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Derby Dark Horses

When the upcoming Saturday arrives, we will be just five weeks – 35 days – from Kentucky Derby 141.

As we hit that milepost on the road to Churchill Downs, the favorites for this year’s Run for the Roses continue to strengthen their credentials. The last of four pools of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opens its three-day run on Friday and the three horses closely-bunched at the top are trainer Bob Baffert’s “Dynamic Duo” of reigning 2-year-old champion American Pharoah and unbeaten Dortmund, and trainer Todd Pletcher’s Carpe Diem.

The Bill Mott-trained Dubai Sky won Turfway Park's Cincinnati Spiral to extend his winning streak to four races.

The Bill Mott-trained Dubai Sky won Turfway Park’s Cincinnati Spiral to extend his winning streak to four races.

American Pharoah has been tabbed as the pool’s 9-2 favorite in handicapper Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds, with Dortmund at 5-1 and Carpe Diem at 6-1.

Not far behind is Firing Line (12-1), who suffered a pair of narrow losses to Dortmund in Southern California before heading to New Mexico’s Sunland Park, where he cruised to a 14 1/4-length victory in Sunday’s Sunland Park Derby in his final Kentucky Derby prep.

Those are solid prices, but are probably comparable to the odds that will be available on those horses on Kentucky Derby Day.

Here are some Kentucky Derby “dark horses “that have the potential to light-up the tote board on the big day.

Dubai Sky (30-1 in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager) – The winner of last week’s Cincinnati Trophy Stakes on synthetic polytrack at Turfway Park has never raced on dirt, but neither had Animal Kingdom, who won that same race in 2011 on his way to a victory on the big race on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. The Spiral was Dubai Sky’s first race on a surface other than grass and he impressed as he extended his winning streak to four races. He is trained by Bill Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer who has won more races and stakes races at Churchill Downs than any other trainer, but has never come close to winning the Kentucky Derby. Horses with turf pedigrees, like Animal Kingdom, often fare well over the Churchill Downs dirt.

Frosted (30-1) – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s colt was on many short lists of Derby 141 hopes until the running of Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes, a race in which he looked like a sure winner turning for home before he suddenly and inexplicably stopped to a walk. McLaughlin has offered no explanation since, but he will get a shot at redemption before Derby Day and super-agent Ron Anderson has committed his star Joel Rosario to ride.  Rosario won the 2013 Derby aboard Orb, and his presence in the saddle makes one anxious to take another look, especially at 30-1.

Mubtaahij (30-1) – He’s trained by South African Mike de Kock and has raced through the winter in Dubai, which has yet to be a pathway to even a top-four finish on Derby Day, much less a victory. But the Kentucky Derby has been on his trainer’s mind all winter, he loves the dirt and he’ll be a strong favorite to win this week’s UAE Derby at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse, which carries 100 points that would guarantee a spot in the starting gate on May 2 at Churchill Downs. He’s big, strong and super fit, and could be a longshot with clout on Kentucky Derby Day.

Others worth a look in KDFW Pool 4 and beyond: Prospect Park (15-1), Bolo (20-1), Keen Ice (50-1), Ami’s Flatter (50-1) and Mr. Z (50-1).   

The latter has only one win in 10 races and has recently had trouble running in a straight line through the stretch, but is trained by 79-year-old Hall of Famer and four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, who can never be ruled out when he brings a horse to the big stage. If you want to risk letting Lukas beat you with Mr. Z at 50-1 or higher, please be my guest.

But I won’t let it happen to me – at least, not again. VT