Now that Zayat Stable’s early favorite Eskendreya has been knocked out of Saturday’s 136th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) by injury, Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia believes that Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman Lookin At Lucky emerge as a “solid favorite” for America’s greatest race.
Battaglia had said in recent weeks that dominant victories by Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth (GI) and Wood Memorial (GI) would make trainer Todd Pletcher’s colt a heavy favorite – perhaps as low as 9-5 in an anticipated 20-horse field for Saturday’s Derby. But Battaglia had always considered Lookin At Lucky, American racing’s reigning 2-year-old champion and trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, as the clear second choice. With Eskendereya’s defection from an expected 20-horse Derby field, Battaglia expects Lookin At Lucky to assume the role clear favorite in his morning line odds, which can best be described as an “educated guess” by Battaglia as to what the actual betting odds for each horse in a given race.
“I’m thinking he’ll be right around 3-1 – not as solid as Eskendereya would have been, but still pretty solid,” Battaglia said. “Then I’ll probably have Sidney’s Candy at right around 6-1 or 8-1, and then Awesome Act at right around the same odds.”
The Sid and Jenny Craig Trust’s Sidney’s Candy has won three consecutive stakes races for trainer John Sadler and defeated Lookin At Lucky in the Santa Anita Derby, but the latter ran into major traffic problems on the far turn in that 1 1/8-mile race before he rallied late to finish third. The British-based Awesome Act, owned by Mrs. Susan Roy and Vinery, won the Gotham (GIII) in his debut on dirt at Aqueduct prior a troubled third-place fun behind Eskendereya in his most recent outing for trainer Jeremy Noseda.
After that trio, Battaglia said the Derby odds picture is wide open – although he believes there could be very strong public support for Glencrest Farm’s Devil May Care should the Pletcher-trained winner of the Bonnie Miss (GII) at Gulfstream Park be entered in the Derby rather Friday’s $500,000-added Kentucky Oaks (GI) for 3-year-old fillies.
“After the top three, the next horses could be those who work the best,” Battaglia said. “If somebody turns in a fantastic work, that could lower the odds. But I’m thinking the filly might be up there. I’m thinking that she would definitely be in the top six. Who would you put in front of her? If you start looking at the numbers – especially the Beyer Speed Figures – none of the colts have cracked triple digits and she did last time.”
If Pletcher enters Devil May Care in the Derby, Battaglia believes her odds would be lower than another of the other Derby hopes from his barn. The so-called “Todd Squad” still includes Louisiana Derby (GII) winner Mission Impazible, Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) winner Super Saver, Delta Jackpot (GIII) winner Rule, and possibly Interactif, runner-up to Sidney’s Candy in the San Felipe (GII).
“I think she’ll be lower than the rest of the Pletcher horses,” he said. “Super Saver may get some play, but I can’t see who else would be lower than her.”
But Battaglia, who has established the morning line odds for every Kentucky Derby since 1975, believes the combination of accomplishments of Lookin At Lucky, the strong brand of Baffert as a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, and the presence of Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez will make the 3-year-old son of Smart Strike the clear Derby favorite. His odds will not be as low as those anticipated for Eskendereya, but Lookin At Lucky will merit much respect in the maximum field of 20 horses contests Saturday’s big race.
“If you look back from the time we began treating each horse in these 20-horse fields as an individual betting interest, this is still a pretty solid favorite,” Battaglia said. “You know, we’ve had 6-1 favorites in these fields. Right now I’m looking at 3-1 on Lookin At Lucky. I might have to go higher when I start putting the numbers down, but it won’t be much higher.”
Battaglia will issue his official morning line following this year’s Kentucky Derby post draw, which has reverted to its traditional “blind draw” format and will be conducted at noon (EDT) on Wednesday, April 28, at Churchill Downs.