Entering this week at the Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach was the front-line favorite at 5-to-1. After trainer Richard Mandella had to sit him due to an entrapped epiglottis, Bob Baffert’s trio of Improbable, Roadster and Game Winner became the talk of the town in Churchill Downs.
That means several bettors are looking for increased value in surprise contenders. One of the longer shots in Cutting Humor in the 23-to-1 range as of this morning. CBS Sports talked to betting expert Hank Goldberg about how Omaha Beach’s former rider Mike E. Smith’s change to Cutting Humor dampens his expectations for one of Bob Baffert’s thoroughbreds.
Smith, who rode Justify to glory last year and who was atop Roadster in both of his Kentucky Derby qualifying series wins, opted to ride Omaha Beach. Now, Smith will hop aboard Cutting Humor on Saturday after Omaha Beach was scratched. The fact that the reigning Kentucky Derby-winning jockey shied away from Baffert and Roadster concerns Goldberg.
Whether that’s more of an indictment of Roadster or not, combining Cutting Humor with Smith certainly increases the chances at winning. Owner Starlight Racing is hoping that this and Todd Pletcher’s training will send the dark bay colt over the top in Louisville.
Here’s a quick bio on the riding, training and owning team behind Cutting Humor.
Cutting Humor Jockey: Mike E. Smith
Entering this week, Corey Lanerie was set to ride Cutting Humor. After Omaha Beach’s scratch due to an entrapped epiglottis, Starlight owner Jack Wolf made the switch.
What he’s getting out of Smith is 37 years of riding experience. At age 52 last year, Smith became the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby as he rode Justify to his first leg of the Triple Crown.
Before then, he’s won majorly on the big stage, including another Derby win in 2005 with Giacomo (which resulted in a $102.60 payoff on a $2 bet). As well as taking the Preakness and Belmont last year with Justify, he also took a title in Baltimore in 1993 and New York twice in 2010 and 2013.
Including his induction in the 2003 Racing Hall of Fame, Smith has collected several awards over his nearly 4-decade career, according to his America’s Best Racing bio:
Eclipse Award winner as outstanding jockey in 1993 and 1994, presented with the 2000 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, was named recipient of the Big Sport of Turfdom Award for 2010 from the Turf Publicists of America.
In addition, the Roswell (N.M.) native has a day named after him. New Mexico governor Susana Martinez proclaimed that July 8 is “Mike E. Smith Day” throughout the state.
Cutting Humor Trainer: Todd Pletcher
The 51-year old Pletcher is no stranger to Triple Crown events. The Dallas native’s horses won the Run for the Roses in 2010 and 2017, as well as the Belmont in 2007, 2013 and 2017.
According to the Courier Journal, Pletcher has sent at least one horse to the Derby since 2003. This year, he has two, including Spinoff.
“It wasn’t a deep group going into it like we thought we would (have),” he said. “If you’d have told me in January or February we would have two in the Derby, I would have said probably not.”
While six other trainers have had more Kentucky Derby wins, no one has had more starters in the race than Pletcher. He reached 52 with four in last year’s field, passing his mentor D. Wayne Lukas, who has 49. Bob Baffert entered this year with 29, which ranks third all-time.
Of those 52 horses, Pletcher won with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. Six others have at least finished in the top three.
Both Cutting Humor and Spinoff are considered longshots. This suits the highly successful trainer just fine, as he’s fallen short of expectations before.
“I’ve been in that position before and I’ve said, sometimes the worst thing you can have is a really hot hand in January,” he said to the Baltimore Sun. “It doesn’t always pan out.”
Cutting Humor Owner: Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf)
Like Pletcher, Starlight Racing has two horses in the Derby this year. The company, run by chief executive and managing partner Jack Wolf, also is backing Bob Baffert’s Improbable. The thoroughbred has 7-to-1 odds, according to WDRB.
Like Smith, Wolf and company made headlines with the Triple Crown success of Justify last season.
While he’s quick to downplay Justify’s Triple Crown achievement as just a little luck, it was a big win for the group.
“Myself personally never really got too nervous. The horse just instilled all this confidence in you,” Wolf said.
According to his America’s Best Racing bio, he turned an initial investment of $97 thousand into over $23 million of earnings. With a win Saturday at Churchill Downs, he, Smith and Pletcher can add over a million more to the coffers.
The official Running of the Roses starts at 6:50 p.m. on NBC.