Kentucky Derby Futures: Blazing Baffert Debut, Churchill Standouts

Horses break from the starting gate in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The recent closing weeks at Del Mar and Churchill Downs generated more buzz on the still-emerging road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, as several colts turned heads with strong performances, highlighted by the latest phenom from Bob Baffert’s perennially loaded barn. One Derby points race – the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes – was held at Churchill, and another one is on tap for Saturday, Dec. 5, the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.

The Kentucky Derby trail will, as it always does, take plenty of unexpected twists and turns as contenders rise and fall with each passing prep 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 taking fixed-odds future wagers on Derby 147, which will be held May 1, 2021.

As in years past, in this blog we’ll take a periodic look at William Hill’s future-book odds for the Kentucky Derby and profile some of the contenders. Last week, Churchill Downs also completed its first of five Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools on Nov. 29. The “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” field entry led the wagering at 6-5 odds, and Life Is Good and Essential Quality topped the individual horse entries at odds of 5-1 and 8-1, respectively.

Nov. 29 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2021 Kentucky Derby:

1) Essential Quality (8-1)

2) Life Is Good (10-1)

3) Classier (35-1)

3) Red Flag (35-1)

5) Caddo River (40-1)

5) Jackie’s Warrior (40-1)

Early Leaders:

Life Is Good: This Bob Baffert-trained son of record-breaking sire Into Mischief sits in second place on William Hill’s sheet (and first among individual horses in Churchill Downs’ inaugural 2021 pool) based on a sensational 9 ½-length debut win on Nov. 12 at Del Mar. He was backed at 1-5 odds in that race and ran even better, setting an uncontested pace throughout through fast early fractions and finishing 6 ½ furlongs in 1:15.60, good for an eye-catching 109 Equibase Speed Figure. Life Is Good’s unveiling came after a series of bullet workouts at Santa Anita Park that had already created significant buzz among Derby watchers. Getting 10-1 future odds on a maiden winner for the Kentucky Derby six months away is a bit ridiculous, to be honest – for every American Pharoah or Justify, there are a dozen Coliseums (remember him?). On the other hand, a first-out 109 Equibase Speed Figure is very rare indeed (Justify got a 103). Life Is Good’s dam, Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor, was winless in five starts, and his second dam, Grade 1-placed sprinter Bonnie Blue Flag, is a half-sister to Diamondrella, a Grade 1 winner at a mile on turf but mainly a sprinter, and Highest Honor, winner of last year’s 1 1/8-mile Curlin Stakes on dirt. Baffert told Thoroughbred Daily News that Life Is Good is pointing to the one-mile Sham Stakes on Jan. 2 at Santa Anita for his next start.

Classier: This Baffert trainee sits at 35-1 odds despite finishing eighth by 12 lengths in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland. He entered that race off of a sharp four-length debut win in a 6 ½-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 and has resumed training for Baffert at “The Great Race Place” since his trip to Kentucky. He’s a son of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker out of a Bernardini mare who won her 12th and final career start at one mile on dirt. There are some good European-based turf horses in Classier’s pedigree (including Homerique, who shipped to the U.S. and won a Grade 2 turf race last year), but as it stands right now he’s an underlay for the 2021 Derby.

Red Flag (BENOIT photo)

Red Flag: John Shirreffs-trained Red Flag scored an upset win in the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes on dirt at Del Mar after breaking his maiden in a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint at Santa Anita. He dominated the Bob Hope, winning by a widening 7 ¼ lengths, and no doubt stirred Derby dreams in both Shirreffs and co-owner Jerry Moss, who captured the 2005 run for the roses with longshot Giacomo. This colt is a son of freshman sire Tamarkuz, who won the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He’s a half-brother to stakes winner Surrender Now, who won a 5 ½-furlong stakes on dirt but had most of her success sprinting on turf. Red Flag is currently sitting at 35-1 odds on William Hill’s book, and nothing jumps off of his pedigree page to suggest that 1 ¼ miles will be achievable down the road. Still, given how good he looked in the Bob Hope, it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on this one to see how he fares in his next dirt start at a mile or longer.

Caddo River: This promising colt made his first two starts at Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park and ran well, finishing second both times in seven-furlong races. Trainer Brad Cox stretched him out a bit to a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 15 and he romped by 9 ½ lengths, earning a 104 Equibase Speed Figure. Caddo River did not start on Churchill’s Stars of Tomorrow Nov. 28 card and Cox has options to consider at Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, or Oaklawn Park when that track opens in mid-January (given that he’s owned by Hot Springs-based Shortleaf Stable and named after an Arkansas tributary, Oaklawn seems to be a good bet). He’s getting 40-1 odds at William Hill and has a decent pedigree for two turns as a son of 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun out of a mare by Congrats who won a stakes race at Laurel Park at about 1 1/16 miles and a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Saratoga.

Four to Watch:

Keepmeinmind (Eclipse Sportswire)

Keepmeinmind: After finishing second to Essential Quality in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and third behind him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, this Laoban colt broke through with a last-to-first score in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow card to pick up his first career win and earn 10 qualifying points for the 2021 Derby. He timed his closing rally better in the Kentucky Jockey Club to win by three-quarters of a length and should move forward off of that race, although his Equibase Speed Figure dipped from a 100 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to a 91. He’s pegged at 50-1 odds for the Derby by William Hill, which seems about right at this stage of the prep season.

Mandaloun: Another Brad Cox trainee and another Into Mischief colt, Mandaloun showed nice progress from his half-length maiden win at Keeneland in October to Churchill’s Nov. 28 Stars of Tomorrow card, taking a seven-furlong allowance-optional claiming race by a driving 1 ¼ lengths. This Juddmonte Farms homebred has a pedigree full of European-based stakes winners, including his dam Brooch, by Empire Maker, who won a Group 2 stakes at one mile and a Group 3 race at 1 3/16 miles. Cox has in recent years begun to make noise on the Derby trail with horses such as Owendale and Wells Bayou, and with Mandaloun and Caddo River leading his stable, he may be lined up for his best year yet in 2021. This one is getting 75-1 odds currently at William Hill.

Hidden Stash (Eclipse Sportswire)

Hidden Stash and Scarred: These two colts finished 1-2 in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race on the Nov. 28 Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill and bear watching going forward. They are both offered at odds of 100-1 by William Hill and have solid pedigrees. Making his fourth start for Victoria Oliver, Hidden Stash outfinished Scarred to win by a half-length, coming off of a three-length win in a Keeneland maiden race at the same distance. He’s by hot young sire Constitution and from a female family well-stocked with graded stakes winners in two-turn races, including recent standout Maxfield, 2017 Jim Dandy Stakes winner Good Samaritan, and sires Sky Mesa and Bernstein. Scarred finished a game second in only his second start after dueling for the lead early and forging ahead in upper stretch. He previously won going seven furlongs in his career debut at Churchill on Nov. 5. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, this son of Into Mischief has several relatives on his dam’s side that won graded stakes, although most of them maxed out at seven furlongs to a mile.

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