It often takes more than a race or two for a horse to tell bettors whether he is a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby. There are also times when it takes someone to talk for the animals.
There was no better case than last week in Arkansas, where one horse won a race only to be taken out of the domestic Derby futures.
No Parole did not disappoint as an 11-10 favorite Friday in a better-than-average, $61,000 sprint allowance at Oaklawn Park. Jockey Joe Talamo took him to a six-length lead and, with the outcome certain, geared him down to a 2¾-length victory that earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 90.
Three of the also-rans in the 10-horse field were also in Derby futures at William Hill Nevada. And they still are. But after carrying odds of 100-1, No Parole is now noticeably absent from those same futures.
So what happened? It was not so much what the horse did as what trainer Tom Amoss said. That requires some context.
Sired by Violence out of a Bluegrass Cat mare, No Parole does not exactly have bloodlines that deserve a yellow highlighter. He did not make his first start until December. But he won his first three races by a combined 33½ lengths. They included an easy 1-mile victory in his stakes debut around two turns Feb. 8 at Delta Downs.
It was time to see if No Parole could compete at the next level. So Amoss entered him in last month’s 8½-furlong Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.
“We know he is a very good sprinter,” Amoss told America’s Best Racing beforehand. “Is he a horse that can be good going long? We don’t know the answer to that. That’s where this race comes in.”
By this time, No Parole had shortened from a 50-1 opener to 30-1 in the Derby futures. Now he was stepping into the big leagues against the likes of Bob Baffert shipper Nadal. In a field of eight, No Parole was the 9-1 fifth choice at post time March 14.
That is when he sent a message that a two-turn Derby points prep at Oaklawn was out of his league.
Starting from the rail, No Parole got off to a fine start, dueling Nadal into the first turn for the early lead. But he wilted fast. By the time he got to the quarter pole, Talamo had slowed him to no more than a jog on the way to a last-place finish, nearly 10 seconds after Nadal’s gate-to-wire victory.
The next day No Parole drifted to 100-1 in the William Hill futures, and that was where he was right up until Friday’s race. So why didn’t he hold his ground after winning last week? Maybe it was something Amoss said.
Discussing the Rebel in a story posted Friday at PastTheWire.com, Amoss said No Parole “told us what he can and can’t do. He doesn’t want to go that distance. Now we’re going to do what he does best.”
And that was probably why No Parole could win a race and then lose his place in the Derby futures. It was a 6-furlong race, he is in his element as a sprinter and now he is clearly off the Triple Crown trail.
Because the Kentucky Derby was postponed until Labor Day weekend, the process of elimination will take a lot longer. But when a horse shows it cannot go a route distance, let alone 1¼ miles, bettors would be wasting their time clinging to a false hope.
Rest assured. No Parole will not be the last horse during this extended Derby season to do all the right things — but at the wrong distance.
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Dr Post (80-1). Facing six rivals that preceded him into the futures market, he won as an 11-10 favorite last weekend in the $75,000 Unbridled Stakes at Gulfstream Park, making him 2-for-2 as a 3-year-old. Dr Post was one of four winners Saturday for reigning two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who came back from a self-imposed monthlong quarantine to avoid the coronavirus. The victory over 8½ furlongs came in the first two-turn race for the $400,000 Quality Road colt trained by two-time Derby winner Todd Pletcher. It was certainly a move in the right direction.
Long Weekend (150-1). Two months ago, he drifted to 250-1 after a 6¾-length victory. Why? Probably because it was on a forgettable card at Sam Houston Park. A 4¾-length stakes victory last month at Oaklawn Park did not seem to impress futures players. But bettors made him a 2-1 second choice Saturday, when he upset odds-on favorite Eight Rings and outbobbed Echo Town to win the $100,000 6-furlong Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn. His pacesetting style does not necessarily suit the modern-day Kentucky Derby, so trainer Amoss — and horseplayers — may want to know if this Majesticperfection colt can sit off the pace if and when he stretches to two turns.
Echo Town (150-1). Does finishing within a head of Long Weekend make him worth a second look in the Derby futures? Since he was sired by Speightstown, it is not surprising that he has been competitive at 6 furlongs, the distance of all four of his races. With two wins, a second and a third, when will this Steve Asmussen-trained colt be stretched out? Until that question is answered, players may want to hold their fire on Echo Town.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Eight Rings (50-1). Finally making his 3-year-old debut, Baffert’s Empire Maker colt finished an empty fifth as the 4-5 favorite Saturday in the Bachelor. Coupled with his sixth-place finish last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Eight Rings has lost his last two races by a combined 19 lengths. Those are 19 big reasons why his odds drifted from 22-1 last week. He is a long way from six months ago, when he opened as the 10-1 Derby co-favorite at William Hill. Even if his recent slump were offset by faith in Baffert, 50-1 looks like a big underlay.
American Butterfly (125-1). Wait a second. Didn’t his odds shorten from 150-1? Running along the rail between five and seven lengths from the lead, he made up five places in the stretch to finish second in an $80,000 sprint allowance Friday at Oaklawn Park. But this colt sired by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is only 1-for-11 with nine consecutive losses. In his only pair of two-turn races, he lost each time by 15 lengths. American Butterfly comes from the stable of 84-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Famer who has won four Derbies — but none since 1999.
Cafe Pharoah (30-1), Crossfirehurricane (not listed), Herrschaft (not listed). Who? They were not familiar names to bettors in North America because they have not been racing in North America. They were among the top qualifiers on the Japan and Europe roads to the Derby. Herrschaft and Cafe Pharoah were at the top of the Japan standings just as Crossfirehurricane was in Europe, where the pandemic interrupted the prep schedule. Even if the two places in the 20-horse field were still on offer, doesn’t it seem like a long shot that there would be any international shippers to Kentucky in the current world climate?