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Kentucky Derby prediction: Which long shots have a shot to hit the board?

Take a flier on Verifying and Mandarin Hero to finish in the money in Saturday’s Run for the Roses

Kentucky Derby contender Verifying, who is the offspring of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, takes a trip around the Churchill Downs track during a training session earlier this week. Verifying is among the long shots to win Saturday’s race. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kentucky Derby contender Verifying, who is the offspring of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, takes a trip around the Churchill Downs track during a training session earlier this week. Verifying is among the long shots to win Saturday’s race. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Read moreAndy Lyons / Getty Images

Gentlemen in seersucker suits. Ladies in fancy hats. Mint juleps served by the gallon. And a whole lot of folks who are confident they can turn $2 into a small fortune in the span of just two minutes.

Welcome to the first Saturday in May and the great American tradition that is the Kentucky Derby.

This year’s Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in Louisville had a series of midweek scratches and substitute fill-ins. Then came the shocker on race morning: favorite Forte was scratched.

Chaos has ensued.

So the question on the minds of bettors on the day of the mile-and-a-quarter race: “Will long-shot lightning strike for a second straight year?”

In 2022, Rich Strike entered the starting gate with 80-to-1 odds to win the Derby. Two minutes and two seconds after that starting gate opened, the chestnut-colored colt hit the wire first, scoring the second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history.

As of Friday afternoon, this year’s biggest long shots were a pair of replacement horses: King Russell at 44-to-1 and Cyclone Mischief at 43-to-1.

Do either have the goods to outrun the field — or at least finish in the money? Doubtful.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of bombs worth putting a few bucks on, especially with Forte not running.

Here are our favorite long shot bets for the 2023 Kentucky Derby, along with a quick horse race betting primer.

(Note: all odds updated as of 1:20 p.m. on May 5)

Kentucky Derby odds: ‘Show’ me the money

There are about as many ways to bet a horse race as there are an average NFL game.

The most common: wagering on a horse to finish first, second and/or third.

In horse racing parlance, those are known as “win/place/show” bets — with “win” referring to first place; “place” second place; and “show” third place.

But you can also get involved in what’s known as “exotics,” in which you pair two or more horses together in hopes of scoring a bigger payday.

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The most popular exotics are exactas (top-two finishers), trifectas (top-three finishers) and superfectas (top-four finishers).

Of course, just like an NFL parlay, the more horses you add to an exotic, the more difficult it is to win — but the more lucrative the payout if it hits.

For instance, a $2 “win” bet on Rich Strike last year paid $163.60. But if you paired Rich Strike with second-place finisher (and Derby favorite) Epicenter — in that exact order — a $1 wager brought back $2,050.60.

The 1-2-3 exact finish of Rich Strike, Epicenter and second runner-up Zandon brought back $7,435.35 on a 50-cent trifecta wager. And those who accurately tossed fourth-place finisher Simplification into a $1 superfecta walked away with $321,500.10.

Of course, those massive payouts were made possible only because Rich Strike became the second biggest bomb to win the Derby since 1913.

If you’re banking on a similar outcome Saturday, well, don’t. As we noted earlier this week, a long shot of even 20/1 or greater has never won back-to-back Kentucky Derbys in the race’s 148-year history.

That’s not to say a horse that gallops into his chute Saturday with double-digit odds can’t finish in the money — first, second or third — and deliver a juicy profit.

In fact, we’re betting on a pair of contenders to do just that — both firing from opposite ends of the starting gate: No. 2 Verifying and No. 22 Mandarin Hero.

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Kentucky Derby odds: The case for Verifying

With only three victories in six starts — including one in three races this year — Verifying doesn’t have much in the way of an on-track pedigree. But his bloodline pedigree is sublime: He was sired by Justify, who in 2018 became the 13th (and most recent) Triple Crown winner.

Verifying’s fourth-place finish at the Rebel Stakes in February was less than inspiring. But he had a terrible trip on a sloppy track. That won’t be an issue at the Derby, as pristine weather conditions are forecast for Saturday afternoon.

He also bounced back with a second-place finish at the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, a Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep race in April. The only horse that beat Verifying to the wire that day was Tapit Trice, who is among this year’s Derby favorites.

Verifying’s post position also isn’t ideal — at least when it comes to winning the race. Only seven Derby champions have come from the No. 2 slot, and none since Affirmed in 1978.

But we’re not betting on Verifying to win; we’re backing him to finish in the money — something the No. 2 horse has done 25 times, tops among all post positions.

One of four Derby horses saddled by veteran trainer Brad Cox, Verifying was out to 22/1 on Friday morning after opening at 15/1. However, by Friday afternoon, he had dialed back to 16/1.

Kentucky Derby odds: The case for Mandarin Hero

Starting 20 spots up the track from Verifying will be Mandarin Hero.

A fill-in for one of the four horses that scratched, Mandarin Hero hails from Japan and is saddled by a Japanese trainer (Terunobu Fujita) and will be ridden by a Japanese jockey (Kazushi Kimura).

Mandarin Hero, whose morning-line odds of 20/1 have stretched out to 29/1, has won or placed in all six of his starts. Five of those came in his home country. But when he finally came stateside, he took second in the prestigious Santa Anita Derby prep race on April 8.

Mandarin Hero went off at 8/1 odds at Santa Anita and finished in between two favorites — winner Practical Move and third-place finisher Skinner.

The latter two colts entered the 2023 Kentucky Derby, with Practical Move opening as the co-third choice at 10/1 odds. However, both have been scratched.

Mandarin Hero’s showing at a quality prep race like the Santa Anita Derby indicates he’s live come Saturday — especially with two of his Santa Anita competitors gone.

So here’s how we’re playing both Verifying and Mandarin Hero in the 2023 Kentucky Derby:

  1. Pair Verifying with co-second choice Angel of Empire (5/1) in one $2 exacta box (“box” meaning they can finish 1-2 in either order, so it’s two separate $2 wagers totalling $4)

  2. Pair Verifying with the other co-second choice Tapit Trice (5/1) in another $2 exacta box ($4 total wager)

  3. Pair Verifying with Angel of Empire and Tapit Trice in a $1 trifecta box (three separate $1 wagers, for a total of $3).

  4. Make the same $1 trifecta box bet with Angel of Empire and Tapit Trice, replacing Verifying with Mandarin Hero (again, three separate $1 wagers).

  5. Put $5 on Verifying to place and show (two wagers totalling $10)

  6. Put $5 on Mandarin Hero to show

  7. Total outlay: $29

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

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