Despite the presence of highly-regarded Empire Maker, the Kentucky Derby figures to be an open race, according to a sampling of Las Vegas race book directors.
Of 28 "bookies" polled, Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted each collected five first place votes, hardly a ringing endorsement for either one.
Bill Fogg at the Flamingo in Laughlin likes Ten Most Wanted because of his great run at the Illinois Derby, which is "turning into a top prep race for the Kentucky Derby." Fogg noted that last year’s Derby winner, War Emblem, won the Illinois Derby in wire-to-wire fashion.
Paul Peterson at Caesars Tahoe agrees that "the road to Churchill Downs goes through Illinois."
Don Ware at Harrah’s Las Vegas sees Ten Most Wanted winning the Derby with a perfect trip, while the Las Vegas Hilton’s Cyril Burger cites the colt’s "increasing Beyer speed rating as the key" to winning.
Attracting nearly equal support with four votes each were Derby hopefuls Atswhatimtalknbout, Peace Rules and Kafwain.
Billy Scholl at the Edgewater in Laughlin believes Atswhatimtalknbout "will be flying from the quarter pole" and that he simply "had a bad day at 4-5 in the Santa Anita Derby."
Norm Kelley at Sam’s Town agrees that Atswhatimtalknbout "can be forgiven for his effort in the Santa Anita Derby."
Bill Darling at the Monte Carlo picks Kafwain to win the Derby because "he is an ultra-consistent colt," while Lou D’Amico at Caesars Palace likes Kafwain’s trainer: "If anyone can upset Empire Maker, it will be Bob Baffert," he said.
Brad Walthers at the Fremont believes Bobby Frankel’s "other" horse, Peace Rules, has a big shot to win as "he is consistently getting better."
Another horse with solid backing is Buddy Gil, which "is all heart," says Larry Weiss at Santa Fe Station.
Perhaps we should take a flyer on Larry’s selections. He was astute enough to book the GamingToday Back Page Girls into his race book for its grand opening this weekend!
Rounding out the contenders is Offlee Wild, who "needed his last race when finishing third behind Peace Rules," said Jim LoBue at Palace Station. "This time, he’ll rally in the stretch and win handily."
Another one with enthusiastic support was Scrimshaw, whose trainer "Wayne Lukas seems to pull off a surprise every year," according to Trudy Smuin at Treasure Island. Or is it "TI."
While Las Vegas bookmakers were fairly split who will win the Kentucky Derby, they were strong in their backing for Empire Maker to finish second, with 14 votes.