Ever since Churchill Downs instituted a points system in 2013 to qualify horses for the Kentucky Derby, the race has been pretty kind to the favorites. In fact, before Country House’s 65-1 upset via disqualification in 2019, six straight winners of the race had been the odds-on choice when they went into the starting gate.
The reason is simple. The points system has weeded out the pure sprinters who never had a chance to win the Derby in the first place but would often shoot to the front, set a torrid pace that compromised some of the contenders and then tire out on the far turn, creating traffic jams that added to the randomness of the finish. With a more orderly race and a pace that doesn’t completely melt down, the horses that have demonstrated the most brilliance before the Derby tend to perform pretty well on the big day.
But when you handicap this year’s Derby through the lens of what’s happened in the recent past, one thing becomes clear: The favorite, unbeaten Essential Quality, is not nearly a good enough horse to justify the meager odds he’ll offer bettors. At the same time, the rest of the field looks so evenly matched it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some horses with big odds hit the board or even win the race.
For that reason, we’ll take a shot this year with King Fury, who is 20-1 on the morning line despite a dazzling stretch-running win in the Lexington States on April 10.
There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of King Fury, who was a massive disappointment at age two after being purchased as a yearling for $950,000. When he went up against the likes of Essential Quality or Hot Rod Charlie last fall, he didn’t even come close to winning.
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