By: Kevin Martin

The field for the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby is the best we have seen since 2007. That year, colts that ran in the Derby went on to win major stakes in the summer and fall including the King’s Bishop, Haskell Stakes, Travers Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders Cup Classic. It remains to be seen how the class of 2012 will perform after this year’s Triple Crown, but few would argue against the collective talent of this year’s crop of 3-year-olds.

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Best Chance to Wear the Roses

Union Rags
Morning Line Odds: 9-2
Union Rags has been at the top of his class since last August. He has won four times from six career races including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth this year. His two career losses came to Hansen last year and Take Charge Indy this year. Both of his losses came against wire-to-wire winners, a scenario unlikely to be repeated in the Derby considering the 1 1/4 mile distance and the potential for a fast pace. Union Rags is the real deal and will be among the favorites when the gates open on Saturday.

Morning Line Odds: 4-1
Bodemeister is the only entry to register three Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or more in his career. The Beyer Figures are among the most respected speed rating system for handicappers. His final Derby prep, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, was the most impressive of any race run by a 3-year-old this year. The knocks against Bodemeister are his lack of experience and his running style for a 1 1/4 mile race. He has only four career races and didn’t make his career debut until January of this year. His style of running indicates a predilection to be on or close to the leaders during a race. If he insists on running too close to the front runners in the Derby, it will compromise his chances on Saturday.

Morning Line Odds: 8-1
Dullahan has done all of his best running on turf and synthetic surfaces. He has eight career races and has won two Grade 1 stakes on a synthetic surface. His most meaningful start on the dirt came in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he finished a late running fourth, six lengths behind the winner Hansen. The upside for Dullahan in the Derby is his running style. He has consistently shown the ability to make up ground and pass horses on the turn and in the stretch. While he does not have an explosive late running kick, he shows the kind of determination to run late in races to make him a major player in this year’s Derby.

More than a Puncher’s Chance

Creative Cause
Morning Line: 12-1
The California-based Creative Cause beat Bodemeister in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita Park two races prior to the Kentucky Derby. Creative Cause has a third place finish over the Churchill Downs track in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In his eight race career, seven in graded stakes, he has won four and never finished more than two lengths from the winner in his four losses. Chances are he will be near or on the lead again as they come down the Churchill stretch on Saturday.

Take Charge Indy
Morning Line Odds: 15-1
Take Charge Indy is by the far the most regally bred entry in this year’s Derby. He is by super sire A.P. Indy, who produced two 3-year-old classic winners, and Take Charge Lady, a multiple graded stakes winning mare. The biggest win of his career came in his last race, the Grade 1 Florida Derby where he beat Union Rags. He will have jockey Calvin Borel aboard, who has won three of the last five runnings of the Derby. While his career resume might not stack up against the others, his breeding and jockey make him a potential win candidate.

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Daddy Nose Best
Morning Line Odds: 15-1
Daddy Nose Best has the most career starts of any of the expected starters with ten. All but three of his career starts have been on turf or synthetic surface. After winning the 1 1/4 mile Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on the synthetic at Golden Gate Park, he won the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in New Mexico at the same distance on the dirt. He earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort. If he improves off his last race at Sunland, he will be in the mix when the field hits the wire.

Betting the Race

If you feel strongly about any of this year’s Derby horses, the odds will be right for a win bet. Even the post time favorites (Bodemeister and Union Rags) will likely go off around 5 to 1. It’s a rare day when a $20 win bet on the post time favorite or a multiple-graded stakes winner will return over $100.

The exotics bets (exacta, trifectas, and superfectas) will pay well should one (or both) of the favorites, Union Rags or Bodemeister, finish out of the top spots. Of those two, considering his inexperience and running style, Bodemeister seems more likely to finish out of the top four than Union Rags. With that in mind, emphasizing Union Rags, Dullahan, and Creative Cause in exotic bets while leaving Bodemeister off your tickets could be a worthwhile betting strategy.

Here are my top five picks in order of preference:

1) Union Rags
2) Dullahan
3) Creative Cause
4) Take Charge Indy
5) Daddy Nose Best

If you are looking for a quick rundown of all the Derby contenders, check out the Kentucky Derby cheat sheet at Hello Race Fans. Hello Race Fans also has a piece about Kentucky Derby wagering strategy with ideas on how to bet the big race.

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Kevin Martin is the founder of the thoroughbred racing history site Colin’s Ghost and a contributing editor at Hello Race Fans.