Kentucky Derby Futures: Rounding Into Form for the Holidays

Highly regarded Spielberg (left) got up at the finish to win the Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 19 and earn ten qualifying points for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With less than two weeks to go before the calendar turns into what will hopefully be a much better year for Thoroughbred racing and the world at large, the road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is becoming more congested with new contenders. There have been three Derby points preps held since the end of November: the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct; the Remington Springboard Mile at Remington Park; and the Los Alamitos Futurity at Los Alamitos. Furthermore, several promising 2-year-olds have won maiden or allowance races at tracks around the country to emerge as viable contenders for next spring’s run for the roses at Churchill Downs.

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. The next qualifying prep races are scheduled for Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, 2021, when the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct and the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park, respectively, will be held.

Dec. 20 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2021 Kentucky Derby:

1) Essential Quality (8-1)

2) Life Is Good (10-1)

3) Prime Factor (25-1)

4) Classier (26-1)

5) Spielberg (35-1)

Prep Winners:

Spielberg: Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg dropped from 75-1 odds on William Hill’s Dec. 13 sheet to 35-1 after breaking through with his first stakes win in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 19, rallying through the stretch to nip front-running longshot The Great One in a (cinematic pun alert) “close encounter.” A $1 million yearling purchase, Spielberg has been ambitiously campaigned from the outset, placing in two Grade 1 races last fall before breaking his maiden in November, and he finally put it all together in the Los Al Futurity after disappointing at 3-5 odds when fourth in the Bob Hope Stakes, his prior start. As a son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags out of a Smart Strike mare, Spielberg should have no problem stretching out in future preps, and it may be the case that he just needed a few races to mature. Baffert is pointing him to the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 30 for his next start.

Brooklyn Strong (Susie Raisher/NYRA Photo)

Brooklyn Strong: This New York-bred gelding emerged as an intriguing Derby contender with a visually impressive neck win in the Dec. 5 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, stalking in second behind pacesetter Ten for Ten (75-1 at William Hill) and outfinishing that rival in deep stretch. He showed a lot of competitive fire in that victory, and the fact that it came at 1 1/8 miles – just a furlong shorter than the Kentucky Derby’s distance and the same distance as many of the major prep races this spring – is another plus. He was purchased for only $5,000 by owner Mark Schwartz as a 2-year-old in training and has already far recouped that investment with three wins in four starts and $195,000 in earnings. If he continues to progress, this son of Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong will provide one of the best storylines for Derby 147. He’s offered at 85-1 on William Hill’s latest sheet, which is in my opinion good value among a group of Derby contenders that lacks a true star prospect at this stage. Learn more about him in Mike Curry’s Making the Grade profile.

Senor Buscador: Like Brooklyn Strong, this Mineshaft colt stands as an under-the-radar Derby contender that made an emphatic statement with a recent stakes win. His coming-out-party came in the Dec. 18 Remington Springboard Mile, a race he won by 5 ¾ lengths after rallying from last in a ten-horse field. Senor Buscador came into that start off of only one race, a 2 ½-length win in a 5 ½-furlong Remington Park maiden – but as ABR contributor Jose Contreras noted when handicapping the Springboard Mile for TVG, he looked well-suited for more distance based on his gallop-out in that maiden victory and he is also bred for two turns. Senor Buscador delivered on that potential in the Springboard Mile, earning a hefty 107 Equibase Speed Figure, and trainer Todd Fincher said afterward that he may point to the colt to a Derby prep at Fair Grounds for his next start. He’s offered at an enticing 100-1 on William Hill’s latest sheet.

Three to Watch:

Prime Factor: After his debut win, Prime Factor sits at 25-1 odds on William Hill’s latest Derby futures sheet, good for third place behind current winter-book favorite Essential Quality and another first-out winner, Life Is Good. This Quality Road colt looked very professional in his maiden victory Dec. 12, at Gulfstream Park, sitting comfortably just off the pacesetter in the six-furlong race and taking over in the turn with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. motionless in the saddle. Ortiz shook the reins a couple of times in early stretch and Prime Factor responded to draw well clear of his opponents, and he was geared down late in an 8 ¾-length romp. Owned by China Horse Club and WinStar Farm, two of Justify’s owners, and trained by Todd Pletcher, he’s definitely one to keep tabs on heading into Gulfstream’s competitive preps this winter and spring. His 89 Equibase Speed Figure earned on Dec. 12 is modest compared against some other maiden winners of recent vintage, but on the other hand he has a fine distance pedigree as his second dam (maternal grandmother) is a full sister to U.S. and Canadian Hall of Famer and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Dance Smartly and a half-sister to leading sire Smart Strike.

Donegal Bay: Another Todd Pletcher trainee based at Gulfstream, Donegal Bay graduated in his second career start later on the same Dec. 12 card in South Florida, taking a one-turn mile maiden by 4 ¼ lengths. Returning after a sixth-place debut at Saratoga followed by a nearly four-month break, the Uncle Mo gelding took the lead at the outset under Luis Saez and set a moderate pace with minimal pressure through the turn en route to an easy win. As his name indicates, he’s owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, who has made noise on the Derby trail before with horses such as Paddy O’Prado, Dullahan, and Keen Ice. Pedigree-wise, his dam, by Empire Maker, won at 1 1/16 miles and she has produced a stakes winner in England at seven furlongs, but it gets more promising the deeper you look as his second dam is millionaire Flute, by Seattle Slew, who won the Kentucky Oaks and the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes in 2001. Donegal Bay is offered at 60-1 odds by William Hill.

Prate: Another impressive maiden winner turned it on last Saturday at Fair Grounds, as Juddmonte Farms homebred Prate sat a perfect trip stalking early in a six-furlong maiden before taking over at will under Florent Geroux and drawing clear to a 4 ¼-length victory with a 94 Equibase Speed Figure. This son of Into Mischief debuts on William Hill’s Derby futures sheet at 75-1 odds and has a Euro-centric female family pedigree (his name, meaning “to talk foolishly at length,” is a nice successor to those of his dam, Vaunting, his second dam, Boasting, and Vaunting’s full sister, 1 1/8-mile English stakes winner Bragging). Trainer Brad Cox told Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh that he might keep Prate at Fair Grounds for his next start, and also said that at this stage he and Juddmonte prefer to keep the colt racing around one turn.

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