New Faces Add Sizzle To Wide-Open Derby Futures

Santa Anita Park,  November 3, 2012. Shanghai Bobby and Rosie Napravnik the first time by the stands in  $2 Million Grey Goose  Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) Photo by Amber Chalfin

Santa Anita Park, November 3, 2012. Shanghai Bobby and Rosie Napravnik the first time by the stands in $2 Million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Photo by Amber Chalfin

The bet that allows one to wager on a potential Kentucky Derby contender weeks in advance of the 2013 Run for the Roses opens the first of its three betting pools on Friday at Churchill Downs and across North America, and the best guess on the early favorite for America’s greatest race is not a major surprise.

That guess is: it could be anyone.

There are 24 wagering interests in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”) and Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed No. 24, known by fans as either the mutuel field or “all others,” as a heavy 9-5 favorite.

That betting interest includes every 3-year-old in the world, male or female, other than the 23 individual betting interests in the Future Wager pool, a group headed by Shanghai Bobby, the recently crowned 2-year-old champion of 2012.

By no stretch of the imagination could it be described as a surprise that the Derby betting public has yet to focus on a specific horse as “the one” for the first Saturday in May. The Derby’s future bet has been around since 1999, and the “all others” wager has been favored in each of those years.

But morning line odds of 9-5 on everybody else are extraordinarily low, which means that the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands is as unpredictable, at this point, as any in recent years.

The favored individual horses are Shanghai Bobby and Violence, who won the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in December.  Both are trained by Todd Pletcher and their morning line odds are a beefy 12-1.

But last weekend’s racing featured big performances by relatively new faces on the Derby 139 scene, and the immediate love showered on those horses in the Thoroughbred racing blogosphere and on Twitter provided a pretty good read on the 2013 Derby picture.

It is a portrait, at this point, in search of a star.

The hot newcomers after those are Flashback, Revolutionary and Verrazano. The first hails from the barn of three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, while the latter two are trained by Pletcher, who made 29 horses eligible for the Triple Crown in the early nominations for the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes released last weekend.

Flashback is a son of the sizzling sire Tapit and a victory in Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita made him two-for-two in his young career. Baffert’s colt has yet to be challenged in those races, though he whipped only three opponents in the Lewis and two of them were trained by Baffert.

But Baffert, who rarely holds his cards close to the vest, has made Flashback his talking horse through the winter and, despite his brief worksheet, is the 15-1 co-third choice in this weekend’s Derby Futures.

The heroics of the Pletcher duo came in East Coast locales, where Revolutionary overcame major traffic woes to win the Withers at Aqueduct and Verrazano ran away from allowance rivals at Florida’s Gulfstream Park to win by 16 ¼ lengths in a very fast time in just his second career start.

Revolutionary, a son of War Pass, won his second consecutive race after losing in his first three career starts.  He’s 20-1 in the upcoming Future Wager.

Verrazano is a son of More Than Ready, a versatile sire best known for his grass runners, and has won his two career races by a combined 24 lengths. His biggest hurdle could prove to be the calendar, as Verrazano made his first start on Jan. 1 – the first day of his 3-year-old season.

The last horse to win the Derby without a start prior to Dec. 31 of his 2-year-old campaign was Apollo.  He won the Derby in 1882. In terms of remaining Kentucky Derby conventional wisdom, the lack of success in the race by horses that did not race as 2-year-olds remains pretty much the Derby’s gold standard. But that standard will likely come crashing down sometime, and this year could be the year.

The first 2013 pool Kentucky Derby Future Wager opens Friday, Feb. 8 at noon (all times Eastern) and continues through Sunday, Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. The year’s remaining Derby Future Wager dates are March 1 through 3 for Pool 2, which is nine weeks in advance of Derby, and the third and final pool is set for March 22 through 24, six weeks before the Derby.

The lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool of the year will run concurrent with the Derby’s Pool 2, but will close 30 minutes after the Derby pool at 6:30 p.m.

Regular readers of this column know that Shanghai Bobby carries strong Louisville ties in his Starlight Racing ownership team that is headed by Louisville native Jack Wolf and includes the father-son team of Ed and Clinton Glasscock among its partners. That team sold part interest in the colt to the powerhouse international partnership of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier last fall.

Goldencents, a winner of back-to-back stakes races owned in part by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, is a 20-1 risk in the opening Kentucky Derby Future Pool.

And one more note for Louisville-area fans: Titletown Five, the promising young star owned by Louisville native and football legend Paul Hornung, returned to serious training last weekend with a three-furlong workout at Oaklawn Park. He was dazzling in a victory last fall at Churchill Downs, but suffered a bone chip that required surgery and kept him on the shelf over the winter.  Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas hopes Titletown Five will be back in the starting gate in mid-March.

Titletown Five is one of the “all others” in the Derby Future Wager. In this wide-open year as much as any, 2013 could be his kind of year.