Best bets for the Kentucky Derby

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Over the past seven years, every Kentucky Derby winner but two — Orb in 2013 and Country House in 2019 — was classified as having a stalking running style. The demoted winner of last year’s race, Maximum Security, was designated as a stalker, too. Of the first four horses to cross the finish line over the past seven years, 21 of the 28 were either stalkers or pressers, horses sitting just off the leaders at the first call. If you toss out last year’s results, that improves to 19 out of 24 horses that were close to the early pace finishing first, second third or fourth. In this year’s Kentucky Derby, one horse can be considered a need-to-lead type, with seven as stalkers, five as pressers and five as closers, who make their move from further back.

Tiz the Law has a perfect running style for this race. He’s never been farther back than fourth at the second call (three-quarter mile mark) during his 3-year-old career and never more than 2½ lengths behind the leader at any call in any of his seven career races. The only knock against him in this race is his post position. Tiz the Law drew post No. 17, which is 0 for 145 in the Derby. However, Churchill Downs will debut a new 20-horse starting gate this year, specifically designed to accommodate the Kentucky Derby field. The track previously used two gates for the big race, relying on a main gate for the first 14 runners and an auxiliary gate for the remaining horses. Now that gap between the 14th and 15th horses will be eliminated.

“I like it being on the outside,” Barclay Tagg, trainer of Tiz the Law, said of the draw. “I didn’t particularly want to be out that far, but we have been. He seems to handle everything that gets thrown at him. It gives you a chance if you have any speed at all.”

Singling Tiz the Law at the top of a superfecta ticket makes a lot of sense and allows you to use more horses underneath. Two horses that should be a part of your exotics are Max Player and Honor A. P.

Max Player will have to navigate the No. 2 post position early and avoid trouble, but he and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. showed that ability to some degree in the Belmont, breaking from Post No. 9 in a field of 10. Max Player got caught seven-wide in the upper stretch but still managed to pass two horses on his way to the wire. Honor A. P. will be on the outside with Tiz the Law (Post No. 16) and should be able to stay close enough to the early pace to make a late move. Honor A. P.’s rider, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, is also no stranger to the Kentucky Derby, having won with Giacomo in 2005 and Justify in 2018.

Authentic will expend a lot of energy making his way to the front from post No. 18 but that doesn’t mean he should completely cave in toward the end. Jockey John Velazquez is well suited for this type of runner. He has won 22 percent of his 245 races with front-runners this year and has finished in the money more than half the time (53 percent, per Brisnet). Plus, there was a speed bias at Churchill Downs earlier this year. Almost 73 percent of all winners in dirt routes during that meet (61 of 84 races) were front-runners or stalkers, giving Authentic a slight edge to hit the board despite aiming for the lead at the start.

Churchill Downs (May 16 to June 28)

Won 28 percent more than expected

Won 46 percent more than expected

Won 37 percent less than expected

Won 52 percent less than expected

One other horse to keep in mind is Ny Traffic. He surged late in the Haskell Stakes and ended up second by a nose, with a career-high Brisnet speed figure (107). He could do something similar on Saturday from post No. 15.

Here is how you could use those horses to construct a superfecta ticket.

$2 super: 17 with 16 with 2 with 15, 18

$1 super: 17 with 2, 15, 16 with 2, 15, 16, 18 with 2, 15, 16, 18

$1 super: 17 with 16 with 2, 15, 18 with ALL

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