Horse Racing
2024 Kentucky Derby expert picks: Chris 'The Bear' Fallica's best bets
Horse Racing

2024 Kentucky Derby expert picks: Chris 'The Bear' Fallica's best bets

Updated May. 2, 2024 1:46 p.m. ET

"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. There’s just something incredibly special about the event dubbed "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."

This is the 150th "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, let's jump into the action.


(Disclaimer: To keep it simple, I'll lead with my picks first).

My Betting Card

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

1. Dornoch (20-1)

I want no part of him here as the rail draw completely eliminates his chances. Even if he was drawn better, I don’t think I’d be using him, as he hasn’t improved since last year when he rode a bias to a win over Sierra Leone. But he will factor into the flow of the race since Luis Saez will have to ride him hard to the lead, ensuring Fierceness has company up front. 

2. Sierra Leone (3-1)

He may prove to be the best 3-year-old of the bunch, but the draw really hurt his chances. Yes, he’s a closer. But the fact he’s drawn inside means he’s going to have to avoid getting slammed at the start, falling to the rear and work out a trip to pass 19 horses. Everything has to go perfectly, which seems highly unlikely. Since 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed last won from PP No. 2, there have been 11 top-five betting choices to break from that position. They finished 10th, third, third, 11th, 10th, eighth, 13th, 10th, third, last and third. In that span, five were top-two choices, as Sierra Leone will be. Not even Curlin, one of the best horses of his generation, could do better than third in the Derby from PP No. 2. If he wins, we’re talking Triple Crown possibilities, but given what he’s up against here, I’ll be using him only underneath in the tri and super. Hey, you can’t bet everyone! 

3. Mystik Dan (20-1)

If the track comes up wet, you’ll want him on your ticket, as his 101 Beyer in the off going at Oaklawn is the only other 100 Beyer figure in the field outside of Fierceness. He’s made a good impression over the track where he broke maiden last year. His versatility will also be useful, as he can run from close to the pace or just off it. Post 3 isn’t a bargain either, but Brian Hernandez is a pretty heady rider. My guess is he will get him into the race, maybe a bit earlier than he would like. But as I said, if it's wet, don’t be surprised if he runs a huge race. He’ll be on my tickets, mostly underneath, but I’ll be checking with the weatherman on Saturday to see if I’ll be using on top. 

4. Catching Freedom (8-1)

The Louisiana Derby winner is going to be an underlay on the oddsboard, as quite a few have touted him. Like Sierra Leone and any closer, he’s going to need everything to go right. His figures have improved with every start. Can he post a new top here? He’ll have to in order to win. He certainly has the correct rider to work out a trip, as Flavien Prat has always gotten the most out of his Derby runners. I just ultimately get the sense he’ll be grinding away and will have to settle for one of the underneath positions in the tri. 

5. Catalytic (30-1)

Someone had to run second to Fierceness in what was a bad Florida Derby and that honor went to Catalytic. I’d love to find price horses to use underneath, but I just can't see it with him, as his bloodlines suggest he’s just about maxed out at 1 1/8 miles. Off the top of my head, I don’t think trainer Saffie Joseph’s horses have run well at Churchill — even if it may be a small sample size. I may have a tri with "all" for third as a saver, but that will be all I have of him. 

6. Just Steel (20-1)

The senior runner here in terms of starts, as D. Wayne Lukas will send him out for start No. 12 on Saturday. He’s kind of alternated good starts and bad starts the last few races, and if that pattern continues, he’s due to regress here. But what if he doesn’t? You’ve got a horse that was beaten a couple lengths by the talented Muth in the Arkansas Derby, was second to Mystik Dan, who rode the slop bias to a win in the Southwest, and was second to Catching Freedom in a race he made the front late and was 9/2 there. It’s been a while since D. Wayne had a horse hit the board here. It was 2002, to be exact. But there are a lot of things to like here for a horse that's going to be 20-1 and should get a nice trip from the second flight. I’ll be using him in all spots, as I think he’s live here. 

7. Honor Marie (20-1)

I feel as if I’m misleading you by putting the 20-1 moneyline odds there, as he’s going to be nowhere near that Saturday. He’s the buzz, wiseguy horse, as he has two wins at Churchill and has worked well. It still feels as if he’s a cut below the best here. Still a great story for low-profile connections to get here with this horse, but he was well-beaten by Sierra Leone, Track Phantom and Catching Freedom in the Risen Star — albeit in the slop and his first start of the year — but then Catching Freedom again got the better of him in the Louisiana Derby. Feels like one of those that if he hits the board, he’s done good here. 

8. Just a Touch (10-1)

There’s a lot to like here. He comes out of one of the fastest Blue Grass Stakes since it was moved back to the dirt at Keeneland and Just a Touch should be able to sit in second flight and a little bit further off the lead than he was in the Blue Grass when he chased Sierra Leone’s rabbit. In a sense, you could argue he ran a better race than the winner. He will get the first jump on the closets, as there’s no guarantee Sierra Leone, Catching Freedom or someone else gets a clear trip to close in a 20-horse field. You could also argue he was the best horse in the Gotham, but was seven-wide and couldn’t get to Deterministic. Like 2018 Derby winner Justify and last year’s winner Mage, the Derby will be the fourth start for an unrated, 2-year-old, so the old "foundation" argument may be just that — old and outdated. We also know he is fine with the slop, as he broke maiden in it and the Gotham was run on an off track. Maybe we’re looking at a Funny Cide/Empire Maker situation where Empire Maker won the prep and Funny Cide won the first Saturday in May. Florent Geroux will likely play the break and go from there, ideally right behind Fierceness, Forever Young and Track Phantom. I like his chances a lot, and I’ll be using him as a key in my wagers. 

10. T O Password (30-1)

Run twice, but despite looking better than the higher-profile Japanese runner Forever Young during works, this one is not worth using. 

11. Forever Young (10-1)

There probably isn’t another horse in the field that brings the "love him or hate him" out in handicappers than UAE Derby winner Forever Young. Numbers people estimate he would get around a 101 Beyer for that UAE Derby win, which puts him in the mix here. But there are concerns in my eyes. His works here have been poor. And the connections have talked about how he doesn’t like kickback, which sounds like a bad thing in a 20-horse field. So it sounds like he’ll be attempting to eyeball Fierceness on the front end, and that may not end well for either of them. Until one of these foreign horses wins the race, I can’t back any of them to do such. If he wins, I lose. And that's fine. 

12. Track Phantom (20-1)

His final work with blinkers wasn’t great and adding blinkers for the first time in a race sure makes it seem like he’ll be on an all-out send, as he’s never not been on the lead. While he’s been game on the front end at Fair Grounds this spring, I can’t see him being around at the end to factor in the tri. 

13. West Saratoga (50-1)

Small-time connections get to have a Derby starter. But that doesn’t mean I’m using him in any fashion. 

14. Endlessly (30-1)

Reading between the lines of trainer Mike McCarthy’s comments, he knows the horse is a turf/synthetic horse and the owner has Derby fever. His last work was less than inspiring, and he won’t be present on my tickets.

15. Domestic Product (30-1)

I’m on the fence about using this horse underneath. He’s got the right running style, but his Tampa figures are light, maybe because the prep was run like a turf race where they crawled early and flown home late. He finished in front of Fierceness in the Holy Bull when that one was off his game and held his own in the mornings with stablemate Sierra Leone. He will be well north of 30-1. I’ll probably talk myself into him being able to clunk up for third or fourth, but that's about it.

16. Grand Mo The First (50-1)

No chance at hitting the board. Not gonna waste character space. 

17. Fierceness (5-2)

It’s a near unanimous opinion among handicappers that he’s the fastest horse in the race and if he is able to get an easy lead and have things his own way, he wins. But what if he doesn’t? The couple of times he hasn’t had things his own way, he’s thrown in the towel. If he has yet to show he can overcome adversity, what makes you think if faced with adversity in a 20-horse field, in front of 100,000-pluse people making noise in the biggest race of his career, that he will do it for the first time? His works indicate he will be sharp and a deserving favorite. But is there a little Bellamy Road in Fierceness? The 2005 Derby favorite entered the Derby off a 120 Beyer in the Wood where he won by over 17 lengths in his second and final Derby prep. Fierceness enters the Derby off a 110 Beyer in a 13-plus length romp in the Florida Derby in what was his second and final Derby prep. Both made an easy lead against bad fields and just ran up the score. Bellamy Road didn’t fire on the first Saturday in May and maybe Fierceness won’t either? We’ll see. I’m handicapping and betting the race two different ways. First will be the "Fierceness runs his race" and "Fierceness doesn’t have things his own way."  Interesting, too, that both of Todd Pletcher’s Derby wins — Super Saver and Always Dreaming — came on an off track. My instinct is he doesn’t have things his own way, and we get a price on top, but I’m not dumb enough to completely rule the possibility of him winning out, so I’ll play the race that way too.   

18. Stronghold (20-1)

Won one of the worst Santa Anita Derbies I can remember, and his figures are a bit light. But, he broke maiden here and should be able to stay the mile and a quarter. I’ll have him underneath as he’ll probably drift up on the board, but I think a win is a bit out of reach.

19. Resilience (20-1)

He has the right running style to be in the mix here — on the front end but not right on lead. This means he will be put into the race and won’t have to deal with traffic later. Adding blinkers has done wonders for this horse. He’s been much more focused mentally, and it showed in the Wood Memorial. He’s getting better and better. And you have to wonder if his Wood win was more a result of the favorites not firing or if he was getting good at the right time. He wasn’t embarrassed at all by Sierra Leone in his first start against winners in the Risen Star and then moved forward in the Wood. He should handle the distance and Bill Mott is dangerous with a price horse, as he’s won two Triple Crown races with double-digit prices and ran second with another. Resilience gets some help with the Encino scratch as he moves in a spot and won't be hung out as wide. He’s got a shot to hit the board at a nice number and who knows, maybe he can pull off a stunner if things go his way. He’ll be on my ticket in all spots, with a heavier presence underneath. 

20. Society Man (50-1)

I’d rather bet him than Danny Gargan’s other horse Dornoch. The Wood was a decent race for him at better than 100-1, so maybe that was simply a fluke as the favorites no-showed. He’s clearly had expectations as he was entered as a maiden in the Withers. I still can’t see him contend here though, and if he cracks the superfecta, I’d be stunned. Although I can imagine the instructions to Frankie Dettori will be to just try and pick off as many horses as he can late to try and get a piece of the purse. 

21. Epic Ride (30-1)

Was a well-beaten third at 51-1 to Sierra Leone and Just a Touch in the Blue Grass after losing to Encino as the favorite in the Battaglia at Turfway. He’s probably not fast enough to make the lead and that could mean a very wide trip from the far outside. He’s not the worst stab to use for fourth or third if you’re looking to go wide on your trifecta bets, as he might stay should he find a spot to settle in.

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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