Louisville, Ky. — Chad Brown acknowledges he has lacked either the right horse or the right luck to win the Kentucky Derby.
Brown almost gushes when talking about Good Magic, which might position him to finally break through in Saturday’s 144th Run For The Roses at Churchill Downs. If the chestnut colt’s name alone doesn’t suggest a positive vibe, then consider his resume that includes last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award as the top 2-year-old male.
Good Magic is hitting stride at the right time entering horse racing’s marquee event, standing second in Derby points with 134 after claiming the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 7. Five career starts have yielded two wins, two seconds and a third for Good Magic, allowing Brown to envision winning horse racing’s crown jewel after falling short four previous times.
Brown would like to remove himself from conversations about which up-and-coming trainer is due to break through.
“We have to think that with all the opportunities that keep coming our way, we have a good shot of doing this,” said Brown, 39. “Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.
“I’ll say this: for me this is our best chance. Seems that way, anyway.”
Brown earned his first Triple Crown series victory in last year’s Preakness with Cloud Computing before Breeders’ Cup wins with Good Magic and filly Rushing Fall helped claim his second consecutive Eclipse award as top trainer. His success has stoked a belief that beating 19 other horses over 1 1/4 mile is just a matter of time and opportunity.
Having a special horse is most important, and Brown’s bright outlook speaks volumes after previous entries have finished out of the money on racing’s biggest stage.
Practical Joke was fifth last May. Normandy Invasion led after a mile and in the stretch in 2013 before fading at the end and finishing fourth, leaving the trainer to ponder some what-ifs with his strategy.
“I think sometimes about our first try, some things I could’ve done a little bit differently in the race and maybe got a little bit more out of him,” said Brown, from Mechanicville, New York.
Two other entries were forgettable. Shagaf didn’t even finish in 2016, a day in which Brown’s other pupil, My Man Sam, was 11th.
To be fair, even the top trainers have endured their share of Derby disappointments before everything came together.
Consider Todd Pletcher, who has often brought multiple entries to Churchill Downs. Before winning in 2010 with Super Saver — one of four entries that year — 24 other pupils yielded a best of second in 2001 with Invisible Ink.
Pletcher earned just two thirds among 17 horses dating to 2011 before Pletcher won his second Derby last year with Always Dreaming from a trio of entrants. The struggle to get there, even with the numbers, is why Pletcher takes nothing for granted.
“I’ve always said that I had a tremendous appreciation for the race itself and how difficult it is to win,” said Pletcher, who will try to go back to back with four horses this year. “To have won it twice is beyond anything we could have hoped for.”
Giving the trifecta a try
Watching your Derby selection cross the finish line first is a real thrill, but — with favorites winning the race in each of the past five years — the win payouts haven’t been great of late, unless you’ve been putting some serious money on the line.
The greater the risk, the greater the reward, and Derby Day is a great time to go for a big one.
In lieu of a simple win bet Saturday, how about taking a dive into the trifecta pool?
For those new to the sport — and those who check in only on big days like this one — the trifecta is correctly betting the top three finishers in a race. There are many ways to make the wager — ranging in cost and odds — and the winning payouts on Derby day have often been outstanding.
The mutuel field for the Kentucky Derby was eliminated following the 2000 edition of the race — upping the number of betting possibilities to 20 in a full field — and in the 17 runnings since, a winning $1 trifecta ticket has paid more than $200 on 15 occasions. Twelve of the past 17 Kentucky Derbys have featured payouts of more than $1,000 on a $1 ticket.
Last year’s Derby trifecta — with betting favorite Always Dreaming winning the race — paid a whopping $8,297 on a $1 ticket when long shots Lookin At Lee and Battle of Midway finished in the next two spots.
That Derby was also a perfect example that trifecta payouts on the first Saturday in May can be impressive even if a favorite (or two) finish in the top three. (It’s important to note that the money that goes in the win pool and the trifecta pool is separate, so a horse’s odds on the tote board aren’t the same as its odds in other bets like trifectas, but those win odds are usually a good indicator of the horse’s support among exotic bettors).
In the last 10 years, the $1 Derby trifecta has paid more than $1,000 eight times.
When: 6:45, Saturday
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
Favorite: Justify at 2-1