Kentucky Derby Futures: Latest Las Vegas Odds for Top Contenders

Picking out a potential Derby winner at Tampa Bay Downs. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

With February upon us, we’re deep into the prep schedule for this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 6 at Churchill Downs. Four stakes races offering qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby have been held since the last edition of this blog on Jan. 10, and aside from that, several other exciting prospects have gained notice 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 started in a points race yet.

Aside from the Las Vegas book, the third of six Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools offered by Churchill Downs Inc. was held from Jan. 20-22 at 6 p.m. ET. “All other 3-year-old males” led the wagering at odds of 2.41-1, while Forte led the 38 individual entries at odds of 7.86-1 (no Bob Baffert-trained horses are in the pool).

Churchill’s fourth Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool is days away, held from Feb. 10 at noon ET to Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. ET. Forte opens as the top betting choice in the pool at 8-1 odds from 39 entries. Three points preps will be held while the pool is open, all on Feb. 11: the rescheduled Withers Stakes at Aqueduct; the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Feb. 5 Caesars Sportsbook Odds Leaders to Win the 2023 Kentucky Derby:

1. Arabian Knight (6-1)

2. Forte (9-1)

3. Cave Rock (12-1)

4. Extra Anejo (15-1)

5. Instant Coffee (20-1)

5. Loggins (20-1)

5. National Treasure (20-1)

5. Tapit Trice (20-1)

Complete Feb. 5 Odds

Notable Changes:

Arabian Knight (Coady Photography)

Arabian Knight met the expectations placed on him in his comeback race, romping by 5 ½ lengths in the Southwest Stakes Jan. 28 at Oaklawn Park. The Uncle Mo colt, purchased for $2.3 million by Zedan Racing Stables as a 2-year-old, had first turned heads when debuting at Keeneland on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard and dominating a seven-furlong maiden race (discussed in an earlier blog). Anticipation was justifiably high for Arabian Knight’s next start, and in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest on a sloppy track, the colt took command early and was never threatened under John Velazquez, who got his mount into a nice cruising rhythm in the backstretch and then coasted home. Trainer Bob Baffert compared Arabian Knight’s win at Oaklawn to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s two sensational victories at the track, but circumstances are very different this year.

Churchill Downs instituted a ban on all Baffert-trained horses following the disqualification of Medina Spirit from first in the 2021 Derby after testing positive for a banned medication, and Churchill’s ban runs through this year’s Derby. Furthermore, a new requirement for this year’s Derby contenders mandates that any horse conditioned by a suspended trainer must be transferred by its owner(s) to another trainer by Feb. 28. Baffert (who is currently seeking a court injunction to overturn Churchill’s ban) has just a few weeks to deliberate with Amr Zedan and all of his other owners of Derby prospects and sort out a plan to ensure they have a path to Louisville. Arabian Knight currently sits first on Caesars’ futures book at 6-1 odds, and he’s a definite contender to win the 149th run for the roses … should he qualify.

Rocket Can also impressed in his stakes debut, winning the Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park by three-quarters of a length over stablemate and longshot Shadow Dragon. The Into Mischief colt had improved his form substantially when extended to two turns by trainer Bill Mott, winning a maiden race at 1 1/16 miles last fall at Churchill Downs and then running a close second in an allowance-optional claimer at the same track and distance. He tried a mile and a sixteenth again in the Holy Bull, and sat a stalking trip under Junior Alvarado before taking the lead in early stretch and then keeping Shadow Dragon at bay. Rocket Can debuts on Caesars’ Feb. 5 futures sheet at 100-1 odds, while Shadow Dragon does the same at 125-1 odds. Rocket Can earned only an 89 Equibase Speed Figure for his Holy Bull win, which partially explains his current odds. He’s got a solid pedigree for stretching out to 1 1/8 miles or longer, however, and is worth keeping tabs on as the ultra-patient Mott plans his campaign over the next couple of months. Read more about him in Mike Curry’s Derby contender profile.

Newgate (Eclipse Sportswire)

Newgate won the Bob Baffert Invitational, more commonly known as the Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 4 at Santa Anita Park and saw his odds drop from 70-1 to 25-1 at Caesars. He defeated three stablemates in the Robert Lewis by making a sustained drive from the back of the pack and narrowly edging Hard to Figure (the longest shot in a compact field) by a neck. Everything discussed above regarding Arabian Knight applies to Newgate and the other Robert Lewis starters – none of them earned qualifying points – and the Feb. 28 deadline to transfer is looming as the court drama drags on. This Into Mischief colt earned his first stakes win after losing by a neck to Reincarnate (50-1 odds) in the Sham Stakes Jan. 8 and he has paired 102 Equibase Speed Figures in the two starts. Newgate doesn’t exactly have an electrifying turn of foot, but he’s a hard-trying type who has paired well with legendary European jockey Frankie Dettori, who’s ridden him in both the Sham and Robert Lewis as Dettori commences his farewell year in the saddle. As for the other three Lewis starters, Hard to Figure is currently not offered at Caesars, third-place Worcester (a sprinter stretching out unsuccessfully) is at 75-1, and Arabian Lion, once prominent in the futures market, is now sitting at 60-1 odds after finishing last in both the Los Alamitos Futurity in December and the Robert B. Lewis.

Instant Coffee bolstered his credentials for Derby 149 with a driving 2 ½-length score in the Lecomte Stakes Jan. 22 at Fair Grounds. That was his second consecutive win in a Derby points prep following his breakthrough in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes back in November. Encouragingly, he earned a career-best 99 Equibase Speed Figure in the Lecomte, although based on both speed figures and the eye test this Bolt d’Oro still resides in the second tier of Derby contenders. Look for the Brad Cox trainee to stay at Fair Grounds for his next prep, either in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford Feb. 18 or the Louisiana Derby March 25. He’s getting 20-1 odds on Caesars’ latest book.

Three to Watch:

Tapit Trice (Lauren King/Coglianese Photo)

Tapit Trice: This well-bred Tapit colt jumped onto the Derby trail with an impressive 3-year-old debut Feb. 4 on the Holy Bull Stakes undercard. He won a one-turn allowance-optional claiming race by eight lengths over stablemate and 9-10 favorite Shesterkin (discussed in an earlier blog), and as a result now sits tied for fifth on Caesars’ Derby futures book at 20-1 odds, down from 60-1 on Jan. 29 (Shesterkin is 100-1). Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm bought Tapit Trice for $1.3 million as a Keeneland September yearling from breeder Gainesway Farm, who retains an ownership interest. Todd Pletcher trains him, and it will be interesting to see how he plots Tapit Trice’s schedule heading into the Triple Crown races, keeping in mind that Pletcher’s main contender Forte is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut March 4 in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. On Feb. 4, Tapit Trice was angled out from his inside post early by jockey Luis Saez and tracked the pace before making a sustained move into contention in the turn. He assumed the lead entering the stretch and tried to veer out briefly before Saez steadied him, and his rider then urged him to a strong finish that netted a 96 Equibase Speed Figure, which matched the number he earned in his maiden win at the same distance Dec. 17 at Aqueduct. The colt is out of multiple stakes winner Danzatrice, by Dunkirk, and his extended family includes such notable horses as champion juvenile filly Jaywalk and millionaire and Louisiana Derby winner Mission Impazible.

General Jim: Another standout on Gulfstream’s Feb. 4 card, this Shug McGaughey-trained Into Mischief colt won the seven-furlong Claiborne Farm Swale Stakes by a length over favorite Super Chow (135-1 at Caesars) and showed grit when outdueling that foe in midstretch before drawing away. He earned a 92 Equibase Speed Figure for the effort, which is his best to date on a dirt surface, and at current 150-1 odds on Caesars’ book is an intriguing contender based on Hall of Famer McGaughey’s reputation for developing horses. General Jim won twice last year in route turf races – a maiden win at Saratoga and then an allowance at Keeneland – but the Swale was his first win on dirt, and followed a fourth-place finish in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes Jan. 1 at Gulfstream, where he was blocked for most of the stretch. McGaughey told BloodHorse that he would consult with owner Donald Adam of Courtlandt Farms about whether to point General Jim to another stakes held around one turn or possibly stretch him out in a Derby points prep. He’s out of the stakes-placed Curlin mare Inspired by Grace, who is a full-sister (same dam [mother], same sire [father]) to Mother Goose Stakes winner Off the Tracks and a half-sister to West Virginia Derby and Iowa Derby winner Concord Point.

First Defender: On the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes undercard at Fair Grounds, this Quality Road colt romped in his career debut, taking a six-furlong race by 5 ¼ lengths as a 9-10 favorite for owner-breeder Three Chimneys Farm and trainer Steve Asmussen. Breaking from post 3, First Defender sat just off of the frontrunner to his inside through a fast opening quarter-mile, was joined by a horse to his outside in the turn, and then shook off both horses in early stretch. He was kept to task by jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the final furlong and extended the margin in an all-around solid unveiling. He earned a 90 Equibase Speed Figure for the first-out victory and oozes potential as a two-turn horse; his dam is Love and Pride, by A.P. Indy, who won two route Grade 1 races and earned nearly $1 million on the track, and he’s also closely related to champion, Preakness Stakes winner, and sire Bernardini. Extra Anejo, an Asmussen trainee who turned heads last fall with a sharp debut score and is still among the Derby futures leaders, has not had a published workout this year as he recovers from an ankle injury. Meanwhile, First Defender is getting 100-1 odds at Caesars as a Kentucky Derby winner – a very enticing alternative indeed.

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