Kentucky Derby Futures: Who Can Break the Baffert Stranglehold?

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.

Last weekend, key preps took place coast to coast, with a trio of points races in New York, Florida, and California. This Saturday, the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes offers qualifying points for the Derby on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers.

In addition to the Vegas futures, Churchill Downs is offering their second of three future wager pools on the May 4 Kentucky Derby this upcoming weekend. Betting opens on Friday, Feb. 8 at noon Eastern and closes on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. Eastern. The “all other 3-year-olds” selection leads Churchill’s odds board prior to Friday’s opening at 5-2 odds, while Game Winner and Improbable top individual horses at odds of 6-1 and 8-1, respectively.

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

Feb. 3 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the Kentucky Derby:

1) Game Winner (9-2)

2) Improbable (7-1)

2) Coliseum (8-1)

4) Instagrand (10-1)

5) Maximus Mischief (12-1)

5) Mucho Gusto (12-1)

Five to Watch:

Mucho Gusto (Eclipse Sportswire)

Mucho Gusto: As if Bob Baffert wasn’t enjoying enough success dominating the early 2019 3-year-old rankings with Game Winner, Improbable, and Coliseum (who is scheduled to start in Sunday’s San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park, a non-points race), the silver-haired wizard can now boast of another fast-rising talent in Mucho Gusto. That chestnut colt romped in last Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes, defeating Sham Stakes winner Gunmetal Gray (18-1 in William Hill’s book) by 4 ¾ lengths. This son of fan favorite and 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man is an impressive physical specimen who may be rounding into his best form a bit later than Baffert’s top pair of Game Winner and Improbable. He moved into the upper echelon of Derby contenders on William Hill’s book at 12-1 odds, down from 50-1 on Jan. 20, and may be headed out of California for his next prep. Read more about Mucho Gusto in Mike Curry’s profile for ABR.

Tax: Sits at 50-1 odds on William Hill’s sheet following his head win last Saturday in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, where he rallied along the rail and edged the dueling pair of Not That Brady and Our Braintrust in the final strides. He’s made three of four his career starts around two turns and has run well each time, winning a 1 1/16-mile race at Keeneland (after which he was claimed by his current connections) and then finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes last December. The Withers was far from the most visually impressive of Derby preps this season, but this gelding has a very good stamina pedigree with Claiborne Farm descendants in his dam’s (mother’s) bloodline, including 2017 Alabama Stakes winner Elate and many more graded stakes winners further back. Trainer Danny Gargan told BloodHorse that Tax would target the April 6 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, making one start prior in a prep at either Tampa Bay Downs or Turfway Park.

Hidden Scroll: Early Derby forecasters are always on the hunt for the next transcendent talent with the intent of spotting it as early as possible and backing up their opinion with money if possible (and if not, bragging rights will do). Last year, Justify was the early buzz horse who paid off in spades, and a couple of months ago it seemed Coliseum might be this year’s model. That turned out not to be the case – but now, there’s another candidate. This Bill Mott-trained, Juddmonte Farms-owned son of Hard Spun stole a bit of the thunder from the Pegasus World Cup stakes performers later on Gulfstream Park’s Jan. 26 racecard with a blowout 14-length romp in a one-turn mile maiden special weight race in his career debut. He earned a 115 Equibase Speed Figure in the pacesetting win and sits at 14-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet. His win did come on a sloppy racetrack and he was not tested in the slightest, but he has a good pedigree for stretching out and Hall of Famer Mott said after the win that he would probably point to a stakes race for the colt’s next start – an exciting testament to how highly Mott thinks of his charge given that the trainer has a well-known reputation for never testing his horses too quickly. Justify made history and broke a century-plus-old “curse” last year by winning the Kentucky Derby (and Triple Crown) without racing at age two. Could this colt’s ascension turn the Curse of Apollo into the Justify-Paved Path? Stay tuned.

Extra Hope (Eclipse Sportswire)

Extra Hope: This son of champion Shanghai Bobby returned to the track on Jan. 31 at Santa Anita Park after nearly two months off and turned in an eye-catching performance, winning a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race by 3 ¼ lengths. He raced six times from August to December last year for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, winning his fourth start and then finishing fourth and third in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar and the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, respectively. He kept very good company during his juvenile campaign, matching up against Mucho Gusto in both of the abovementioned stakes and Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity, but his first 3-year-old start was his best race yet and should give owner Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable extra hope, if you will, that this colt is a late bloomer and has elevated his game enough to sit among the top West Coast Derby contenders. He is offered at 50-1 odds by William Hill and has some accomplished relatives deep in his dam’s family tree, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day and millionaire Smooth Air.

Nitrous: This colt’s odds dropped from 125-1 on Willam Hill’s Jan. 20 sheet to 75-1 on its new one after he rallied to win the one-mile Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park by a head on Jan. 27. His win came against a suspect field in terms of viable Kentucky Derby contenders, and his best Equibase Speed Figures are between 10 and 20 points lower than the other horses discussed in this blog, but overall it was an encouraging effort in his first start since Nov. 11, especially as he overcame a poor start and having to race seven wide coming out of the turn into the stretch. Nitrous was one of the more promising 2-year-olds from Saratoga’s 2018 meet, winning one out of three starts at the Spa and placing in the other two, including a third in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, but then he disappointed in his subsequent two starts as a juvenile, including a stakes try on turf. He’s got a decent pedigree, although his dam Speedinthruthecity was strictly a sprinter, and races for prominent connections in Winchell Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables. Trainer Steve Asmussen may keep him on a Sunland Park track to the Kentucky Derby, as the March 24 Sunland Derby offers 50 qualifying points to the winner. That plan worked for Asmussen last year with Hence.

Upcoming Prep Race: Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs drew a field of ten, headlined by Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity winner and Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Knicks Go, who is making his sophomore debut. William Hill's Derby future odds for the contenders are listed below.

1) Counter Offer (not offered)

2) Going for Gold (not offered)

3) Knicks Go (50-1)

4) Cave Run (175-1)

5) Moonster (not offered)

6) Kentucky Wildcat (150-1)

7) Five Star General (not offered)

8) So Alive (100-1)

9) Well Defined (150-1)

10) Still Dreaming (not offered)

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