No Grade 1 races on offer this weekend. I somehow was not assigned to cover the Arima Kinen in Tokyo. In fact, there was an early, self-imposed deadline to file this column, what with Christmas coming next week. Woe is me.
But cheer up, bunkies. There are plenty of odds ’n’ ends lying around to fill this thing. Whether they are stocking stuffers or white-elephant gifts is in the eye of the beholder.
So saddle up the reindeer. Here they come.
Six colts a-Derbying? All right, it is very recent history. Go all the way back to December 2016 – back when there was still a curse of Apollo. Looking at the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings each of the last two years, the top six in mid-December wound up running for the roses. The only exception was Mastery, the coveted Bob Baffert colt that cracked a condylar bone in his leg moments after winning the San Felipe Stakes in March 2017. Right now the top six include Game Winner (30 points, won the American Pharoah and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), Knicks Go (18, Breeders’ Futurity), Signalman (18, Kentucky Jockey Club), Long Range Toddy (10, Springboard Mile), Complexity (10, Champagne) and Improbable (10, Los Alamitos Futurity). It takes 50 points to be virtually assured of a place in the Derby gate, although we nearly had a case this year where the cut-off would have been 52.
It’s the most wonderful value of the year. So let’s make the admittedly specious presumption that these six are in the Derby. Half the battle is just getting there, so having a live futures ticket on the first Saturday in May can feel pretty good. I was sitting on a 200-1 chance with Audible this year only to have him come up short. (Sound familiar recently, Gulfstream Park bettors?) But I digress. Looking at the early six, Long Range Toddy is 100-1 in the William Hill futures. One could do worse than a Steve Asmussen-trained colt by Take Charge Indy out of an Unbridled’s Song broodmare.
Bankit, the closer, had to hurry on his way. The eye-catching part of last Sunday’s Springboard Mile at Remington Park was not the victory by Long Range Toddy at 18-1 but, instead, the late charge by 3-1 second choice Bankit to miss winning by just a head, giving Asmussen a one-two finish. Bankit was dead last in the final turn before Ricardo Santana Jr. took him between horses in an impressive dash through homestretch traffic. The race had almost no pace; Dobbins G was an unlikely leader with fractions of 24.13, 48.76 and 1:14.01. That made Bankit’s deep close especially impressive. But he has been more prone as a 2-year-old to being near the pace, a style that is much more Derby-friendly. At William Hill, Bankit is 100-1. It is a big risk to dive in on any horse coming out of the Springboard Mile let alone a runner-up whose ordinary sire – Central Banker – commands a mere $7,500 at stud. But he has a Hall of Fame trainer still looking for his first Derby score. Put it this way. In the search for value, there is always a reason that a horse is triple digits.
Naughty or nice. VSiN listener Gerard Ryan asked for a full list of the William Hill futures to be included here. Christmas wishes do come true, Gerard. You will find it at the bottom of this column.
The Christmas rush is through. Ah, Clockers’ Corner beckons. It is hard to beat winter mornings at Santa Anita. Oh, yes. They will be intersperse some horse races into the afternoons starting Wednesday with the traditional Boxing Day opener, featuring the $300,000 Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs on the main track. Baffert brings back McKinzie (remember last year at this time when he was the big name on the Derby trail?) along with stable mates Ax Man and Solomini. Could Mike Smith ride McKinzie to an impressive enough victory to warrant a trip to the Pegasus World Cup? Baffert said he did not have plans now for the $9 million race, but if he did, McKinzie would be the horse to take him there.
O Pimlico, O Pimlico. One thing I have learned in decades around the sports business is that pretty pictures of new sports venues seldom lead to ground being broken and concrete being poured. Follow me on Twitter @ronflatter for very long, and see how often I get snarky by posting photos of never-begun stadium projects. Each one was ballyhooed via media hype, usually stoked by free food for every journalist manqué who was happily spoon-fed a story to make that day’s work that much easier. In truth, the Maryland Stadium Authority’s lavish artwork this month of the new Pimlico will go only so far as someone willing to step up with the $424 million to make it happen. Oh, rest assured. That $424 million price tag will go up. In the midst of a family fight over its financial foundation, the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, has been steadfast in saying it will not foot the whole bill as it gradually builds up Laurel Park to be the new home of Maryland racing and eventually the Preakness. It is hard to believe that taxpayers in the state of Maryland want to invest in a racetrack that most see a maximum of one day a year. The prediction here is that this project will die a quiet death, leaving a rotting Pimlico that much further in the lurch. By the way, the very idea of shaving the main track at Pimlico down to 15/16 of a mile had me rolling my eyes. Would the 9½-furlong Preakness begin on the turn?
Do you hear what I hear? They are conflicting voices. I continue to hear them as I stare at the Jan. 2 deadline to submit my Eclipse Awards ballot. I am still wrestling with Horse of the Year. Is it Accelerate or Justify (listed alphabetically)? The voices are those of each horse’s owner and trainer who have spoken to me in recent weeks. In fact, those interviews with Baffert, Kosta Hronis, John Sadler and Elliott Walden (listed alphabetically) are the basis for next week’s column. And the conversations with Hronis and Walden (listed alphab ... – oh, never mind) will be in next Friday’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. Batteries not included.
We wish you a winning ticket. As promised, here are the William Hill odds to win the Kentucky Derby:
5-1 Game Winner.
10-1 Improbable, Instagrand, Coliseum.
15-1 Maximus Mischief.
18-1 Super Steed.
20-1 Code Of Honor, Roadster.
25-1 Tale Of The Union.
40-1 Vekoma, Signalman.
45-1 Magic On Tap.
50-1 Cruel Intention, Galilean.
60-1 Cairo Cat, Gunmetal Gray, Knicks Go, Mucho Gusto, US Navy Cross.
70-1 King For A Day.
75-1 Aurelius Maximus, Complexity, Fortin Hill, Rowayton, Standard Deviation, Tight Ten, Rogueish.
80-1 Dream Maker, Mind Control.
100-1 Bankit, Dueling, Looking At Bikinis, Much Better, Pole Setter, Sombeyay, Spinoff, Strike Silver, Trophy Chaser, Long Range Toddy, Gray Magician, Archidust, Bourbon War, Kingly, Mr. Money, Final Jeopardy, Award Winner.
120-1 Call Paul.
125-1 Endorsed, Limonite, Meade, Nitrous, Synthesis, Well Defined, Boldor, So Alive, Dunph, Harvey Wallbanger, Count Di Luna, Le General, Admire, Jersey Agenda, Forloveofcountry, Gray Attempt, Seismic Jolt, Cave Run, Gum Tree Lane.
140-1 Whiskey Echo.
150-1 Absolutely Aiden, Alleva, Baño Solo, Borracho, Extra Hope, Federal Case, Frosted Ice, Hawaiian Noises, Lutsky, Reservenotattained, Sir Truebadour, Soap Bubble, Epic Dreamer, Roiland, The Right Path, Troy Ounce, Mihos, Stretford End.
175-1 Ahead Of Plan, Quick Entry, Unionizer, Souper Jackpot, Uncapped, Value Play.
200-1 Big Drink Of Water, Echoes Of Laughter, Joevia, Marquee Prince, Our Braintrust, Policy, Preamble, Ready And Rich, Spin Lightning, Strong Will, King Ford, Teachers Treasure, Bydawnsearlylight, Royal Marine.
250-1 Carotari, Casa Creed, More Ice.
300-1 Tobacco Road.
Where treetops glisten, and bookies listen. My Christmas wish is that Johnny Avello finally gets the green light in his new gig at DraftKings to offer the Derby futures that he used to post at the Wynn Las Vegas. And to William Hill, don’t be afraid to offer someone to the media to discuss Derby futures. At least in my case, I will try to bring a mouth guard so I don’t bite.
In closing, merry Christmas, and to paraphrase Clement C. Moore, here is hoping that all your horses fly like the down of a thistle.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s Christmas edition features CBS Sports Radio host Marc “Moose” Malusis talking from New York about his view of the horseplayer’s year, and trainer Art Sherman reminiscing at Los Alamitos about his career and the five years since California Chrome changed his life. The feature Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse with a name starting with “G.” The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.