Early Derby points preps a mirage

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

December 7, 2021 07:53 PM
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Remember last weekend, when it appeared for a little while that Notre Dame might crash the College Football Playoff? Visions of the Irish playing with Alabama and Georgia and Cincinnati were dancing in the heads of their fans — until the Ann Arbor Khakis burst those thought bubbles.

Before the wake-up call, there was a not-so-subtle reminder that had the dream come true, the Bearcats would have been seeded No. 3 ahead of Notre Dame. It was all about their result on the field this fall. If they had met again, though, does anyone doubt Cincinnati would have been an underdog?

Apply the same practice to horse racing. When 7-5 Mo Donegal won by a nose against 6-5 Zandon on Saturday in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, it was a mild upset. When the race was not made official right away because runner-up rider John Velazquez unsuccessfully claimed foul against winning Irad Ortiz Jr., it buttressed the belief that Zandon might have been the better horse. When each got a Beyer Speed Figure of 89 for his performance, it underscored the impression that the Remsen had not settled anything.

Then Las Vegas weighed in by hitting refresh on its Kentucky Derby futures odds. Before the Remsen, Mo Donegal had been 75-1 at Caesars at William Hill Nevada and 100-1 at Circa. Zandon had been 50-1 at both. After they finished just a nose apart, second-place Zandon’s odds were cut the most — to 30-1 at Caesars and 25-1 at Circa. Despite his victory, Mo Donegal did not shorten so much. He went to 50-1 at Caesars and 35-1 at Circa.

Chalk it up to perception. Exposure, too.

“They ran each other to a nose decision,” said Paul Bach, manager of Delaware trading for Caesars. “It was Zandon’s first time (going) two turns, so I give him more room for improvement. And I have more liability on Zandon.”

It was the same story at Circa, where the traffic has been one-way on the Remsen’s top two.

“I took decent action prior to (Saturday’s) race,” Circa risk manager Paul Zilm said. “I took the action (on Zandon) at 50-1. Nobody has bet Mo Donegal yet.”

Clearly, the two Pauls and the betting public in Las Vegas are more bullish on Zandon, a Chad Brown-trained colt by Upstart who broke his maiden in a debut victory going 6 furlongs Oct. 9 at Belmont Park. Mo Donegal has raced three times for Todd Pletcher, finishing third in a sprint and then first as the favorite in a one-turn, 8½-furlong maiden race before winning the Remsen.

Cold water can be thrown on both horses. The Remsen is not a bellwether for next spring. The last time it produced a Derby winner was 27 years ago. The last time a horse hit the board in both races was 11 years ago.

History suggests the next five Derby points preps should not be taken seriously, since they have produced a combined zero winners the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs. Granted, the Los Alamitos Futurity has had a brief history since it was moved from Hollywood Park, and the Gun Runner Stakes has not even had its inaugural running. But races like the Remington Springboard Mile have been around for a while. What ever happened to Senor Buscador, anyway?

As if the futures did not have enough underlays this time of year, the early points preps for the Derby only exacerbate a bear market. If there is a safe wager, it is that the winners of the Los Al Futurity, the Springboard, the Gun Runner, the Jerome and the Smarty Jones will be overbet at Caesars and at Circa.

Think of it this way. It would not be late fall in the Derby futures market without a hectoring reminder that a sucker bet is born every minute.

Which leads to the first installment this season of “Who’s Hot?” and “Who’s Not?” It comes with the usual reminder that these are not horses to bet or to avoid. Instead, they are a gauge of where the steam is. Or is not. The rules? There are none.

WHO’S HOT?

Sir London (100-1 Caesars, 75-1 Circa): This Malibu Moon colt trained by Simon Callaghan broke his maiden with a 10-length score Saturday at Los Alamitos. Where Caesars held Sir London steady at 100-1, Circa cut him from 125-1 to 75-1. “We took a good bet on Sir London (on Sunday) morning, hence that move,” Zilm said. Would an appearance in the Jan. 1 running of the Sham at Santa Anita be out of the question?

Franklin One Star (75-1 Caesars): The Danzing Candy gelding made his first appearance in the Las Vegas futures on the strength of his narrow victory at 9-1 odds in his first race Friday, going 5½ furlongs at Los Al for trainer Doug O’Neill. But a big “however” came out of the race. Odds-on favorite Oubabe finished last after a horrible start. As for Franklin One Star, 75-1 seems an awfully short price for the beneficiary of some really good luck.

Kavod (200-1 Caesars, 200-1 Circa): This Lea colt already has raced nine times. After getting his first victory in his second race last spring, Kavod was overmatched in four graded-stakes starts. He has won twice in the last 2½ weeks, first in a Churchill Downs claiming race where he was in for a $50,000 tag and bought by James Rogers and Michael Robinson. His new trainer, Chris Hartman, then put him in the 6-furlong Advent Stakes at Oaklawn, where Kavod went off at 3-1 and won by a length. Even shortened to 200-1 this week, that price seems a stretch.

WHO’S NOT?

Oviatt Class (100-1 Caesars, 50-1 Circa): His odds drifted at Caesars while shortening at Circa. Encouragement may have come from recent workouts at Santa Anita for trainer Keith Desormeaux. A third-place finish to Corniche and Pappacap in the American Pharoah was encouraging. Then he had a troubled fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This Bernardini colt may yet be worth watching, but 100-1 seems at least 25 points too short.

A. P.’s Secret (150-1 Caesars, 175-1 Circa): Saffie Joseph Jr. trained this Cupid colt to a debut score at Gulfstream Park last month and then a runner-up finish by four lengths in an allowance race Sunday, also at Gulfstream. What was noteworthy about the most recent effort was A. P.’s Secret’s resilience late in the 1-mile race. He re-engaged in the last 100 yards and made a race of it for second. It is difficult to think his next start will shorten his odds so much that it would not be worth waiting to see if he should be watched in the new year.

Oubabe (300-1 Caesars): Being foaled by He Be Fire N Ice does not a blue-chip prospect make. But this maiden colt looked strong in workouts for trainer John Sadler coming out of a narrow turf loss as a 7-10 favorite in October at Santa Anita. Then he had nothing but trouble coming out of the gate Friday in that dirt sprint won by Franklin One Star at Los Al. Oubabe was a 1-2 post-time favorite. It is one thing to give a $1 million colt a bunch of chances. But this guy was a $45,000 RNA last spring. Next?

In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s features guests at the Global Seminar for Racing in Tucson, Ariz., plus DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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