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Beware of long-shot prep winners in Derby futures

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

Super_Steed_OP_photo
Super Steed, with Terry Thompson riding, defied odds of 62-1 to win Monday’s Southwest Stakes, cutting his odds to 35-1 in the Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill. (Photo courtesy of Oaklawn Park)

Las Vegas

Nothing like a winning, 62-1 long shot to wake up a sleepy holiday Monday. But what did Super Steed’s unlikely victory this week in the Southwest Stakes really do to the Kentucky Derby picture?

History tells us that he can get to the gate to run for the roses, but that is a long shot. Then again, there is also evidence to suggest that he is not a fluke.

After opening 100-1 last November, Super Steed was 75-1 in the Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill on Monday morning. That put him on no worse than even footing with all five of Steve Asmussen’s colts in the Southwest before he pulled off his shocker at Oaklawn Park.

Now Super Steed is 35-1, the betting market’s way of saying that the secret is out. But is there anything to it?

After a fourth-place finish Dec. 22 in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at the Fair Grounds and a seventh-place disappointment last month in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, trainer Larry Jones said that the colt sired by 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver just needed to get well – and into a race with a more contested pace.

“He got sick going into the Fair Grounds race,” Jones said. “It wasn’t serious, but you could tell he didn’t feel well. And in the Smarty Jones they ran a merry-go-round race.”

With slower fractions and a lot of help ahead of him Monday, Super Steed found things much more to his liking in the Southwest.

“He got shuffled back, but he was aggressive,” winning jockey Terry Thompson said. “Everything was in flow. It worked out perfect. Larry said wherever we were, make sure he gets the lead heading into stretch.”

Super Steed also got lucky. He was able to grab that late lead by taking advantage of an early incident between Jersey Agenda, one of the Asmussen horses, and Gray Attempt, the colt that was bidding to lead the whole way as he did winning the Sugar Bowl and the Smarty Jones.

Breaking from post 1, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and Gray Attempt tried to hold their ground along the rail. But going into the first turn they were cut off by Ricardo Santana Jr. and Jersey Agenda. Track announcer Vic Stauffer described it as “trading punches,” and it clearly took some of the starch out of Gray Attempt on his way to a last-place finish.

“Very unsportsmanlike what they did,” Gray Attempt’s trainer Jinks Fires said. “I don’t mind them outrunning us and making us keep running. But don’t come in and wipe me out.”

Odds are that the pace and traffic and kismet will be less friendly to Super Steed come May. That is making the stretch of an assumption that he even gets into the Derby gate.

Looking at the past performances going into the last 19 runnings of the Derby, only nine of the 362 starters ever carried post-time odds of at least 60-1 into any prior race. The closest any of them came to hitting the board in the Derby was Shackleford. After finishing second at 68-1 in the Florida Derby, he wound up fourth at Churchill before going on to win the Preakness. The others finished no better than eighth in Kentucky.

Super Steed is not the only surprising prep winner still needing points to get into the Derby. He is not even the longest of the long shots. Knicks Go went off at 70-1 when he won the Breeders’ Futurity last fall at Keeneland.

After Knicks Go finished second at 40-1 to Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, William Hill coincidentally opened him at 40-1 in the Derby futures. He has since been a beaten favorite in his last two races, drifting him to 60-1 and making him part of the same cautionary tale that could swallow Super Steed. Knicks Go’s next race is expected to be March 9 in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Think about the most celebrated Kentucky Derby long shot of this generation. Even though he hit the board in all three Triple Crown races 10 years ago, Mine That Bird never won another race in nine tries after his 50-1 score in the Derby.

The moral here may be that there is a reason that horses carry huge odds, and that their occasional victories really are flukes that should not erase why they were bombers in the first place. To twist a phrase, when it comes to what happens with big long shots now and going forward, the sad truth is that trashin’ tickets is what it’s all about.

Racing notes and opinions

While there are no Kentucky Derby points preps this weekend, anticipation is building for the $400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 9 at Santa Anita. That is where three of the top six choices in the Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill are currently scheduled to put their undefeated records against one another. Expressing a reluctance to ship any of his colts out of southern California this soon, trainer Bob Baffert told the Daily Racing Form that he is aiming 9-2 betting favorite Game Winner and 6-1 second choice Improbable for a San Felipe showdown. Jerry Hollendorfer is also expected to give Instagrand, 10-1 in the futures, his first start since August. With 50 points for first place, the winner of the San Felipe will be virtually assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Because of the 30 points he already has, Game Winner would all but clinch his place in the Derby gate with a top-two finish.

Is Hidden Scroll legit? Or is he the next coming of A Shin Hikari? Sharing 8-1 odds with Risen Star winner War Of Will in the William Hill futures, Hidden Scroll is certain to be the buzz horse next Saturday in the $400,000 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. Sired by Hard Spun, owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bill Mott, Hidden Scroll’s only race resulted in a 14-length win. But that was a one-turn, maiden mile in the slop of Pegasus day last month. This will be mark his stakes and two-turn debut against the likes of Nashua winner Vekoma and Kentucky Jockey Club winner Signalman.

This was supposed to be the weekend of the inaugural $17 million King Abdulaziz Horse Championship in Saudi Arabia. But after a splashy news release last winter, there is no sign that the race touted to be the richest in the world will ever happen. Attempts this week by VSiN to telephone Saleh Al Hammadi, director general and secretary of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Club, were unsuccessful. While it is not clear what went wrong, it is certain that the race never came together. Of course, there was no grand news release to announce that.

They apparently do not look kindly on racing touts in Japan. Police in Tokyo and Fukuoka say they made arrests in recent weeks to break up a ring of crime that defrauded more than $1.26 million from 35 people. The suspects were accused of “claiming to pick winning horses for upcoming races in exchange for payment.” Police also believe that they stayed on the move around the country to avoid getting caught.

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The 2018 National Horseplayers Championship Tour champion David “The Maven” Gutfreund, talks about his life as a professional gambler, his criticism of the price structure for entering handicapping contests and the legal challenges he has had as a creating investor in DerbyWars. Steve Coburn, who was not afraid to sound off when California Chrome came up short of the 2014 Triple Crown, looks back on his ownership of the horse of a lifetime. The feature Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse starting with “P.” The RFRP is also available at providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.

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