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    Kentucky Derby winner? Kingsbarns is our handicapper’s choice — and should fetch a good price

    The most difficult puzzle in horse racing is picking the Kentucky Derby winner. Entrants from all over the world congregate in Louisville to see who will cross the finish line first. All the horses are three-year-olds but that’s where the similarities end.

    They come from different tracks, with different running styles and at different stages of maturity. How will they react with 18 other horses in front of them — or 18 horses chasing them? Who can last 1¼ miles, a distance they have never attempted? Although it’s a difficult endeavor, if you can put all the pieces together and complete the challenge, the rewards can be bountiful.

    Bountiful? Just go back to last year when Rich Strike, a last-minute entry after another horse scratched, won the Derby at 80-1 odds. The payoffs: more than $2,000 on a $1 exacta (picking the top two finishers in the correct order) and $7,435.35 for picking the top three in order on a 50-cent trifecta bet.

    So what will happen in this year’s race? Numbers in parentheses are the horse’s post position. See the entire field and live odds updates here.

    Winner: KINGSBARNS (6) is a lightly raced Uncle Mo colt with enormous upside. While two barnmates Forte and Tapit Trice are getting all the attention, this Todd Pletcher runner could be sitting on a big one. He only has three races on his résumé, but all three were decisive victories, and his speed figures have progressed nicely. His last win was March 5 in the Louisiana Derby, where he went wire-to-wire to dominate a suspect field. Those extra weeks of rest compared to the rest of field should result in a fresh horse. Breaking from the 6 post and his versatile running style should allow Jose Ortiz to establish good position early. If Ortiz can capitalize on a good trip and is in the mix turning for home, his distance breeding may get him the roses in the winner’s circle. On Friday morning, the odds on Kingsbarns were 11-1.

    Contenders: TAPIT TRICE (5) is another runner from the powerful Pletcher barn. He comes in with a four-race win streak including two graded stakes victories (Tampa Bay Derby/Blue Grass Stakes) in his last two. He definitely has an abundance of talent but has been his own worst enemy breaking slowly in a few races. If Luis Saez can break alertly and the pace is hot, you could see a gray blur flying down the stretch in the late stages. TWO PHIL’S (3) exits a dominant performance in the Jack Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and posted the highest speed figure of the entire Derby field. That race was conducted on a Tapeta (synthetic) surface. Was the improvement due to the surface change or is he figuring things out? If past Canterbury Park leading jockey Jareth Loveberry can replicate his Street Sense Stakes trip at Churchill Downs last fall, watch out. ANGEL OF EMPIRE (14) starts for the red-hot Brad Cox barn. Cox has been omnipresent in most big races recently and the Derby, where he has four runners, is no different. Angel of Empire has a nice foundation with six career races, and if you throw out his turf try, he has four wins and a second on dirt. Cox chose the very capable Flavien Prat, and that combination is winning at a 36% clip in their past 50 starts.

    Potential: FORTE (15) is the likely Derby favorite and deservingly so. He’s the two-year-old Champion, has won five races in a row (including four Grade I’s) and is conditioned by Hall-of-Famer Pletcher. That being said, his speed figures have been declining in his 2023 starts and his running style is pace dependent. If he regains his two-year-old form and gets fast fractions in front of him, he’ll be there at the end. JACE’S ROAD (12) is another Cox runner and a live longshot. He definitely has some questionable running lines in his past performances but two of those poor efforts were on sloppy tracks and, in the other, he broke through the gate pre-race. If Florent Geroux (Cox’s go-to rider) gets a clean start, he might be a factor at the top of the stretch. MAGE (8) is definitely a wild card. Showed promise in January breaking his maiden easily with a sharp wire-to-wire effort. Immediately enter graded stakes competition after that win and wasn’t embarrassed. Last out he broke slowly and gave Forte all he wanted down the stretch in the Florida Derby.

    $100 wagering strategy

    $60 win bet: Kingsbarns (8)

    $10 exacta: first, Kingsbarns (8); second, Two Phil’s (3), Tapit Trice (5), Angel of Empire (14) ($30 total)

    $5 exacta: first, Kingsbarns (8); second, Mage (8), Jace’s Road (12) ($10 total)

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