The field for the 2018 Kentucky Derby is one of the strongest and most competitive in years, most horse-racing experts concede. But it may be a horse that was born in 1879 and won the Derby in 1882 that has the most to say about the outcome this Saturday.
That horse is Apollo. He is the last horse to win the Derby that did not race as a 2-year-old. The so-called Curse of Apollo has become a key handicapping strategy for America’s most famous horse race and this year holds extra significance because neither the early 7-2 Derby betting favorite Justify nor morning-line third choice Magnum Moon started at age 2.
The third choice in early Churchill Downs wagering Saturday is also trying to outrun a curse of sorts. Mendelssohn, who is 6-1, will attempt to become the first winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai to go on to win the Kentucky Derby. No horse from that race has ever run better than fifth in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
Those handicapping angles leave betters with a chance at some big payoffs should the curses hold. Legitimate contenders that are good price plays include Good Magic, last year’s juvenile champion, who is 9-1 in early Saturday wagering; Vino Rosso, the winner of the Wood Memorial in New York, at 16-1; Audible, the Florida Derby winner, at 6-1 in early betting; and Bolt d’Oro, who chased Justify home in the Santa Anita Derby, at 8-1.
But for a variety of reasons that make the Derby unique — these are 3-year-old horses, many lightly raced, being asked to go 1¼ miles, a distance longer than most will ever run again, in a 20-horse field, the largest any of them will ever see — you can still win big by using a favorite over longer shots. With 20 horses, bets get spread around, with exactas routinely paying over $100 for a $2 bet and trifectas often running into the four-digit realm. It’s why the Derby is so attractive to casual fans.
So do you or don’t you let Apollo influence your bets?
“The Apollo curse is legitimate because it’s gone on so long. But it’s going to go down soon,” said Jay Privman, Daily Racing Form’s Triple Crown correspondent, on a webcast handicapping seminar this week. “Justify has more raw talent than any horse in the field. He’s either going to win ... or finish 14th.”
Privman, who still has Justify as his top pick, will be using the colt in exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets with Hofburg, Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro, along with a longshot or two who might just motor home late for a piece of the pie; Flameaway and Enticed might fit that bill, he said.
As far as Magnum Moon goes, he may be in even deeper with the curse.
“I think he’s going to be overbet, even more so than Mendelssohn, and...