Short-priced horses winning the Kentucky Derby have been the norm lately. Last year, Always Dreaming became the fifth straight favorite to win the Run for the Roses, following in the hoof steps of Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome and Orb. But there was a time when long shots reigned supreme -- and some of those offered big pay days. In 2009, Mine That Bird shocked everyone and paid $103.20 to win. Four years earlier it was Giacomo at 50-1, returning $102.60.
According to Jessica Chapel's historical data, both those long shots had a lot in common with other Derby winners. They won as 2-year-olds, set their best Beyer Speed Figures during their 3-year-old campaign, earned their best Beyer figures at a distance greater than 8.5 furlongs, ran in two two-turn prep races before the first Saturday in May and had at least five career starts, with one of those starts against a field of at least 10 horses. If that sounds like a long laundry list of conditions for a contender, it should: This is the Kentucky Derby, and if a long shot is going to make it first to the wire he will have to check off all those boxes and more to make history.
Here is a reason to be optimistic about each of the 50-1 shots in the 144th Run for the Roses.
No. 1 Firenze Fire (50-1)
Firenze Fire hasn't peaked as a 3-year-old yet he still shows promise. His best Beyer figure, 90, came in his win in the 2017 Champagne Stakes against a field of 12 talented horses. And that, too, was an upset. He was 9 1/2 lengths back at the first call of the Champagne Stakes and ended up beating Good Magic and Enticed, two Derby horses, by a half length.
Breaking from the rail is not going to be easy. It has been 31 years since a horse won from the inside post (Ferdinand in 1986); however, Firenze Fire is a closer and could hang back and wait for the traffic in front to shake out. And maybe his fourth-place finish in the Wood Memorial was a blessing in disguise: Since 2003, only two horses, Empire Maker and Funny Cide, finished in the top three of the Wood Memorial before doing the same in the Derby.
No. 8 Lone Sailor (50-1)
His only win came as a 2-year-old maiden at seven furlongs but his performance in the Louisiana Derby was notable. He led down the stretch until giving up the lead to Noble Indy at the wire and set his best Beyer Speed Figure (95) to date, which is right at threshold of past Derby winners' best performances leading up to the big race. Plus, his closing style could be well suited to pick up the pieces if a hotly contested pace causes the front-runners to crack.
Lone Sailor has also looked sharp in his workouts, running five furlongs in a blistering 57.60 seconds on a fast track.
"The last horse I can recall going that fast was Hard Spun on April 30, 2007, when he went 57.60 with opening splits of 22 and 33.40 before running second in the Derby," Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols told Kellie Reilly of Brisnet.com.
No. 13 Bravazo (50-1)
In eight starts, three of those over the Churchill Downs main track, Bravazo has posted a 3-1-1 record, with one of those wins coming in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star Stakes against graded stakes company. He posted a career-best Beyer Speed Figure (93) in that victory while also beating fellow Derby contenders Instilled Regard and Noble Indy.
In addition, Bravazo's sire, Awesome Again, won the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic and has sired 14 Grade 1 Winners on dirt and four Breeders' Cup Champions. Bravazo's connections also know what they are doing. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Luis Contreras have run 15 horses together in the last 60 days; three of those won and nine have finished in the money.
No. 15 Instilled Regard (50-1)
Instilled Regard ended his 2-year-old campaign with a 92 Beyer figure in the Los Alamitos Futurity and has posted Beyers in the 90s in all three races as a 3-year-old, which include the LeComte Stakes (Grade 3), the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
There is no doubt he has inherited the stamina necessary to go 1 1/4 miles. His sire, Arch, has passed along his genes to multiple graded stakes winners, including Blame, the 2010 Breeders' Cup winner, and Instilled Regard's Dosage Index (1.59) is the lowest in the field, indicating 10 furlongs will be no problem at all. The challenge will be flashing his speed early enough to get him in position to dominate down the stretch, much like he did in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds.
Jockey Javier Castellano positioned Instilled Regard within striking distance from the start, keeping his horse fourth at the second call, just two lengths behind the leader. Castellano then had his mount accelerate into the stretch, winning by more than three lengths.
No. 20 Combatant (50-1)
Winless since breaking his maiden in October, this son of Scat Daddy posted back-to-back Beyer figures of 92 in his last two races, the Rebel Stakes (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1), plus has five of his seven races against fields of 10 or more horses.
And don't underestimate Combatant's ability to close fast down the stretch. In his defeat at the hands of Magnum Moon (win) and Solomini (show) in the Arkansas Derby, he was still the fastest horse during the final three-eighths of a mile, covering the distance in 36.30 seconds. In fact, no horse in this year's field closed faster in a prep race than Combatatant did at Oaklawn Race Track.