It was supposed to be moving day last weekend in Kentucky Derby futures betting. Life Is Good was expected to be the catalyst for a serious deck shuffle among the new 3-year-olds.
Instead, he was an unimpressive winner in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. He is still the consensus Derby favorite. But rather than plunging to unbackable odds here in Nevada, he might as well have taken the month off.
For a few hours Saturday, Circa shortened Life Is Good to + 850 before putting him back to + 950. William Hill Nevada kept him at 8-1, a co-favorite with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality. They came out of the weekend exactly where they went in.
By closing strong to finish second just three-quarters of a length behind his odds-on stablemate in the Sham, Medina Spirit did the equivalent of beating the spread. No wonder his Derby odds shortened. William Hill took him from 100-1 to 40-1 and Circa from 75-1 to 50-1.
So why didn’t the price also get cut for Life Is Good? Weeks of exposure to early betting on the latest big thing from the Bob Baffert barn might be as much a reason as any. Bettors also might have questioned what they saw with their own eyes when the Beyer Speed Figures came back 101 for Life Is Good and 99 for Medina Spirit.
Don’t expect to see these two horses on the same stage again before May 1 at Churchill Downs.
“One might go out of town, or they might stay here,” Baffert said Sunday. “The San Felipe (on March 6) is a race we’re considering, but I might keep them separated.”
So the New Year’s weekend sea change that might have come from a runaway victory — or a defeat — by Life Is Good did not happen. Maybe it will when Essential Quality gets back on the track. Trainer Brad Cox told VSiN that would not be until next month at the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans or the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark.
It is not as if there was zero movement from last week’s Derby preps. The Sham also produced a disappointment in third-place Parnelli. After finishing 13¾ lengths up the track as a 9-2 second choice, trainer John Shirreffs’ $500,000 colt by Quality Road went from 100-1 to 200-1 at Circa and from 90-1 to 100-1 at William Hill.
Capo Kane jumped into the Derby frame with his surprise victory Friday in the Jerome Stakes at muddy Aqueduct in New York. Shipped in from Pennsylvania as the fourth betting choice in the field of five, the Street Sense colt trained by Harold Wyner set the pace to win the one-turn mile. No mud in his eye.
Although he got a tepid 84 Beyer, Capo Kane moved from a 200-1 opener in the Circa futures to 70-1. In its previous 10 runnings as a springtime race, the Jerome has produced only two Derby starters, and neither Vyjack nor Firenze Fire finished in the top 10. So 70-1 looks like an underlay.
Mutasaabeq’s switch back from turf to dirt proved successful with his 11-10 win Saturday in the Mucho Macho Man, a non-points, one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park. Circa lowered him from 85-1 to 60-1 to win the Derby, William Hill from 75-1 to 50-1. By top-ranked stallion Into Mischief — the sire of Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic — Mutasaabeq may graduate to two turns for trainer Todd Pletcher in the Jan. 30 running of the Grade 3 Holy Bull.
But those results did not provide the “a-ha” moment the way a 10-length win or loss would have for Life Is Good. With no Derby points preps this week, that moment will have to wait.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?
Caddo River (25-1 Circa, 25-1 William Hill). From the same barn as Essential Quality comes this Hard Spun colt making his presence felt lately on the work tab. He tightened into a 48.0-second 4-furlong turn Sunday at Oaklawn. It seems that anything Cox touches lately turns into a winner. A maiden-breaking 1-mile performance in November at Churchill Downs adds that “has a win over the Derby track” angle too. Caddo River’s next race could be the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 22 at Oaklawn.
Arabian Prince (25-1 Circa). This is a loose interpretation of the word “hot.” Paul Zilm at Circa said he had taken sizable bets on this Mshawish colt every time he has cut the odds. Who knows why? Since he won his debut race he has been no better than a best-of-the-rest fourth and third in a pair of stakes at Churchill Downs. With previous horses like Golden Soul, Commanding Curve and Tale Of Verve, it would be more in keeping with trainer Dallas Stewart’s reputation to have Arabian Prince sneak under the radar and hit the board at long odds. Right now 25-1 for a race in four months would not be long odds.
Fenway (85-1 Circa). When Baffert speaks, bettors listen. He mentioned Fenway last week on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod as one of his unraced colts not to be ignored. He is by — here is that name again — Into Mischief, which resonates on its own merit. So, too, did a 59.2-second bullet work Friday at Santa Anita. Authentic’s owners paid $650,000 for this colt when he was a yearling. The question now is whether he can become the second horse in three years to go unraced as a 2-year-old and win the Derby.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?
Swill (175-1 Circa, 130-1 William Hill). Back to the Jerome. Swill finished fourth as the 7-5 favorite, but it might be that he and mud do not get along. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche took him as wide as he could without taking him completely out of the race. Then again, this Munnings colt was also fourth on a fast track when he was outrun to the finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club by Keepmeinmind, Smiley Sobotka and the aforementioned Arabian Prince. Maybe not everything trained by Cox turns to gold.
Waist Deep (250-1 Circa, 150-1 William Hill). It is curious that this Oxbow gelding out of a Tapit mare only just saw his odds drift. He just got back on the work tab after a three-month break. He encouraged bettors with his maiden-breaking score Sept. 6 in a stakes mile at Monmouth Park. Trainer Anthony Farrior put him in another black-type sprint three weeks later on the Jersey Shore, and he finished fourth as the 2-1 favorite. Maybe his best days are around two turns — but maybe not at the Derby level.
Highway Bound (500-1 Circa, 200-1 William Hill). A two-month break followed a promising first win in the slop in October at Belmont Park. But this Godolphin homebred by — wait for it — Into Mischief never threatened in his sixth-place finish Saturday in a black-type sprint at Gulfstream Park. Bill Mott’s first Derby winner, Country House, scored at odds of 65-1 when he was promoted two years ago. This colt would appear to be at least as long a shot if he were to get that far.
In addition to this article, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On this week’s episode author Laura Hillenbrand discusses the 20th anniversary of her book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend.” The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.