Is Win Willy the KY Derby favorite?

Is Win Willy the KY Derby favorite?

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Ky Derby Trail: Win Willy Will Win Derby

April Fools!

But wait a minute. April Fools Day also happens to be Win Willy’s actual birthday. So, is this headline mere folly, heaped in a pile with other April Fools gotchas, or is this newly discovered star bright enough to actually make that headline prophetic?

We’ve already gone into detail regarding Win Willy’s explosive Rebel Stakes (gr. III) victory and his purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale.  So, this will not be another rundown of the colt’s brief career and background. All we can say about him at this point is if his Rebel Stakes was indicative of how talented he is and what we’re going to see from him in the next several weeks then perhaps the headline is not all that absurd.

That pretty much is what this mid-week column is all about: horses bubbling just under the surface, some of whom most people never even heard of a few weeks ago, but could make a major splash in the final Derby preps and at Churchill Downs on May 2. We'll also take a look at the final Future Wager pool.

Sometimes you look at a horse and he makes such a positive impression that you just get a good feeling about him, despite the question marks that might surround him.

Two such horses are Win Willy (20-1 morning line) and Hold Me Back (30-1). Both stormed on the Derby scene from seemingly out of nowhere to score impressive come-from-behind victories at a big price. Now they must come back against tougher company and prove those races weren’t flukes. But they don’t have to win, just be coming at the end and finish in the money.

Both horses showed tremendous potential in their own ways, whether it was Hold Me Back’s magnificent stride and classy looks and demeanor or Win Willy’s explosive move from far back and his ability to kick it into another gear inside the sixteenth pole. Yes, Hold Me Back ran poorly in his only dirt start and Win Willy took advantage of a favorite who was asked to do too much too early and came home in slow fractions. But that’s why both horses will be big prices in the final Future Wager pool. If you take a chance on them and they do run back to their last start then you’ll have a live Derby horse at a big price. Sure, Hold Me Back could very well dislike the dirt and Win Willy could “bounce” in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), but they don’t call it gambling for nothing

If you are looking for a reason for Hold Me Back’s poor performance in the Remsen, he was a big, gangly kid back then, but has since put on 150 pounds and grown into a handsome 3-year-old. And he was training lights out over the deep Payson Park dirt track all winter. Whether that equates to an improved effort on dirt in the Kentucky Derby, who knows? But if the Lane’s End had been on dirt, you wouldn’t be getting anywhere near the odds he’ll be in this week’s Future Wager. And as for Win Willy, for him to run the race he did in his first two-turn race and against one of the Derby favorites, it is possible he’s just a darn good horse. In all three of his victories, he displayed the same gear change and late thrust in the final 100 yards that had him running through the wire, as they say.

Another horse who will be attractive odds in the Future Wager is Desert Party  following his surprising defeat in the UAE Derby (UAE-II). Many didn’t like him before the race because of the long trip to the States, but his race was better than people think and got him good and fit. Again, he’s a gamble, coming off a loss and having to travel half way around the world, but he’s listed at 30-1, and like Win Willy and Hold Me Back, the feeling here is that he’s a very good horse who could be ready for a peak effort on May 2. Whether that’s good enough moving way up in class no one knows, but, again, that’s why you’ll be getting 30-1 or higher.

So, those are the three horses not running this weekend that look to be potential Future Wager overlays.

Eight horses in the third Future Wager pool will be in action Saturday, so it makes no sense to bet them before Sunday morning. Either Chocolate Candy or Mr. Hot Stuff, both 30-1 shots, could be good propositions if they can finish second in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and get a little lost in the betting. Chocolate Candy has enough earnings to even finish a good third and really disappear under the radar, making him a potential huge overlay. This is a horse I still feel can be a major player come Derby Day. Mr. Hot Stuff is one of those rapidly improving and maturing horses, making him dangerous and enticing, but he doesn’t have the luxury of finishing third if he wants to make the cut.

Looking ahead to the following weekend, this is a good time to take a shot on Terrain (at 50-1), a proven class horse and consistent closer who is headed for the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), and the vastly improved Flying Private (50-1), whose plans are still undecided.

For all those who like to wait until the final pool to try to get a good price on the mutuel field, there still are a number of potential live horses around who will be competing in the next two weeks.

One intriguing horse running this weekend is Lime Rickey, a confirmed turf horse with a case of seconditis who is actually bred for the dirt. In fact, his pedigree is all dirt…and distance. He has a tough assignment trying to sneak in for second in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), but remember, no one knew for sure how I Want Revenge  would handle the dirt before his tour-de-force in the Gotham (gr. III).Yes, he’s a gamble, but he is consistent and he does have a good closing kick, so if he can move up several lengths on the dirt you never know.

The Illinois Derby (gr. II) has a number horses who could add spice to the mutuel field after Saturday, most notably Nowhere to Hide, a Nick Zito-trained colt who gets blinkers off, has run well at five different tracks, and was beaten only 2 3/4 lengths by Friesan Fire  in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III); Perfect Song, a fast horse who can carry his speed and could be dangerous in a race devoid of real speed; Free Country, who gets blinkers off and could bounce back after his poor effort in the slop in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II); and the Peruvian import Al Khali . Another Pletcher colt, Il Postino, will be trying to make a huge lead off a gargantuan performance in a $20,000 claiming race, in which he came from seventh to win by 11 3/4 lengths.

But it is the Blue Grass the following week that could hold the most interest for mutuel field bettors. Patena, who was dropped from the Future Wager Top 23 after his disappointing performance in the Louisiana Derby, is still a live commodity and would be a huge factor in the Derby if he should rebound from that effort, which his connections – trainer Rick Dutrow and owner IEAH Stables – fully expect him to do. He was ranked high on most people’s lists following his second-place finish behind Friesan Fire in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III), based mainly on his come-from-behind running style and his classic pedigree.

Others who could wind up in the Blue Grass include General Quarters, the impressive winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), who also was dropped from Top 23 after his troubled trip in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III); the aforementioned Flying Private, trained by D. Wayne Lukas; Massone, runner-up to Chocolate Candy in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III); Rushaway Stakes winner Cliffy's Future, who packs a strong closing punch; Rushaway runner-up Ziegfeld, a late-maturing colt who is also a possibility for the Arkansas Derby (gr.II); and the Kentucky Derby Challenge winner Mafaaz, who has already secured a spot in the Derby field.

The Arkansas Derby offers several interesting prospects including the late-running Smarty Jones winner Flat Out , the speedy Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Join in the Dance, the stakes-placed closer Poltergeist, and Midnight Lute ’s half-bother Captain Cherokee, whose stablemate, the highly promising Omniscient, is training at Keeneland, so he could also head to the Blue Grass. Still training at Fair Grounds is the Risen Star (gr. III) runner-up Flying Pegasus.

Other 3-year-olds with proven ability are potential Wood Memorial starters West Side Bernie, Atomic Rain, and Just a Coincidence. Danger to Society could also show up here or remain down south.

So, it’s not as if the mutuel field is devoid of talent. Anything can happen in these final preps and it will be interesting to see how they play out.

The Derby Now and then

I keep hearing about the so-called riff-raff that gets in the Kentucky Derby every year, cluttering up the field. For anyone who has been around the sport for many years that is absurd. Racing fans today don’t realize how good they have it when it comes to the quality of the Derby field. Each year, the field is made of solely of proven stakes horses. In 2001, for example, of the 17 starters, 13 were graded stakes winners, two had won listed stakes, and two had placed in graded stakes. That ratio is pretty much the same every year. Despite the plethora of stakes now, diluting their quality, it still is a vast improvement from what it once was.

Back when there was no limit to the number of starters and there was no graded stakes list to determine who gets in the field, anyone could, and did, run in the Kentucky Derby.

From 1969 to 1972, here are some of the horses who ran in the Derby: Royal Leverage, whose only win in 10 career starts was for a $10,000 claiming tag; Big Brown Bear, whose only victory in 18 career starts was in a $15,000 claiming race; Majestic Needle, winner of one allowance race and a maiden race in 23 career starts who was coming off a 26-length beating in the Blue Grass; Saigon Warrior, whose only victory in 17 career starts was a six-furlong maiden race at Oaklawn Park; Fourulla, a maiden in four career starts; Pacallo, who broke his maiden in a $10,000 claiming race in Puerto Rico, and in his only start in America was beaten 11 lengths in a seven-furlong allowance race; Rae Jet, who ran against Majestic Prince, Arts and Letters, Top Knight, and Dike in the Derby despite having won only two of 23 career starts and coming into the Derby after getting beaten in a $20,000 claiming race and finishing 16 lengths back in the Derby Trial  (needless to say he finished last in the Derby beaten more than 40 lengths); and Our Trade winds, who was beaten 17 lengths in the Derby Trial after being eased in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Just try to imagine those horses being allowed to run in the Derby today.

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