Kentucky Derby Trail: Time Running Out on 'Future' Follies

Kentucky Derby Trail: Time Running Out on 'Future' Follies
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After this weekend's stakes gala, it's going to be much more difficult finding that one Derby horse who will pay off the mortgage and put the kids through college. But right now, that horse may still be out there in plain sight.

The timing of the Future Wager makes it very difficult to find such a horse in Saturday's Florida Derby (gr. I) and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III). The only horses really worth wagering on are in Sunday's San Felipe, which goes off only 45 minutes before the betting closes, and perhaps the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), run a little earlier.

But if you happen to live in Las Vegas or know someone who lives there or know someone who's visiting there, now is the time you can still find riches galore in the Future Book before this weekend's stakes. If you do happen to get lucky and uncover a live megabomb, you'll be basking in the sunshine while those who played the Future Wager watch their price plummet. Or imagine seeing a 100-1 or 200-1 shot at Bally's come in, and you have him in the Future Wager mutuel field at 3-1 or 4-1.

Although some of the potential steals competing this weekend have already been written about in past columns, we'll touch base one last time.

Read the Footnotes is the class of the Florida Derby (gr. I), and if he runs even close to his race in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II), it's going to take a super effort to beat him. Value Plus has the brilliance to turn in that super effort, and very well could if he gets loose on the lead, but he's only 20-1 at Bally's after being available at 200-1 early last month.

The Florida Derby, however, is not really about finding a horse to win; it's about finding a horse to take a huge step forward and put himself in the Derby picture. On paper, Notorious Rogue has no business winning the Florida Derby, or even being competitive with a horse like Read the Footnotes. He's been second or third in three allowance races this year, but ran into Frisky Spider going seven furlongs, then ran into Pollard's Vision stretching out. In his last start, he was a fast-closing second in the slop with blinkers added. He has shown flashes of talent, and did finish a fast-closing third in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I). He's always been a nervous kind of horse, but has really settled down recently and is just starting to come around, physically and mentally. He has the look of a good horse and a nice way of moving, and the feeling here is that one day he's going to wake up and put it all together. Even if he can finish a solid third or fourth in the Florida Derby and be competitive with these horses, it could propel him to bigger and better things, and at 250-1, he may be worth the gamble.

The pace in the Florida Derby will be a key factor, especially for horses like The Cliff's Edge and Friends Lake, both of whom are capable of surprising a lot of people on Saturday. The Cliff's Edge, in particular, could be an overlay after his defeat in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay, a track not always kind to shippers. The form of last fall's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), which he won by three-quarters of a length, has not held up, but he looks to be sitting on a big race. This is no stretch-running plodder. He's shown explosive acceleration on the far turn in several stakes races, and could be rolling early on Saturday. Trainer Nick Zito has finished second three times in the Florida Derby, including two nose defeats, and was third another time, so he's due for some good fortune. He's very confident about Saturday, and that's good enough to make "Cliffy" an interesting prospect at 50-1.

Friends Lake is more of a guess, because his best efforts have come in New York-bred races (which no longer seems to be a deterrent), and he was soundly beaten in the Holy Bull (gr. III). But standing down at the rail for that race, it looked as if he was just started to run after having a shaky trip, and he was strong hitting the wire. He has the pedigree for sure (love his 4x4 inbreeding to Buckpasser), and should improve the farther he goes. And he did beat a talented horse in Pa Pa Da in two New York-bred races, earning a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in the Sleepy Hollow, the race that produced 2003 major stakes winners Funny Cide, Spite the Devil (Withers Stakes-II), and Go Rockin Robin (Peter Pan Stakes-II). There is no reason to think he won't show improvement on Saturday, and if he can be competitive with these horses, expect to see the full package on the first Saturday in May. We really don't know yet how good he is, but he could be a lot shorter than his 60-1 odds on Saturday night.

So, there you have three possible Future Book bargains in the Florida Derby. Only The Cliff's Edge is a separate betting entry in the Future Wager, so no use looking in that direction. He could be a decent price if he runs big in defeat and can slip in under the radar.

This year, there are several lightly raced horses in the 15-1 to 20-1 range at Bally's who frankly have not justified those kind of odds at this point. There is a reason why no horse has won the Derby with as few as four career starts since Exterminator in 1918. Sure, that likely will be broken some day, with today's conservative training methods, but until it is, taking 15-1 or 20-1 seven weeks before the Derby is no bargain.

In the San Felipe, you can play anyone you like in the Future Wager with the assurance they'll be pretty close to the same odds at closing time. You won't find any real bargains with Action This Day or St Averil, and Bob Baffert's pair of Odds On and Preachinatthebar are 50-1 and 30-1, respectively. However, at a whopping 300-1, you can take a shot with Cheiron, who was discussed in detail in the last column. He has improved with every start since trainer Kristin Mulhall removed the blinkers, and you have to love the way he came off a head defeat in 1:08 3/5 in the Sunshine Millions Dash, then stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and rated beautifully off a :47 2/5 half before outfinishing a nice horse in Dream Place. The impressive part about his running 1:08 3/5 is that he's bred more for stamina. He's in very tough on Sunday, but we are talking about a 300-1 Cal-bred, so, of course, it's a gamble.

In Saturday's El Camino Real Derby (gr. III), how about a Bob Baffert-trained colt at 400-1, who has one of the strongest Derby pedigrees you'll ever see. True, his last two races have been horrible, but if Totally Platinum runs to his most recent works and gets his act together with blinkers added, we could see a huge turnaround on Saturday. He did break his maiden impressively by five lengths last December, but regressed in his two subsequent races. Baffert said he's really starting to come around and do things himself he used to have to be forced to do. Since his last race, on Jan. 18, he's worked five furlongs in :59 3/5, 1:00, and :58 4/5; six furlongs in a bullet 1:11 and 1:13 3/5; and three furlongs in :34 3/5. And, for the first time, he did it with enthusiasm.

It would take several pages to list all the classic and stamina influences in his pedigree, but he is inbred 4x4 to Ribot, he has a 1.79 dosage index, and his fourth dam is the Blue Hen producer Boudoir II, from whom has come Graustark, His Majesty, Majestic Prince, Gallant Bloom, Bowl of Flowers, T.V. Commerical, French Derby winner Caracolero, and Your Host, sire of Kelso. Sure, this is a reach, but, once again, we're talking 400-1.

Also, keep an eye on some promising colts in a nine-furlong, first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Saturday, especially Royal Assault, a 500-1 shot who is stretching out for the first time. The second level allowance didn't fill, so Mustanfar, in a last-minute decision, was entered in the Tampa Bay Derby. Now is the time to load up at 50-1.

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