How to bet the Kentucky Derby: Chris ‘The Bear’ Fallica’s expert picks, best bets

“Bear Bets” are real wagers that Chris “The Bear” Fallica is actually making.

Every year sports fans shift their attention to Louisville on the first Saturday in May for the Kentucky Derby. 

As I said earlier this week in my introduction to horse racing piece, there’s just something about the event dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”

This is the 149th “Run for the Roses,” and regardless of whether you indulge in a few Mint Juleps, there is fun to be had for all, particularly when it comes to laying a few wagers. 

So without further ado, let’s jump into the fun. On your marks, get set and go to the ticket window to make your wagers.

Disclaimer: To keep it simple, I’ll lead with my picks first. After that, keep reading to learn about each horse and some fun Derby nuggets.

My betting card

SUGGESTED BETS (using .50 or $1 base for exotics and $2 for Win-Place-Show) 

$2 Win-Place-Show 4-18-22 

$1 Exacta Box 1-2-4-18-22 

$1 Exacta 4-18-22/1-2-4-5-14-15-18-22

$1 Exacta 1-2-4-5-14-15-18-22/4-18-22

.50 Trifecta 4-18-22/1-2-4-5-14-15-18-22/1-2-3-4-5-8-14-15-18-22 

.50 Trifecta 1-2-4-5-14-15-18-22/4-18-22/1-2-3-4-5-8-14-15-18-22 

Primer on all the horses (position, horse, jockey, trainer, odds)

1. Hit Show (Manny Franco/Brad Cox); 30-1 

It’s a shame he drew the rail because he had a big shot in the race. He was probably best in the Wood but lost a photo to Lord Miles after a difficult trip. He’s been favored in all five of his career races, but that won’t be the case Saturday.

Normally, horses that draw the rail are a total throwout in the Derby, but what if starting on the rail isn’t as compromised with the new starting gate? That’s the question one has to ponder when considering a horse that’s improved speed-figure-wise with every start and should certainly have zero issues getting the distance with those bloodlines.

I would think the Cox runner in post two, Verifying, will go to the front, and that could also help Hit Show get a little better position in the early going. Despite the poor draw, I will still use this horse on my tickets, mostly in an underneath position. If he breaks well and doesn’t get slammed around, he can certainly pick off horses late and get at least a minor share.  

2. Verifying (Tyler Gaffalione/Brad Cox); 15-1 

It was basically a match race between Verifying and Tapit Trice in the Blue Grass, but that was a pretty weak race. But the speed figure came back big, and if Tyler Gaffalione can get him to relax in his forwardly placed position, he could hang around. 

He was a beaten favorite in the Rebel (by Confidence Game) and ran “meh” in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, won by Forte. My guess is he is forwardly placed, but being stuck down on the inside and being pressured all the way around causes him to ultimately back up and fall out of the money spots.  

3. Two Phil’s (Jareth Loveberry/Larry Rivelli); 12-1 

Here’s everyone’s trendy upsetter! You’re going to get nowhere near 15-1 on a horse that beat nothing on the synthetic at Turfway and was 70-1 vs. Forte at Keeneland in October.  

He hasn’t shown anything close to the closing kick he showed in the race at Turfway in any race throughout his career, which leads me to believe it was the racetrack that caused the performance that day. 

Those who like him will point to the 101 Beyer in that race and the win at Churchill as a 2-yo in October. 

Maybe he’s turned a corner and the public will be rewarded for its belief, but if he wins, I lose.  

4. Confidence Game (James Graham/Keith Desormeaux); 20-1 

He’s got two wins over the track and showed a different closing dimension in his most recent race, a win at 19-1 in the Rebel on a wet track back in February. That Beyer was 11 points better than anything he’s ever run, so if the track is wet Saturday, you may want to move this one up. 

He also appears to be comfortable on the lead and from off the pace, which is huge in a race where things may not go your way in terms of pace and trip. He should get the distance, but I just don’t know if he’s good enough. At 20-1 or better, I’ll lay a couple of bucks to find out, despite the layoff.  

5. Tapit Trice (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher); 5-1 

He’s the horse most people land on when asked, “Who do you feel most confident will run a good race?” And it makes sense, as he’s versatile as a stalker and has shown he can respond when challenged late — as he was by Verifying in the Blue Grass.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see him favored at first click in the wagering. That’s the thing that concerns me here. How many times have we seen a Todd Pletcher runner enter the Derby with form that looks terrific on paper, get bet and then not be a factor in the race? 

I’ll bet against him on top here and keep an eye on him for the Belmont.  

6. Kingsbarns (Jose Ortiz/Todd Pletcher) ; 15-1 

He crawled on the lead in the Louisiana Derby and predictably didn’t stop. Flavien Prat, who rode him in that race, sticks with Brad Cox’s Angel of Empire, so read into that what you want. 

Does he make the lead here? He’s shown he can come from off the pace, as he did in his first two starts. 

Some may like him, which is perfectly fine, but there’s something about having just three-lifetime starts and winning a bad prep in front-running fashion that has me leaning on the “won’t win” side of the fence.  

7. Reincarnate (John Velazquez/Tim Yakteen); 20-1 

I’m fairly confident this one will be in the lead, as his only two wins essentially came in front-running fashion. He hasn’t shown an ability to pass horses when he hasn’t made the lead. 

Angel of Empire crushed him at Oaklawn, and Confidence Game was also better than him on the off going there.

He’s got the look of a throwout to me.  

8. Mage (Javier Castellano/Gustavo Delgado); 20-1 

Like Kingsbarns, he’s only started three times. It’s clear he’s got the ability, as he was runner-up to Forte at Gulfstream and led the Florida Derby in the stretch. He’s had trouble at the start in his last two, and I don’t see a gate work listed since his last race, so that’s a little concerning. 

How will he handle the spectacle of the Derby and a 20-horse field? If anything, he finishes from off the pace to get a minor piece, but I don’t think he can win. Even though I know a few respected players on him, I’ll pass.

9. Skinner (Juan Hernandez/John Shirreffs)


10. Practical Move (Ramon Vazquez/Tim Yakteen) 


11. Disarm (Joel Rosario/Steve Asmussen); 30-1 

His only win is a maiden race at seven furlongs, but he’s got a pair of in-the-money finishes in stakes races, which is how he has the earnings to get into the race. However, his running lines from those two races scream to me, “Someone had to finish second and third,” as he was never seriously in either race. 

This is the one race which has eluded Steve Asmussen, who looked like he was going to get that win last year with Epicenter, only to get beat by Rich Strike, in what was one of the biggest shockers in this races’ history. 

Even with the great bloodlines of Gun Runner, I think we all would be surprised if Disarm gave Steve Asmussen his first Derby win.  

12. Jace’s Road (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox); 50-1 

Like Disarm, he’s got a pair of ITM finishes in graded stakes races to get him into the race, but he, too, has no shot. However, I could see this one ensuring a pace in the race to see that Brad Cox’s other runners — who are closers — have a legit chance. 

And it also allows the connections here to get excited as they will forever be able to say their horse had the lead in the Kentucky Derby.  

13. Sun Thunder (Brian Hernandez Jr/Ken McPeek); 50-1 

I legit had to ask myself “Who is Sun Thunder?” when I saw the list of entries without any jockey or trainer info. After seeing the PP’s, I understood why I couldn’t recall who Sun Thunder was. He has just a maiden win to his credit, and the closer was soundly beaten in the Southwest, the Blue Grass and a paceless Louisiana Derby.

He did run huge at a price in the Risen Star, finishing in front of the trendy Two Phil’s, but wouldn’t the addition of blinkers here lead one to believe they may want to put more speed into the horse? 

The Louisiana Derby effort is certainly the outlier, and I’d be comfortable leaving this horse off the ticket.  

14. Angel of Empire (Flavien Prat/Brad Cox); 8-1 

It hasn’t mattered that he wasn’t bet in both the Smarty Jones – where he finished second – or the Risen Star – which he won at 14-1. He then backed it up, proving those two races weren’t flukes as he romped in the Arkansas Derby at 5-1.  

I’m not sure if the connections thought they had a grade one winner and Derby contender on their hands when he was running at Indiana Grand and on the turf at Kentucky Downs, but he’s put together a nice 3YO campaign, and here he is. 

Funny aside, both the jockey and trainer are credited with Derby wins, but neither actually crossed the line first. Flavien Prat rode Country House, who was elevated to first place with the DQ of Maximum Security in 2019 and Brad Cox trained Mandaloun, who finished second to Medina Spirit in 2021 but was moved to first after Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test. 

We know he will be well off the pace, so he will be at the mercy of traffic and speed. I can’t fault anyone who likes him, and I will use him on my pick 4s and 5s, but I sense this one just might be outclassed this Saturday.  

15. Forte (Irad Ortiz Jr/Todd Pletcher); 3-1 

The racing fan in me would love to see owner Mike Repole enter the Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown. 

He might have the horse to do it, as Forte has been beaten only once – off his huge maiden win in what was his second career start. Since then, he’s had five wins, all in graded stakes races, four of which were grade ones. 

However (there’s always a however, right?), his speed figure at the 1 1/8 distance in the Florida Derby declined from previous races at 1 1/16. Was it just a natural regression in his second start off a layoff following a big effort in the first race off the layoff? Was it a far-outside post? Or was it a sign of things to come as the races get longer? 

His sire, Violence, isn’t exactly known for sending out winners at route distances. If Mage nearly beat him in his third-lifetime start, might you prefer Mage in a head-to-head race vs. Forte moving forward? 

I’m just throwing a bunch of stuff out there to think about as he’s the favorite, we all like to try and beat the favorite, and we may have a vulnerable favorite with this closer come Saturday.  

16. Raise Cain (Gerrardo Corrales/Ben Colebrook); 50-1 

He freaked in the mud at 24-1 in the mile Gotham and then was six lengths behind Tapit Trice and Verifying in the Blue Grass, where he also finished behind Sun Thunder. He was also 24-1 when being beaten by Jace’s Road. 

Like Forte, he’s sired by Violence, which means I have difficulty seeing him around at the end. 

He’s another I feel comfortable leaving off any trifecta bet.  

17. Derma Sotogake (Christophe Lemaire/Hidetaka Otonashi); 10-1 

A front-running win in the UAE Derby has the Japanese-bred here with a ton of people on his bandwagon. The history of UAE Derby runners in the Derby isn’t good, and I don’t know why this would be the horse that changes that. My guess is it’s more an indictment on the remainder of the field than anything else. 

Like so many of these, he’s by a sire more known for sprint distances (Mind Your Biscuits). In my eyes, there are far more questions than the dominance of the UAE Derby win, and if he wins, I will most certainly lose.  

18. Rocket Can (Junior Alvarado/Bill Mott); 30-1 

He’s interesting in here. We know Bill Mott has scored with long shots in Triple Crown races before, and this one will certainly be in that 30-1 range.

He didn’t fare well as a 2YO in the sprint races at Saratoga, but his five route races have been good – he’s got two wins – including the Holy Bull – a second to Forte in the Fountain of Youth and was favored in the Arkansas Derby where he had a wide trip and was one of three across the track behind Angel of Empire. 

He adds blinkers which might help him add some speed and get a better position from his outside post. He does remind me of Country House in the sense that he ran a bunch of solid races as a 3YO, was always bet and then put forth his best effort on Derby Day. 

He’s a long shot I can get behind.  

19. Lord Miles (Paco Lopez/Saffie Joseph); 30-1 


20. Continuar (Ryusei Sakai/Yoshito Yahagi); 50-1 


21. Cyclone Mischief (TBA/Dale Romans); 30-1 

Just like last year’s Derby winner Rich Strike, he draws in off the also-eligible list, but he’s got a much different running style than Rich Strike, as his inclusion into the race should add a little spice to the pace. 

He was beaten by Forte, Rocket Can and Mage when he didn’t go to the front, he was beaten by Forte and Rocket Can when he did. 

He’s likely little more than a pace factor, but that means he will have a big say in who wins and could help the closers by ensuring a contested pace.   

22. Mandarin Hero (Kazushi Kimura/Terunobu Fujita); 20-1

Of the two Japanese-bred horses remaining in the race, I like this one much more than Derma Sotogake. He’s got a race in the U.S. — one which he nearly won at Santa Anita — and his stalking/closing style is one that I like, especially with some more speed signed on. 

He’s basically a neck from being a perfect six-for-six lifetime, and his 100 Beyer on dirt matches Forte for the best Beyer on dirt. It’s also the best Beyer on dirt for any of these runners in their 3YO season. He’s absolutely in here with a chance. 

23. King Russell (Rafael Bejarano/Ron Moquett); 50-1

Late runner was crushed by Sun Thunder in a maiden race at Oaklawn but has improved in his last couple of races, finishing second to Angel of Empire in the Arkansas Derby to earn his way in here. Maybe he plods up for a piece of the superfecta, but that would be his ceiling. 

Bear Bytes (fun talking points with friends)

Six of the last eleven Derby favorites have won, and eight of the last 11 have finished first or second as favorites. Bodemeister finished second in 2012 and favorite Tiz the Law was second in 2020. Only one favorite has finished out of the money (worse than third) since 2012 – Improbable was fourth in 2019.

Think it’s as easy as the favorite over the second choice to run first and second? Only twice in the last 44 years has the Derby produced a result where the favorite won and the second choice ran second. 2016 when favorite Nyquist won and second choice Exaggerator was second, and 2004 when favored Smarty Jones won and second choice Lion Heart was second.

The second betting choice in the Derby hasn’t won since Super Saver in 2010.

Since Alysheba won in 1987, only one horse was won from post 1, 2 or 3 – that being Real Quiet in 1998 from post 3. Last year Epicenter came close, finishing second. Since Ferdinand won from the rail in 1986, only two horses – Risen Star in 1988 and Lookin at Lee in 2017 managed a top-three finish, and only three others managed to finish fourth.

Nyquist (2017) and Street Sense (2007) are the only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners to win the Kentucky Derby. Forte will be the eighth Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to be favored in the Derby. Unbridled’s Song and Arazi are the only two of the previous seven BC Juvenile winners to go favored in the Derby that finished off the board. 

Two of the three longest Derby winners in history have come since 2019 – Country House and Rich Strike. 

In the last four runnings of the Derby, five of the 12 horses to finish first, second or third were at least 14-1, and four were at least 27-1. 

Steve Asmussen is winless with his 24 Derby starters; that’s the most Derby starters for a trainer without a win. He has had five ITM finishes – Curlin (third in 2007), Nehro (second in 2011), Gun Runner (third in 2016), Lookin At Lee (second in 2017) and Epicenter (second in 2022). 

Since Audible finished third in 2018, Todd Pletcher has started 10 horses in the Derby. None finished better than fifth, and eight of the 10 were 10th or worse. It should be noted only three of the ten were top-five betting choices. 

Bill Mott has won two Triple Crown races. They were with 65-1 shot Country House and 13-1 shot Drosselmeyer. He also has a runner-up finish with 55-1 shot Vision and Verse. 

Chris “The Bear” Fallica has covered sports for nearly three decades. While college football has been his focus, he also enjoys the NFL, Soccer, Golf, Tennis, MLB, NHL and Horse Racing, with an “occasional” wager on such events. Chris recently won the inaugural Circa Football Invitational and finished in the Top 10 of the Golden Nugget Football Contest. He’s a multiple-time qualifier for the NHC Handicapping Championship. Remember, “The less you bet, the more you lose when you win!” Follow him on Twitter @chrisfallica.

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