Is a colt that won in speed-favoring slop in his only start really worth betting at 12-1 in Kentucky Derby futures?
No, no, a thousand times no. But there he is. Hidden Scroll has turned himself into the first serving of eye candy on this year’s Derby trail. His 14-length debut win last Saturday in a rainy mile at Gulfstream Park has drive-by horseplayers all agog.
If you see a deconstruction coming, you know me well. But let’s first praise Hidden Scroll before we bury his chances to win the Derby.
* His Beyer Speed Figure of 104 was the highest in a debut of a mile or longer in 10 years, according to the Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free.
* Being by Hard Spun out of an Empire Maker mare, he is well bred. His top side would certainly explain the source of his speed.
* He is a home-bred owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, which know their way around iconic horses. Remember Frankel? And Arrogate?
Now let me bring a cloud over this parade to the betting app, the one from William Hill that shows me only six horses with shorter prices in the Derby futures (see below).
First, it was a one-turn mile on a sloppy, sealed surface. Hidden Scroll led from gate to wire as did the winner of each of the first five regattas on the main track Saturday. Including City Of Light’s victory in the Pegasus World Cup, all eight “dirt” winners were no more than 1½ lengths off the lead at any call. That is an undeniable speed bias.
Second, he broke from the “1” hole. There was no pronounced rail bias Saturday. But on a sloppy track, getting a clean, ground-saving trip certainly contributed to the 1:34.82 time that was an important ingredient in his 104 Beyer.
Third, Hidden Scroll may be built for sodden speed. It was not by much, but his Tomlinson rating coming into the race was the best in the field. That number long ago stopped being an über-compelling figure for bettors. In hindsight, though, it becomes a cogent part of the conversation.
Finally, presuming a dry track, the morning line for Hidden Scroll was set at 12-1. He closed at 8-1 with four horses in the field of 13 maiden 3-year-olds having shorter prices. Does this suggest that the opinions going into the race are totally worthless now?
A 14-length victory under a homestretch hand ride by Joel Rosario has sex appeal. Just look at the William Hill futures. Within hours of his victory Saturday, Hidden Scroll opened at 25-1 and was quickly bet to 15-1. He then went to 14-1 this week and then 12-1.
Still in search of his first Kentucky Derby win, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is not one to preach hyperbole, nor is he one to recklessly throw horses into Triple Crown races. So when he told Thoroughbred Daily News that he was “very excited” about Hidden Scroll, that only stoked the fire.
No doubt about it. Hidden Scroll is the flavor of the week at a time of year when such impressions are especially ephemeral. Just watch the churn in those weekly “expert” polls that grade 3-year-olds.
This flavor is especially risky for bettors. Whenever I see a horse that makes a singular, big impression on a sloppy track, I think of Freedom Child. Remember him? He was a Malibu Moon colt that won the 2013 Peter Pan Stakes in the slop at Belmont Park by 13¼ lengths. Suddenly he was the wise-guy horse for the Belmont Stakes, going off at odds of 8-1.
With Luís Sáez riding him on a dry track, Freedom Child pressed the pace before tiring and finishing next to last in the Belmont. The following month he finished dead last on another dry track in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, and he never raced again.
I concede that Freedom Child is an exceptionally small sample. But so, too, is Hidden Scroll. Admittedly, that is part of the crap shoot that is Derby future betting. But that is also why I almost never go near any horse that is shorter than 100-1.
Fitness and poor finishes and changed plans and dumb luck have a lot more to do with whether a horse actually gets to the Derby than merit itself. So do sheer numbers. There are 137 horses in the William Hill futures. There are only 20 places in the Churchill Downs gates.
So pardon me for tamping down the dazzle of a 14-length victory in the slop and a 104 Beyer. But at this point I will take my chances that the price I get May 4 betting Hidden Scroll will not be much worse than 12-1.
Did I mention the curse of Apollo and Justify? Oh, never mind.
Notes: Max and Gray lead busy weekend of preps
Maximus Mischief and Gunmetal Gray – the 12-1 fifth choices in the Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill – headline this weekend’s points preps for the Kentucky Derby.
Remsen winner Maximus Mischief (1-1) is the morning-line favorite for the $350,000 Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes, an 8½-furlong race on the main track Saturday at 5:13 p.m. EST at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Butch Reid and ridden for the first time in a race by José Ortiz, Maximus Mischief is 3-for-3 with wins by 8¾, six and 2¼ lengths. He is one of six speed horses in the field of 10. Mid-pack-running Mihos (5-2) tries two turns for the first time after winning the Mucho Macho Man on the same track. The rest of the field is out to raise its class profile. Thinking Mihos may bounce here amid all the speed, the choices are Maximus Mischief along with 2-for-2 Todd Pletcher trainee Federal Case (6-1), maiden-winning closer Harvey Wallbanger (15-1) and two-time stakes winner Garter And Tie (12-1).
Sham Stakes winner Gunmetal Gray (9-5) tries to make it 2-for-2 when he is teamed with jockey Mike Smith. He is the second choice on the morning line for the $150,000 Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, an 8½-furlong race that figures to be run in rainy weather at Santa Anita. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Gunmetal Gray lost to last year’s 2-year-old champion Game Winner in a pair of graded stakes before taking advantage of his absence from the Sham. Bob Baffert’s graded-stakes winner Mucho Gusto (8-5) is the tentative favorite that figures to bring the early speed. John Sadler’s maiden winner Nolo Contesto (5-2) will chase the pace. Those three are the class of a six-horse field, and they should make up a short-priced trifecta. Considering the wet weather, Mucho Gusto is the choice for this race that is due to start Saturday at 5:30 p.m. EST.
Third to Maximus Mischief two months ago in the Remsen, the gelding Tax (2-1) is the morning-line favorite for the $250,000 Grade 3 Withers. The pace-chaser sired by Arch is trained by Danny Gargan, who has won 34 percent of his starts this winter at Aqueduct. Todd Pletcher’s highly regarded maiden winner Moretti (3-1) adds blinkers for his graded-stakes debut. As he did in his 3¼-length win Dec. 20, this $900,000 colt by Medaglia d’Oro will race nine furlongs around two turns on Aqueduct’s main track. Lucky Lee (7-2) also moves up in class after winning his last two by 5½ and six lengths, both mile races at Parx. I do not buy what Tax was selling against slow fractions in the Remsen, so he is a toss for me. Out of the other five, my ticket favors Lucky Lee over Moretti with recently sold Jerome runner-up Our Braintrust (6-1) included. A sunny, 38-degree day is forecast when the Withers starts Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST.
Money continues to come in to William Hill for the favorite Game Winner to win the Kentucky Derby. His odds shortened this week from 5-1 to 9-2. Two more Bob Baffert colts – Improbable at 7-1 and Coliseum at 8-1 – are the next-shortest priced followed by Hollendorfer’s Instagrand at 10-1. For those unable to get to Nevada to play these futures, Churchill Downs offers its second pool nationwide next weekend.
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. This week’s edition features trainer Butch Reid discussing his colt Maximus Mischief, the favorite for Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews talking about his betting angles on races ranging from claimers to classics. There is a preview of all three of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby points preps. The feature Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse starting with “M.” The RFRP is also available at providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.