Kentucky Derby Futures: Last-Minute Value on the Vegas Line

Kentucky Derby Caesars sportsbook future wager horse betting gambling Forte Derma Sotogake Mandarin Hero Skinner Confidence Game Mage Lord Miles Hit Show Practical Move Kingsbarns Tapit Trice horse racing Las Vegas
‘Who do you like?’: Trying to solve the Kentucky Derby puzzle at Churchill Downs. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Over the past few months, 3-year-old Thoroughbreds pointing to the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve have competed for a spot in the 20-horse field by earning qualifying points in designated stakes around the country.

Since the previous edition of this blog six weeks ago, all of the remaining Kentucky Derby qualifying races have been held. The Derby picture is nearly in focus as 26 horses remain in position to contest the 149th run for the roses based on points they accumulated in the prep series.

Forecasting the field – and even taking a stand on a potential winner backed by a future wager – is an annual highlight of Kentucky Derby season, and the bookmakers at Caesars Sportsbook are taking fixed-odds future wagers on the Derby, which will be held at historic Churchill Downs on May 6, 2023.

Caesars’ latest sheet has narrowed the list of contenders down to 25 horses, corresponding to the current Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard managed by Churchill Downs, with one exception. Continuar, a Japanese horse who earned an automatic berth in the Kentucky Derby starting gate as part of Churchill Downs’ Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby program, is not offered as a future wager by Caesars.

In addition to the Vegas futures, the sixth and final pool of Churchill Downs’ Derby Future Wager closed on April 1 at 6 p.m. ET. Forte finished as the favorite in Churchill’s final pool at 5-2 odds, followed by Kingsbarns at 11-1, Tapit Trice at 11-1, and Derma Sotogake at 13-1.

April 16 Caesars Sportsbook Odds Leaders to Win the 2023 Kentucky Derby:

1. Forte (2-1)

2. Tapit Trice (6-1)

3. Practical Move (9-1)

4. Derma Sotogake (12-1)

5. Verifying (12-1)

Complete April 16 Odds

The Favorites: Who’s Vulnerable?

Forte (Nicole Thomas/Coglianese Photo)

You’ll get no brushback from me regarding Forte’s status as the Kentucky Derby favorite. His record speaks for itself: six wins in seven starts, four Grade 1 wins, and a perfect 2-for-2 so far in his 3-year-old season. He’s been a model of consistency and he has a stalking, push-button running style that’s beneficial for winning the Kentucky Derby. Having said that, in terms of speed figures Forte does not tower over about a third of the remaining horses on Churchill Downs’ leaderboard, and he was all out to get up late and defeat Mage in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa April 1 at Gulfstream Park. A deserving favorite he is, but 2-1 is too low a price for Forte – both now as a future bet and on Derby day as well. I expect him to be in the 5-2 to 3-1 range when the starting gate opens May 6 and will be using him in vertical wagers but betting against him to win.

UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis the Royal winner Derma Sotogake is receiving a lot of support in Derby future betting, both on Caesars’ book and in Churchill Downs’ final pool where he closed at 13-1 odds. The numbers don’t lie: he ran a fast time in the UAE Derby and was not threatened after taking the early lead from his rail post and controlling the pace. He has also shown versatility in his running style in earlier races where he won from a stalking position – although considering that this prospective Derby field is largely bereft of early speed, replicating his front-running UAE Derby strategy may give him the best chance to win. Still, there’s a couple of big historical trends working against Derma Sotogake: no runner coming out of the UAE Derby has hit the board in the Kentucky Derby, nor has any Japan-based horse (Master Fencer came closest when he finished sixth in 2019). There’s no doubt that the Thoroughbred racehorses from Japan have improved over the past decade – just look to their growing dominance in the Dubai World Cup Carnival and their success in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup (where an unheralded Japanese dirt filly defeated the likes of Malathaat, Clairiere, and a handful of other top-class females in the Longines Distaff). But I won’t be bucking precedent come Derby day. Instead, I’ll continue with a “wait until it happens” approach regarding Derma Sotogake’s chances to topple the Americans (and Continuar’s chances, for that matter). I will concede, however, that if you think different it might be a good idea to place a Derby future bet on Derma Sotogake now, because if the buzz continues to build, he could go off at high single-digit odds on May 6.

Which Longshot Has the Best Chance to Win?

At this point, there are two remaining strategies for placing a Derby future wager less than three weeks out from the big race. You can plunk some cash down on one of the six horses currently residing outside the top 20 positions on Churchill Downs’ Derby leaderboard and hope enough defections occur to open up a spot in the starting gate for your contender. Or you can try to find value by betting on one of the horses that have already locked up a spot in the race and are carrying odds of 30-1 or higher.

Here are the six horses who’ll need some help getting into the Kentucky Derby, listed in leaderboard order with Caesars odds:

21. Jace’s Road (50-1)

22. Skinner (40-1)

23. Cyclone Mischief (50-1)

24. Major Dude (75-1)

25. Mandarin Hero (75-1)

26. King Russell (100-1)

From this group, the most appealing bet is Mandarin Hero – which, of course, contradicts everything I wrote above about Derma Sotogake as Mandarin Hero is also a Japan-based horse and is in fact less accomplished in that country than the UAE Derby winner. In this case, it all comes down to 75-1 vs. 12-1. While Derma Sotogake had everything his own way when cruising to a front-running win in Dubai over some decent international horses and a trio of third-string U.S.-based runners, Mandarin Hero shipped from his home country to California and nearly won the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby April 8, losing by a nose to Practical Move, one of the Kentucky Derby favorites. Odds of 75-1 on this Shanghai Bobby colt based on that performance is the textbook definition of an overlay. The problem is, Mandarin Hero will need five defections to make the Derby field, which is very unlikely. Alternately, Skinner finished just a half-length behind both Practical Move and Mandarin Hero in the Santa Anita Derby, is conditioned by Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Shirreffs (Giacomo, 2005), and is by the powerful sire Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year in his racing days. And the 40-1 shot only needs a couple of defections in the next couple of weeks to make the field. Sign me up.

Among those that have secured a starting-gate position, intriguing possibilities are Lord Miles at 40-1 and Hit Show at 30-1. These horses finished 1-2, separated by a nose, in the April 8 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct. They both possess good stamina pedigrees and have potential to improve, although I‘ll admit that overall, Derby contenders racing on the New York circuit have been less impressive this year than those from Florida, California, and Louisiana.

Two more longshot plays on Caesars’ Derby future book deserve mention, although both are under the 30-1 cutoff: Florida Derby runner-up Mage at 24-1 and Rebel Stakes winner Confidence Game at 28-1. I think each of these horses has a small chance to win the Derby, and I also think they might carry odds that are slightly lower than their current price at Caesars come post time May 6.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram TikTok YouTube
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram TikTok YouTube