Horse Racing

3 Best Bets to Win the 2024 Kentucky Derby

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
3 Best Bets to Win the 2024 Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is coming up at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 4. The race, open to 20 of the best three-year-olds in the country, covers 1 ¼ miles. The horses qualified for the race by running in a series of points races between last fall and this spring, and the spoils are rich: a $5 million purse (up from $3 million in 2023!) and a place in horse racing history.

The Derby is not only exciting for the connections of the horses, but it is the best betting race of the year. With 20 horses trying a distance longer than any has ever tried, it is a fascinating mix of class, pace, trip, and pedigree. Coming up with Kentucky Derby picks is one of the greatest puzzles in horse racing.

It’s worth it, though: betting the Kentucky Derby can be very rewarding. There are always some longshots who do well, and winning tickets can pay off very handsomely! That statement has never been more true as in recent times: though favorites won the first six editions of the Kentucky Derby during the points era, the favorite has not won in each of the last five years, including 80-1 longshot Rich Strike and 65-1 surprise Country House.

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Kentucky Derby Pace

There is an old adage: the pace makes the race. That’s true in the Kentucky Derby as well, and the pace in the Run for the Roses should get hot. Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Dornoch tried to rate in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1), but it became clear he needs to be on the lead. Furthermore, he drew the rail, so he doesn’t have much choice. Consistent Fair Grounds horse Track Phantom has always shown speed and adds blinkers for this. Florida Derby (G1) winner Fierceness needs to be on or very close to the lead. And, with the Tuesday defection of Encino, Epic Ride has drawn in, and he will gun it from the outside.

Kentucky Derby Bet-Againsts

In short, the most likely Kentucky Derby winner is a horse who can benefit from this setup. Even though he is the betting favorite, fading Fierceness makes sense: he will be part of the pace, and he now has even more pace outside of him: Epic Ride drew in off the also-eligible list after the defection of Lexington Stakes (G3) winner Encino on Tuesday. That is a lot of speed to be in the middle of. And, in a 20-horse field, it is not a positive that Fierceness disappoints if things do not go his way. As a favorite in the 2024 Kentucky Derby odds, that makes him an underlay.

Another horse who will be short in the Kentucky Derby odds, and who it makes sense to fade, is Forever Young. He has proven he can make a late run, so it is not a pace issue for him. It’s not a consistency issue either, as wins in both the Saudi Derby (G3) and UAE Derby (G2) have carried his record to five-for-five. But, class is the question. A UAE Derby horse has never finished better than fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Forever Young would be interesting if he were going to be a long shot, but he will probably be the third or fourth betting choice.

Who Will Win the 2024 Kentucky Derby?

Enough about who to bet against in the Kentucky Derby. Let’s talk about who can be the winning horse! These are 3 Kentucky Derby best bets:

Honor Marie

The best bet in the Kentucky Derby is Honor Marie.

He has the right running style for this race: he is a closer who reliably fires. Even in his first start of the year, the Risen Star Stakes (G2), he didn’t hit the board, but he was still making up ground late. The pace that day was slow, too: he will get a faster, more advantageous setup in the Kentucky Derby for him to slow his best.

Even though he has to make up a length on Catching Freedom from this second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2), there are plenty of reasons he can. For one, the Whit Beckman trainee comes into the Kentucky Derby on the third start of his form cycle: exactly when he found his best as a two-year-old.

That shining moment of his juvenile year came at Churchill Downs: he won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over the course. Between that and a strong recent work over the racetrack, signs are good that he is coming into his best form over the Kentucky Derby course once again.

Honor Marie also has an appealing pedigree for the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby. His sire, Honor Code, is an A.P. Indy son who won a Grade 1 at 1 ⅛ miles and hit the board in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His dam, Dame Marie, is a Smart Strike half to Rule of Law: winner of the St. Leger (G1) at 1 ¾ miles.

Finally, the price will be right. He is 20-1 on the morning line, and though actually getting that price seems like a pipe dream, something between 12-1 and 15-1 in the Kentucky Derby odds at post time is both likely and good betting value.

Sierra Leone

Leading into the Kentucky Derby, Blue Grass winner Sierra Leone is looking like the second betting choice behind Fierceness. Though Fierceness is the shorter price on the morning line and in the Kentucky Derby betting futures in Las Vegas, Sierra Leone is the far more likely winner.

Sierra Leone is another one who will benefit from the strong pace early in the Kentucky Derby. This Chad Brown trainee is a closer who always makes his run: in fact, he is only a nose shy of perfect, as he just missed in the Remsen (G2) last fall. He returned strongly in the Risen Star, closing to win despite a pedestrian pace.

Then, he showed his dazzling best in the Blue Grass. Behind sharp early fractions, he settled toward the rear, mounted the kind of menacing run on the far turn that so often flattens out in the lane—but just kept coming down the stretch, winning by 1 ½ lengths over Just a Touch. That was a testament to both the quality and the stamina of Sierra Leone, and an excellent last race before the Kentucky Derby.

The biggest concern about Sierra Leone is the post position, though even that isn’t a particularly big concern. In the Kentucky Derby, he is drawn in the 2 gate, meaning he will start inside of a lot of traffic. But, as a closer who can let others run before beginning to mount his rally, he has plenty of chance to settle back and then tip out for a big outside run like he mounted last out at Keeneland.

Catching Freedom

If we’re focusing on horses who can get the best of the pace setup in the Kentucky Derby, Catching Freedom has to be in the picture. Winner of the Louisiana Derby last out, he kicked on from dead last to outfinish Honor Marie by a length. The Louisiana Derby also revealed upside in the sense that he is handling the extending distances well; he ran like a horse who liked 1 3/16 miles and shouldn’t have a problem with 1 ¼.

However, he does not have to drop that far back. He finished third in the Risen Star from closer up, and won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn from closer up as well. Though Catching Freedom is always going to be a late runner, the Brad Cox trainee’s ability to at least sit a little closer toward midpack is an appealing dimension in case there are some scratches of speed horses, or if the track is playing biased against deeper closers on Kentucky Derby day.

One other interesting factor about Catching Freedom is his jockey. Flavien Prat is as consistent as a jockey gets in the Kentucky Derby. In six tries, he has hit the board five times, including winning once with Country House in 2019. That record testifies to Prat’s ability to get the best of a horse going 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs with the eyes of the horse racing world watching.

Kentucky Derby Honorable Mention

Of course, with the superfecta bet so popular in the Kentucky Derby, it’s always good to have a fourth horse in the mix.

Even with a sharp Kentucky Derby pace likely to unfold, there is often a horse near the pace who is good enough and game enough to keep battling on to the finish and find the frame. Just a Touch looks like that horse in the 2024 Kentucky Derby. He cedes experience to most of the Kentucky Derby runners, with only three starts. However, the Brad Cox trainee has shown a lot of talent in that time.

Just a Touch has shown a stalking style in all his races. He broke his maiden at one turn over the Fair Grounds slop, then finished second to Deterministic in a sloppy Gotham. However, what makes him most interesting is his performance in the Blue Grass: his first two-turn race and his first effort over a dry track.

In the 1 ⅛-mile Blue Grass Stakes, Just a Touch pressed a fast pace and took the lead in the lane. He could not hold off the impressive closing run of Sierra Leone, but he still finished 3 ¾ lengths clear of third-place Epic Ride. With more upside to improve in his fourth start, proven big-race jockey Florent Geroux in the irons, and an excellent draw, Just a Touch is the most appealing of the horses in the Kentucky Derby who have shown pace.

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