It’s hard to believe, but even in this COVID-19 winter the calendar keeps turning and the final round of preps for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is already upon us with the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby set for Saturday. The Louisiana Derby is the first prep to offer 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner.
Since the last edition of this blog in mid-February, Derby contenders have climbed aboard (or fallen off) the leaderboard, and the opportunities for new shooters to emerge and grab qualifying points are dwindling.
The Kentucky Derby trail will, as always, 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 Kentucky Derby 147.
Below we’ll take a periodic look at William Hill’s future-book odds for the Kentucky Derby and profile some of the contenders. As mentioned above, Saturday’s Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds offers a total of 170 Derby points allocated to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis. On March 27, three more 170-point preps are on tap: the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, the United Arab Emirates Derby at Nad al Sheba in Dubai, and the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park.
In addition to the Vegas futures, Churchill Downs will hold its final Future Wager pool for the Kentucky Derby during the weekend of March 26-28. Life Is Good led all individual horses in Churchill’s fourth Future Wager pool that closed on March 7 at an underlaid 2-1 odds one day after his dominant win in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. However, Life Is Good came out of March 20 workout at Santa Anita with a hind-end injury and will miss the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
March 14 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2021 Kentucky Derby:
1) Life Is Good (7-2) (NOTE: SIDELINED, WILL MISS DERBY)
2) Essential Quality (4-1)
3) Concert Tour (6-1)
4) Greatest Honour (8-1)
5) Prevalence (14-1)
Recent Risers: Concert Tour dropped from 10-1 on William Hill’s March 7 sheet to 6-1 after his 4 ¼-length romp in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 13. Mike Curry goes into detail on this horse’s considerable ability in his latest Making the Grade profile, so I won’t spend a lot of time burnishing Concert Tour’s shine here. Suffice it to say that he made quick work of what appeared on paper (and still is, I think) a talented field in the Rebel and that he’s now joined Life Is Good at the top of Bob Baffert’s overstocked Derby stable. Right now, I actually prefer him to Life Is Good based on the following factors: a) he’s already shown the ability to sit just off the pace and finish with courage, as he did in his half-length win in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes; and b) he showed eye-popping improvement when stretched out to two turns in the Rebel. If Concert Tour’s win wasn’t enough for Baffert, the silver-haired Derby whisperer was also flattered by Rebel runner-up Hozier’s fine effort in his stakes debut. Hozier is getting 25-1 odds at William Hill and it will be interesting to see where this son of Pioneerof the Nile out of multiple stakes-winning sprinter Merry Meadow shows up next.
Three colts at Gulfstream Park recently turned in performances in allowance and maiden races that convinced their connections to target the final round of Derby preps. Highly-rated Prevalence, who first made an impression with a romping 8 ½-length debut win at Gulfstream on Jan. 23 and was profiled in an earlier edition of this blog, came back to take a one-turn mile allowance race by three lengths on March 11. He basically paired up his 99 first-out Equibase Speed Figure with a 98 last week and will be pointed to an April Derby prep, trainer Brendan Walsh said. The son of Medaglia d’Oro from the family of turf millionaire router Better Lucky is pegged at 14-1 odds by William Hill. He’s an underlay at this point, but the potential for great things is clearly there.
Collaborate, an Into Mischief colt trained by Saffie Joseph, came back after a fifth-place debut finish where he broke slowly to obliterate a field that included Charlatan’s half-brother in a one-turn-mile Gulfstream maiden race on Feb. 27. He romped by 12 ½ lengths and earned a 97 Equibase Speed Figure, enough to convince Joseph and owners Three Chimneys Farm and e Five Racing Thoroughbreds to target the Florida Derby and a date with Greatest Honour for his next start. This colt’s dam, the Quiet American mare Quiet Temper, won the Fair Grounds Oaks around two turns and there’s some stamina deeper in his dam’s pedigree as well. He’s sitting at 35-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet.
Last but not least, Known Agenda rebounded from a disappointing fifth-place effort in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs as the 3-2 favorite on Feb. 6 with an 11-length rout in a two-turn, 1 1/8-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26. He is rated at 30-1 odds by William Hill and also may target the Florida Derby according to Hall of Fame-nominated trainer Todd Pletcher. Pletcher put blinkers on his charge prior to his Gulfstream win and told the Gulfstream media office that he was pleased with Known Agenda’s increased focus as he took command at the top of the stretch (sidestepping a brushing incident with the eventual runner-up that resulted in jockey fisticuffs after the race). Known Agenda earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure with the win, and if you chalk up his Sam F. Davis effort to the lack of focus and to a bit of rust off of a two-month layoff, he shapes up as an intriguing contender in the Florida Derby. He’s a son of Hall of Famer Curlin and out of an English-bred dam, Byrama, who won the 1 1/8-mile Vanity Handicap on turf.
Value Plays: By this point on the Derby calendar, it’s getting hard to find acceptable odds on contenders that you think are on schedule to fire their best race under the Twin Spires on May 1, since the winners of major stakes are well known and even horses such as the three Gulfstream winners discussed above have displayed enough talent to earn their share of support.
Given those circumstances, the best approach to finding a Derby futures overlay might be backing a horse that either a) was an also-ran in a Derby prep against a top contender; or b) won a prep race that has been overshadowed by a star performance elsewhere.
Perusing William Hill’s latest odds sheet, three horses meet one of these criteria and offer what I feel are currently overlaid odds as Derby contenders. Pletcher-trained Overtook was defeated by Risk Taking (20-1 at William Hill) in the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 6, finishing 3 ¾ lengths back while closing from well back. He boosted his Equibase Speed Figure 14 points from a one-mile maiden win to 97 in the Withers, though, and is bred to run all day. This son of Curlin is out of a dam in Got Lucky who won the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Spinster Stakes and is related to a horde of graded stakes winners, including 2010 Derby winner Super Saver. Overtook is getting a juicy 100-1 at William Hill; both he and Risk Taking are pointed to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3.
Weyburn, winner of the one-turn-mile Gotham Stakes on March 6 at Aqueduct, is similarly overlaid on William Hill’s sheet. Sent off as a 46.75-1 longshot in the Gotham, Weyburn outfinished Crowded Trade (75-1 at William Hill) by a nose in a game effort as he stretched out from the seven furlongs he ran in his two prior races. This colt is also bred to run longer, by Pioneerof the Nile (sire of American Pharoah) and out of an A.P. Indy mare who’s from a family overflowing with stamina and anchored by third dam (maternal great-grandmother) Maplejinsky. Mike Curry recently delved deep into Weyburn’s Derby prospects in this Making the Grade profile. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens told Daily Racing Form last week that Weyburn might start in the Wood Memorial next but that he was not completely sure if the colt would target the Kentucky Derby. The colt raced greenly in the Gotham stretch but still toughed it out for the win. That’s encouraging going forward and definitely worth a futures stab at current odds of 100-1.
Roman Centurian’s latest race was less impressive, as he finished a grinding fourth in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes behind Life Is Good, defeated by 13 ½ lengths. His Equibase Speed Figure dropped eight points from the 97 he earned in late January when he finished second by a neck in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes to Medina Spirit, another 1 1/16-mile race. Medina Spirit subsequently was runner-up in the San Felipe and is currently getting an underlaid 16-1 odds at William Hill… while Roman Centurian is rated at 75-1. Let’s face it: Life Is Good was running in a different universe against his foes in the San Felipe, defeating stablemate Medina Spirit by eight lengths. Roman Centurian was never involved, but neither was any other horse. This Empire Maker colt, profiled in an earlier blog, has the pedigree and connections to rebound if he stays on the Derby trail. As a closer, he’ll also need some speedy types to make the Churchill Downs starting gate and challenge Life Is Good (who has not been headed at any point of call in all three of his wins) in order to prompt a pace meltdown. In recent years, the Kentucky Derby has favored forwardly-placed runners … but as backers of Giacomo and Mine That Bird certainly know, anything can happen on Derby day.
1) Starrininmydreams (200-1)
2) Rightandjust (not offered)
3) Run Classic (100-1)
4) Proxy (45-1)
5) Hot Rod Charlie (30-1)
6) Mandaloun (16-1)
7) Midnight Bourbon (45-1)
8) O Besos (not offered)