Kentucky Derby Futures: February’s Fast-Rising Contenders

Horses break from the gate in the 2021 Holy Bull Stakes, won by Greatest Honour (orange saddle cloth, teal jockey silks). (Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photo)

Activity on the road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is in full swing this winter. Since the last edition of this blog in early January, talented 3-year-olds have emerged in a handful of stakes races offering qualifying points for the Derby as well as in allowance and even maiden races, and the stakes will rise higher in the coming weeks as trainers pick seek viable paths for their horses to secure a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate on May 1.

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.

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 points races are scheduled for Feb. 13, when Fair Grounds holds its second of three Derby preps, the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, and Golden Gate Fields presents the El Camino Real Derby. And on Saturday, Feb. 20, Oaklawn Park hosts the Southwest Stakes (rescheduled from Feb. 15). The Southwest and El Camino Real offer qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers, while the Risen Star boosts that distribution to 50-20-10-5.

In addition to the Vegas futures, Churchill Downs will hold its third Future Wager pool for the Kentucky Derby this upcoming weekend, starting on Friday, Feb. 12 at noon ET and ending on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. ET. Essential Quality and Life Is Good are both co-favorites at 8-1 odds among individual horses heading into the third round of wagering.

Feb. 7 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2021 Kentucky Derby:

1) Essential Quality (7-1)

2) Life Is Good (8-1)

3) Concert Tour (10-1)

4) Greatest Honour (12-1)

5) Caddo River (15-1)

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Prep Winners: Greatest Honour (12-1) jumped into the upper echelon of Derby contenders with a visually impressive win in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30. He was profiled in an earlier blog, and I noted then that this Tapit colt has a pedigree perfectly suited for the Triple Crown classic races. As Mike Curry points out in his Making the Grade profile, Greatest Honour will need to boost his speed figures going forward, but he has a Hall of Fame trainer in Shug McGaughey to patiently manage his development. Medina Spirit (18-1) had already turned heads with a game runner-up effort to Life Is Good in the Sham Stakes, and he gained even more support by holding on to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30. I also liked how Roman Centurian competed in his stakes debut; that colt is listed at 30-1 and was also profiled in a previous blog. I took note of Midnight Bourbon last summer when he blew away the field in an Ellis Park maiden race. The Steve Asmussen trainee ran a good second in the Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford on the rescheduled Derby 2020 undercard and then a distant third behind Jackie’s Warrior in the Champagne Stakes, but he showed that he’s matured in his 3-year-old debut with a front-running win in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 16. He’s getting 40-1 on William Hill’s latest sheet and will have a chance to lower those odds in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes. And Caddo River, another horse profiled earlier, was not troubled in the slightest when winning his sophomore debut on the front end in the Jan. 22 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He reminds me of another Brad Cox-trained horse, Wells Bayou, from last year’s Derby trail. Caddo River’s current Derby future odds of 15-1 on William Hill’s sheet are a bit low considering the weakness of the Smarty Jones field, but there’s certainly a lot of potential here.

Candy Man Rocket (SV Photography)

Last weekend, two more horses earned 10 qualifying Derby points in stakes races. Candy Man Rocket (30-1)rolled to a professional score in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, stalking the pace patiently and then taking over in early stretch to win by a length. The Candy Ride colt has a good pedigree for stretching out in his next start, which could be the 1 1/8-mile Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 6. At Aqueduct, Klaravich StablesRisk Taking showed commendable improvement in his first start at 3 with a 3 ¼-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes. He boosted his Equibase Speed Figure from 89 in his December maiden win to 102 in the Withers and also has a pedigree that should help him in even longer races going forward. The son of Medaglia d’Oro is out of a stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare and has relatives including Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up and productive sire Seeking the Gold and a few graded stakes winners in turf routes. Risk Taking is offered at 25-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet, and I also am intrigued a bit by Withers runner-up Overtook, who closed into a modest pace to get second and is getting 75-1 odds. That Todd Pletcher-trained colt is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and out of the Grade 1-winning mare Got Lucky.

Four to Watch:

Concert Tour and Freedom Fighter: These two Bob Baffert-trained horses finished 1-2 in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes last Saturday at Santa Anita Park, with Concert Tour prevailing by a half-length after a heated stretch duel. They both earned eye-catching Equibase Speed Figures (106 and 105, respectively) and Concert Tour improved to 2-for-2 in his career. Baffert said after the race that he had instructed jockey Joel Rosario to try to teach Concert Tour how to rate in his second start, and the Street Sense colt indeed did that, sitting off of Freedom Fighter’s pace before challenging him in early stretch. He did not put that foe away until the final strides, but Concert Tour does have the look of a horse that will appreciate longer distances. That said, his current 10-1 odds at William Hill are way too low. Freedom Fighter, who also entered the San Vicente off a debut win, is offered at 65-1 odds and may be a miler at best. He’s a son of Violence and out of a dam, Canadian Ballet, who was a six-time stakes-winning sprinter, five of those coming on turf.

Prevalence: One of the highlights of Gulfstream’s Championship Meet to date, this Godolphin homebred pulverized a maiden special weight field on the Jan. 23 Pegasus World Cup undercard. He took the seven-furlong race by 8 ½ lengths over Justify’s half-brother Stage Raider with a 99 Equibase Speed Figure and immediately jumped on the radar of Kentucky Derby watchers. Much improvement is still needed of course, and trainer Brendan Walsh told Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee on Feb. 8 that options for the colt’s next start include the Feb. 27 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes or possibly a Gulfstream Park allowance. A son of Medaglia d’Oro who is out of a dam who is a half-sister to turf Grade 1 winner Better Lucky, Prevalence is currently underlaid at William Hill, receiving 16-1 odds based on one (albeit very impressive) race. Meanwhile, Stage Raider is currently sitting at 125-1 odds.

Promise Keeper: The second time proved the charm for this Todd Pletcher trainee, as Promise Keeper romped in the slop by five lengths in a one-turn mile at Gulfstream on Feb. 6 after finishing a distant fourth to Candy Man Rocket in that colt’s maiden win at Gulfstream in early January. Promise Keeper got to the lead early in his sharp win and drew clear in early stretch, earning a 90 Equibase Speed Figure. He’s just the latest in a parade of 3-year-olds shaking things up in South Florida, a group that appears to be especially talented this winter. Promise Keeper is by Constitution, the leading second-crop sire in 2020 represented by Tiz the Law among others, and his female family includes half-sister Wicked Awesome, a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles, and further down the page, Grade 1-winning router Great Hunter. He debuted at 100-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet.

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