With a week and a half until the Arkansas Derby gives us our last winner of a known Kentucky Derby prep, this is the point in the pandemic-altered, futures-betting script where one respected horseplayer makes his exit.
Actually, Bruno De Julio has not even arrived on that stage.
“I don’t bet futures.”
That is what America’s foremost workout analyst said in an interview from Kentucky for this week’s “Ron Flatter Racing Pod.” The man behind Bruno With The Works at racingwithbruno.com has been involved in racing for more than 30 years, professionally zeroing in on morning works since 1992.
So when talk intensifies about futures favorites like Tiz The Law and Bob Baffert’s big three of Authentic, Charlatan and Nadal, include De Julio out.
“I think I can get better odds when I have an opportunity to narrow down who I like going into the Derby,” he said. “You can’t do it right now. Who’s going to pop up and be the Johnny-come-lately? Who’s going to be the Arrogate? Who’s going to be the West Coast?”
De Julio was referencing two Baffert-trained horses who were late bloomers. They were never on the Kentucky Derby radar in 2016 and 2017. But each was a 3-year-old champion, thanks largely to wins in the Travers Stakes in late August. Considering this year’s Kentucky Derby will be a week later on Sept. 5, De Julio’s point about slow-to-develop 3-year-olds is important in the first year that America’s biggest race is run with 3½-year-olds.
“People believe horses are machines,” De Julio said. “I look at horses a lot like I look at NFL players. They may not have been the best in high school. But you know what? As they get into college and their first couple of years in the pros, they improve and move forward. They are Tom Brady types. He was uneventful in college. But he had enough seasoning that when he got his opportunity in the pros, he blossomed. Horses are the same way.”
One trend making it harder to predict the growth of 3-year-olds is the priority placed in at least the last 20 years on producing horses for speed and shorter distances rather than the stamina it takes to race the Derby distance of 1¼ miles.
“We have gone to where we are breeding more milers and sprinters than we are classic horses,” De Julio said. “The difference between a miler and a sprinter and a classic horse is the ability to mature as they get older.”
They are getting older later this year. Since the Derby will not be run for 4½ months, making a futures bet right now is like doing the same thing in January of a normal year. Sure, the odds should be there. But so is the risk.
De Julio said he usually waits until March to identify his Derby contenders. This year July is the new March.
“One of the horses I loved was Animal Kingdom,” De Julio said. “I loved him in March, and I knew I’d get a price on Derby day.”
That was nine years ago, when trainer Graham Motion took the lightly regarded Leroidesanimaux colt to prep on the synthetic track at Turfway Park near Cincinnati. Despite a victory in what was then known as the Spiral Stakes, the public dismissed Animal Kingdom as a fake-dirt pony and made him a 20-1 long shot in the Derby.
Animal Kingdom won. And De Julio cashed.
“People acted like, ‘Oh, he’s never been on dirt before,’ ” De Julio said. “I’d seen him train on dirt. He could handle dirt. He could do things mentally that other horses couldn’t do.”
So the advice from De Julio — both before and after the May 2 Arkansas Derby — is to be patient. Wait for the 3-year-old that is like the kid who looked scrawny as a prepubescent scrub in Little League only to turn into the BMOC.
As De Julio put it: “I think some horses are going to grow up, and you’re going to have a different mindset and seasoning level that we’ve never seen before.”
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Earner (125-1 at William Hill). The winningest active trainer in horse racing, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is 0-for-20 in the Kentucky Derby. But now he has no fewer than 10 candidates to end that drought. The latest is Earner, a Carpe Diem colt out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare. He broke his maiden with a 3¾-length victory as a 4-5 favorite despite being drawn into Post 11 for an 8½-furlong race April 11 at Oaklawn Park. The distance was clearly more to his liking than it was in his 6-furlong debut Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park, where he finished second by 2½ lengths as an even-money favorite. The horse that beat him that day, Echo Town, is a stablemate who is 150-1 in Derby futures on the strength of two sprint victories. Since he is a mid-pack runner, Earner has a style that is more suited to recent Derby success. Earner joins the barn’s growing list of Derby candidates, which includes Pneumatic (75-1), the allowance winner who joined the futures list last week. The rest of Asmussen’s Derby hopefuls include Basin (25-1), Silver Prospector (28-1), Silver State (65-1), Excession (100-1), Shoplifted (100-1), Gold Street (125-1) and Rowdy Yates (250-1).
Nadal (8-1). Well, he is kind of hot. Without even racing he shortened in global futures from 8-1 to 7-1. Presumably one may chalk it up to a big bet offshore. But he has been firm at William Hill at 8-1 since March 15, the day after his front-running, odds-on victory in the slop of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. That is where Nadal will be seen next in the Arkansas Derby.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Authentic (9-2). Well, he is kind of not. Even if each action in fixed-odds betting does not necessarily require an equal and opposite reaction, that is nevertheless what happened in the global market. That is where Authentic went from 8-1 to 9-1. Again, he has not raced since March 7 at Santa Anita, where he led the whole way in winning the San Felipe by 2¼ lengths. The next day his odds were shortened to a consensus 8-1. The following week he went to 9-2 at William Hill, where he has been the favorite since. Since Authentic may already have enough points to qualify for the Derby, Baffert has no immediate plans for a next race.
Scoring (was 500-1). Another Asmussen colt was dropped by William Hill after a second consecutive runner-up finish and a third consecutive start in a claiming race. Now 2-for-7 with only $70,210 in earnings, the colt sired by the lightly regarded stallion Justin Philip only landed in Asmussen’s barn March 8. That was when he was claimed for $16,000 after a sprint victory for trainer Doug O’Neill. In his only stakes start and his only time racing around two turns, he finished fifth in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita. In other words, Scoring is nowhere near the Derby trail anymore.