The Top Derby Prospects


By Noel Michaels - OTB Learning Labs

The 2012 Kentucky Derby is still more than a month away and now the third go-around of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (Pool 3) is already here.  That makes this a good time to take a closer look at the contenders on the road to the Triple Crown, and assess the chances of some of the key horses to watch based on what we've seen so far.  Even if you have no interest in Kentucky Derby Future Wagers, all racing fans have an interest in the Kentucky Derby, its prep races, and in finding out who are shaping up to be the top 3-year-olds this upcoming season. And so, whether you're betting the Future Wager of not, this article really is all about who the top 3-year-olds are this year, what's next for these horses, and who is for real and who isn't.

For the uninitiated, the Kentucky Derby Future Wager annually features three separate pari-mutuel betting pools, one in February, one in March, and one this weekend ending April 1.  The bet essentially is a win bet on a single horse to win the Kentucky Derby, but for the exceptionally brave, or foolhardy, it also includes an option to bet exactas as well.  The Future Wager pool contains 24 betting interests, including 23 individual horses and the #24 field of "all others."

Traditionally, "all others" has been a good wagering option for Pool 1 since the bet is nearly three months out from the Derby, and then gets less and less attractive as the date draws nearer to the Derby and the real contenders begin to sort themselves out. This year is a little different, however, because the dates format of the Future Wager Pool 3 has been altered and it earlier this year than ever before. Now that Pool 3 is before the runnings of most of the big final prep races - the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, and Blue Grass - so much of the Kentucky Derby picture will still be undecided by the time Pool 3 closes at 6:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 1.  This will actually make the "all others" #24 option a viable wager this year in Pool 3, and of course, as always, the "all others" odds will be considerably higher than in either of the previous Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools.

Remember, if a surprise or upset horse wins any of the big final prep races, plus a race such as the Illinois Derby at Hawthone or the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, bettors who hold #24 "all others" tickets in Pool 3 will automatically be alive to any and all of those horses, plus any horse that might emerge this weekend in Saturday's Florida Derby on March 31 and Sunday's Louisiana Derby on April 1.

After all, when it comes to future wagers of any kind, you've gotta first get your betting choice into the starting gate before you can hope to win.  Horses need to be in the top 20 in stakes earnings in order to get into the field for the Kentucky Derby, and the horses who win and perhaps place in the remaining big-money prep races will have guaranteed spots in the starting gate.  This might leave other horses out in the cold.  You can't win if you're not in, and in my opinion, in the Kentucky Derby Future Wagers, you're first priority should be ensuring you will have live runners, and lots of them, who actually get into the race and are not left on the outside looking in on the sidelines.

With the field of "all others" in Pool 3 this year, you are guaranteed to possess nearly half the horses in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May.  To me, in an unpredictable race like the Kentucky Derby, this will make the Future Pool 3 "all others" a supremely good bet this year, in addition to one or perhaps two of your top contenders from the individual horses Nos. 1-23.

While I am advocating a field #24 bet of "all others" in this year's Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3, I also suggest betting at least one other horse straight and perhaps even two other horses in exacta boxes to put onto your tickets along with "the field."

Due to this earnings issue, it is possible that we might see several of the non-winning runners in this weekend's top preps - the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby - plus non-winners from last weekend's Spiral Stakes, attempting to squeeze in one final Derby prep race somewhere on down the line on April 14 or April 21, or perhaps even one of these days in the Derby Trial one week before the Kentucky Derby.

Here is my list of top Kentucky Derby leading up to Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3, complete with comments for the top 3-year-olds we've seen so far this year, plus underrated contenders, overrated contenders, and where all of these horses are likely to race next in their final prep races leading up to the Run for the Roses on Saturday, May 5.



Horse                          Trainer                       
Union Rags                 Michael Matz              
Only loss was a troubled second to loose speed Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The most talented 3yo is Fla. Derby favorite.

                       Mike Maker                
All this speedball does is win. Staying in Ky now following emphatic win in the Gotham. They'll need to catch him.

Creative Cause
          Mike Harrington        
He's the best out west and likely SA Derby favorite following his San Felipe win with a good 102 Beyer speed figure.

              Bob Baffert             
Narrowly lost San Felipe and now owns two straight 100+ Beyer speed figures. He looms top Derby contender for Baffert - recovering from heart attack.



Horse                          Trainer                       
Gemologist                 Todd Pletcher                       
Coming around very quickly now and ready to tackle stakes rivals for the first time in the Wood. Seems like the type to get good in a hurry at the right time. Perhaps he's the top hope for Pletcher?

Mark Valeski            Larry Jones               
Narrowly lost the Risen Star by a nose to El Padrino, and probably ran the better race of the two. Faces an easy field in the Louisiana Derby. Trainer Larry Jones is high on him.

Went the Day Well    Graham Motion           
Perhaps not as good as Animal Kingdom for these same connections, but he excelled in Spiral victory and shouldn't be overlooked.

Daddy Nose Best    Steve Asmussen           
Owns back-to-back wins in the Sunland Derby and El Camino Real for trainer Steve Asmussen. Earned a big Beyer at Sunland.

Prospective              Mark Casse              
Tampa Bay Derby winner is being totally discounted, but that win was a good one and there's still room for improvement.



Horse                          Trainer                       
El Padrino                   Todd Pletcher                       
He'll need to win the Florida Derby in order to change my mind.  Certainly talented, but perhaps too highly regarded based on the Pletcher factor. See Fla. Derby to decide.

Alpha                          Kiaran McLaughllin           
Seems to be ducking the top competition so far, and now the Wood Memorial is not coming up as tough as expected.

Secret Circle              Bob Baffert             
Immensely fast and talented, and primed to sweep the Oaklawn preps, but he is highly unlikely to handle a mile-and-a-quarter.

Dullahan                     Dale Romans           
Keeps hanging around and wasn't bad in Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he seems like more of a turf / Polytrack horse.

Read below for a list of the remaining top Kentucky Derby prep races, complete with some probable and possible starters for each race:

Florida Derby - March 31
Union Rags
El Padrino
Take Charge Indy (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
News Pending (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
Raveron (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
Fort Loudon (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
Neck 'n Neck (+ perhaps 1 more prep)

Louisiana Derby - April 1
Mark Valeski (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
Cigar Street (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
Mr. Bowling (+ perhaps 1 more prep)
Rousing Sermon (+ perhaps 1 more prep)

Wood Memorial - April 7
My Adonis
Prospective (possible here or Blue Grass)

Santa Anita Derby - April 7
Creative Cause
Bodemeister (possible here or Arkansas Derby)
I'll Have Another
Midnight Transfer

Illinois Derby - April 7
Currency Swap
Our Entourage
Saturday Launch
Morgan's Guerrilla
Romancing The Gold
Ring It Up

Blue Grass - April 14
Howe Great
Prospective (possible here or Wood Mem.)

Arkansas Derby - April 14
Secret Circle
On Fire Baby
Isn't He Clever
Handsome Mike
Bodemeister (possible here or SA Derby)

Lexington - April 21
Went the Day Well (possible)
Holiday Promise
Heavy Breathing (possible)


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