Kentucky Derby Futures: Rising Stars for the New Year

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

The prep season for the 145thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is fully underway as the new year unfolds, with key preps scheduled for nearly every weekend going forward until the first Saturday in May. As usual, the road to the 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.

This upcoming weekend, no Derby points races are scheduled, but the action will resume next Saturday, Jan. 19, with the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, which offers qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.

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

Jan. 6 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the Kentucky Derby:

1) Game Winner (5-1)

2) Coliseum (8-1)

2) Improbable (8-1)

4) Instagrand (10-1)

5) Gunmetal Gray (12-1)

Five to Watch:

Gunmetal Gray (BENOIT photo)

Gunmetal Gray: Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was already represented by a talented colt on the Derby 2019 trail in Instagrand, who blew away his opponents in two races at Del Mar last summer and was then shelved for a 3-year-old campaign that should begin soon. The California-based Hall of Famer now has another promising contender in Sham Stakes winner Gunmetal Gray, who benefited from a patient ride from Mike Smith to rally from last of seven and win the Jan. 5 Sham by a length. The son of Exchange Rate now sits at future-book odds of 12-1 at William Hill, dropping from 60-1 on their last sheet. He’s been keeping good company throughout his five-race career, competing against the likes of Game Winner (finishing second to that future-book leader in the American Pharoah Stakes) and Roadster, among others. This appropriately-named colt with the coat color of a World War II marine vessel earned a career-high 105 Equibase Speed Figure in the Sham and fits in nicely with the other top California-based Derby contenders, although his pedigree suggests he should perform best in middle distance-races such as a mile to a mile and sixteenth. Mike Curry digs deeper into Gunmetal Gray’s credentials in his latest ABR blog.

Mind Control: Here’s another horse who won impressively in a recent prep but profiles more as a miler rather than a top-level Derby contender. Mind Control rebounded from a rough-trip seventh in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to score a 1 ½-length win in the one-mile Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day, his third win in five career starts. His odds dropped from 80-1 to 60-1 on William Hill’s sheet, indicating that the Derby future-casters are still a bit skeptical about this Stay Thirsty colt’s ability at the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance. He did earn a career-best 101 Equibase Speed Figure in the Jerome, where he set a contested but modest early pace and continued on well to the wire. Mike Curry has more detailed analysis of this talented colt here.

Mihos (Leslie Martin/Coglianese photo)

Mihos: This Jimmy Jerkens-trained son of promising young stallion Cairo Prince scored a neck win in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park traveling a one-turn mile on Jan. 5, and his odds dropped from 150-1 to 40-1 on William Hill’s book as a result. Jockey Jose Ortiz was urging Mihos from a stalking position through the far turn at Gulfstream as the colt gained the advantage against odds-on Code of Honor while both traveled wide, and then set down to catch leader Trophy Chaser at the wire. The stakes win was far from visually impressive as Mihos did not change leads until midstretch, but he did earn a career-high 100 Equibase Speed Figure and improved his career record to 2-for-3 following a solid 1 ¼-length maiden win at Aqueduct in November. Mihos has a decent, though not spectacular, pedigree on his dam’s (mother’s) side, but as noted above Cairo Prince holds some intrigue as a young stallion with a strong distance pedigree (by Pioneerofthe Nile and out of a Holy Bull mare) whose racing career was cut short early. Jerkens told Gulfstream Park’s press corps that he planned to keep Mihos in South Florida and target Gulfstream's upcoming Derby preps.

Nolo Contesto: Here’s a debut contender on William Hill’s latest update, entering the future-book wagering at 80-1. Racing for Accelerate’s connections of owner Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler, this Pioneerofthe Nile ridgling progressed nicely in his second career start on Jan. 4 at Santa Anita Park. He was caught wide in the first turn of the one-mile maiden special weight, but otherwise enjoyed a good stalking trip under Joel Rosario and engaged favored Omaha Beach (see below) at the top of the lane for a very exciting stretch duel between two precocious 3-year-olds. Nolo Contesto won by a half-length in his comeback race after a fifth-place effort in his debut at Del Mar on Dec. 1, and earned an eye-catching 111 Equibase Speed Figure. He’s another son of Pioneerofthe Nile, and his dam (mother) Applauding, by Congrats, set a track record for six furlongs at Keeneland in 2011, back when Keeneland had a synthetic-surface main track. It will be interesting to see if Sadler targets a first-level allowance for Nolo Contesto’s next start or moves him up to tackle stakes company.

Gun It: Here’s another new entrant on William Hill’s future book to keep very close tabs on. He sits at 100-1 odds on the Jan. 6 sheet following a 4 ¼-length score in a 1 1/16-mile maiden at Fair Grounds on Dec. 22, which was his second career start after finishing fourth in a race at the same distance at Churchill Downs in late October. In his career debut, the Steve Asmussen trainee contested the early pace only to tire in the stretch, but he showed more maturity in his sophomore effort, stalking the pace under Ricardo Santana Jr. while saving ground through the backstretch and then moving out three-wide and taking command at the top of the lane. Gun It threw his head a few times in midstretch, but was kept to task by his jockey and appeared to have plenty left at the finish, earning a 95 Equibase Speed Figure. This colt sold for $2.6 million at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling auction to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm, who races him with co-breeder Three Chimneys Farm. His pedigree is one of the best I’ve seen among this group of Kentucky Derby contenders, as he’s a son of leading sire Tapit and out of the dam (mother) Miss Besilu. That mare finished third twice in two Grade 1 stakes during her racing career, and more importantly, she’s a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire) to 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Saint Liam and also to Grade 1 winner Funtastic and Grade 2 winner Quiet Giant, the dam of reigning Horse of the Year Gun Runner. As of Jan. 8, Gun It is not listed among the probables for next weekend’s Lecomte Stakes … but stay tuned.

Other Notables: Sueno, who finished a good second to Gunmetal Gray in the Sham, appears on William Hill’s book at 75-1 odds, while third-place finisher Much Better dropped from 100-1 to 75-1 and sixth-place Coliseum moved down from 10-1 to 8-1; perhaps Coliseum’s slow start and wide trip offered a legitimate excuse for bettors, as he took more futures action at William Hill despite his Sham finish. Trophy Chaser, runner-up to Mihos in the Mucho Macho Man, saw his odds drop from 100-1 to 75-1.

Omaha Beach, a game second to Nolo Contesto in the above-discussed Santa Anita maiden on Jan. 4, debuted at 100-1 odds on William Hill’s new sheet. The Fox Hill Farms-owned son of War Front, named after the famous D-Day beachhead, has finished second three consecutive times following a third-place debut and is well-bred for long distances as he’s a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire) to 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Take Charge Brandi and from the family of millionaires and Grade 1 winners Take Charge Lady, Will Take Charge, and Take Charge Indy.

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