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Back to the Futures for 2021 Derby contenders

By Ron Flatter  ( 

September 15, 2020 10:21 PM

Too soon? Ha. Too late is what the first futures for next year’s Kentucky Derby looked like when they came out Friday.

Only six days after Authentic won the roses, tangled his feet in them and bowled over his celebrating trainer Bob Baffert, a global site opened betting for the race’s 147th running that will presumably be May 1.

Jackie’s Warrior, the 3-for-3 colt with the best Beyer Speed Figure of any 2-year-old this year, opened as the 33-1 favorite. His 95 Beyer for a Labor Day win in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga also helped make him a best-priced 4-1 overseas favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6 at Keeneland.

The domino effect of pandemic postponements meant that 2021 Derby futures would be pushed back. Maybe that restored common sense to the whole process. Where 20 horses were on last week’s opener, there was only one last year. That was in August, when Garth carried 50-1 odds at SkyBet in England. He did not get far on the trail.

The previous August was when Johnny Avello opened his old Wynn Las Vegas futures with Roadster at 25-1 and Instagrand at 30-1. Roadster finished 15th to Country House and has not raced since March. Instagrand did not get to the Derby, bounced from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to Chad Brown, lost his last seven races and just last week was retired to stud. Avello found a different Las Vegas road and is starting his third year at DraftKings Sportsbook.

What do all these futures markets have in common? The same as three of the last six finishes of the Derby. Baffert. He trains Jackie’s Warrior and Garth and Roadster. America’s most famous trainer is simply the beginning and end of every conversation about America’s biggest race.

He trains Jackie’s Warrior and Garth and Roadster, and although Steve Asmussen looks after Jackie’s Warrior, Baffert has Freedom Fighter, the 40-1 second choice. The colt sired by Violence won his five-furlong debut early last month in front-running style at Del Mar. It was only by a head, and his 78 Beyer was not going to wow anyone. But two of the horses in the race won their next time out. And for crying out loud, he is a Baffert. Why wouldn’t he be short priced in the futures?

Well, because recent history suggests that Baffert’s next Derby winner has yet to race. His last two – Authentic and Justify – did not make their debuts until after their 2-year-old summers. Authentic’s first race was last November during the fall meet at Del Mar. Justify made his debut only 2½ months before he ended that curse of Apollo nonsense at Churchill Downs.

The Baffert name carries so much weight now that, among the 20 futures choices, he has the one maiden. Spielberg finished second in both his starts, including the Del Mar Futurity.

Some other trends emerged from the new global Derby futures.

* There are four horses that were sired by Violence – Freedom Fighter, Del Mar Futurity victor Dr. Schivel (50-1) and maiden winners Prisoner (66-1) and Game Day Play (100-1).

* Other than Baffert, two other Derby-winning trainers are represented. Prisoner and Mutasaabeq (100-1) are from the Todd Pletcher stable. Team Merchants (66-1) is looked after by Doug O’Neill, who also trained the colt’s sire Nyquist to a victory in the 2016 Derby.

* Into Mischief, the sire of this year’s Derby winner Authentic, is also the stallion that produced Whiskey Double (66-1), a debut winner in late June at Churchill Downs, and Mutasaabeq, the third-place finisher in the Hopeful.

* Although he has never won the roses in 21 tries, Asmussen has five horses among the 20. After Jackie’s Warrior come Whiskey Double, Calibrate (66-1), Midnight Bourbon (100-1) and Super Stock (100-1). Asmussen has never had the post-time favorite for the Derby.

* Prisoner and Whiskey Double have not raced or had timed workouts in more than two months.

As someone who has cashed exactly zero futures on the Kentucky Derby but has had four live tickets in the gate the last three years, I can vouch for the narcotic quality of this betting option. It is easy to say what a sucker bet that the short odds represent 7½ months before a horse race. There is a cyber landfill with the losing tickets that I have bought over the years, most recently through legal means here in Nevada. (Use your imagination for the years before 2017.)

But there are winners. Last time I checked it averages out to exactly one a year. Authentic opened last November at 50-1 and got to 55-1 in global futures before he shortened for keeps. Even after he finished second in the Santa Anita Derby for his only loss, he was still 6-1. Was 55-1 enticing enough at Christmas time to even make him worth buying as a stocking stuffer? Red-boarders need not answer.

So yes, even though they have been posted a month late, these futures are too soon. More power to anyone who buys in on Freedom Fighter at 40-1 and says “I told you so” when he wins as a 5-2 favorite next May.

It is worth remembering, however, that for every Authentic there is a Nadal and there is a Charlatan. And let’s not forget Eight Rings and Uncle Chuck and Cézanne. That is just a verbose way of saying that it is all fine and good to like a Baffert. But Freedom Fighter? Maybe not that Baffert.

Preakness percolations

Not so fast eliminating Tiz The Law from next month’s Preakness. After finishing second as an odds-on favorite in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Barclay Tagg said that he might prefer waiting a couple months and bringing the four-time Grade 1 winner back for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

But lead owner Jack Knowlton said Saturday that the Preakness was still an option after Tiz got himself settled back at Belmont Park after spending the summer at Saratoga and last week at Churchill Downs.

After the Derby, Knowlton sounded firm about going to the Preakness, but he backed off the morning after. Now he seems to have split the difference, saying that Tiz The Law will “be doing his regular gallops, and as long as everything continues along well, then we’ll have a work next weekend to assess where we are.”

With the first Las Vegas futures for the Preakness expected this week from Circa Sports, foreign books made Tiz The Law a best-priced 5-1 third choice behind Authentic (3-2) and the comebacking Blue Grass winner Art Collector (9-2). The only other horse in single digits, Honor A. P. (6-1), was retired Monday because of an injury that he suffered finishing fourth in the Derby.

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