Omaha Beach was named the 4-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s 145th Kentucky Derby. Trained by Richard Mandella for Fox Hill Farms, Omaha Beach drew post position 12 for the 1-¼ mile race run under the historic twin spires of Churchill Downs.
“I like the twelve, I like the one I got,” said Mandella. “The ones you worry about were out of the way—the one, the two, the far outside—and even with that, you better have the right horse. The right horse can overcome a post you don’t like, with some good luck.”
Omaha Beach started his career slowly, needing five tries before winning his first race, but at that point, the lights went on for the War Front colt and he has not missed a beat since. He won the Rebel Stakes (grade II) at Oaklawn Park over Bob Baffert’s 2-year-old Eclipse champion Game Winner and then went on to beat another Baffert trainee, Improbable, in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
Two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert will send out three starters for the $3 million Kentucky Derby: Game Winner, Improbable and Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Game Winner will break from post 16 with jockey Joel Rosario aboard. Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) winner Improbable drew post 5 and will have Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. Roadster drew just outside Game Winner in post 17.
“I like the sixteen-hole, it’s a good spot,” said Baffert of Game Winner’s post. “Roadster, he’s out there [post 17]. I don’t know why, but I always get two horses together a lot of times in California, so I’ll be watching those two leaving there. There’s more of a disadvantage if you’re down on the inside and you don’t break well, so you’re going to lose ground in the first turn, but I think that I’m not really going to worry about it.”
Roadster, who won the Santa Anita Derby by a half-length over Game Winner after being nearly last in the field, will pick up a new jockey in Florent Geroux. His previous rider, Mike Smith, is also the regular rider for Omaha Beach and chose to stay with Mandella’s horse.
“I think the seventeen is good,” said Geroux. “I think everyone drew pretty well and I’m pretty happy with it.”
In recent years, Baffert’s runners have been favored in the Kentucky Derby, with American Pharaoh in 2015 and Justify in 2018, but not so this year. Game Winner was rated second-choice on the morning-line at odds of 5-1, while Improbable and Roadster were tabbed co-third choice at odds of 6-1 each.
“Baffert’s got three horses in there,” said Mike Battaglia, Churchill Downs oddsmaker. “And Mike Smith goes and takes Omaha Beach. I think that was a big factor, but it’s also the fact that Bob has three horses and a lot of people are going to have trouble picking one out over the other, so I think Bob having three in there, that will hurt his chances of being favored. Because all the Bob Baffert money will go on three different horses instead of one, so that was a big part of it.”
An outsider that will try the Kentucky Derby is Master Fencer, a Japanese homebred for owner Katsumi Yoshizawa. Master Fencer is trained by Koichi Tsunoda and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux when he breaks from post 15 in Saturday’s race.
“To be honest, I wanted to get a more inner post, but it can’t be helped, so we are lucky” said Yoshizawa through his translator. “In the middle, right next to him, the starting gate is being divided [Master Fencer will be in the auxiliary gate], so it may be pretty good.”
Master Fencer earned his spot in the field by completing the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. The horse may be new to Kentucky, but Yoshizawa has become a regular at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Lexington, Ky., so having a Kentucky Derby starter is special.
The full field for the Kentucky Derby from the rail out with odds and jockey is War of Will (20-1, Tyler Gaffalione), Tax (20-1, Junior Alvarado), By My Standards (20-1, Gabriel Saez), Gray Magician (50-1, Drayden Van Dyke), Improbable (6-1, Irad Ortiz, Jr.), Vekoma (20-1, Javier Castellano), Maximum Security (10-1, Luis Saez), Tacitus (10-1, Jose Ortiz), Plus Que Parfait (30-1, Ricardo Santana, Jr.), Cutting Humor (30-1, Corey Lanerie), Haikal (30-1, Rajiv Maragh), Omaha Beach (4-1, Mike Smith), Code of Honor (15-1, John Velazquez), Win Win Win (15-1, Julian Pimentel), Master Fencer (50-1, Julien Leparoux), Game Winner (5-1, Joel Rosario), Roadster (6-1, Florent Geroux), Long Range Toddy (30-1, Jon Court), Spinoff (30-1, Manny Franco), Country House (30-1, Flavien Prat) and also-eligible Bodexpress (30-1, Chris Landeros).
Post time for the race is 6:46 p.m.