Kentucky Derby Futures: Make-or-Break Weekend Looms

Eclipse Sportswire

One of the most exciting pit stops on the Road to the Triple Crown involves laying down some cash on a futures pick for the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Through April, America’s Best Racing will bring you up to date with the changing odds and notable entries at the pre-eminent Kentucky Derby future wager bookmaker on the Las Vegas strip – Wynn Las Vegas.

We’ll revisit these odds when new sheets are released (usually after a major prep race is completed). With each passing prep race, the number of viable Derby contenders will shrink, but as of now there 30 or so horses out there that carry the dreams of owners and gamblers alike to find the Churchill Downs winner’s circle somewhere around 7 p.m. ET on May 5. 

Last weekend’s results sent two already well-regarded Derby contenders even higher up the future-book rankings, as Audible won the Xpressbet Florida Derby going away and Mendelssohn routed his competition in the Dubai desert, winning the United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group.

This weekend, Derby prep activity reaches its summit with three 170-point races that will further define what has turned out to be an exemplary crop of 3-year-old Triple Crown contenders. At Santa Anita Park, Bolt d’Oro headlines the Santa Anita Derby (now minus McKinzie and adding Justify). At Aqueduct, the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets is expected to draw Gotham Stakes winner Enticed, among others. And at Keeneland in the heart of Kentucky’s horse country, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes is slated to feature champion Good Magic and 13 other Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

In addition to the Vegas action, Churchill Downs will be holding its fourth and final Kentucky Derby Future Wager, running from noon on April 6 to 6 p.m. Eastern on April 8. Bolt d'Oro has the lowest opening odds in the pool at 5-1.

The future book at Wynn now fits on a single printed page, indicating that time is running out on viable contenders for the Derby’s 20-horse starting gate. Here are the latest odds in advance of a big Saturday in horse racing.

April 2 Wynn Odds Leaders to Win the Kentucky Derby:

1) Justify (6-1)

2) Audible (8-1)

2) Bolt d’Oro (8-1)

4) Magnum Moon (10-1)

5) Good Magic (12-1)

5) Mendelssohn (12-1)

5) Noble Indy (12-1)

5) Solomini (12-1)

April 2 Wynn Odds Leaders to Win the Triple Crown:

1) Justify (15-1)

2) Bolt d’Oro (25-1)

3) Audible (30-1)

4) Magnum Moon (50-1)

4) Noble Indy (50-1)

6) Good Magic (65-1)

Notable Changes:

Audible: This colt entered the Florida Derby off of four consecutive dominant wins, including a 5 ½-length romp in the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3. With distance questions about his pedigree the only question mark, he was sent off as the 8-5 favorite in a competitive Florida Derby field, and he made those odds look like a gift from the Magi with a three-length romp. His odds on Wynn’s futures sheet dropped from 15-1 to 8-1, and despite being by Into Mischief (who’s got a great reputation as a sire of middle-distance horses), visually he appears to crave the added distance he’ll get in the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby. He’s also shown the ability to either sit just off of the pace or even in midpack, and has launched powerful rallies in all four of his wins. In the Florida Derby, he did capitalize on a fast early pace through six furlongs, and also wavered a bit in deep stretch before straightening back out – but to these eyes at least it did not appear to be due to fatigue. All systems are go for the Kentucky Derby, where he’ll vie with Rebel Stakes winner and probable Arkansas Derby starter Magnum Moon for the lowest post-time odds among Todd Pletcher’s group.

Mendelssohn: As impressive as Audible’s win was at Gulfstream Park, this colt’s showing at spectacular Meydan Racecourse in Dubai was even better. Making his first start on dirt, he jetted away from eight outclassed opponents en route to an 18 ½-length win. That’s his third win a row going back to his score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last November at Del Mar. After that, he prepped for the UAE Derby in a one-mile conditions race at Dundalk Park in Ireland on a synthetic main track, which he won by three-quarters of a length. As a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to champion Beholder and the aforementioned sire Into Mischief, this $3 million yearling purchase by the Coolmore group had the bloodlines to handle a dirt surface, and handle it he did indeed in Dubai. So another UAE Derby winner is headed to Louisville… but this year, there’s already a decidedly different aura building around what’s usually a toss-out horse for many U.S. handicappers. His odds dropped from 40-1 to 12-1 on Wynn’s sheet.

Hofburg: Making only his third career start, and second as a 3-year-old, he ran on to be clearly second best in the Florida Derby, accumulating 40 points toward the Kentucky Derby. This Juddmonte Farms homebred under the supervision of Hall of Famer Bill Mott is now offered at 25-1 odds by Wynn, 100 points down from last week. As a horseman, Mott has been widely lauded through the years for his patience in developing horses, and thus he’s usually absent from the Kentucky Derby picture. But this year is full of lightly-raced, yet very talented 3-year-olds, and based on Hofburg’s March 3 maiden win at Gulfstream and his effort in the Florida Derby (both earning triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures) he’s shown he belongs in the Derby discussion. His pedigree is also encouraging, as a son of top sire Tapit and out of a dam (mother) who has also produced two other stakes winners, including four-time route Grade 1 winner Emollient.

Gronkowski: He tallied his fourth consecutive win with a driving 1 ¼-length score in a listed stakes in England on March 30, and secured the single spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate reserved for the leading points earner in Churchill Downs’ European Road to the Kentucky Derby race series. Originally pointed to either the Blue Grass Stakes or the Wood Memorial this Saturday, he was redirected to the final race in the European series by trainer Jeremy Noseda due to a misunderstanding about the qualifying points system, and he handled the easier competition in a workmanlike fashion. His four wins have come at one mile on synthetic surfaces, and he didn’t exactly show a swift turn of foot in this latest win. So his current odds of 25-1 at Wynn (down from 75-1) could very well be lower than what he’ll be sent off at when the Derby starting gates open (unless the presence of his namesake Rob Gronkowski on the grounds at Churchill makes him a pop-culture underlay, which is certainly possible).

Five to Watch:

Justify (Eclipse Sportswire)

Justify: It’s a testament to this horse’s acing of “the eye test” on a 1600-SAT level that he’s currently Wynn’s 6-1 future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby despite having accumulated exactly zero qualifying points for the classic with less than five weeks to go. Admittedly, his speed figure numbers in only two starts also place him among the fastest of his crop, but keep in mind that he’s only raced twice, at seven furlongs and a mile, and against a total of eight opponents – of which only one, Shivermetimbers, has drawn any notices on the Derby trail. Now, after a solid tune-up work at Santa Anita on April 2, he’s been redirected by Bob Baffert to tussle with Bolt d’Oro in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby (and don’t forget Instilled Regard). Give Baffert due credit – he needs to find out just how good his charge is before sending him to Louisville, and with his other top horse McKinzie sidelined and out of the Santa Anita Derby, what better way to do it than by testing him against the most accomplished 3-year-old in training? With a first- or second-place finish a must on Saturday in order to make the Kentucky Derby, this colt’s name matches his challenge quite well.

Restoring Hope: Bob Baffert’s April 2 shuffling of his top Kentucky Derby contenders now places this improving Giant’s Causeway colt on the road to Queens to run in Saturday’s Wood Memorial. As with Justify, he has no qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and must finish first or second to get in the mix for a starting gate spot. According to Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form, Flavien Prat is set to ride him in the Wood, and he’ll enter that race off of several swift workouts at his Santa Anita home base. Profiled in an earlier edition of this blog shortly after his maiden win on Feb. 2, he’s received strong backing in Vegas for weeks and currently sits at 28-1. We’ll know a lot more about his development by Saturday night, but one word of caution is that the two horses that defeated him in his first two career starts – All Out Blitz and Peace – have turned out to be a cut below Kentucky Derby caliber.

Marconi and Vino Rosso: These two graded stakes-placed colts from Todd Pletcher’s stable are also due to return in Saturday preps. Marconi is entered in the Blue Grass Stakes, and Vino Rosso is probable for the Wood Memorial. Vino Rosso has seven qualifying points for the Derby, and Marconi only two. Both have good distance pedigrees, and they’ve been working steadily at Palm Beach Downs since finishing fifth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby, respectively. Time is now of the essence, and they’ll each have a chance to join Pletcher’s A-listers Audible, Magnum Moon, and Noble Indy at Churchill Downs with a top-two finish in their respective races (conceivably, Vino Rosso could sneak into the Kentucky Derby with a third-place finish in the Wood and 20 added points). Wynn’s odds: 85-1 for Marconi, 65-1 for Vino Rosso.

Tiz Mischief: When Promises Fulfilled’s luster as a Kentucky Derby contender dimmed following his last-place finish in the Florida Derby, this colt and Free Drop Billy give Louisville’s Dale Romans his best remaining chances to represent his home track well on racing’s biggest stage come May 5. Free Drop Billy sits right on the Derby bubble with 24 points and is slated for Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes, and so is this colt, who has a mere six points. Tiz Mischief spent the early winter as a bit of a wiseguy Derby horse given that he’d lost the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by a head bob to Enticed and seemed to be headed in the right direction … but his two starts as a 3-year-old (third in the Holy Bull Stakes, fifth in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby) have taken him in another direction, to put it mildly. His two workouts since the Tampa Bay Derby have been good, but he’ll have to take a gargantuan leap in form to hit the board against Good Magic, Quip, Flameaway, and Free Drop Billy at Keeneland on Saturday. He’s sitting at 125-1 odds on Wynn’s sheet (Free Drop Billy is at 35-1).

Upcoming Derby Preps: As mentioned above, there are three Kentucky Derby preps set for Saturday, each at 1 1/8 miles and offering 170 : the $1 million, Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby; the $1 million, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes; and the $750,000, Grade 2 Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets. All three will be televised by NBC Sports in a two-hour broadcast on NBCSN airing from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Toyota Blue Grass Stakes:

1) Zing Zang (250-1)

2) Sporting Chance (125-1)

3) California Night (250-1)

4) Kanthaka (85-1)

5) Quip (22-1)

6) Marconi (85-1)

7) Blended Citizen (125-1)

8) Gotta Go (250-1)

9) Tiz Mischief (125-1)

10) Free Drop Billy (35-1)

11) Good Magic (12-1)

12) Flameaway (25-1)

13) Machismo (75-1)

14) Arawak (not offered)

Santa Anita Derby:

1) Instilled Regard (25-1)

2) Orbit Rain (250-1)

3) Bolt d'Oro (8-1)

4) Jimmy Chila (not offered)

5) Pepe Tono (200-1)

6) Justify (6-1)

7) Core Beliefs (300-1)

Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets:

1) Heartfullofstars (175-1)

2) Firenze Fire (60-1)

3) Evaluator (175-1)

4) Old Time Revival (75-1)

5) Enticed (20-1)

6) Catch Twenty Two (not offered)

7) King Zachary (85-1)

8) Restoring Hope (28-1)

9) Vino Rosso (65-1)

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