Ah, the Kentucky Derby exotics. So many choices, so much cash sitting out there waiting to be plucked — if you can find the right long shots to pick.

Happy Jack-Derby duds
Happy Jack lost his three Derby preps by a combined 50 lengths. He’s one to avoid on your Kentucky Derby tickets. (Image: Benoit Photo)

And the right ones to avoid.

Building the perfect Derby vertical exotic ticket, be it an exacta, trifecta, or superfecta, is an exercise that can produce life-changing results. It certainly did in 2017 when 9/2 Always Dreaming captured Todd Pletcher’s second Derby. But trailing behind him were 33/1 Looking at Lee and 40/1 Battle of Midway, who nailed down a $16,594.40 payout on a $2 trifecta. Classic Empire, the third-favorite at 6/1, put the capper on a $75,974.50 payday on a $1 superfecta.

That’s only one example from a wild past decade of Derby finishes that produced otherworldly payouts. From Mandaloun’s 26/1 runner-up finish last year to 85/1 Instilled Regard’s fourth-place finish in 2018, nine colts carrying odds at least 26/1 finished fourth or better.

Remember Mandaloun in the Kentucky Derby?

Mandaloun illustrated this in living color. As the back end of an exacta with 13/1 Medina Spirit crossing the finish line first, Mandaloun helped bettors cash a $503.60 $2 exacta. Even throwing in relatively chalky Hot Rod Charlie on the back end of a $1 trifecta sent you to the window for a $1,696.90 payday.

Now, how do you find which horses in a 20-horse Derby are worth throwing on your vertical exotics and which ones are worth throwing out? Usually, it’s best to start by eliminating the pretenders. Doing so is easy when you consider speed, running style, distance considerations, or other factors.

Online Gambling identified these candidates so you can forget about them when constructing your Derby exotic tickets.

Slow, bad form, weak fields: they’re all here

Happy Jack (30/1 morning line): The good news: he finished third in two strong preps — the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. The bad news: this son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow lost those two by a combined 22 3/4 lengths. Worse news: Happy Jack lost his other Derby prep, the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis, by 27 1/4 lengths. That’s three Derby prep losses by a combined 50 lengths for a horse whose best Beyer Speed Figure is a field-worst 83.

Classic Causeway (30/1): The poster child for dismantling weak fields, which he did in his two Tampa Bay Downs Derby preps, the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis and Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. You could draw a line through his last-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby if it weren’t for the fact Classic Causeway and his front-running style couldn’t handle the speed in that race, much less what awaits him in this deep, fast field. Classic Causeway’s best Beyer is a 90; his best Brisnet is a 99. Not good enough here.

Two slow paths to a fast Derby

Summer Is Tomorrow (30/1): Crown Pride ran him down with little effort in the Grade 2 UAE Derby, traditionally not a springboard to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle. Imagine this Middle Eastern-based front-runner trying to keep up with the likes of Messier, Epicenter, Taiba, and Zozos for more than six furlongs. Picture him looking like he’s going in reverse. Come Saturday, you won’t have to imagine it.

Ethereal Road (30/1): Where to start? How about with the lack of speed. Ethereal Road’s best Beyer is an 84. Let’s segue to Ethereal Road being a closer without a finishing kick, as seen by 75/1 Un Ojo running him down in the Rebel Stakes. Let’s close with Ethereal Road not threatening in either the Blue Grass (seventh) or easier Lexington (fourth). This was a weak year in the Rebel. Your tickets will thank you for tossing him.