Everyone dreams when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. As jockeys, trainers and owners wish to find that one special horse capable of taking them to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May, bettors are also searching for the winner months away from the race.
Given the eagerness of racing fans to find that one Derby horse at an early point, the Future Wager began. Pool 2 for Kentucky Derby 2019 arrives this weekend, and betting lasts from 12 p.m. ET Friday through 6 p.m. ET Sunday.
Win and exacta bets are available and, in theory, the appeal comes from odds likely higher than on Derby day and locked payoffs, assuming a given horse makes it to the starting gate.
In reality though, the chances of receiving fair value in the Churchill Downs Future Wager are slim. Simply, the odds are too low from top to bottom, a product of limiting the amount of interests offered. Twenty-four options are available with 23 horses and the "All Other 3-Year-Olds," far fewer than, say the Wynn Las Vegas' now-defunct Derby futures.
Receiving double-digit odds on a good horse now is a steal on the surface, but that is before realizing all the different risks involved in betting a race this far ahead.
Officials who decide on the Future Wager horses pick runners who now, three months out, look logical to make it to the starting gate. But there are no guarantees -- nor, are there refunds.
Between now and May 4, injuries can occur and knock various contenders out of Derby consideration, even the healthiest ones. After all, horses are fragile creatures.
Subsequently, the standards of value change in a future wager because of outside elements to consider besides the usual categories of class, pace and talent. Bettors need to think about which horses will endure the grueling trail and make the Derby.
Still interested in this wager? Consider these general tips:
Keep in mind the benefits of supporting a horse with an experienced trainer who knows how to reach the Derby, such as Bob Baffert, Chad Brown or Todd Pletcher.
Likewise, avoid ultra-conservative trainers as the slightest hiccup will cause them to leave the trail. Give inexperienced trainers extra scrutiny as well, as they can make mistakes in mapping out a path for their horse. Traditional connections are a plus.
Along the same lines, eliminate horses with trainers or owners who sound unsure about putting their horse through the usual prep races or the Derby itself. Those people are right to protect their horse, but bettors need to pick Derby-eager connections.
Because the race is a few months away, favor horses with routing pedigrees, too, since the majority of nine-furlong races are scheduled in March and April. Even though I recently called pedigree “overrated” as a measuring stick for Derby contenders, that is under the assumption races like the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Florida Derby (G1) and Blue Grass Stakes (G2) are done.
Also, try to avoid horses at single-digit odds, in this case, according to the Pool 2 morning line, Game Winner and Improbable. Part of the appeal of this bet, at least when playing the Las Vegas version with hundreds of options, is taking a shot with a longer price. Considering the risks, swallowing less than 10-1 three months from the race is not a fun way to bet horses.
With that said, if Game Winner remains at 6-1 and Improbable stays at 8-1, then Improbable is a better value given how exceptionally well Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) also-rans Extra Hope and Mucho Gusto ran last weekend. Improbable is a star.
Game Winner is training regularly for a return, but 6-1 is too low without a 2019 race in tow. If he returns well, then wait for the Derby, as he may end up 6-1 anyway.
At 10-1 is Instagrand, and he lacks a route race on record, or any race since last summer because untraditional owner Larry Best wanted him to take a break. Given the uncertainty over when Instagrand will race and Best’s unpredictability as an owner, he stands as one of the worst bets of Future Wager Pool 2.
The blowout Gulfstream maiden winner Hidden Scroll sits at 12-1, and that is too low given his lack of racing experience. While I liked Justify at an early point last year, Hidden Scroll's lone 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure is not enough to endorse him this early. Wait until he routes before deciding if he is capable of a 1 1/4-mile race.
At least Hidden Scroll comes from traditional connections, though, and Bill Mott knows how to make the Derby with a talented horse. But wait and observe this horse for now.
Coliseum and Mucho Gusto are listed at 15-1, and and I prefer the latter. Coliseum is a habitually poor breaker (watch his workouts) who turned in a poor performance in the Sham Stakes (G3) due to a slow start and will cut back to seven furlongs in the San Vicente (G2) this weekend.
While Baffert trains Coliseum and knows how to get horses to the Derby, it is not a good sign the connections are cutting back in distance in a non-points race.
In contrast, Mucho Gusto is a proven router who won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) in the slop over Sham winner Gunmetal Gray and only owns one loss, against the aforementioned Improbable at Los Alamitos. He is probable to make the Derby gate.
Gunmetal Gray falls in the 20-1 column, along with Harvey Wallbanger, Maximus Mischief, Signalman and Tax. Out of those names, Gunmetal Gray looks like the best choice given the colt’s high position in the points list and his late closing style.
Maximus Mischief remains a big name, but this speed horse posted a disappointing third in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) last weekend after failing to secure an easy lead. If he cannot handle Epic Dreamer up front, then winning the Derby is out of each.
Harvey Wallbanger took advantage in the Holy Bull with a dream inside trip. Yet, he feels more likely to clunk up for third or fourth in the Derby, rather than win.
Signalman seems more promising, as he did finish second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and first in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over Plus Que Parfait, who previously defeated Harvey Wallbanger at Keeneland.
Tax finished third in the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct, before capturing the Withers Stakes (G3) two months later. However, he barely won over a questionable field.
In the 30-1 group, Knicks Go, Network Effect, Vekoma and War of Will appear viable to play.
Knicks Go shocked everyone by winning the Breeders’ Futurity before surprising them again with a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He regressed in the Kentucky Jockey Club with an 11th-place finish after a rapid pace and returns Saturday in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
Network Effect finished second in the Nashua Stakes (G2) against Vekoma and runner-up again in the Remsen Stakes against Maximus Mischief a month later. In the latter case, he tried to close into a slow pace, and made a good run in the last few strides.
Vekoma lacks a start since the Nashua. The son of Candy Ride recently worked three times in January, though. If no more hiccups occur, he can still find a Derby path.
Win Win Win is the other horse at 30-1. He lacks a route attempt right now, making him a dubious option at best. Wait until he tries two turns in a proper Derby prep.
Bourbon War and Limonite are the best 50-1 options, as both horses own important experience in graded stakes races. Bourbon War ran fourth in the Remsen behind the slow pace, while Limonite closed outside for third in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
As for Global Campaign, despite his sire Curlin, the pedigree does not look ideal for 1 1/4 miles, at least not on the bottom side. The dam Globe Trot is a half to Need, who produced true sprinters Recruiting Ready and Sonic Mule. Only watch him for now.
The Bill Mott-trained Tacitus is interesting, as a son of stakes router Close Hatches, which means more distance will suit him as he dips his toes into the trail. He too could appear in the Sam F. Davis.
As for the other three 50-1 shots, Gray Attempt and Owendale are too slow, and Walking Thunder comes from Dubai, which has never produced a Derby winner.
Network Effect earns my top endorsement for Future Wager Pool 2. The two losses give him value in wagering. Plus his trainer, Brown, knows how to make the Derby, as he ran second last year with Good Magic.
The “All Others” option at 5/2 is also interesting for those hoping for another Justify to pop up. It gives the bettor any horse not listed in Pool 2. A lot can change in the next few months, making it plausible the list of 23 singular options is missing a breakout star.
But think twice about placing on a bet on a race that is three months away. With the amount of prep races to go through until then, too many things can go wrong.