It is no secret that Kentucky Derby favorites this time of year tend not to win on the big day. It does not bode well for Life Is Good that 40 of the last 41 top choices on New Year’s Day failed on the first Saturday in May — or September.
Other than Street Sense in 2007, where were the eventual victories in the wintertime betting markets?
At this time last year, Authentic was 16-1 at William Hill Nevada. That was a big drop from the 65-1 at which he closed in the first pool of the Churchill Downs pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager. A win in the Sham last January changed everything. And then it changed all over again with the pandemic. Using that history now should come with a warning label.
Two years ago, Country House was nowhere to be found until he showed up at 30-1 in March at William Hill. He closed 29-1 that month in the KDFW. Those prices turned out to be as wrong as could be against the 65-1 post-time odds that eventually paid off when stewards got done taking down Maximum Security.
Three years ago, Justify was famously still waiting to be raced out of Bob Baffert’s barn. It is a well-worn story that when he finally showed up in Las Vegas futures, Johnny Avello hung a 300-1 price on him and took a $500 bet that turned into a $150,000 winner.
What does all this mean in the grand scheme of betting on the 2021 Derby? Not much if that means fading Life Is Good. It is far easier to tear down the favorite than to find the rose-covered needle in a haystack of more than 200 choices in the Derby futures. Based on recent history, who really knows if the winner is even listed yet?
Circa Sports will eventually post yes-no props on the shortest-priced favorites for the Derby, perhaps late this month. That will give bettors the option of laying off some of their risk on other horses by betting that Life Is Good or Essential Quality will not win May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Until then, the search for that elusive winner continues.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?
Mandaloun (40-1 Circa, 35-1 William Hill). The two Las Vegas bookmakers took turns shortening the odds for this 2-for-2 colt sired by leading stallion Into Mischief and trained by would-be Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox. They may be bracing themselves for a run of action since, despite drawing Post 10, Mandaloun is the likely favorite in Saturday’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The 8½-furlong points prep may be his first time going around two turns, but it is likely to be his third time as the bettors’ choice in a race. He may be in Essential Quality’s shadow in the Cox barn, but Mandaloun has given his connections reason to be optimistic this spring. What’s more, he is a homebred owned by Juddmonte Farms, whose patriarch Prince Abdullah died this week.
Amount (40-1 Circa, 45-1 William Hill). Florida Panthers owner Vinny Viola won the Kentucky Derby four years ago with Always Dreaming, a colt he sent to trainer Todd Pletcher. They joined forces with Vitamin Water magnate Mike Repole and won the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Vino Rosso. Now the three have come together with this $110,000 Curlin colt. Amount finally hit the track at Palm Beach Downs for morning workouts in October, and he built those into a 5¾-length debut win Christmas weekend at Gulfstream Park. Pletcher did not spell out any firm plans, but since Amount was back on the track working out this week, his next race cannot be far off.
Keepmeinmind (50-1 Circa, 40-1 William Hill). A 3-year-old debut is expected next month for this Laoban colt that broke his maiden with a Thanksgiving week win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. Trained by Robertino Diodoro, he has never been out of the money in his four starts, the most impressive of which may have been his third-place finish at 30-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Was it an overlay that day at Keeneland or an underlay at 2-1 in the Kentucky Jockey Club? It probably was not both. One thing working against Keepmeinmind for futures bettors is his deep-closing style. Country House notwithstanding, that is historically a tactic that does not work in the Derby.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?
Willy Boi (200-1 Circa, 200-1 William Hill). It looks like Las Vegas does not know what to do with this 2-for-2 gelding trained by Jeff Engler. William Hill opened him at 150-1 in December before he drifted to his current odds. Circa posted him at 200-1 last week. On the one hand, he was a sprint winner at Gulfstream Park last month in his debut and again Thursday in a $40,000 race for “non-twos.” On the other hand, his bloodlines are not exactly regal. He is by Uncaptured, a decent Florida stallion now standing in Korea who was on and off the Derby trail in his racing days. He is out of a Yes It’s True mare that was a sprinter in her time. Is he a course horse? Or is there more here than meets the eye?
Lookin For Trouble (300-1 Circa, 250-1 William Hill). This goes to show that Into Mischief does not have a perfect stallion record. Not that expectations have been universally high for this colt that was out of a Speightstown mare. The only time he was favored in his seven starts, he won. That was last summer at Saratoga for trainer Mike Maker, who overachieves with lower-level horses. Lookin For Trouble has since had a second and three thirds in five starts, mostly lower-level stakes — and all sprints. Owner-breeder Bill Butler must have had high hopes for him, sending him through the sales ring both as a weanling and a yearling only to have his ambitious $285,000 and $300,000 asking prices go unattained.
Seminole Beach (400-1 Circa, 200-1 William Hill). This $240,000 colt by Ghostzapper out of a Smart Strike mare came up empty Saturday, finishing a distant seventh in a maiden mile at Gulfstream Park. Now 0-for-2, he was much more competitive in his debut, losing by a head in a 7-furlong sprint in October at Keeneland. Ian Wilkes, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2012 with Fort Larned, trains Seminole Beach for Mike Mackin’s Lucky Seven Stable that may be best known for Crafty Shaw’s 2001 win in the Rebel. The Derby looks out of this horse’s league.
In addition to this report, 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 William Hill US CEO Joe Asher talks about the making of Kentucky Derby futures, trainer Michael Stidham discusses Manor House and Proxy on Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes card, and DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.