Kentucky Derby Futures: Major Movers in the Heart of Prep Season

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

The prep season for the 145thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is fully underway as spring beckons, with key preps scheduled for every weekend going forward until mid-April. As usual, the road to the May 4 Derby will take plenty of unexpected twists and turns as contenders rise and fall with each passing race.

Forecasting the 20-horse field – and even taking an early stand on a potential winner backed by a future wager – is an annual highlight of Derby season, and the bookmakers at William Hill are keeping tabs on the major contenders for Derby 145.

After a busy Saturday featuring three Derby preps at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, and Turfway Park, this Saturday adds to the intrigue as Oaklawn Park officials stated that they will probably split the $1 million, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes into two divisions in order to handle the influx of horses originally slated to start in the San Felipe Stakes, which was cancelled while Santa Anita Park management examines its main track. The final decision will be announced on Wednesday, March 13, but odds are good that the Rebel will be held in two heats, with each race offering a $750,000 purse and 63.75 Derby qualifying points.

In addition to the latest Vegas futures, Churchill Downs closed the third of four Future Wager pools for Derby 145 on Sunday, May 10, at 6 p.m. Eastern. The “All Others” mutuel field led all entries in the Future Wager at 9-2 odds, while Game Winner and Improbable, both pointed to the Rebel Stakes, topped individual horses at 6-1 odds (with Improbable taking slightly more money in the win pool).

Below is our latest look at William Hill’s future-book odds for the Kentucky Derby, highlighting some key horses that have recently raced.

March 10 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the Kentucky Derby:

1. Game Winner (4-1)

2. Improbable (5-1)

3. Code of Honor (8-1)

3. Instagrand (8-1)

3. War of Will (8-1)

Five to Watch:

Tacitus (SV Photography)

Tacitus: One of the most surprising and pleasing developments on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this year is Hall of Famer Bill Mott’s major presence with no less than three viable Derby contenders. This Juddmonte Farms colt joined Hidden Scroll (16-1 at William Hill) and Country House (30-1) with a stakes-record win in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 and looked every bit the part of a horse that wants more distance. He had been on the bench since last November’s maiden win at Aqueduct (in his second career start) and showed a newfound ability to rate farther off of the pace in the Tampa Bay Derby than he did as a 2-year-old. The bloodlines are rock-solid, as he’s a son of Tapit and out of a dam, Close Hatches, who won five Grade 1 stakes all at 1 1/16 miles or longer. He’s sitting at 22-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet.

Code of Honor: Speaking of elite connections, this highly regarded colt owned by Will Farish and trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey erased all memories of a poor 3-year-old debut effort with a driving win in the March 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes and is now back among the upper ranks of Kentucky Derby contenders, where he resided last fall. This colt is getting 8-1 odds on William Hill’s book, good for a third-place tie among all horses (see above), and while those odds may seem a bit short considering he capitalized on a perfect pace setup and trip in the Fountain of Youth, there’s no denying this horse’s talent. His pedigree tilts toward speed on his dam’s side, but his sire, the young stallion Noble Mission, was a long-distance Group 1 winner in England and is a full brother (same sire and dam) to arguably one of the best racehorses of this century to date, European Horse of the Year Frankel. Read more about Code of Honor in Mike Curry’s Making the Grade profile for ABR.

Roadster (Eclipse Sportswire)

Roadster: Game Winner and Improbable may be the two brightest stars in Bob Baffert’s loaded stable of Kentucky Derby hopefuls, but this colt returned on March 1 to state his own case as a classic contender, and he’s offered at 14-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet. In his first start since finishing third behind Game Winner and Rowayton (75-1 at William Hill) in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3, he rolled to a 2 ½-length win over Nolo Contesto (24-1) in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Santa Anita Park, notching his second win in three career starts. He’s got an interesting pedigree as his sire, Quality Road, has had early success with offspring racing a route of ground such as City of Light and Abel Tasman. And although his dam was a stakes-winning sprinter, she has produced Grade 1 turf router Ascend and another stakes-placed horse who also ran well in races at a mile-and-a-sixteenth or longer. With the San Felipe cancelled and Game Winner and Improbable off to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes (and another Baffert-trained contender, 12-1 Mucho Gusto, pointing toward the March 24 Sunland Derby), it will be interesting to see where this colt shows up for his make-or-break attempt to secure Kentucky Derby points. The April 6 Santa Anita Derby would seem to be his best spot.

Haikal: This colt continued his very impressive young career by winning his third race in a row in the one-mile Gotham Stakes on March 9 with a sustained late rally through the stretch. He has excelled at Aqueduct where he’s made all of his four career starts, and is a neck shy of being unbeaten. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the Shadwell Stable homebred will remain at his home track for the mile-and-an-eighth April 6 Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets, which makes sense but will leave open the question of whether this colt is a textbook “horse for course” to go along with concerns about distance limitations in his pedigree. His sire, Daaher, was a Grade 1-winning miler, and on his dam’s side, he is a half-brother to Grade 1-winning sprinter Takaful, a very fast horse who was tried at longer distances earlier in his career and could not sustain his run each time. At any rate, William Hill’s current Derby future odds of 75-1 on Haikal offer great value based on his accomplishments. ABR's Mike Curry profiled Haikal after the Gotham for his Making the Grade series.

Sueno: With all of the Derby prep activity taking place during the past three weeks, this colt’s performance in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 has been somewhat overlooked. He’s sitting at odds of 75-1 on William Hill’s latest update, one of the better values among the horses offered. Shipped to Oaklawn Park for the Southwest, he made a late run to just miss catching huge longshot winner Super Steed (now off of the Derby trail due to injury). That marked his second runner-up effort in a row in a stakes race after finishing behind Gunmetal Gray (12-1 at William Hill) in the Jan. 5 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park. This colt began his career in the maiden claiming ranks back in August at Del Mar, where he ran in two consecutive 5 ½-furlong sprints and won the second one. But since then he’s competed in stakes races with one win (at Golden Gate Fields on its synthetic main track) followed by the aforementioned two second-place finishes. Trainer Keith Desormeaux has proven to be an astute manager of horses on the Triple Crown trail in recent years (recall 2016 Preakness winner and Derby runner-up Exaggerator or even last year’s Derby contender My Boy Jack), and this one bears watching as a live longshot in the weeks ahead, although where he’ll make his next start is yet to be determined. His sire, Atreides, was sprinter/miler (albeit a very talented one), but he does have a bit more stamina on his dam’s side of the family tree.

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