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Handicapping the 2019 Kentucky Derby: A closer look at all 20 horses in Saturday's field

Ben Roberts, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Horse Racing

If you had Omaha Beach as your Kentucky Derby horse coming into this week, you weren't alone.

The Arkansas Derby winner was the 4-1 morning-line favorite and the pick of many horse racing experts after beating the Bob Baffert-trained Game Winner and Improbable in back-to-back races at Oaklawn Park.

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who teamed up with Baffert to win the Triple Crown last year with Justify, broke with his fellow Hall of Famer, leaving his mount on Baffert's third entry -- Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster -- to ride Omaha Beach instead.

The bad news came Wednesday, when it was announced that Omaha Beach would not run in the Kentucky Derby due to a larynx problem discovered after that morning's training session.

The announcement sent many handicappers back to the drawing board. It also shuffled the odds in what was already seen as a race with many possibilities.

Game Winner is now the 9-2 favorite, followed by Improbable and Roadster at 5-1 -- giving Baffert the top three choices in the field as he looks for his sixth Derby victory, a feat that would tie Ben Jones atop the all-time list.

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Omaha Beach's defection is also likely to affect Saturday's pace, which is always an important factor in the Kentucky Derby.

The probable pacesetter is also the race's only undefeated contender: Maximum Security, who set soft fractions on the front end of the Florida Derby and rolled to an easy victory from there. He won't get away with running the first half-mile in 49 seconds Saturday -- like he did five weeks ago in Florida -- but Omaha Beach was among the most likely to challenge him in the Derby's opening stages, before he was scratched from the race.

Blue Grass Stakes winner Vekoma -- a 15-1 shot -- and Improbable could be near the front and pressing Maximum Security, who now has one less formidable foe to worry about.

Here's what you need to know about each of Saturday's contenders:

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