Horses To Watch At 80 Days And Counting

A scene from the 138th Kentucky Derby. Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune.

A scene from the 138th Kentucky Derby. Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune.

With the first of a trio of Kentucky Derby Future Wagers behind us, fewer than 80 days remain until the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, which launches the 2013 Triple Crown series on Saturday, May 4 at Churchill Downs.

The Future Wager confirmed the major players at this point on the Derby Trail, but most of those are mighty light on racing experience and seasoning. That contributed to the “all others” betting interest – which includes every 3-year-old not among the 23 individual betting interests in last week’s pool – as a heavy 8-5 favorite.

The most accomplished member of this 3-year-old crop, reigning 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby, has yet to earn the faith and trust of Derby fans. He was unbeaten at two, but fans remember an interesting run through the stretch of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita during which the champ looked a little rubber-legged, but he found a way to dig in and win.

Pedigree fans are suspicious about his ability to go a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May, but until they do it, the entire crop is suspect in that area.

But nervousness over Shanghai Bobby’s prowess at a classic distance left him as odds of 14-1 and trailing four less-accomplished horses in the Derby Future pool.  They were:

• Verrazano (11-1) – The favored individual in the Derby futures is unbeaten in two starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, but the stablemate of Shanghai Bobby has yet to start in a stakes race. But his 16 ¼-length victory in a Gulfstream Park allowance a few days prior to the future pool proved to be powerful stuff for Derby bettors.

• Flashback (12-1) – Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert trains this colt, who is also perfect in two starts. But his most recent was an easy victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and validated the confidence of Baffert, who has talked strongly about this flashy gray colt throughout the winter.

• Itsmyluckyday (13-1) – The Florida-based is by far the most experienced major Derby 139 player with five wins in nine races, but blossomed over the Gulfstream Park surface with very fast wins in the Gulfstream Park Derby and the Holy Bull, and handed Shanghai Bobby his only loss in the latter.

• Revolutionary (13-1) – Another Pletcher contender, Revolutionary’s stock skyrocketed following a trouble-plagued win the Withers at Aqueduct. It took him four starts to win his first race, but he seems to have figured things out.

• Violence (13-1) – Also from Team Pletcher, he travelled to the West Coast to win the Grade I CashCall Futurity and is now perfect in three races. He won what might have been the best maiden race of 2012 at Saratoga (more on that later), and his last two victories have come in stakes races.

• Normandy Invasion (15-1) – He has yet to run in 2012, but his heart-pounding nose defeat in the Remsen at Aqueduct has convinced many that he will be the first serious Kentucky Derby contender for young training star Chad Brown.

Two more Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools are set for March 1 through 3 and March 22 through 24, but there’s reason to think a lot of those “all other” horses will have opportunities to shine between now and Derby Day. Here’s a look at some names you could be hearing over the next few weeks:

• Titletown Five – Regular readers are already familiar with this colt, who is owned by a partnership headed by Louisville-born football legend Paul Hornung of Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers (note the colt’s name) fame. He dazzled in a maiden victory at Churchill Downs in November, but prior to that he was narrowly beaten by Violence in the aforementioned Saratoga maiden race. Four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas is just bringing this colt back from surgery and he probably won’t race until mid-March, but you should not be surprised if this colt turns out to be better than Oxbow and Will Take Charge, Lukas trainees that were in that first Derby future pool:

• Proud Strike – Trainer Steve Asmussen’s colt was a runaway winner at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds after running twice last fall at Churchill Downs. He’s improving and has 1981 Kentucky Derby winner Pleasant Colony on the bottom of his pedigree to provide plenty of foundation. Hall of Fame jockey and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens, who has just returned from retirement, has picked up the mount n this one.

• Bradester – Trainer Eddie Kenneally’s rising star has won twice since he finished far back of Titletown Five at Churchill Downs, and whipped Proud Strike in one of those.

• Cerro – This one started his career in Italy and comes to you from the team that delivered 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. He was third to Bradester in a race at Gulfsrream Park and rebounded with a sharp win next time out.

• Balance the Books – He has done all of his running on grass, but has a pedigree that suggests he’d like the dirt and distance should be no problem for him. His sire never seemed to care for the Churchill Downs dirt surface, but he’s a sleeper to watch.

• Dewey Square – He was atop my first Derby 139 Top 10 on, but threw in a very poor performance in the Holy Bull. He was impressive last fall when he ran third in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs and trainer Dale Romans, who loved him last fall, can’t be that wrong about a horse.

• Golden Soul – Churchill Downs-based trainer Dallas Stewart trains this colt, who ran a better-than-it-looked second to Oxbow in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds. The upcoming Risen Star could put him in the Kentucky Derby picture if the pace sets up for his late charge.

• Mac the Man – His resumé consists of seven races on synthetic tracks, but he’s three-for-three this winter at Turfway Park for trainer Jeff Greenhill, who is a good trainer and a great guy who has never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

• My Name Is Michael – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has more wins than any other trainer in the 138-year history of Churchill Downs, but a Kentucky Derby triumph is not among them. His third-place run in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs was his first start for Mott and was sneaky good.

• Orb – Lexington native Shug McGaughey is another Hall of Famer without a Kentucky Derby win on his resumé. This colt was third to Violenceand Titletown Five in the race at Saratoga and has displayed promise with wins in two most recent races.