Kentucky Derby Futures: New Shooters for New Year

Mutasaabeq won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, above, by 1 1/2 lengths Jan. 2 at Gulfstream Park. (Ryan Thompson/Gulfstream Park)

The Road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve gained momentum with the turn of the calendar, as one qualifying points prep was held on New Year’s Day and another on Jan. 2. Two horses – one under the radar, another arguably the biggest “buzz” horse of the prep season so far – jumped onto the contenders list, and now the action picks up going forward with major races scheduled almost every weekend.

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 is scheduled for Jan. 16, when Fair Grounds kicks off its three-race sequence with the Lecomte Stakes.

Jan. 4 William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2021 Kentucky Derby:

1) Essential Quality (8-1)

2) Life Is Good (8-1)

3) Prime Factor (22-1)

4) Caddo River (25-1)

5) Classier (26-1)

Prep Winners:

Life Is Good winning Sham. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Life Is Good: This Bob Baffert-trained colt jumped way up the Derby futures leaderboard after his emphatic debut win on Nov. 22 and was profiled in an earlier edition of this blog. Winning by 9 ½ lengths and earning a first-out 106 Equibase Speed Figure are enough to get on anyone’s radar, and now this $525,000 son of Into Mischief has built on that buzz with his effort in last Saturday’s Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park. He set an unchallenged pace through most of the one-mile, two-turn race, cruising along nicely with minimal direction from Mike Smith, but then dawdled a bit in the stretch and won by a diminishing three-quarters of a length over stablemate Medina Spirit. Smith said afterward that Life Is Good was looking at his image on the infield video board but responded when shown the riding crop and got back into the bridle past the finish line. The overall time was an impressive 1:36.63 and Life Is Good improved his Equibase Speed Figure to an eye-catching 113. It will be interesting to see how this colt runs with even more distance and how he’ll respond when or if he gets any pressure on the front end. Baffert told Thoroughbred Daily News on Jan. 4 that Life Is Good could make his next start in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 6. His odds dropped from 10-1 to 8-1 at William Hill (Medina Spirit is at 40-1).

Capo Kane: Parx Racing shipper Capo Kane scored a mild upset in the one-turn mile Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 1, breaking from the rail and setting a contested pace early before drawing clear of the field and romping by 6 ¼ lengths. He wavered through the stretch under Dylan Davis before straightening out, and that marked the second time in a row he had trouble maintaining focus following his win on Nov. 25 at Parx. Still, it was an encouraging performance for up-and-coming trainer Harold Wyner and Capo Kane has a pedigree to run farther as a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of a mare by that year’s Derby runner-up Hard Spun. Wyner told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening on Jan. 4 that he would target Aqueduct’s Feb. 6 Withers Stakes at 1 1/8 miles for Capo Kane’s next start. He joins Remsen Stakes winner Brooklyn Strong and Remington Springboard Mile winner Senor Buscador as inspiring underdog contenders shaping up for the 2021 Derby, and he’s listed in William Hill’s sheet at 75-1 odds.

Three to Watch:

Mutasaabeq: This Todd Pletcher trainee has been knocking heads with some of the best of his age group since the summer and made an auspicious return to dirt last Saturday with a 1 ½-length win in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park. After impressively winning his debut at Saratoga on dirt and then finishing a distant third in the Runhappy Hopeful Stakes, he was switched to turf for two starts. The Shadwell Stable-owned Into Mischief colt rolled to victory in the Grade 2 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland but then finished a disappointing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf presented by Coolmore America, and Pletcher told Bob Ehalt of BloodHorse Saturday that he was eager to train Mutasaabeq on dirt in Florida to see if he could recapture some of his early Spa form. Recapture it he did in the Mucho Macho Man, although he’ll need to boost his 89 Equibase Speed Figure to contend in Gulfstream’s Derby points preps in the coming weeks. Pletcher told BloodHorse that the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 30 is a logical option for Mutasaabeq’s next start. He dropped from 60-1 to 50-1 on William Hill’s latest sheet.

Amount: Another Todd Pletcher recruit, Amount easily won his debut at Gulfstream the day after Christmas, stalking the pace along the inside, angling out at the quarter pole, and taking over in early stretch to take a seven-furlong maiden race by 5 ¾ lengths. He’s offered at 60-1 odds by William Hill, down from 100-1 in the last update, and given that he’s owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, who have pursued the Derby regularly in recent years – either together, solo, or with other partners – it’s a cinch that he’ll be brought along through the coming weeks by Pletcher and given his chance to earn qualifying points at Gulfstream or, possibly, Tampa Bay Downs. Amount is a son of Hall of Famer Curlin and out of a winning Pulpit mare who has also produced 2014 Iowa Oaks winner Size and 2018 Hopeful Stakes runner-up Mucho, who is still in training as a sprinter.

Roman Centurian: This Empire Maker colt showed much improvement in his second start and first around two turns, winning a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on Jan. 3 by 3 ¾ lengths. He had finished fourth behind Life Is Good in the career debut for both horses back in late November at Del Mar (see above) but was only 2 ¾ lengths behind the runner-up. That race was at 6 ½ furlongs, and Roman Centurian looked much more comfortable commencing a rally from the back of the pack when stretching out to a route for trainer Simon Callaghan. He’s co-owned and bred by Don Alberto Stable, known for their high-class bloodstock, and the bottom half of his pedigree contains a lot of stakes winners on both turf and dirt and at a variety of distances, highlighted by dual Grade 1-winning second dam (maternal grandmother) Finder’s Fee. He’s getting 75-1 odds on William Hill’s latest sheet.

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