Kentucky Derby Futures: New No. 1 and More Baffert Buzz

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

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 are still dozens of 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, five horses gained 10 or more points via the Road to the Kentucky Derby series of qualifying preps – Bravazo (50) for winning the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford along with runner-up Snapper Sinclair (20) and third-place finisher Noble Indy (10); Paved (10) in the El Camino Real Derby (the filly is not expected to target the Derby); and My Boy Jack (10) in the Southwest Stakes. The upcoming weekend features no preps offering Derby qualifying points, but there will still be a few minor stakes and allowance races of note featuring 3-year-olds that have an outside chance of joining the First Saturday in May fray in the coming weeks.

Wynn’s latest futures sheet does reveal a shift at the top of the betting choices, as Bolt d’Oro moved from 7-1 to 14-1 while his connections target the March 10 San Felipe Stakes for this 3-year-old debut. Former second-ranked McKinzie, who may also race next in the San Felipe, is now the odds board leader at 8-1.

Feb. 19 Wynn Odds Leaders:

1. McKinzie (8-1)

2. Good Magic (12-1)

3. Bolt d’Oro (14-1)

4. Audible (15-1)

5. Mask (18-1)

Notable Changes:

Bravazo: Odds dropped from 125-1 to 40-1 at Wynn following his game win in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. That score improved his record as a 3-year-old to a perfect 2-for-2, and the 50 points earned most likely guaranteed him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Given that Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm sent three horses to last year’s Derby, he’s a shoo-in to start if healthy – and based on the way he’s run this year, if he continues to progress in his next, and probably his final, prep he could be one of the favorites. Read more about this D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt bred on the same cross as 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow in Mike Curry’s latest Making the Grade blog.

Snapper Sinclair: Validated his fine third-place finish in the Jan. 13 Lecomte Stakes with an even better runner-up effort to Bravazo in the Risen Star, in which he came up a nose short after setting a contested pace. He earned a 110 Equibase Speed Figure in the Risen Star (same as Bravazo), a new career high. I’ve kept tabs on this horse since watching him win a turf stakes at Kentucky Downs last fall and can’t wait to see him on the lawn again, but given his last two starts and the Derby points (22) accumulated, who can blame his connections keeping him on the trail? His pedigree and stretch runs in these last two races suggest that 1 1/16 miles could be his limit, on dirt at least, but for those who think otherwise he’s sitting at 85-1 odds at Wynn now, down from 150-1 a week ago.

My Boy Jack: Romped in the Southwest Stakes under a very well-timed and well-placed Kent Desormeaux rail ride, and one couldn’t help thinking about the last star colt to race for trainer Keith Desormeaux and his Hall of Fame brother, 2016 Preakness winner and off-track specialist Exaggerator, when watching him churn through the Oaklawn Park mud. He’s expected to make just one more start before the Derby, and he’ll need to snag additional points, but he’s proven to be very consistent – although aside from the Southwest, his best races have all come on turf. Other than in his debut last summer, he’s only been soundly beaten once, by current future-book favorite McKinzie in the Sham Stakes. His odds dropped a cool century mark at Wynn, from 150-1 to 50-1.

Flameaway: The Sam F. Davis Stakes winner’s odds slipped from 60-1 to 35-1 at Wynn after horseplayers had another week to consider his qualifications as a Kentucky Derby contender after his impressive effort at Tampa Bay Downs. They were aided by the knowledge that owner John Oxley will nominate him to the Triple Crown. His versatility and consistency make him a very attractive future book bet, although, as with Snapper Sinclair, I think ultimately that turf will be his showcase surface.

New York Central: This Steve Asmussen-trained Tapit colt outfinished Transgress to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming event one race after the Feb. 19 Southwest Stakes, winning by a neck. With the win, he improved on a runner-up effort in his 3-year-old debut, in which he finished three-quarters of a length behind a local buzz horse named Higher Power on Jan. 13 as the 1-2 favorite. This colt is now 2-for-4 in his career, and his odds have slipped from 100-1 to 85-1 on Wynn’s latest sheet (Transgress sits at 150-1). He is from the female family of 2005 Kentucky Derby runner-up and Haskell Invitational Stakes winner Peace Rules. Note: This race’s final time was a shade over one second slower than the Southwest’s, held at the same distance.

Five to Watch:

Gold Town: He won the United Arab Emirates Two Thousand Guineas Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin empire on Feb. 15, romping by 10 ½ lengths at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, and his odds at Wynn sit at 75-1 as he targets the March 31 United Arab Emirates Derby. That race offers 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, and sent the skittish Thunder Snow to Louisville last year. This gelding has won three races in a row by open lengths after a mediocre five-race start to his career, including both starts on dirt this year in Dubai. He’s by the late stallion Street Cry, sire of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, the legendary Zenyatta, and current Australian megastar Winx, among others. On his dam’s (mother’s) side, he’s related to champion turf female and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Dank along with several other international long-distance turf horses. No Dubai-based horse has made much of a showing in the Kentucky Derby through the years, but its mile-and-a-quarter distance shouldn’t be a problem for this one if he’s good enough to make the trip.

Heck Yeah: Improved his career record to an unblemished 3-for-3 with an impressive 1 ¼-length win in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita Park on Presidents Day. That was his first start around two turns, and co-owner and breeder Michael Pageler told BloodHorse that he would not dissuade trainer Bob Baffert in targeting a Kentucky Derby points race for this colt’s next start. All three of his wins have come in races restricted to California-breds, but as recent memory recalls, 2014 Kentucky Derby hero California Chrome started his ascent to superstar status on the same path. He’s a new entry to Wynn’s sheet at 75-1 odds, and is by the young sire Acclamation, a West Coast star during his career and the 2011 Eclipse Award winner as champion older male. 

Justify (BENOIT photo)

Justify: Another Derby futures update brings more Baffert buzz, and in addition to Heck Yeah, the Hall of Fame four-time Derby-winning trainer sent this Scat Daddy colt out to post a 9 ½-length career debut win going seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Feb. 18. In the race, he set a contested, swift pace into the turn, drew clear entering the stretch under minimal urging, and then accelerated smoothly when given his cue by Drayden Van Dyke in a very impressive showing. He earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure in the win, but he only defeated four horses – and to urge a further word of caution, his pedigree, while decent, does not pack top-level Derby stamina punch. His connections may send him straight into a Derby points race for his next start, as Baffert told the Santa Anita press office that “it’s not too late” to target the first leg of the Triple Crown. Note: He sits at 300-1 odds on Wynn’s Feb. 19 sheet, but those odds may have changed in the past 48 hours. If they haven’t….

Machismo: This More Than Ready colt brings 75-1 odds at Wynn, reflecting his dominant performance in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3. Making his fourth career start, he put it all together with an 11 ½-length score that was worth a 98 Equibase Speed Figure, his career best by nine points. Given that nine of his 10 opponents in that race were making their first career starts, 75-1 seems a bit low for a Derby futures play on a maiden winner, and his female family is not exceptional (although his dam, by Smart Strike, was a five-time winner in route races). He does have name appeal for some good-natured chest-beating should you put some money down and he trains on to win the Derby, regardless of your gender.

Magnum Moon: Along with Justify, this Todd Pletcher trainee generated the most chatter among Derby watchers last week when looking beyond the qualifying stakes races. Making his second career start after a 4 ½-length debut win in January at Gulfstream, this Malibu Moon colt cruised to a two-length win at 1-10 odds in a one-mile and 40-yard allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 15. In the race, he displayed a nice, fluid stride while settling off the pace through the backstretch, and then shifted four-wide entering the stretch before easily putting away the three horses in front of him with while not being asked by jockey Luis Saez. Malibu Moon has already proved capable as a Kentucky Derby sire with 2013 victor Orb, and this colt’s female family includes Arkansas Derby winner and sire Graeme Hall among several other graded stakes winners. Wynn has him at 30-1 odds, and while the Fountain of Youth Stakes (on March 3) and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (March 10) may be too soon for his anticipated step up onto the Kentucky Derby trail, the Louisiana Derby (March 24) and the Florida Derby (March 31) most certainly are not.

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