Kentucky Derby Futures: March Madness on the Triple Crown Trail

Betting the ponies in style at Gulfstream Park. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Over the past few months, an exciting group of prospects pointing to the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and other Triple Crown races has gained attention by earning qualifying points in stakes around the country or by winning maiden and allowance races.

Since the last edition of this blog five weeks ago, a whopping 11 qualifying points preps for the Kentucky Derby have been held, and the Derby picture is now coming into sharper focus as a handful or horses have, for all intents and purposes, secured a position in the starting gate for the 148th run for the roses.

The road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby 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 a stand on a potential winner backed by a future wager – is an annual highlight of Derby season, and the bookmakers at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill are taking fixed-odds future wagers on the Derby, which will be held at historic Churchill Downs on May 7, 2022.

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. Pool 3 of Churchill Downs’ Derby Future Wager closed on Feb. 13, with the mutuel field “All Other 3-Year-Olds” topping the odds board at 2-1 and Smile Happy leading individual horses at odds of 8.90-1. Pool 4 is set to run March 11-13, and Forbidden Kingdom is listed as the morning-line favorite for the Pool 4 field at 5-1 odds.

March 6 Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill Odds Leaders to Win the 2022 Kentucky Derby:

1. Forbidden Kingdom (6-1)

2. Epicenter (8-1)

2. Messier (8-1)

2. Simplification (8-1)

5. Smile Happy (10-1)

Complete March 6 Odds

Forbidden Kingdom (BENOIT photo)

Notable Changes: Forbidden Kingdom’s odds dropped from 16-1 on Feb. 27 to a field-leading 6-1 this week after his front-running win in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park on March 5. As discussed in the previous edition of this blog, the son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah had turned heads with a dominant victory in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes Jan. 29 at Santa Anita, where he earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure, and Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella told reporters that he was confident Forbidden Kingdom could stretch out successfully and thus deserved a shot in the San Felipe. He validated Mandella’s confidence and then some, setting fast early fractions with no pressure whatsoever. Forbidden Kingdom tired slightly in the stretch but was well clear of runner-up Doppelganger (25-1), winning by 5 ¾ lengths and earning a 102 figure. Mandella told Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen that he wasn’t planning on trying to harness Forbidden Kingdom’s main threat – his powerful controlling speed – anytime soon, which should make an anticipated showdown in the April 9 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby with the similarly swift Messier appointment viewing for racing fans.  

Messier earned a 107 Equibase Speed Figure when blowing away a small field in the Feb. 6 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita by 15 lengths. He defeated Forbidden Kingdom in the Bob Hope Stakes last fall when both were 2-year-olds, and he has a pedigree edge for longer distances on that foe as well as he’s out of a Smart Strike mare that won a stakes at 1 1/16 miles while Forbidden Kingdom is out of stakes-winning sprinter Just Louise, by Five Star Day. It will be very interesting, to say the least, to see whether Messier’s ownership group moves him to another trainer’s barn before the Santa Anita Derby. They’ll have to do that to ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby for Messier, as he currently has earned zero qualifying points. The chances of Messier’s embattled trainer Bob Baffert getting his 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission lifted and his federal lawsuit challenging Churchill Downs’ two-year ban favorably resolved by May 7 seem beyond remote. (Meanwhile, also on the Baffert front, last year’s champion juvenile male Corniche has not had a published workout for the trainer this year; as a result, he now sits at a still underlaid 20-1 odds on William Hill’s sheet, down from 6-1 five weeks ago... and also possesses zero qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.)

Simplification moved from 22-1 last week to 8-1 after he posted a sharp 3 ½-length win in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes March 5 at Gulfstream Park. This Florida-bred son of the great Candy Ride, who was also discussed in an earlier blog, benefited from a clean trip in the Fountain of Youth after starting slowly in the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5, where he still managed to finish second. He failed to switch leads in the stretch of the Fountain of Youth once again, and that will need to be corrected, but Simplification checks a lot of boxes you want from a Derby contender. Barring any setbacks, he looks to bring trainer Antonio Sano back to Churchill Downs after the Venezuela native finished seventh under the Twin Spires in 2017 with Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera.

White Abarrio, who defeated Simplification by 4 ½ lengths in the Holy Bull, is currently getting 15-1 odds on William Hill’s sheet and looks to be the better value at this point. He’s been training well for Saffie Joseph Jr. at Gulfstream, and a rematch between him and Simplification in the April 2 Curlin Florida Derby should be just as exciting as the West Coast duel discussed above.

Morello (Chelsea Durand/NYRA)

Morello, who extended his career unbeaten streak to three with an overpowering 4 ½-length win in the one-turn mile Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 5, also sits at 15-1 odds on William Hill’s new sheet, down from 45-1 a week prior. The Steve Asmussen trainee earned a 96 Equibase Speed Figure in the Gotham and has not been threatened in any of his three victories, winning by a combined margin of 13 ¾ lengths. The competition figures to get stiffer in the April 9 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino, and Morello will also try two turns for the first time in that race, but his pedigree is solid for stretching out. He’s a first-crop son of champion and Preakness Stakes runner-up Classic Empire from a female family that includes Social Inclusion, who was third in both the Preakness Stakes and the Wood Memorial.

Epicenter (8-1) and Classic Causeway (14-1) have both secured position as top contenders in the futures pool over the past weeks with wins in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and Sam F. Davis Stakes, respectively. They’ll both race again soon, with Classic Causeway slated to start in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby this coming Saturday, March 12, and Epicenter preparing for the March 26 Louisiana Derby, where he’ll try to win his third of four Fair Grounds preps for the Kentucky Derby.

Conversely, Un Ojo, 75.40-1 upset winner of the Feb. 26 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, is currently getting 100-1 odds on William Hill’s book and will very likely stay in that range in the weeks to come. The overall quality of horses competing in Oaklawn’s preps is a bit underwhelming this winter, which is an exception from most years at the Hot Springs, Ark., track, but one thing is for certain: if Un Ojo stays healthy, carrying 54 qualifying points will get him a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate come May 7 no matter how he runs in the Arkansas Derby on April 9. As Mike Curry points out in his Derby Contender profile, this one-eyed gelding will need to get a lot faster to back up his fan appeal with a Kentucky Derby upset.

Three to Watch:

Cyberknife: This son of 2017 Horse of the Year and elite young sire Gun Runner sat at 75-1 odds on William Hill’s Jan. 30 sheet prior to the last edition of this blog. He’s now at 40-1 odds and pointed to the Louisiana Derby after winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Fair Grounds by three lengths on Feb. 19. That followed an effort in the Lecomte Stakes at the same distance when he finished sixth, beaten by 10 ½ lengths. This Brad Cox-trained colt flashed talent from the very beginning, finishing first in his debut last September at Churchill Downs only to be disqualified for interference in the stretch. Other than the Lecomte, he’s officially finished first or second in all four starts and he rebounded strongly from that initial stakes try in the aforementioned allowance, earning a 100 Equibase Speed Figure. He’s an interesting longshot for both the Louisiana Derby and the main event on May 7 should he run well enough in the former to secure points. Cyberknife’s dam, Awesome Flower, by Travers Stakes winner Flower Alley, won 11 of 33 starts, earned more than $550,000, and tallied six stakes wins at a mile or longer. He’s from the family of 2009 Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed.

Money Supply: This Chad Brown-trained Practical Joke colt made his career debut a winning one going six furlongs Feb. 12 at Tampa Bay Downs, overcoming a bumpy start by rallying stoutly along the inside en route to a two-length score that netted a 91 Equibase figure. He’s getting 125-1 odds at William Hill, as befits a horse who is developing late and will have to stretch out and either win or finish second in one of the final Derby preps on April 2 or April 9 to earn enough points for the Kentucky Derby. Practical Joke was a precocious talent as a racehorse who never could close the deal in races longer than a mile, and Money Supply’s female family is oriented to max out at that middle distance as well. Update: Money Supply was entered in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12 but was then scratched due to an expected off track.

Zozos (Coady Photography)

Zozos: Another Brad Cox trainee, Zozos is also late in developing but has two races under his belt, both wins. He scored by a half-length in a six-furlong maiden race at Fair Grounds on Jan. 23 and then shipped to Oaklawn Park to stretch out in distance and romped by 10 ¼ lengths in a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race on Feb. 11. Cox told media members after that race that the Munnings colt would get “one big swing” for the Kentucky Derby that could come in the March 26 Louisiana Derby, April 2 Arkansas Derby, or April 9 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Based on his blowout win over the Oaklawn strip and my earlier comments about the contender base there, staying in Clinton country may be his best course of action. He’ll need to boost his 90 Equibase Speed Figure when he returns to the track, of course, and his pedigree does not jump off the page in terms of Kentucky Derby potential. Zozos’ dam Papa’s Forest, by Forestry, earned more than $230,000 on the track, mainly sprinting.

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