If recency bias is as commanding as it has been this winter racing season, the last winner of the last big prep will be the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Since the Arkansas Derby is not until April 10, figure on Concert Tour winning that and then plunging to something outrageous like 2-1 in the Las Vegas futures for May 1 at Churchill Downs.
It has gotten that predictable — and that silly. Look at what happened last weekend, when Life Is Good won by eight lengths for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. His shortest distance between two points was a diagonal line from the 2-path at the top of the stretch to at least the 10-path at the wire. (No exaggeration; look at the head-on replay.) Since he was unchallenged while he looked like he was making a beeline to the jockey scale, the public practically swooned.
When it reopened its Derby futures in the first hour after Saturday’s race, Circa Sports shortened Life Is Good to 4-1, its new favorite. Not even 24 hours later the odds inched toward 7-2 (actually + 375). William Hill Nevada gave would-be bettors a little more time off. By the time its futures were reopened Sunday morning, Life Is Good was the 4-1 co-favorite with Essential Quality.
How low is too low? If Pool 4 of the pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager was any indication, 3-2 was the breaking point. Seriously, 3-2. Those were the odds Life Is Good was carrying at 3 p.m. ET Sunday. In the last three hours of betting, he drifted to a 2-1 close.
Throw out last year’s Derby, when Tiz The Law was the 7-10 race-day favorite after four months of post-time drag. Taking just the normal first Saturdays in May into account, the Derby has not had a favorite as short as 2-1 since Point Given was 9-5 before he finished fifth in 2001.
There is, however, a Newtonian component here that can be attractive to bettors. If Life Is Good is too short to bet, there must be value elsewhere.
Also undefeated, Eclipse Award winner Essential Quality closed at nearly 6-1 (+ 590) in the KDFW. If he wins his final prep, presumably the Blue Grass on April 3, a 6-1 futures ticket on him would feel really, really good. Better yet to have the 15-1 Circa showed for him in December and early January.
Greatest Honour, the third horse in the Derby big three, is still 8-1 (actually + 850) at Circa. He is still a deep closer too. That translates well to 1¼ miles at Churchill Downs only when the stewards take down a winner like Maximum Security in favor of Country House. Or when the early pace is insane, as it was with Palace Malice in front of Orb. Greatest Honour’s last afternoon impression before Louisville is expected to be March 27 in the Florida Derby.
No law says the Derby must be won by one of the top three betting choices. Bubbling under Life Is Good, Essential Quality and Greatest Honour were some fascinating movers Sunday as the next-to-last KDFW window was closing.
— Mandaloun generated most of the steam in the last two hours, going from 23-1 to close at 17-1. With blinkers again and the added distance of next week’s 9½-furlong Louisiana Derby, he could become the flavor of the week out of the Brad Cox barn, at least until Essential Quality races again. For now he is still available in Nevada at 22-1.
— Another Cox horse, Caddo River, caught enough money in the final 10 minutes before the KDFW closed to go from 17-1 to 16-1. Stablemate Essential Quality was far from disrespected during those final moments, making a healthy move from 6-1 to 5-1.
— Medina Spirit, the “other Baffert,” looked like he had 10-foot-pole marks all over him after he finished second to Life Is Good in the San Felipe. In 24 hours he went from 28-1 to 38-1. After that he gradually built a modest following, shortening back to 36-1 at 5:50 p.m. ET Sunday. Then pow. In the last 10 minutes of betting, he drifted back to 39-1.
— Proxy might not be as highly regarded as Essential Quality and Greatest Honour. But like the other two, he was sired by Tapit, and that alone might mean something. With the likelihood he will add blinkers next week in the Louisiana Derby, the Risen Star runner-up went from 45-1 to 40-1 after 3 p.m. ET Sunday before settling at 41-1 in the closing KDFW odds.
The bar on what constitutes value in Derby futures continues to drop, especially since a global bookmaker shaved 106 names off its futures to bring its list to 100. Circa Sports is down to 116 horses, William Hill 70 and Europe 70.
Remember when searching for that 300-1 gem was worth the work? Not anymore. It might not have existed in December, and it certainly does not exist now. As the late Lawrence Peter Berra said somewhere between Fairmount Park and the Meadowlands, it’s getting late early.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?
Helium (80-1 Circa, 25-1 William Hill): The 15-1 winner of Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby burst into the Las Vegas futures and reminded bettors he is undefeated. OK, a modest 2-for-2. Frankly, the $55,000 colt by Ironicus will not stir anyone based on the page from his sales book. But he is trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, and he came through a race that produced Derby winners Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2010). If he can show the same tactical speed on dirt that he did in his two wins on synthetic surfaces, maybe Helium is not a bunch of hot … oh, never mind. That line has already been played this week.
Weyburn (90-1 Circa, 75-1 William Hill): It is tempting to put this guy on the “Who’s Not?” list too. But a win is a win is a win, and that is what this Pioneerof The Nile colt earned at 46-1 in the Gotham Stakes. Horses with such long odds at any point in their careers are seldom Derby material. It also has been written ad nauseam — probably here — that the only horse to come out of the Gotham and win the roses was Secretariat in 1973. Part of the problem is that it represents a cutback in distance for most Derby hopefuls from New York. Not Weyburn. He stretched out to a mile. His move next month to 9 furlongs in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct should reveal more, especially since it will be his first time going two turns.
My Generation (unlisted in Nevada): This Speightstown filly is not even nominated for the Triple Crown. She is also not listed in Derby futures anywhere, so the first bettor to roll into a shop and ask for a price will set the market. She took a share of the lead on the European road to the Derby by winning Friday’s Patton Stakes on a synthetic track in Ireland. That does not necessarily mean she is coming to America. “No firm plans yet,” trainer Joseph O’Brien told Horse Racing Nation. “Delighted to get a stakes win under our belt. Will see how she pulls up before chatting with Scott and Tony.” O’Brien was referring to owner Scott Heider and Irish bloodstock adviser Tony Lacy. Heider is from Nebraska and spent his youth at the old Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack and, while attending USC, at Santa Anita. Could he dare to have a Derby dream?
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?
Candy Man Rocket (100-1 Circa, 100-1 William Hill): He looked nothing like the horse that won the Sam F. Davis four weeks earlier over the same course and distance he raced Saturday — if one uses the verb “raced” loosely. Sent off an 8-5 favorite, Candy Man Rocket was third and within a length of the lead with a little more than a quarter-mile left in the 8½-furlong Tampa Bay Derby. This Candy Ride colt was having none of the rest of the race. There was no fuel left for the stretch run. He and Junior Alvarado finished 11th in a field of 12. It is hard to imagine trainer Bill Mott taking another swing with Candy Man Rocket in the Florida Derby. If he does, it is a safe bet he will not be 8-5 again.
Fenway (no longer listed): Bet to an 8-5 second choice in a maiden mile Friday at Santa Anita, this Into Mischief colt from the Baffert barn could not hold the early lead jockey John Velazquez gave him. A mentor who taught me racing used to liken this sort of horse to Wile E. Coyote. Think of him running at top speed in the old Road Runner cartoons. Then a shovel would emerge from behind the desert rocks, and he would be stopped cold in his tracks, the spade suddenly looking like a relief map of the coyote’s face. That man would say, “The shovel got him.” Faster than you could say, “Beep, beep,” Fenway got the shovel, and he crossed sixth. Almost as fast, Circa and William Hill yanked him from their Derby futures, where he had been best-priced at 200-1.
Advance Cash to Xtreme Mayhem (no longer listed): And the 104 horses in between. They were the ones dropped from the global odds. That was about 40% of the list. If nothing else, their absence will make the compilation of the Derby futures list that comes with this report, and shows up @ronflatter on Twitter twice a week, a lot less of a chore to compile.
In addition to this report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently for coverage of big events. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Jockey Florent Geroux will talk about his ride Saturday on Caddo River in the Rebel Stakes. Southern California handicapper/horseman Jon Lindo will discuss COVID-19-era challenges for racehorse owners. Rampart Casino sportsbook director Duane Colucci will handicap weekend races. The RFRP is available for download Friday and free subscription now at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.