If you’ve been sucking back those $1,000 mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby, you had better hope your long-shot bet came. Here are three dark-horse horses that could give the favorites a run for their money at the 139th Run for the Roses.
Looking at the connections for the horse is like taking a trip down memory lane. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens won the Kentucky Derby in 1988 aboard the great filly Winning Colors, and did it again in 1995 with Thunder Gulch.
Lukas is 77 and well past his prime now, and Stevens is just coming back from a long retirement due to knee issues. They have mountains of experience but can they recapture past glory?
Oxbow has had horrific racing luck in his last two outings and was very flat in the Arkansas Derby. He’s bred to run forever, though, and Stevens should have him in a better position early in the race than he did last time out.
He’s also looked very good training at Churchill Downs over the past week. At this price, he only has to catch a piece of the action to make you happy. And, at his best, he’s good enough to do that.
Palace Malice (20/1)
Like Oxbow, this horse is bred to run forever. He is a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Also like Oxbow, he was inexplicably awful in his key prep race at the Louisiana Derby. That seventh-place showing was so bad that trainer Todd Pletcher altered his plans and ran the horse back two weeks later in the Blue Grass. He was dramatically better, finishing second.
The biggest knock against Palace Malice is that he has just one win - a maiden race last August. Before the Louisiana Derby, though, he was taking big strides forward with each outing. He’s a slowly-maturing horse who has a lot left to give and could be getting ready to reach a new peak at Churchill Downs.
Java’s War (15/1)
Unlike the previous two, this horse has some breeding questions. Sire War Pass can produce quality, but he isn’t yet proven on long distances like the Kentucky Derby. That’s not a critical blow for Java’s War, but it is a concern.
The horse won the Blue Grass last time out but that race is on a synthetic surface at Keeneland, so it doesn’t mean that much. What is impressive is the second-place finish in his previous outing in the Tampa Bay Derby. He was only beaten by Verrazano and finished very strong.
His biggest issue is that he tends to be lazy out of the gate, digging a hole he struggles to climb out of. If jockey Julien Leparoux can get the horse’s heart pumping earlier - and the chaos and excitement of the Derby should help with that - then this horse could be dangerous.