Uncle Chuck pushes into top 4 for Derby

Uncle Chuck’s victory Saturday in the Los Alamitos Derby was impressive on its own merit. While it put him squarely on the prolonged road to the Kentucky Derby, it also had an impact on the established contenders.


Circa and William Hill, the two Nevada sportsbooks offering the only domestic Derby futures, shortened Uncle Chuck to make him one of the top four choices to win Sept. 5 at Louisville. After opening a month ago at 45-1, he is now 8-1 at Circa Sports and 12-1 at William Hill Nevada.


But while the swirl of excitement again envelopes the Bob Baffert barn in California, Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law sits idle in New York in the midst of a seven-week break. Oh, that’s right. Tiz The Law. He is still the Kentucky Derby favorite, and Circa and William Hill sent his odds in opposite directions.


William Hill cut Tiz The Law from plus-250 to plus-220, making him and Uncle Chuck two of the four horses on its Derby list whose odds were shortened. Two others went to longer odds, and the other 43 held firm.


Circa drifted Tiz The Law from plus-285 to plus-290, making him one of 45 horses it assigned longer odds while shortening Uncle Chuck and only five others. Still showing 94 horses in its futures, the moves were signs that it has a lot less money in its pool than William Hill, which had a seven-month head start in the market. It also might be a clue that Circa is close to culling its herd of Derby choices.


The top two horses in the Santa Anita Derby, Honor A. P. (plus-585 Circa, plus-350 William Hill) and Authentic (plus-610, plus-500) went to slightly longer odds at Circa but held steady at William Hill.


These core four are expected to race again in the next month or so. Authentic goes first July 18 on the Jersey Shore in the $1 million Grade 1 Haskell, a race that Baffert has won a record eight times. Honor A. P. will stay home and race next in the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 1 at Del Mar. Tiz The Law is training up to the $1 million Grade 1 Travers on Aug. 8 at Saratoga. Baffert has not said what race is next for Uncle Chuck.


Through all this, horseplayers are left to assess current value. To put it another way, presuming they all win their next time out, might Tiz The Law, Honor A. P., Authentic and Uncle Chuck be carrying shorter odds now than they will at post time at Churchill Downs?


If Tiz The Law wins the Travers, it is hard to imagine him being shorter than 3-1 on Labor Day weekend, so patience seems in order now. Honor A. P.’s nearly 6-1 odds at Circa look like value, but are the odds long enough to make it worth the risk that he might not get to the Churchill Downs gate for whatever reason? Considering his loss in the Santa Anita Derby, Authentic seems like an underlay right now. And the time to pounce on Uncle Chuck was before last weekend, when the four-horse field for the Los Al Derby screamed paid workout.


The challenge now for futures players could be to find that middle-ground horse with a legitimate chance to be among the 20 starters Sept. 5. Where 100-1 looked attractive two months ago, it reeks of desperation now. On the other hand, under-the-radar horses like third-place Belmont Stakes finisher Max Player (40-1, 45-1) and Matt Winn runner-up Ny Traffic (50-1, 60-1) carry attractive prices and legitimate chances of starting in the Derby.


So the best part of having four horses occupy the top layer of the futures market is that they provide grist for the conversation mill the rest of the summer. More importantly, they leave legitimate futures value underneath. But not too far underneath.


Derby futures: Who’s hot?


Uncle Chuck (8-1 Circa, 12-1 William Hill). It was easy to see this coming. Even though it was a laughably small field, his four-length Los Al Derby victory gave bettors, bookmakers and Baffert reason to think he will be a Derby contender. But a Derby winner? The $250,000 Uncle Mo colt has faced a total of only seven other horses in his two races. He would face nearly three times that many at Churchill Downs. Still, he has the look of a 1¼-mile horse, uncorking the fastest finishing times (11.9-second final furlong, 36.3 final three) in any prep of at least 1⅛ miles this year. If he looks as good in his next race as his last two, he will be in the gate at Louisville.


Thousand Words (33-1, 32-1). With Uncle Chuck, Cezanne and even Authentic getting all the attention, this forgotten colt in the Baffert barn finished a game second in the Los Al Derby. His closing fractions of 12.3 and 36.9 were well within the threshold established in the final preps of 27 of the last 30 Kentucky Derby winners. But this was not his final prep. That next race might seal the deal and move the odds for this Pioneerof The Nile colt that, don’t forget, was a two-time graded-stakes winner last year.


Major Fed (100-1, 100-1). Cut from 125-1 last week, he is the 5-2 favorite in European betting and 7-2 on the morning line for Wednesday’s Indiana Derby. Trained by Greg Foley, the Ghostzapper colt is still just a maiden winner. But after finishing second in the weaker division of the Risen Star and fourth in the Louisiana Derby, a win this week would get him to 50 points and on the threshold of a spot in the Kentucky Derby. He will have to show more than he did finishing last seven weeks ago in the Matt Winn.


Derby futures: Who’s not?


Cezanne (14-1, 20-1). Far from dazzling in his allowance win last week, this is the most expensive “other Baffert” in the Hall of Fame trainer’s barn. As a 1-10 favorite, the $3.65 million Curlin colt won by only 1¾ lengths going a mile against only four seemingly overmatched rivals at Los Alamitos. That earned him a paltry Beyer Speed Figure of 85. Even though he is 2-for-2, the horse bought by a partnership led by the Irish breeding giant Coolmore has not lived up to the hype.


Anneau d’Or (90-1, 125-1). This maiden winner was expected to press the pace in Uncle Chuck’s victory Saturday. But trainer Blaine Wright scratched him because of what he said was a slight fever late last week. The Medaglia d’Oro colt is still winless on dirt after breaking his maiden in a turf debut last September at Golden Gate Fields. Bettors have to wonder if Anneau d’Or peaked as a 28-1 runner-up in  the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.


Club Aspen (400-1, unlisted). What the ... ? For some reason, a bettor rolled into Circa last week, asked for odds and bought a Derby future for this 2-for-10 horse that won the King Glorious last December at Los Al but is winless in three 2020 starts. He is owned by Larry Lewis and trained by his brother Craig, whose most famous horse was 1995 Santa Anita Derby winner Larry The Legend. This colt by Clubhouse Ride (who?) most recently finished third in a Cal-bred stakes at Santa Anita nearly two months ago. Whoever paid for this ticket may have just been looking for a souvenir to frame for the Lewises.


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