Kentucky Derby Futures: Odds Tighten for Top Contenders

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

The buildup to the 145th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is nearing its end, with two final prep races scheduled for April 13 and then a three-week break until the run for the roses.

Forecasting the 20-horse field – and even taking a 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 contenders for Derby 145.

Last Saturday, three major preps were held that had a big impact on the Derby futures market. Roadster emerged as the “Derby buzz horse” du jour with a rallying win over Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby, Tacitus posted a gritty win in the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets, and Vekoma easily won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. The final two prep races offering Kentucky Derby qualifying points are scheduled for Saturday, April 13: the $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, distributing points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale; and the $200,000, Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, offering points to the top four on a 20-8-4-2 scale.

In addition to the latest Vegas futures, Churchill Downs closed the last of its of four Future Wager pools for Derby 145 on Sunday, April 7, at 6 p.m. Eastern. Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster led all betting interests at closing odds of 6-1, with Xpressbet Florida Derby winner Maximum Security and Santa Anita Derby runner-up Game Winner each closing at 7-1 odds (Maximum Security took 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.

April 7 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the Kentucky Derby:

1) Game Winner (5-1)

1) Maximum Security (5-1)

3) Improbable (6-1)

3) Roadster (6-1)

3) Vekoma (6-1)

Notable Changes:

Tacitus (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Tacitus: The Wood Memorial winner dropped from 22-1 odds to 8-1 odds in William Hill’s book and closed at the same price in Churchill Downs’ final Derby future pool. Profiled in the prior edition of this blog, Tacitus checks all the boxes for a Kentucky Derby contender in this era. Lack of racing experience might be a concern in years past, but now having only four career starts heading into the Derby is nothing out of the ordinary – and in fact places this colt right alongside the other three contenders profiled in this section. In the Wood, Tacitus showed he could recover from early race trouble as he was bumped at the start and then was clipped heading into the first turn and had to adjust his path. He responded well under Jose Ortiz through the backstretch and displayed the same sort of sustained, grinding style that he showed in his Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby victory when he put away Tax (14-1 odds at William Hill) in the late going to win the Wood by 1 ¼ lengths. Like every other come-from behind horse, he’ll need racing luck in the Derby, but he’s got a big chance, and is a standout among the 2019 field based on stamina in both form and pedigree. Hall of Famer Bill Mott should have him ready for a peak performance, and his current future odds of 8-1 should be right around his post-time odds in the Derby.

Vekoma: After winning the Blue Grass Stakes, Vekoma’s sitting at 6-1 odds in William Hill’s book (down from 20-1), which actually should be an underlay compared with his expected post-time odds in Derby 145. Trainer George Weaver is effusive about this colt’s talent and professionalism, and he certainly had little trouble winning the Blue Grass under a perfect-trip ride from Javier Castellano, but skeptics about his Derby chances have some valid concerns – first and foremost being the quality of the fields in both the Blue Grass and the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes, where he finished third. As discussed in an earlier blog, his pedigree mixes stamina (sire Candy Ride) and speed (dam Mona de Momma, a Grade 1-winning sprinter), and his stride when in full flight – displaying an awkward, almost side-stepping action – suggests to this observer that a mile and a quarter may be beyond his scope. His preference to race close to the lead should be a big an asset in the Derby, though, and it would be no surprise to hear his name called when the 20-horse field hits the top of the homestretch.

Maximum Security: This undefeated colt, he of the meteoric rise from a maiden claiming debut to Grade 1 winner, is getting 5-1 odds at William Hill, up a tick from 4-1 in the last update, and he closed at 7-1 in Churchill’s pool. As with Vekoma, those odds should be lower than his Derby post-time odds. There’s no doubting his talent, but there’s also no doubting that this colt had a perfect setup in the Florida Derby once Hidden Scroll’s jockey Javier Castellano decided to settle off Maximum Security’s lead and not contest what turned out to be a very comfortable pace. The big question come Derby day will be directed at owners Gary and Mary West, who also campaign Game Winner. Will there be any instructions given to the two training camps (Jason Servis/Maximum Security and Bob Baffert/Game Winner) as to their colts’ respective positioning through the first quarter-mile? As it stands now, Maximum Security is one of two pure speed horses listed on the Derby’s top 20 points leaderboard, along with Omaha Beach. It would not be a surprise at all to see this colt sent hard from the Derby gate, as being forwardly placed has been favorable to horses in recent editions of the race. Read Mike Curry’s recent ABR profile on Maximum Security for more analysis of his running style and pedigree.

Roadster: This colt, who along with Instagrand generated some incipient 2019 Kentucky Derby buzz at Del Mar last summer, completed his comeback to the upper reaches of the contenders’ list with a visually impressive score in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s now firmly entrenched with Game Winner as the leading Derby horses in Bob Baffert’s loaded stable, and Improbable is the odd horse out – a situation that may only be temporary (see below). This athletic colt has a good stamina pedigree for the Derby, as discussed in the previous edition of this blog. Closing as the Derby favorite in Churchill’s final futures pool is a bit of a surprise, but his 6-1 odds there and at William Hill (down from 10-1) may very well be similar to, or even higher, than his post-time odds for the Derby, especially if he trains well at Churchill after shipping there and he retains “Big Money” Mike Smith as his jockey.

Omaha Beach (inside) and Game Winner. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Horses to Watch

Arkansas Derby probables: Saturday’s Arkansas Derby is shaping up to be a high-drama contest, given that as of April 8 no connections of horses currently in the top 20 of the Kentucky Derby points standings have announced that their charges would be skipping the 145th run for the roses. Currently, Omaha Beach, one of the most highly regarded 3-year-olds in training, sits in the 19th spot on the leaderboard, and Improbable, a futures-book Kentucky Derby fixture for six months, isn’t even in the top 20. Both of those horses are pointed to the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, and William Hill is offering odds of 10-1 on Omaha Beach (down from 12-1) and 6-1 on Improbable (unchanged from their last update).

Omaha Beach’s 37.5 points would rank higher on the Derby leaderboard in years past at this point in the prep season, but right now he’s only ahead of Japan’s automatic qualifier Master Fencer. A top-four finish is a must for the Richard Mandella-trained second division Rebel Stakes winner (read Mike Curry’s ABR profile). Improbable, on the other hand, currently has 25 points and will need to finish in the top three on Saturday to get a points cushion.

As for the rest, Long Range Toddy (15-1) is safely in the Derby starting gate, and Country House (listed as possible as of April 8, 40-1) needs a top-three finish. For every other horse, a top-two Arkansas Derby finish will be required to book a van or plane ride to Louisville. That group includes Galilean (35-1), who could move forward off of a decent third-place finish in the first division of the Rebel Stakes, Gray Attempt (75-1), a one-dimensional pacesetter who is not as fast as Omaha Beach and Improbable; and three possible starters for trainer Steve Asmussen in Jersey Agenda (150-1), Laughing Fox (150-1), and Tikhvin Flew (175-1). From that trio, Laughing Fox would seem to have the most upside and the best pedigree to possibly make the exacta in the Arkansas Derby, but all are deserved longshots.

Lexington Stakes probables: The 1 1/16-mile Stonestreet Lexington Stakes is the other concluding Kentucky Derby prep set for Saturday, and its point distribution is such that only a first-place finish offers any real value for horses chasing a spot in the May 4 starting gate. Two horses listed as probable Lexington Stakes contenders – Anothertwistafate (30 points, 25-1 at William Hill) and Sueno (28 points, 60-1) – could secure a good position on the Derby leaderboard with a win. Conceivably, either one could also remain in the Derby discussion with a runner-up finish and 8 added points, but they would need late defections from other horses to make the final cut. Of the other horses that may run in the Lexington, probable starter Harvey Wallbanger (not offered by William Hill) and possible starters Knicks Go and Roiland (both 125-1) still would be on the outside looking in with regards to the Derby even if they won at Keeneland. (Roiland is also listed as possible for the Arkansas Derby and would need to finish in the top two at Oaklawn to move into the top 20.)

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