Kentucky Derby Trail: Future Frolics
Photo: Benoit
Fusaichi Samurai is early future book co-favorite, despite having run just once.
For many, there is always an urge this time of year to dive head first into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) future book pool in the hope of snatching up a live horse at a juicy price. Even though folks are aware the future book is normally a bad bet, with good horses priced way too low, some still can't help taking the plunge. So, here's a look at what's out there.

First off, the good horses are priced way too low. What else is new? And how low is low you ask? Well, with an abundance of top-class stakes winners, the 7-1 co-favorite is Fusaichi Samurai, who has run only once, winning a six-furlong maiden race. He's priced lower than grade I winners Declan's Moon, Afleet Alex, and Wilko, and shares the favorite's role with the undefeated Rockport Harbor. If Neil Drysdale decides to run him in the Feb. 13 San Vicente (gr. II), that means the colt likely would have only four career starts before the Derby and only two two-turn races. That would put him one two-turn race behind his sire, who made his third career start at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 19. Drysdale is never one to show his hand, so whatever his intentions are, keep an eye on that allowance race.

There is no horse, regardless of his accomplishments, that is worth single-digit odds in mid-January. From a price standpoint, Wilko actually is the most enticing of last year's leading juveniles at 22-1. He and Declan's Moon likely are on a schedule to have only two starts prior to the Derby, starting with the March 5 Santa Catalina (gr. II), and that is where Wilko's 12-race campaign at two will be an advantage. The last horse to win the Derby off only two starts was Sunny's Halo (in 1983), who had an 11-race 2-year-old campaign. But that's enough of who's not worth the odds. The object is to find that live horse at a big price that you can brag about having come March and April.

As usual, the pickins are pretty slim, with so many horses under-priced. But here are several at a decent price who could give you a good run for your money over the next couple of months.

* Warning: Any currency wagered on the following horses based on the accompanying comments is done so at the reader's own risk, and the author of said comments bears no responsibility for any financial losses or resulting family squabbles or crises.

Although the opinion here is that 50-1 is normally the cutoff for live longshots, Defer must be an exception at 40-1 (all prices from Bally's). If the son of Danzig, out of the Mr. Prospector mare Hidden Reserve, improves as expected from two to three, then you want to get down on him before he makes his first start, which is getting closer. Even if he gets beat, but runs a big race, that's all you're looking for from this colt, who concluded his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Laurel Futurity (gr. III) and should continue to improve throughout the winter. Shug McGaughey and the Phipps family have always done right by their horses, and it's time their patience and concern for the horse pays off on the first Saturday in May. With that in mind, Defer's stablemate, Survivalist, an 8 1/2-length maiden winner at a mile, is another to consider, but he did look more attractive last week at 150-1. He obviously took some big bucks since then, plummeting to 60-1. He also is sitting on his 3-year-old debut.

Another horse who took a big hit last week is the promising Cal-bred Uncle Denny, who looks like a flat-out runner with a top-class pedigree, and is still attractive at 75-1, down from 150-1. He's undefeated in three starts, winning first time out in 1:09 4/5 for trainer Rafael Becerra and owner Stan Fulton, who almost made it to the Derby last year with St. Averil. After being put up on a disqualification in his next start, in which he had a horrible trip, he won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes in 1:22 3/5. The form of that race was boosted when runner-up Iced Out came back to finish a fast-closing second in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II), which may very well have contributed to the big drop in Uncle Denny's odds. Iced Out looks to be a legitimate Derby horse in his own right.

Uncle Denny is by the brilliant runner and successful sire In Excess, out of a His Majesty mare, giving him a great blend of classic speed and stamina. To show what he's capable of in the mornings, he worked a scorching six furlongs in 1:10 flat on Jan. 21. That could be a bit too fast this time of the year, but definitely keep an eye on this colt.

Rush Bay, runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), is very enticing at 60-1. The son of the classic sire Cozzene, out of a Deputy Minister mare, ran a huge race in the Kentucky Jockey Club, demonstrating a strong closing kick and some nifty broken-field running to finish second to the seasoned graded stakes winner Greater Good, who is only 35-1. Prior to that, he romped by 6 3/4 lengths in a Churchill maiden race, trouncing the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) runner-up Patriot Act, who was 25-1 before being shelved with a chip in his knee. Rush Bay could be a live horse, and will be tough to handle in the Risen Star (gr. III) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II).

We should know a lot more about Dearest Mon if he runs in the Feb. 5 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), but with his potential and pedigree, this is the time to take a chance on him at 50-1. Trained by Rick Violette, the son of Derby-winning sire Maria's Mon is out of a stakes-winning daughter of Fappiano, who in turn is out of a mare by English Derby winner Blakeney. He showed a good deal of natural ability to win his last two starts, despite racing greenly both times.

Several recent maiden winners might be worth a shot. With Harlington being bet down to 15-1 off his two career victories in the slop, you could get good value on two other Todd Pletcher-trained colts who looked terrific breaking their maidens and who have very strong pedigrees.

Bandini, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus  , improved in leaps and bounds from his career debut, in which he raced very greenly. In his next start, he battled on the front end in swift fractions before drawing off to a 4 1/4-length score over Nick Zito's highly regarded Noble Causeway, who also bears watching once he breaks his maiden. Bandini's second dam is the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) winner Hail Atlantis, a daughter of Seattle Slew out of the Claiborne mare Flippers, a three-time stakes winner at Churchill Downs who is a daughter of champion Moccasin. You can get him at 75-1.

Monarch Lane, another son of Maria's Mon, also has Seattle Slew as a maternal great-grandsire, and is inbred to Tom Fool. He showed excellent acceleration in his career debut, drawing off to a 5 3/4-length victory over a deep track labeled good. He's listed at 150-1, but remember, he did not race at two and would only have four starts at the most before the Derby, so he has several things against him.

Another intriguing maiden winner is the Nick Zito-trained Andromeda's Hero, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus who romped in a maiden race at Calder and who has as strong a classic female family as you could ask for. He's only 35-1, which is not very enticing, but he could be any kind. The best you can say for his odds is that they're a lot higher than the 7-1 on Fusaichi Samurai. Zito has another promising maiden winner in Indy Storm, who is 40-1. Compared to that, how appealing is Defer at the same price?

If you're interested in a couple of European horses who could make it to Churchill Downs by way of the UAE Derby (UAE-I), Godolphin's European 2-year-old champ Shamardal, who is 75-1, is by Giant's Causeway  , from a European distance-loving female family, while Italian champ, Becrux, at 250-1, has mostly grass breeding through his pedigree, but his sire, Glen Jordan's, dam is by Seattle Slew and his maternal granddam is by Mr. Prospector out of C.V. Whitney's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Bag of Tunes. Shamardal could be something special, and it's not like Godolphin to point a horse like this for a dirt race in Dubai with the European classics coming up, so we'll just have to see if he does indeed wind up there. Pletcher has the Prix Thomas Bryon (Fra-III) runner-up Guillaume Tell, a 100-1 shot who has already shown promise in the morning, drilling five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and a half in: 47 3/5.

In summation, the best value horses right now look to be Defer at 40-1, Rush Bay at 60-1, Uncle Denny at 75-1, and Dearest Mon at 50-1. Bandini at 75-1 and Monarch Lane at 150-1 are much more of a risk. Also, watch the work tab for stakes-placed Diamond Isle, a 75-1 shot who has a great mix of speed and stamina, and an awesome female family. The two interesting triple-digit horses are Becrux at 250-1 and Guillaume Tell at 100-1, but they are strictly guesses at this point, which is why they're big prices.

Afleet Alex and the Derby
Are times changing when it comes to finding a Derby horse through pedigree? Looking at the last three Derby winners, all had the same profile, being by sires -- Our Emblem, Distorted Humor   and Elusive Quality   -- who were best at seven furlongs to a mile, and being out of female families with top stamina influences in their third and fourth generation.

Well, for all you doubters, take another hard look at Afleet Alex, who fits that profile to perfection. His sire, Northern Afleet  , not only won the 7-furlong San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) in 1:21 2/5, the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap (gr. III) in 1:41 4/5, and finished third, beaten a length, in the Met Mile (gr. I) in 1:33 flat, he also stretched out to win the 1 1/8-mile San Fernando Breeders' Cup (gr. II) in a solid 1:48 2/5.

To complement that, Afleet Alex has stamina (mainly grass) all through his female family. His broodmare sire, Hawkster, set a world-record for 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita, and his great-grandsire, Hawaii, set a course record for 1 1/2 miles at Belmont. And both set their records in grade I stakes. Hawkster's grandsire, Roberto, won the 1 1/2-mile English Derby (Eng-I) and set a course record at York for 1 5/16 miles. Afleet Alex's second dam, Qualique, won the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II).

Not only does Afleet Alex fit the profile of a Derby winner through his pedigree, he arguably was the most accomplished 2-year-old in 2004, dancing every dance and only losing the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) by a half-length because of a bad trip, in which he stumbled slightly at the start, then was forced to go wide on both turns. He was asked for his run very early and hit the front too soon. Reverse that half-length and he would have locked up the 2-year-old championship and become a standout favorite for the Derby. He's tough, consistent, and has the kind of acceleration you want to see in the Derby horse. It's inconceivable at this point to think he's not a legitimate Derby contender. And he hooks up with America's leading rider John Velazquez.

-- In other Derby news, with so many top-class youngsters at Oaklawn, speed was the order of business on opening day when the Steve Asmussen-trained Razor captured the 5 1/2-furlong Dixieland Stakes on Jan. 21. The same day, Todd Pletcher unleashed yet another promising 3-year-old at Gulfstream when he sent out the Vicar colt Vicarage to a 2 3/4-length allowance score in 1:10 4/5. The big disappointment was 2-1 favorite Premium Tap, who finished 9th.

One of the more impressive sprint victories of the year was turned in by Stellar Magic, who put in a powerful move at the head of the stretch to win a six-furlong allowance race at Golden Gate by four lengths in 1:09 1/5, while going from the quarter pole to the eighth pole in :11 3/5 before cruising home in :12 1/5. Finishing fourth was the 3-5 favorite California Choice, impressive winner of his only start.

Turning in their first works of the year this past week were major stakes performers Sun King, who breezed a half in :50 at Palm Meadows on Jan. 19, Greater Good, who breezed a sharp three furlongs in :34 4/5 at Oaklawn Park Jan. 20, and Straight Line, who breezed three furlongs in :38 at Gulfstream Jan. 22.

Another big work at Santa Anita was turned in by Southern Africa, fourth in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I), who drilled six furlongs in 1:10 4/5 for the Feb. 5 Sham Stakes. Consolidator, winner of the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, continued his run of sharp works, drilling five furlongs in :59 flat at Santa Anita for the Feb. 13 San Vicente Stakes (gr. II). Another San Vicente prospect, Don't Get Mad, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Hollywood Park. Hollywood Futurity runner-up Giacomo breezed six furlongs in 1:13 at Hollywood Park. Neil Drysdale stretched out Fusaichi Samurai, who breezed six furlongs in 1:15 1/5 at Hollywood.

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