Magic Man’s preview and picks of Kentucky Derby 2019

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If you read my preview of the Kentucky Oaks, you know that I was extremely confident in who I was going to pick to win this Kentucky Derby. All that fizzled in a bad way on Wednesday when Omaha Beach, the early favorite, had to scratch due to an entrapped epiglottis. This was a body blow to the Magic Man because I was all set to celebrate his winning the Derby.

My Omaha Beach confidence level was the same as I had when Monomoy Girl captured last year’s Kentucky Oaks.

Now the Magic Man’s resolve is even greater to win. I will settle for nothing less than an exacta that will pay handsomely.

Two more notes of importance before our preview. First off, did you really think that Mike Smith who was slated to ride Omaha Beach would sit this Derby out? Well, it took a crass move by the connections of Cutting Humor to take Corey Lanerie off to put Smith on their horse. Also, another scratch happened since Hailtal is out after suffering a foot abscess earlier this week. This leaves a field of 19 that to contest this Kentucky Derby.

Without any more chatter, here is my horse by horse look at the Kentucky Derby followed by my selections.

RACE 12 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) POST TIME – 6:50 PM
PP (RACE 12)
Daily Double / Exacta / Trifecta / Superfecta / Pick 3 (Races 12-13-14) Super Hi-5
Churchill Downs STAKES
Purse $3,000,000. For Three-Year-Olds, With An Entry Fee Of $25,000 Each And A Starting Fee Of $25,000 Each. One And One Fourth Miles.
P# PP Horse Virtual
Stable A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 1 War of Will (KY)
[ ] 3/C L T Gaffalione
126 M E Casse
2 2 Tax (KY)
[ ] 3/G L J Alvarado
126 D Gargan
3 3 By My Standards (KY)
[ ] 3/C L G Saez
126 W B Calhoun
4 4 Gray Magician (KY)
[ ] 3/C L D Van Dyke
126 P Miller
5 5 Improbable (KY)
[ ] 3/C L I Ortiz, Jr.
126 B Baffert
6 6 Vekoma (KY)
[ ] 3/C L J Castellano
126 G Weaver
7 7 Maximum Security (KY)
[ ] 3/C L L Saez
126 J Servis
8 8 Tacitus (KY)
[ ] 3/C L J L Ortiz
126 W I Mott
9 9 Plus Que Parfait (KY)
[ ] 3/R L R Santana, Jr.
126 B P Walsh
10 10 Cutting Humor (KY)
[ ] 3/C L C J Lanerie
126 T A Pletcher
11 11 Haikal (KY)
[ ] 3/C L R Maragh
126 K P McLaughlin
12 12 Omaha Beach (KY)
[ ] 3/C L M E Smith
126 R E Mandella
13 13 Code of Honor (KY)
[ ] 3/C L J R Velazquez
126 C R McGaughey III
14 14 Win Win Win (FL)
[ ] 3/C L J Pimentel
126 M J Trombetta
15 15 Master Fencer (JPN)
[ ] 3/C J R Leparoux
126 K Tsunoda
16 16 Game Winner (KY)
[ ] 3/C L J Rosario
126 B Baffert
17 17 Roadster (KY)
[ ] 3/C L F Geroux
126 B Baffert
18 18 Long Range Toddy (KY)
[ ] 3/C L J K Court
126 S M Asmussen
19 19 Spinoff (KY)
[ ] 3/C L M Franco
126 T A Pletcher
20 20 Country House (KY)
[ ] 3/C L F Prat
126 W I Mott
Also Eligibles:
21 21 Bodexpress (KY)
[ ] 3/C L C Landeros
126 G Delgado
Owners: 1 – Gary Barber ; 2 – R. A. Hill Stable (Raymond A. Hill, III), Reeves Thoroughbred Racing (Dean Reeves), Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable (Lucas Stritsman) ; 3 – Allied Racing Stable, LLC (Chester Thomas) ; 4 – Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners (Aron Wellman), Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable (Adam Wachtel) ; 5 – WinStar Farm, LLC (Kenny Troutt), China Horse Club (Ah Khing Teo) and Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf, et al.) ; 6 -Gatsas Stable, LLC (Michael Gatsas) and R. A. Hill Stable (Raymond A. Hill, III) ; 7 – Gary and Mary West ; 8 – Juddmonte Farms, Inc. (Khalid Abdullah) ; 9 – Imperial Racing, LLC (Michael Foley) ; 10 – Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf, et al.) ; 11 – Shadwell Stable (Hamdan Al Maktoum) ; 12 -Fox Hill Farms, Inc. (Richard C. Porter) ; 13 – W. S. Farish ; 14 – Live Oak Plantation (Mrs. Charlotte C. Weber) ; 15 – Katsumi Yoshizawa ; 16 – Gary and Mary West ; 17 – Speedway Stables, LLC (Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner) ; 18 – Willis Horton Racing, LLC (Willis D. Horton) ; 19 – Wertheimer and Frere (Alain and Gerard Wertheimer) ; 20 – Mrs. J. V. Shields, Jr., E. J. M. McFadden, Jr. and LNJ Foxwoods (Larry, Nancy and Jaime Roth) ; 21 -Top Racing, LLC (Lucas Noriega), Global Thoroughbred (Rafael Celis) and GDS Racing Stable (Gustavo Delgado)
Breeders: 1 – Flaxman Holdings Limited; 2 – Claiborne Farm & Adele B. Dilschneider; 3 – Don Ladd; 4 – Twin Creeks Farm; 5 – St. George Farm LLC & G. WattsHumphrey Jr.; 6 – Alpha Delta Stables, LLC; 7 – Gary & Mary West Stables, Inc.; 8 – Juddmonte Farms Inc.; 9 – Calloway Stables, LLC; 10 – Dell Hancock & Bernie Sams; 11 – Shadwell Farm, LLC; 12 – Charming Syndicate; 13 – W. S. Farish; 14 – Live Oak Stud; 15 – Katsumi Yoshizawa; 16 – Summer Wind Equine; 17 – Stone Farm; 18 – Willis Horton Racing LLC; 19 – Wertheimer et Frere; 20 – J. V. Shields, Jr.; 21 – Martha Jane Mulholland
Pedigrees (Sire – Dam, by Dam Sire): 1 – War Front – Visions of Clarity (IRE) , by Sadler’s Wells ; 2 – Arch – Toll , by Giant’s Causeway ; 3 -Goldencents – A Jealous Woman , by Muqtarib ; 4 – Graydar – Burg Berg , by Johannesburg ; 5 – City Zip – Rare Event , by A.P. Indy ; 6 – Candy Ride (ARG) – Mona de Momma , by Speightstown ; 7 – New Year’s Day – Lil Indy , by Anasheed ; 8 – Tapit – Close Hatches , by First Defence ; 9 – Point of Entry – Belvedera , by Awesome Again ; 10 – First Samurai – Pun , by Pulpit ; 11 – Daaher – Sablah , by Distorted Humor ; 12 – War Front – Charming , bySeeking the Gold ; 13 – Noble Mission (GB) – Reunited , by Dixie Union ; 14 – Hat Trick (JPN) – Miss Smarty Pants , by Smarty Jones ; 15 – Just a Way (JPN) – Sexy Zamurai , by Deputy Minister ; 16 – Candy Ride (ARG) – Indyan Giving , by A.P. Indy ; 17 – Quality Road – Ghost Dancing , by Silver Ghost; 18 – Take Charge Indy – Pleasant Song , by Unbridled’s Song ; 19 – Hard Spun – Zaftig , by Gone West ; 20 – Lookin At Lucky – Quake Lake , by War Chant ; 21 – Bodemeister – Pied a Terre , by City Zip ;
Sire of By My Standards standing at Spendthrift Farm
Sire of Vekoma standing at Lane’s End
Sire of Code of Honor standing at Lane’s End
Sire of Game Winner standing at Lane’s End
Sire of Roadster standing at Lane’s End
Sire of Spinoff standing at Darley
Equipment Changes: 5 – Improbable – Blinkers off

1-War of Will

When the draw came out and I saw this horse draw the dreaded rail post, I was a bit crestfallen. Here was another horse that I felt had a legitimate chance to impact. War of Will will now have to hope for a semi-miracle when it comes to his trip. If he slightly misses the break, he cannot impact. I am more than willing to forgive the debacle in the Louisiana Derby as he suffered a brutal trip along with a minor muscle injury. He has been working great coming into this race and I wish he hadn’t drawn the rail. However, I am in a quandary as to what I’ll do with him as it relates to whether he will be included in my exotics.


If ever you can define a horse by his affinity to be a hard worker, this is the one. He has been resolute this year on the way to the Derby with a good win in the Withers followed by a strong second place finish to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial. His running style though probably poses big trouble. Tax wants to stalk so he is going to have to break well and find position early while not being sandwiched back. His chances at the end of the day just don’t look good enough so I will eliminate him because he has too much to overcome.

3-By My Standards

It has been since 1996 that a Louisiana Derby winner has gone on to win the Run for the Roses. This horse’s win in the Louisiana Derby was a heck of an effort. Most will expect a bounce here and perhaps he may but he sure has been lighting up the worktab coming into the Derby. His bloodlines sour me on him as his sire was a top miler so asking this horse to get the mile and a quarter might be a bit much. He is one of my last horses that I will eliminate from my exotics though.

4-Gray Magician

He suffered a rough trip in the UAE Derby in which he still finished well but he truly has no chance here because that field was terrible in scope compared to this group at Churchill. Let’s move on.


On paper he looks to be among the ones who have a really good chance to win. He has a pair of second place finishes this year (the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby). His effort in the Arkansas Derby behind former Derby favorite Omaha Beach came with blinkers on. That’s important since he also caused a stir pre-race wearing the blinkers. I don’t think he would have won the Arkansas Derby regardless but his trainer Bob Baffert decided to take off the blinkers for the Kentucky Derby. Overall, I think that Improbable weakened late in those two races. What that tells me is that his propensity for making it this far is in question. Again on paper he figures but those other questions preclude me from using him.


This guy won the Blue Grass in a really good effort but have you watched his running style? He has a weird stride to him. What what eliminates him from any consideration is the amount of gate speed signed up here. I am not sure he is a horse who can sit off and rally so with that said I am going to not use him in any of exotics.

7-Maximum Security

This guy is the very definition of Rags to Riches. He was offered up two times for a maiden claiming price of $16,000 but not one person bit. For owners Gary and Mary West, they are now thankful that no one claimed him. He stole the Florida Derby in his breakout effort but I am very confident he will not be allowed to set such slow fractions like he did that day. That said if the other speed types here take back and allow this guy to dictate things then Maximum Security can get very brave. Don’t forget, he is unbeaten through four starts but it’ll tale another superb effort for him to win. I personally think he regresses.


This guy has been strong during the Derby prep season with back to back wins in the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He will be pace dependent if he is to take down this Kentucky Derby. I compare this horse to Orb who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Their back stories are similar.. You have a young superstar rider in Jose Ortiz along with his venerable trainer Bill Mott who is not known for his Triple Crown prowess. I think this guy has the absolute perfect post for what type of running style he will employ. He is one of the main contenders to win this Derby but is he my top choice?

9-Plus Que Parfait

On the night that he won the UAE Derby, I sat at home prior to that race and remembered that he had chased War of Will at the Fair Grounds about a month earlier. I saw his price was 7-1 and immediately pounced, making a decent score. All that said I do not like this horse at all in this race. Why? One of these days a horse will win the UAE Derby and win the Kentucky Derby as well but it’s like a losing team says at the end of a miserable season: Wait ’til next year. Those four words apply here.

10-Cutting Humor

There was some unnecessary buzz generated by the connections of this horse since his owners elected to make an 11th hour jockey switch from Corey Lanerie to Mike Smith. Just this past Thursday, Smith opined after the scratch of his original mount Omaha Beach that he would root like crazy for Roadster whom he rode in the Santa Anita Derby to a win. So if I am to interpret this correctly, now that Smith has a mount, he has lost belief in Roadster. Right? I will discuss Roadster in a minute but I just don’t see Cutting Humor generating any impact in here.

13-Code of Honor

Highly regarded as a two-year old, he has since turned three and has developed maddeningly inconsistencies. You saw the Fountain of Youth in which he showed his wares with a 3/4 length win but I am willing to forgive his Florida Derby effort because he had no pace to run into. I suspect he can find a good spot early and make a run at the win here but which Code of Honor will we see? If we see the very good Code of Honor, he can win this race. If we see the average Code of Honor, you can tear up your tickets on him. Much respect to his connections but I have mixed feelings about him.

14-Win Win Win

Watch his trip in the Blue Grass and tell me why he cannot get the Roses here. He had a horrific trip but still made a huge rally to gain the place spot. Mike Battaglia is one oddsmaker who gives this horse more credence than the winner of the Blue Grass Vekona. Don’t be dissuaded that Irad Ortiz is off the mount. Julian Pimintel is back aboard, and this horse is working really well for the Derby. I talked with my brother Emmanuel Pepis of CCS, and this is his Derby pick. I just might concur.

15-Master Fencer

The fourth best hope from Japan is now to be believed to be better than 18 American three-year olds. I’ll quit handicapping if this horse hits the board. To me, he is odds on on to finish last so no thanks.

16-Game Winner

Last year’s Juvenile champion has run two times thus far this year and has produced a second place finish in the Rebel and followed that up with another second behind Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby. He makes the all-important third start off the layoff which usually means expect a top effort. He does have an unforgiving post but possesses the type of running style with which he can work out a good trip. He inherited the favorite’s role with the scratch of Omaha Beach and is a tough horse to throw out so I don’t think I can toss him out without regret.


Of the three Baffert entrants this one, he has been the most visually impressive in his races. He used a big rally against a small field to win the Santa Anita Derby, edging out Game Winner. Mike Smith chose Omaha Beach over him so when that one got scratched there were some murmurs about putting Smith back on this guy. Baffert stood steadfast and debunked them quickly. Roadster is going to sit around mid pack but will his post allow him to find a comfort spot to do so? If he can find it, he has a real shot to possibly give Baffert yet another Derby win. You almost must include him in the final mix.

19-Long Range Toddy

After an upset in one of the divisions of the Rebel two starts back, he regressed in his subsequent out in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. With the chance for a sloppy track on Saturday, I am inclined to throw him out. I don’t think this guy even if he runs better here is fast enough, especially from his post.


For as good as he ran to finish second in the Louisiana Derby, he will have to overcome a horrible post with how he likes to run near the lead. I don’t think he is nearly good enough to overcome such a terrible draw so he is another who will not be on my tickets.

20-Country House

He has been a troublesome sort thus far this year with his two races at the Fair Grounds where he hit the gate in both starts yet still plugged away to finish well. He ran a distant third in the Arkansas Derby. I just have no reason to use him. He looks too slow and has what they call a grinder’s kick and not a big closer’s kick.


Maidens do not belong in the Kentucky Derby, let alone end up winning them. This spot should have been reserved for a more deserving candidate. This horse makes me remember what Shannon Sharpe said about Kyle Boller years ago. Betting on Boller to win a Super Bowl is like betting a mule to win the Kentucky Derby. Though he finished second in the Florida Derby, ladies and gentlemen, here is your mule of 2019.

My Selections

1-Tacitus: If I am going to try and snap my drought in this race, I am going to depend on him to do it for me. The expected complexion of the race fits his running style, and he may sneak away at a square price.

2-Game Winner: Making his third start of the form cycle means I expect a big effort from him. He absolutely is a must-use for me in this mix.

3-Win Win Win: I cannot get away from how he closed in the Blue Grass, and I am not worried about Pimintel getting back aboard. This horse is one who figures to be running late. If things break right, he could also win with a charge.

4-Code of Honor: This is one horse which, if I throw him out, he could burn me. Erring on the side of caution, I will use him to fill out the back end of the exotics.

That will do it for my look at the 2019 Kentucky Derby. I will repeat my mantra once. I have to win. I need to win. I am way overdue.

There is a good chance of rain in Lexington so with that I will use the most famous postman line but will adlib in lieu of the Derby. Through rain, wind and off-track, the Magic Man is going to hit pay-dirt.

This morning, I will be on the Three Tailgaters Show on WGSO Radio New Orleans at around 11:40 a.m. Central to talk with Ken Trahan and Ed Daniels. Preceding that appearance, I am slotted as a guest with Johnny Marchese and Mike Garcia on Bayou State Sports Saturday at 9:45.

It will be a great day of racing despite the possible weather intrusion. I will be back to review both the Derby and the Oaks so until then may your winners be plentiful and your wallets be fat.

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George Pepis

George Pepis

Horse Racing Analyst

George Pepis provides racing analysis during each Fair Grounds racing season. He also shares commentary and selections for major stakes events and prep races around the country. In the past, George has hosted sports talk programming on WGSO 990am in New Orleans. He has served as both play-by-play and color analyst on Louisiana high school football radio and internet broadcasts.

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