Standout 3-Year-Olds on the Road to The Triple Crown
STANDOUT 3-YEAR-OLDS ON THE ROAD TO THE TRIPLE CROWN
Tips for Betting the Kentucky Derby Future Wager and Beyond
The 2016 Kentucky Derby is still two months away, and the next go-around of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is already upon us on March 11-13. That makes this a good time to take a closer look at the top early 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 the fans, handicappers, and bettors who have no interest in Kentucky Derby Future Wagers most certainly have some interest in the Kentucky Derby, its prep races, and in finding out who are shaping-up to be the best 3-year-olds for the upcoming racing season, and really, that's what this article is all about. Who are the top 3-year-olds 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 separate pari-mutuel betting pools, the last one this year coming on the first weekend of April. The bet essentially is a win bet or an exacta bet on who will win the Kentucky Derby, allowing bettors to take a chance and lock-in odds early, no matter what the horse's actual odds will end up being at post time on the first Saturday in May.
The key to the future bet really is to assess horses' chances in upcoming prep races, to decide which horses are likeliest to win and therefore be the favorites on Derby Day. This kind of thinking can make the Derby Future Wager a bargain, because locking-in your odds on these horses now will give you value odds for the Derby, and value is key in future wagers, because you are assuming a lot of extra rick due to the fact that we're still two months out from the Kentucky Derby and none of these horses is even a sure thing to make the race (injuries take their toll and horses fizzle-out every year).
Each of the Future Wager pools 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 early Derby Future bets when hardly any of the key prep races had been run, and perhaps not as good of a bet for the last Future Wager pool in April. This March Future Wager is the "swing pool" for the "All Others" #24 bet. - it's early enough where a dark horse or two can still emerge, but late enough where we've already seen many of these horses and have good ideas of what their abilities will be as 3-year-olds. If you're interested, the #24 "all others" should go off at odds around 4-1 this time around.
Here is my list of top Kentucky Derby contenders, using horses that will be included in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager [KDWF] pool on March 11-13, complete with comments for the top 3-year-olds we've seen so far this year, plus underrated contenders and overrated contenders in terms of the current KDFW:
NOEL MICHAELS' TOP 3-YEAR-OLD PROSPECTS
To me, these are the best Kentucky Derby prospects right now.
Mohaymen Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin Odds: 7-2
Mohaymen is most people's leading Kentucky Derby contender at the moment, and the fact that he scared away most of the competition away from the Fountain of Youth is a sign that most everybody in racing thinks he is for real. Mohaymen is undefeated including back-to-back stakes wins last fall at Aqueduct and back-to-back stakes wins as a 3-year-old at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull and then the Fountain of Youth. He is still getting better, owns good tactical speed, and has no major knocks on him to make you think he won't go to Louisville as one of the favorites in the field for the Kentucky Derby. In line for a major showdown in the Florida Derby against Nyquist.
Shagaf Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin Odds: 20-1
This horse gives Kiaran McLaughlin both of the top two Kentucky Derby contenders on my list after his nice-looking win in the Gotham Stakes against what I believe was a good field. In that victory, he dropped back to fourth in the field at one point in the race, then rallied against a major speed bias that affected the Aqueduct inner track that day. It would be a mistake to underrate him simply as being Kiaran McLaughlin's "second-stringer." He has emerged as a major Kentucky Derby prospect in his own right, and heads to the Wood Memorial perhaps as the favorite.
Suddenbreakingnews Trainer: Donnie K. Von Hemel Odds: 20-1
Made a dramatic last-to-first move to win the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn to burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene, and now is headed to the Rebel Stakes as a major contender on the road to Louisville. In the Southwest, he not only had to pass a dozen horses, but he also had to overcome a disadvantageous far outside post position. Passed that test with flying colors, and should be high on anybody's list at present.
Mor Spirit Trainer: Bob Baffert Odds: 12-1
He will be the deserving favorite in the San Felipe, which this year is overloaded with talented horses. So if he wants to keep his winning ways going, he'll need to earn it, and in the process prove that he is the real deal and perhaps Bob Baffert's leading Kentucky Derby contender for 2016. Has reeled off two straight wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity and the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita where he was a game winner. Also finished a solid second last fall in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over the track at Churchill Downs.
LAST YEAR'S TOP 2-YEAR-OLDS
This is generally not my favorite category when it comes to finding the next Kentucky Derby winner. Over the course of the last 25 years or so, rarely has the Derby winner actually been one of the previous season's top 2-year-olds.
Nyquist Trainer: Doug O'Neill Odds: 9-2
Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion and 2-year-old Eclipse Award winner Nyquist never seems to get the credit he deserves, perhaps because he lives in the shadow of the fabulous filly Songbird (Songbird will not point to the Kentucky Derby). All this horse does is continue to win. He began his 3-year-old campaign by picking up right where he left off last season and winning the G2-San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, defeating the highly-regarded winner of the Delta Jackpot, Exaggerator, by 1 ½ lengths. Nyquist also owns Graded stakes wins in the G2-Best Pal, G1-Del Mar Futurity, and G1-Frontrunner Stakes. Trained by Doug O'Neill, he is shipping East for a monster battle with Mohaymen in the Florida Derby.
Brody's Cause Trainer: Dale Romans Odds: 20-1
Claim to fame is a win in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall when he took advantage of a muddy track. He then finished a non-threatening third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and has not been seen since until his 3-year-old debut in the Tampa Bay Derby. Closes from a hundred lengths out of it, and while people often jump on these horse's bandwagons because they think their closing style will be better at 1 ¼ miles in the Kentucky Derby, it is my feeling that this horse is overrated and not to mention starting his 3-year-old campaign too late.
Exaggerator Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Odds: 15-1
Won the $1 million Delta Jackpot, then there is no shame in his second-place finish behind Nyquist at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut. Has a chance to strut his stuff against a loaded field in the San Felipe at Santa Anita.
Greenpointcrusader Trainer: Dominick Schettino Odds: 30-1
He is high on a lot of people's lists based on his win in the prestigious Champagne Stakes at Belmont last fall, but I think he peaked that day. Since then he flopped in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and as soundly beaten fair and square by Mohaymen in the Holy Bull.
Swipe Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Odds: 20-1
Constantly finishing second behind Nyquist last year as a 2-year-old, including when second at a big price in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Yet to debut as a 3-year-old, and is losing valuable time that he won't be able to make-up on the other rapidly-developing 3-year-olds at this time of year.
UNDERRATED DERBY PROSPECTS
Might offer value odds in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager and beyond.
Whitmore Trainer: Ron Moquett Odds: 50-1
He had a ton of trouble in his second-place finish behind Suddenbreakingnews in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, but overcame the worst trip of any horse in the big field to finish second in a good effort. He is unjustly be ignored by many people based on that loss, but he is a major threat to rebound in his next race and cannot be overlooked.
Zulu Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 20-1
He was well-beaten by Mohaymen when second in the Fountain of Youth, and granted he does have some catching up to do to be considered one of this year's elite 3-year-olds. However, he won his first two races and the second in the Fountain of Youth validated his form and pointed him out as a lightly-raced horse at this stage of the road to the Kentucky Derby. Still has upside for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Rafting Trainer: Graham Motion Odds: 9-2 (field)
Could emerge from this weekend's Tampa Bay Derby as the newest major contender on the scene for the Kentucky Derby. He needed a race off a layoff in the Sam Davis Stakes, and we didn't get to see his best. With a predicted upset in the Tampa Bay Derby, however, he'll move onto everyone's list of horses to watch.
Smokey Image Trainer: Carla Gaines Odds: 20-1
California bred is trying to become the next California Chrome. It is difficult to believe this horse is slipping through the cracks on people's radar screens as much as he is, based on the fact he keeps winning and winning and enters the San Felipe with a perfect 6-for-6 record including an eight-length-win in his first stretchout attempt in the Cal Cup Derby. He's been beating only Cal.-breds, but he becomes instantly legitimate based on a big effort in the San Felipe against a tough field.
Airoforce Trainer: Mark Casse Odds: 9-2 (field)
People are disregarding him after he was eased in the Risen Star, perhaps due to a breathing problem from a lingering cold the horse suffered before the race. Maybe he's just a turf horse, but he can still show a major rebound, in my opinion, especially on an off-track or in a race like the Spiral Stakes, which Animal Kingdom used en route to his Kentucky Derby victory a few years ago. He won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on dirt at Chruchill Downs last fall. He is much more of a legitimate contender than most.
Matt King Coal Trainer: Linda Rice Odds: 50-1
So far has just an allowance win to his credit at Aqueduct, but he can run, and his speed figure in the allowance is much better than most of the horses on this list who've been in stakes races. Headed to the Wood Memorial, and shouldn't be overlooked.
OVERRATED DERBY PROSPECTS
Not getting my money in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
Gun Runner Trainer: Steve Asmussen Odds: 20-1
Took advantage of a gold rail to help him win the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. He'll be overbet and overrated based on that race, and likely to flop next time, or in the Kentucky Derby, at underlay odds.
Mo Tom Trainer: Tom Amoss Odds: 20-1
May rebound after running against the inside bias in the loss in the Risen Star Stakes, and perhaps could run a good effort in a race like the Louisiana Derby, where he'll have an upset chance. After that, however, at longer distances like the 1 ¼ mile distance in the Kentucky Derby, he is unlikely to be a factor.
Economic Model Trainer: Chad Brown Odds: 50-1
Lightly-raced with just two starts and only a maiden win to his credit so far. Many people think he will get better at longer distances, and that might be true, but he has a ton of improving still to do, and not a lot of time to do it if he wants to catch-up to some of the more accomplished horses on this list in terms of speed figures and ability at this stage.
Uncle Lino Trainer: Gary Sherlock Odds: 50-1
Running in the San Felipe at Santa Anita after losing to Mor Spirit in the Robert Lewis Stakes. At this stage, he is only a maiden winner with a win at 6 1/2F, and he lost the Lewis by getting run down late at 1 1/16 miles. Unlikely to improve at longer distances.
Destin Trainer: Todd Pletcher Odds: 30-1
Surprised a lot of people with his sharp win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa, perhaps even including his own trainer Todd Pletcher. His next outing is the Tampa Bay Derby, and he won't be surprising anyone if he wins another in that spot for these top connections. Nevertheless, he has yet to really run very fast yet, and probably would not be getting much ballyhoo if not trained by Pletcher.
Cupid Trainer: Bob Baffert Odds: 30-1
Scored a nice maiden win, and has the right connections, but he'll take a big step up into another stratosphere in the tough San Felipe. He's the type of horse Baffert would have sent out to the Sunland Park Derby in recent years, but that race was cancelled this year and he'll still need to improve quickly to play with the big boys.
Danzig Candy Trainer: Clifford Sise Odds: 30-1
Owns maiden and allowance wins to his credit and hasn't been longer than a mile prior to the San Felipe. Had a perfect trip to win the allowance at Santa Anita. Needs to prove himself with a big showing in the San Felipe.
Forevamo Trainer: Al Stall Odds: 50-1
Took advantage of a big track bias in the Risen Star Stakes to benefit and run second. Seems a notch below the elite 3-year-olds.
Good luck in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, in the Kentucky Derby prep races, and with all of your favorite 3-year-olds on the road to Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. Enjoy the spring . . . it'll get here soon . . . hopefully.
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