13PM WPS EX DD P3
7 1:55PM WPS EX DD P3 S6
8 2:45PM WPS EX DD P3 P5
9 3:37PM WPS EX DD P3 P4
10 4:28PM WPS EX DD P3 P5
11 5:25PM WPS EX DD P3 P4 (Old Forester Turf Classic)
12 6:50PM WPS EX DD P3 SH5 (Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve)
13 7:50PM WPS EX DD
14 8:20PM WPS EX

NOTE:Trifecta and Superfecta wagering on all races that qualify under Kentucky statutes.Daily Double and Super High-5 wagers are $1 minimum straight bets.On Oaks Day and Derby Day the Superfecta is a $1.00 minimum wager.Trifecta, Pick-3, Pick-4 and Pick-5 wagers are $.50 minimum straight bets.The Single-6 is a $.20 minimum wager.The Exacta is a $2.00 minimum straight bet with $1.00 boxes and wheels.The special Oaks Day/Derby Day Pick-6 is a $2.00 minimum wager and will be a separate event from the regular Oaks Day card.

©John Pricci, HorseRaceInsider, April 30, 2019

The HRI staff and contributors, including Craig Milkowski of TimeformUS, will make their selections for the Derby and Oaks on the site Thursday at noon.