Kentucky Derby Futures: The Field Bunches as Preps Pick Up

Kentucky Derby prep season is underway at Gulfsream Park. (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 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 offered a momentary catch-your-breath respite from Kentucky Derby preps, with only a couple of listed two-turn stakes at Turfway Park and Sunland Park on the menu that didn’t offer any qualifying points. Saturday brings back the sizzle with the $400,000, Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, which drew a competitive field of 10 led by Good Magic, the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2017 champion 2-year-old male who is making his sophomore debut. The 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth offers Derby points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale.

Good Magic’s odds at Wynn have dipped to 9-1 in advance of his 3-year-old bow in the Fountain of Youth, making him the current co-favorite of Derby future-casters:

Feb. 26 Wynn Odds Leaders:

1) Good Magic (9-1)

1) McKinzie (9-1)

2) Audible (14-1)

2) Bolt d’Oro (14-1)

3) Justify (18-1)

3) Mask (18-1)*

4) Catholic Boy (20-1)

4) Solomini (20-1)

5) Restoring Hope (25-1)

* Note: Mask’s owner Bill Farish of Lane’s End told The Paulick Report on Feb. 28 that the colt would not be pointed to the Kentucky Derby due to an undisclosed setback that postponed his training schedule.  

Notable Changes:

Sporting Chance: Wynn’s odds for this talented colt dropped from 65-1 to 45-1 as more bettors jumped on his bandwagon following a good return to competition in the Feb. 19 Southwest Stakes. He finished third in that race but did not have the best of trips, and it was his first start in more than five months. He’s already a Grade 1 winner and has a pedigree (by two-time Horse of the Year Tiznow and out of a Candy Ride mare) that should help him as the races get longer. “The Coach,” D. Wayne Lukas, told America’s Best Racing’s Tom Pedulla that his charge would target the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 19.

Reride: Profiled in an earlier edition of this blog, this Candy Ride colt won the Mine That Bird Derby on Feb. 25 for his fourth win in five starts. His odds dropped at Wynn from 85-1 to 60-1 and, although his Equibase Speed Figures are a bit light, topping out in the mid-90s, he’s truthfully yet to run a bad race. In his only loss, he finished sixth in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he sat just off the pace and made a decent bid through the far turn and into early stretch before weakening. That was his first stakes try, and since then he’s won two minor stakes for owner-breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen, who campaigned 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Asmussen told Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini that this colt may contest the March 25 Sunland Derby, a Kentucky Derby points race, for his next start.

Greyvitos: Another horse discussed a while back in this blog, he’s resumed training for owner Triple B Farms and trainer Adam Kitchingman, posting a three-furlong workout at Del Mar on Feb. 26. Kitchingman told BloodHorse’s Alicia Wincze Hughes that the Derby is still under consideration, and he’s already got 10 qualifying points that he earned by winning the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes impressively last December before being sidelined with a bone chip. He’s been added back to Wynn’s sheet at 50-1 odds, and the two-time stakes winner has a prime pedigree for the Derby, by Malibu Moon (sire of 2013 rose-bearer Orb) and out of a dam [mother] who was a multiple turf graded stakes winner at route distances.

Justify: On Wynn’s Feb. 19 sheet, this Bob Baffert-trained son of Scat Daddy was posted at 300-1 odds – which, as it turned out, presaged a rapid and significant change in the futures market. He’d already won his first career start by 9 ½ lengths at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 21, earning a 103 Equibase Speed Figure and causing several long-time racing observes to wax rhapsodic about his late-developing Derby potential à la Curlin. Now, he sits at 18-1 odds, which seems like a huge underlay considering his lack of experience, but as mentioned last week, his connections have shown eagerness to target a Derby points race for this colt’s next start. Stay tuned …

He Takes Charge: This Mark Casse trainee also enjoyed an odds plummet on Wynn’s futures sheet, from 300-1 to 45-1 in advance of his start in Saturday’s Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (see below). It took him five starts to break his maiden, which he did at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 10, winning a 1 1/16-mile race by 2 ¼ lengths. He collared a runaway leader in that race coming out of the far turn, and did appear to weaken somewhat after taking the lead in midstretch. A big plus for his long-term prospects: his bloodlines. He’s a son of top sire Tapit, and his second dam (maternal grandmother) is $2.4 million-earner and multiple Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady. Take Charge Lady is also the dam (mother) of Travers Stakes winner Will Take Charge and Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy.

Curlin’s Honor: Here’s another promising colt trained by Casse, who is nudging his way onto the Derby trail in the late stages with contenders such as this one, He Takes Charge, and Mississippi. After taking a six-furlong maiden back in October at Keeneland – where he set a contested pace throughout and fought hard to win by a neck – Curlin’s Honor returned to action at Fair Grounds on Feb. 25 and scored another neck win in a six-furlong allowance, coming from off the pace this time. He earned only an 89 Equibase Speed Figure in that race, however. This Curlin colt was a $1.5 million purchase as a 2-year-old in training by co-owners John Oxley and Breeze Easy LLC. He now sits at 60-1 odds on Wynn’s sheet, down from 100-1, and it will be interesting to see where his connections place him next. Casse told Mary LaRue of BloodHorse that the March 17 Rebel Stakes is a possibility.

Three to Watch:

Storm Runner (Coady Photography)

Storm Runner: Slated to start in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth, this Get Stormy colt is a trendy longshot pick by some horseplayers (such as America’s Best Racing’s Ellis Starr) based on what appears to be his preference for racing on dirt. He finished second in his career debut on that surface last summer at Ellis Park (at 159.60-1 odds) and then second and third in two turf maidens during the fall, before winning a 1 1/16-mile maiden by an authoritative 4 ½ lengths when switched back to dirt at Churchill Downs. After making another turf start in January (where he finished eighth), he took a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race on dirt at Gulfstream on Feb. 4 by a neck, racing greenly in the stretch but earning a 111 Equibase Speed Figure. He’s offered at 100-1 odds by Wynn, and any time Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International buys part interest in a horse – which they did with this one back in September – it’s worth taking note. As noted above, while his pedigree leans toward turf, his race record shows otherwise, and that logically makes the Fountain of Youth worth a try.

Proximus: This Brad Cox-trained son of 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow fought hard to post a head win in a muddy six-furlong maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 19, and he’s offered at 150-1 odds by Wynn. That win was his career debut, and he earned a 90 Equibase Speed Figure. A Calumet Farm homebred, he’s out of an A.P. Indy mare and from the female family of multiple turf stakes winner Pleasant Temper, who did her best running at 1 1/16 miles. A definite longshot.

Magicalmeister: A new entry on Wynn’s sheet at 175-1 odds, this Bodemeister colt posted a 39-1 upset win in the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park on Feb. 23. The Battaglia is a prep for the March 17 Jeff Ruby Steaks (yes, Steaks) at Turfway, which offers 20 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, and those backing this James Chapman trainee are ideally hoping for a repeat performance from him on Turfway’s big day. That would seem to be this colt’s only plausible path to Churchill Downs, and his pedigree will bolster his chances if he does return in the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby, as Bodemeister has already proven his stamina credentials with last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. On the female side, he’s from the family of several turf graded stakes winners, which is a plus for horses racing on Turfway’s synthetic Polytrack surface.

Upcoming Derby Prep: Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park drew heavy hitters Good Magic, Free Drop Billy, and Strike Power (the latter an intriguing speed horse stretching out) as well as a few worthy upset candidates. Post time is set for 6:09 p.m. ET, and the race will be televised on FS2 as part of the “Fox Sports Saturday At the Races” series. Here are Wynn’s future odds for the field in post-position order:

1) He Takes Charge (45-1)

2) Free Drop Billy (40-1)

3) Peppered (275-1)

4) Strike Power (40-1)

5) Storm Runner (100-1)

6) Good Magic (9-1)

7) Gotta Go (75-1)

8) Marconi (60-1)

9) Machismo (75-1)

10) Promises Fulfilled (65-1)

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