Kentucky Derby Futures: Getting Up to Speed in the New Year

Perusing the Oaklawn Park program for a potential Kentucky Derby prospect. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

We’re a little more than one week into 2023, and excitement is percolating at racetracks around the country as newly-turned 3-year-olds emerge as potential contenders for this spring’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Six stakes races offering qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby have been held since the last edition of this blog on Dec. 7, and aside from that, several other exciting prospects have turned heads in maiden or allowance races.

One of the most fun activities during the prep season involves laying down some cash on a futures pick for the 149th Derby, which will be run under Churchill Downs’ Twin Spires on the first Saturday in May. Over the next several months, America’s Best Racing will bring you up to date with the changing odds and notable entries for potential Derby horses at Caesars Sportsbook.

We’ll revisit these odds as the season progresses. With each passing prep race, the number of viable Derby contenders will shrink, but as of now, there are dozens of horses out there that carry the dreams of owners and gamblers alike to find the Churchill Downs winner’s circle after the first jewel of the Triple Crown – and some of them may not have even raced yet.

Aside from the Las Vegas book, the third of six Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools offered by Churchill Downs Inc. will be held from Jan. 20 starting at noon ET until Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. ET. While Pool 3 is open, the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds will be run on Jan. 21, offering a Derby points distribution of 10-4-3-2-1 to the top five finishers.

Jan. 8 Caesars Sportsbook Odds Leaders to Win the 2023 Kentucky Derby:

1. Arabian Knight (10-1)

1. Forte (10-1)

3. Cave Rock (12-1)

4. Arabian Lion (15-1)

4. Extra Anejo (15-1)

6. Loggins (18-1)

Complete Jan. 8 Odds

Notable Changes:

Victory Formation in flight. (Coady Photography)

Victory Formation gave arguably the best performance among winners of the six Kentucky Derby qualifying races run during the past month, leading from gate to wire in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes New Year’s Day at Oaklawn Park. He improved to 3-for-3 in his promising career for trainer Brad Cox and offers good value on Caesars’ latest sheet at 65-1. As noted in a recent profile, this colt has a pedigree that should suit him well in longer-distance races, as he’s from the first crop of Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit, who is one of four winners of that 1 ½-mile “test of the champion” sired by Tapit. Cox may bring this one back in the Rebel Stakes Feb. 25 at Oaklawn.

Cox also trains Jace’s Road, who won the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds in front-running fashion Dec. 26. Jace’s Road rebounded from a no-show in the Street Sense Stakes back in October on a sloppy track and could make his next start in the above-mentioned Lecomte a week and a half from how. His speed figures and pedigree for stamina are both less impressive than those of Victory Formation, and he’s therefore rated at 90-1 by Caesars. Read more about him in this profile.

On Jan. 7, Lugan Knight gamely held off a stretch-long challenge from favored Arctic Arrogance to win the one-mile, one-turn Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. His odds dropped from 150-1 to 100-1 on Caesars’ book as a result and he is definitely a horse to keep tabs on going forward. However, his pedigree on both his sire’s (father’s) and dam’s (mother’s) side tops off at around a mile or 1 1/16 miles, and owner-breeder George Yager tempered his excitement after the Jerome as to whether the son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents could take him all the way to Louisville. Read more about Lugan Knight in Mike Curry’s profile. (Artic Arrogance is rated at 100-1 odds and may make his next start back at the Big A in the Withers Stakes Feb. 4, per trainer Linda Rice.)

Out West, Reincarnate upset stablemates Newgate and National Treasure Jan. 8 in the one-mile Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park. All three are trained by Bob Baffert, who is banned by Churchill Downs from running his horses in the 2023 Kentucky Derby, and thus have not accrued any qualifying points. Nevertheless, Reincarnate is offered at 65-1 odds by Caesars, National Treasure at an underlaid 20-1, and Newgate at 85-1. Reincarnate is from the first crop of 2017 juvenile champion male and 2018 Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic and is out of a dam by Scat Daddy who was a sprinter-miler and won a stakes at 6 ½ furlongs. Each of the Sham’s top three probably take a backseat to Baffert’s maiden winner Arabian Knight and the emergent Faustin (see below) as Derby prospects at this point, and a decision will have to be made by the trainer in the weeks ahead about where to send his best runners in order to start accumulating points, as was done with Taiba and Messier last year.

Tim Yakteen assumed training duties of that pair prior to their 2022 Derby appearances, and his colt Practical Move scored an upset win in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity back on Dec. 17 to join the Kentucky Derby trail. Practical Move is sitting at 90-1 odds in Caesars’ latest book and the Practical Joke colt has a solid stamina foundation going a few generations back in his dam’s pedigree; read more about him in this profile.

Three to Watch:

Faustin draws clear on debut. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Faustin: This son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin was purchased for $800,000 last spring as a 2-year-old by Michael Lund Petersen and made his career debut at the end of his juvenile season for Baffert in a six-furlong sprint Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. He sat off of a hot early pace and unleashed a sustained move to take command coming out of the turn before powering clear to a 2 ¾-length win over stablemate Sonoran as the 9-10 favorite. It was a very impressive first-out victory, good for a 94 Equibase Speed Figure. Faustin’s odds of 25-1 on Caesars’ Jan. 8 sheet provide added evidence to support a Baffert bias among Derby future bettors (Exhibit A being Arabian Knight’s 10-1 odds based on one win back in early November). Nevertheless, this colt is very well-bred – his dam is millionaire and multiple Grade 1 winner Hard Not to Like, by Curlin’s rival Hard Spun, who set a course record going 1 1/8 miles on turf at Saratoga. His second dam (maternal grandmother), Like a Gem, won two turf stakes races at 1 ¼ miles and set a course record in one of them.

Banishing: Down on the bayou, Banishing improved nicely off a fourth-place debut finish back in November to romp by 8 ½ lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Fair Grounds Dec. 26. The Godolphin homebred took early pressure in the race into the far turn, but shook clear at the quarter pole and won going away, earning a 94 Equibase Speed Figure. He debuts on Caesars’ new sheet at 125-1 odds which is good value compared with some other maiden winners at this point. This colt is a son of the great 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and is out of a dam sired by stamina king A.P. Indy. Trainer Brendan Walsh told Daily Racing Form that “we’ll be in no rush with him” going forward. Walsh said the Lecomte or an allowance race at Fair Grounds in late January/early February are options for Banishing’s next start.

Shesterkin: Todd Pletcher trains probable 2022 champion 2-year-old male and current Caesars co-leader Forte, but otherwise is not represented in the current Top 20 Kentucky Derby points leaderboard. He’s starting to unveil some attractive prospects in south Florida, however, and Shesterkin fits the bill. This son of good, young sire Violence scored a first-out victory by 2 ¼ lengths Dec. 31 at Gulfstream Park for Belmont Stakes-winning owner Robert LaPenta, taking the lead early in a seven-furlong maiden race and surviving some bumping in early stretch to win comfortably. His debut Equibase Speed Figure of 84 was modest, and his opening odds of 135-1 via Caesars follow suit. Keep in mind Pletcher’s M.O., though: the Hall of Fame trainer is, along with Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, and relative newcomer Brad Cox, a premier go-to guy for bringing along Kentucky Derby contenders in the winter and spring months and getting them to peak at just the right time. Both Shesterkin’s first and second dams won stakes races at 1 1/16 miles. Look for this one to stay in the Sunshine State for his next start, probably tackling two turns at either Gulfstream or Tampa Bay Downs.

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