STANDOUT 3-YEAR-OLDS ON THE ROAD TO THE TRIPLE CROWN
Tips for Betting the Kentucky Derby Future Wager and Beyond
By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs.com
The 2015 Kentucky Derby is still two months away and the next go-around of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (Feb. 27-March 1) is already upon us. That makes this a good time to take a closer look at the top early contenders on the road to the Triple Crown, and assess the chances of some of the key horses to watch based on what we've seen so far.
Even the fans, handicappers, and bettors who have no interest in Kentucky Derby Future Wagers most certainly have some interest in the Kentucky Derby, its prep races, and in finding out who are shaping-up to be the best 3-year-olds for the upcoming racing season, and really, that's what this article is all about. Who are the top 3-year-olds this year, what's next for these horses, and who is for real and who isn't?
For the uninitiated, the Kentucky Derby Future Wager annually features separate pari-mutuel betting pools, the last one this year coming on the final weekend of March. The bet essentially is a win bet or an exacta bet on who will win the Kentucky Derby, allowing bettors to take a chance and lock-in odds early, no matter what the horse's actual odds will end up being at post time on the first Saturday in May.
The key to the future bet really is to assess horses' chances in upcoming prep races, to decide which horses are likeliest to win and therefore be the favorites on Derby Day. This kind of thinking can make the Derby Future Wager a bargain, because locking-in your odds on these horses now will give you value odds for the Derby, and value is key in future wagers, because you are assuming a lot of extra rick due to the fact that we're still two months out from the Kentucky Derby and none of these horses is even sure to successfully make the race (including injuries and horses that just plain fizzle-out, etc.).
Each of the Future Wager pools contains 24 betting interests, including 23 individual horses and the #24 field of "all others."
Traditionally, "all others" has been a good wagering option for early Derby Future bets when hardly any of the key prep races had been. This is the swing pool for the "All Others" #24 bet. - it's early enough where a dark horse or many can still emerge, but late enough where we've already seen many of these horses and have good ideas of what their abilities are or aren't as 3-year-olds. If you're interested, the #24 "all others" should go off at odds around 5-3 to 3-1 this time around (wait until the final Future Wager for odds around 7-1 or more.
Here is my list of top Kentucky Derby contenders, using horses included in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager [KDWF] pool ending on March 1, complete with comments for the top 3-year-olds we've seen so far this year, plus underrated contenders and overrated contenders in terms of the current KDFW:
NOEL MICHAELS' TOP 3-YEAR-OLD PROSPECTS
To me, these are the best Kentucky Derby prospects right now, of any category.
Upstart Trainer: Rick Violette Odds: 15-1
Won the Fountain of Youth convincingly before getting DQ'd, he's performed consistently at a high level and continued his development into the 3YO season.
Far From Over Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 15-1
Staying on the NY path to the Derby with either the Gotham or Wood Memorial next. He's 2-for-2 so far, hails from top trainer, and won the G3 Withers impressively with a good speed figure despite appearing the lose all chance at the start of that race with a disastrous break. Just two races so far, but he's the real deal by Blame, who beat Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic, out of a mare by A.P. Indy.
Khozan Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 15-1
Potential freak has just two races so far, against maidens and soft allowance horses, but he's destroyed the fields and never even took a deep breath in a jog both times when winning the last race by 13 lengths on the stretchout. He's untested, but deeply talented and on his way to the Florida Derby for the top barn in America.
Dortmund Trainer: Bob Baffert Odds: 8-1
Emerged as the current top California contender with a perfect 4-for-4 record for Bob Baffert, including game head wins in the Los Al Futurity and Robert Lewis Stakes. Took the step forward you would want to see in the 3-year-old debut victory, bred to go long, runs fast figures, and already owns a 7-length allowance win over the track at Churchill Downs.
LAST YEAR'S TOP 2-YEAR-OLDS
This is generally not my favorite category when it comes to finding the next Kentucky Derby winner. Over the course of the last 25 years or so, rarely has the Derby winner actually been one of the previous season's top 2-year-olds.
American Pharoah Trainer: Bob Baffert Odds: 8-1
Ran big 2-year-old speed figures in back-to-back Grade 1 races last fall including the Del Mar Futurity and Front Runner (first race on dirt) before missing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile - which is more of a positive than a negative in terms of the Ky. Derby. Yet to begin 3-year-old season, so he's getting a late start which is a major concern, but will point to the Rebel where Baffert has been successful. These fast front-running 2-year-olds have been bad bets to continue on to win the Derby in many recent years.
El Kabeir Trainer: John Terranova Odds: 30-1
Dances every dance with Graded stakes wins in the Kentucky Jockey Club (at Churchill) and the Jerome in 3-year-old debut, and also Graded stakes-placed in the Withers and Nashua. Fast and consistent, just seems a slight notch below the top and has more limited upside, because we've basically seen what he can do. Consistency and win at Churchill are in the "plus" column, but he had no excuse when losing to Far From Over in the Withers.
Daredevil Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 30-1
Others in the Pletcher barn seem to have passed this one by since his win last fall in the Champagne Stakes, which appears to have been aided by a muddy track. Absent since Breeders' Cup flop and will begin 3-year-old campaign in the 7F Swale. Another top 2-year-old that may not become one of the top ones at age 3.
Texas Red Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Odds: 12-1
Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner suffered a major set-back with a foot abscess that has taken him out of training. History tells us that it is extremely difficult for horses to overcome these kinds of derailments training on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Will only receive one 3-year-old prep race, in either the Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby, and that's another really bad sign for his readiness.
UNDERRATED DERBY PROSPECTS
Might offer value odds in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
Far Right Trainer: Ron Moquett Odds: 20-1
His speed figures aren't big, but he shows the key improving pattern each and every time out in terms of speed figures, which continue to escalate. Won the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes (which he won in an impressive gallop) at Oaklawn, and will be one of the horses to beat and shouldn't be overlooked against all the invaders in the Arkansas Derby.
Ocean Knight Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin Odds: 15-1
Started career with back-to-back wins at Tampa, including a win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. By Curlin, I like his chances for continued positive movement and development.
Ocho Ocho Ocho Trainer: James Cassidy Odds: 20-1
He's a perfect 3-for-3 yet nobody's talking about him - that's good for KDFW bettors. Won the Delta Jackpot and he's heading for the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Street Sense breeding indicates he'll continue to handle the longer distances.
Itsaknockout Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 20-1
Getting too little respect since becoming known as the horse who benefitted from the controversial DQ in the Fountain of Youth, but I personally do agree with the call - he WAS interfered with in the stretch, twice. Was he fading at that point? It looked to me he still had fight left in him, but the second infraction happened too late. Either way, he's now a Todd Pletcher Grade 2 winner who is 3-for-3 and he's going to the Florida Derby. He'll be ignored in the KDFW, but when the public zigs, it's often best for you to zag.
Bolo Trainer: Carla Gaines Odds: 50-1
He's a turf horse, right? Well perhaps, but his KDFW morning line is 50-1 and he's an absolute monster who might be considered for some Kentucky Derby preps on dirt, or at least synthetic. Either way, he's too talented to overlook, and he'll have a bright future ahead of him one way or the other. Take the 50-1 odds now, because you'll never see that again on this undefeated horse who toys with his rivals and then crushes them.
OVERRATED DERBY PROSPECTS
Not getting my money in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
Carpe Diem Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 12-1
Only 12-1 odds after finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and trains for Todd Pletcher, but again, these good 2-year-olds get passed quickly by other new up-and-comers this time of the season, and Carpe Diem is heading for the Tampa Bay Derby, which Pletcher likes but still is hardly a vote of confidence. I'd take Ocean Knight to beat him, and that'll make his 12-1 odds seem ridiculous (no value). Showed high ability as a 2-year-old, but I never saw that hint of greatness in him.
Danzig Moon Trainer: Mark Casse Odds: 50-1
Took three tries to graduate and finally won the maiden race at Gulfstream in a one-turn mile. Yet to earn a 90 Beyer speed figure. Not sue he'll handle the next level of competition successfully.
Firing Line Trainer: Simon Callaghan Odds: 20-1
This horse just missed twice in a row behind Dortmund, so he'll certainly have his fans, but as this distances increase, this one might find himself in increasingly hot water. Taking the Sunland Park Derby route to the Run for the Roses.
International Star Trainer: Mike Maker Odds: 20-1
In the exacta 6 of 8 times so far with wins in the LeComte and Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, but at this point, we've pretty much seen what he can do and it lags behind what some other top horses are doing elsewhere. Top connections with Mike Maker trainer for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, but nevertheless has limited upside.
Keen Ice Trainer: Dale Romans Odds: 50-1
Was against a speed bias in last fall's Remsen, and prepped this winter in the Holy Bull, but he hasn't taken the necessary step forward, lost the Risen Star, and always gets beat when facing good horses. He's a closer by Curlin, so he'll keep going longer and you never know when these types can take advantage of a pace meltdown, but he just plain doesn't seem good enough at this point.
Lord Nelson Trainer: Bob Baffert Odds: 30-1
Winner of the San Vicente at 7F, but all of his wins so far have been sprints, and his two stretchout to 1 1/16 miles have been disastrous.
Mr. Z Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas Odds: 50-1
Being run off his feet by D. Wayne Lukas with 10 career starts already as of Feb. 22, and he won't get a break at this time of year if he's heading for Kentucky, that's for sure. Always runs well, but he's seeming like always a bridesmaid, never the bride (just 1 career win).
Prospect Park Trainer: Clifford Sise Odds: 30-1
Only an allowance optional claiming winner at this stage with already five starts under his belt. Shortened up to one mile for last win, and while that victory was impressive, he still has a lot of ground to cover before becoming a serious contender come Derby Day.
The Great War Trainer: Wesley Ward Odds: 30-1
Owns four wins, but all were on turf or synthetic, including the big win at Turfway. Appears primed to take the Turfway route to the Derby, and while he was not embarrassed in dirt track debut when fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, it's still difficult to be convinced he's either a dirt horse, and or a real distance horse.
War Story Trainer: Tom Amoss Odds: 30-1
Finished second behind International in back-to-back Fair Grounds stakes races. Still has a little bit of upside at this point with improvement noted and never out of the exacta in four career starts. However, he's yet to show the pizazz you'd like to see from a horse you're betting will win the Kentucky Derby.
Good luck in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, in the Kentucky Derby prep races, and with all of your favorite 3-year-olds on the road to Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. Enjoy the spring . . . it'll get here soon . . . hopefully.
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