There are few things that please a horse racing fan more than being the first in his or her group to pick the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.
The first opportunity to put some money behind that boasting will come this weekend when betting opens for the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool.
The first of three pools opens Friday, Feb. 18 at noon and closes Sunday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.. There are 23 horses listed as individual betting interests, with the rest lumped together as “The Field”.
A lot can happen between now and the first Saturday in May. Horses can emerge from obscurity just as easily as they can be knocked off the Derby trail. The future pools allow bettors to do some long-term speculating and hopefully catch a horse at odds higher than they might be on Derby day.
Of course, these bets come at a time when no horse, even with enough earnings, is guaranteed to be in the gate for the big race. Like all long-term investments, those are just the accepted risks of the game. The trick is finding the horses with the best chance to reward that risk.
Each year, I take a look at the horses offered in the first pool and try to single out a few who might be worthy of such a ludicrous wager and others who will probably offer more value on Derby day.
The whole situation can feel like staring down the banker’s offer on the game show “Deal or No Deal”. A horse may look tempting at the odds it gives in this pool, but that price could change drastically depending on the twists and turns of the Derby trail, just like the banker’s offer can fluctuate depending on which suitcases are opened. Some horses are worth taking the banker’s deal at the odds you’ll see this weekend. Others should be held on to until the final suitcase is opened.
The question is…Deal or No Deal?
A verdict of “Deal” means a horse should be considered for a bet in this particular pool and could give a higher price now than it will later. “No Deal” means bettors should pass for now.
Please keep in mind these speculations are based solely on the morning line odds set by Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battagalia. The odds can, and will, fluctuate according to the action in the pari-mutuel pools, which could negate some of my statements – especially if a horse is entered to race this weekend.
Also, unless otherwise noted, this is not an analysis of talent, but a projection of betting value. Just because a horse is labeled a “No Deal” does not mean I do not think it is capable of winning the Kentucky Derby, and vice versa.
For a full list of the future pool horses, along with free Daily Racing Form past performances, click here.
Anthony’s Cross showed gritty determination edging out Riveting Reason for the win in last Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. The Indian Charlie colt has improved with added distance and appears to have overcome early difficulties with leaving the starting gate.
Above all, there is one reason to take a chance on this horse – He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs under Calvin Borel. Three wins out of the last four Derbies, including 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, means that any horse Borel chooses to ride in the race automatically becomes live. If Anthony’s Cross continues to improve throughout the spring, their past experience together could lead the rider to take a good, long look at riding this horse.
On that same note, any horse Borel chooses to ride will likely be bet into the ground on Derby day. It will take a long string of “No Factor” mounts for him to sneak in with another high-priced horse, just because every bettor in America knows what he’s capable of in that race. There are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” in the equation, but if Anthony’s Cross makes it to the Churchill Downs gate and Calvin Borel decides to ride him, he won’t give anything close to what he’ll give this weekend.
A son of With Distinction, Decisive Moment kicked off his 2011 campaign with a win in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. You know who took a detour through Southwest Louisiana on the Derby trail last year? Last place finisher Backtalk. That’s not the kind of company a Kentucky Derby winner tends to keep. Scheduling fashion faux pas aside, that race was Decisive Moment’s first victory since a narrow maiden score five starts prior, and he stepped back in class and distance to earn it. A second place finish in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) will keep him on the earnings bubble, but if Decisive Moment does manage to sneak in with a resume consistent to what he has shown so far, he should give one of the longest prices on the board on race day.
Decisive Moment also figures to be one of the most volatile propositions in the first pool by virtue of his start in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. His status as a viable future wager option and Derby contender could shift drastically in that race. Hold off on making too big of a judgement on him until we see what he is made of.
More keepers and tosses from the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool can be found behind the jump.
Only suckers and boring people bet the favorites this early in the game, right? Well, consider this. Let’s assume Uncle Mo is who we thought he was and wins his (more than likely) two preps heading into May. The firestorm of hype surrounding the horse ought to be so massive that we could see one of the biggest favorites in the history of the race. Unless he gets hammered in the pools this weekend, whatever he gives in the future wager ought to be better than what he’ll give on Derby day, should he go into it undefeated. Recent news of his connections’ possible intentions to enter him in a creampuff race at Gulfstream in lieu of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) could scare a few bettors off and drive his price a bit higher on top of that. It probably won’t be a difference, from now to then, that one could retire off, but a profit’s a profit.
Every Kentucky Derby field has two or three horses who earned their way into the starting gate based on a big win as a two-year-old and little else. Delta Downs Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner appears to be the poster child of that phenomenon for this year’s crop. The Trippi colt has not performed disastrously since his signature victory, but if not for that win, he would probably be spending the spring on the earnings bubble. Unless he steps up his game and wins a major prep between now and May 7, a 30-1 tag might be his bottom end. If you like him, wait until race day.
This is a horse that could just as easily be a justifiable “No Deal” based on his apparent affinity for turf races. All three of his graded stakes efforts came on the grass, including a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the War Front colt’s connections will keep their horse in turf contests through the summer and bypass the Derby altogether.
However, there is the small matter of a monster effort the colt turned in last month at Gulfstream Park. Over a sloppy dirt track, Soldat drew off in an allowance race to win by 10 3/4 lengths and pull a 103 Beyer Speed Figure for his troubles. Granted, an allowance race means as much as a cheap claimer in terms of earnings for a Derby spot, but that kind of explosion bodes well for future efforts.
Plus, the Derby has been kind in the past to horses who might consider turf their first surface. Last year, Paddy O’ Prado did well for himself and Big Brown, who was being pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf the prior year, won the whole thing. One big effort in a major prep, and bettors will be wishing they could have landed Soldat at the price they will likely see this weekend.
Someday, when I have a lot of money, I am going to purchase a Derby-caliber horse and name it “The Field” just to watch everyone lose their minds when this wager comes around. Until then, the safest bet on the board is also the easiest one to toss. Barring some kind of freak maiden or allowance horse obliterating a couple serious preps, it is highly unlikely that any horse not already included in the pool will give odds lower than 5-2 on race day.
This ticket has hit two out of the last three years, so there is some value there if the money is available to bridgejump. But if you are one of the people considering that option, you are probably reading analysis on this wager from someone who knows what they’re talking about a whole heck of a lot more than I do.
Enjoy the races this weekend, and best of luck in the future pools.