By J.J. Hysell
The second edition of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opens Thursday, Feb. 6 at noon (ET) and ends Saturday at 6 p.m. or prior to post time of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, whichever comes first.
CONQUEST TITAN (30-1)
It’s doubtful he’ll be near this appealing morning line when the wagering closes, but anything over 15-1 seems like a favorable option considering the upside for this son of Birdstone.
PROS: He’s improved tremendously with maturity and a change in running style. This colt favors Churchill Downs – he absolutely flies over the strip. He’s battle-tested and has faced some tough competition. He’s tallied four Derby points, which isn’t enough to make the field, but it’s a good start. His pedigree is tailored for long distances and also favorable for an off track.
CONS: He’s well-traveled and started his 2-year-old campaign early (June). His newfound come-from-behind running style is sometimes gold, other times rust in the Derby; it is pace dependent.
A lot of steam building on this Bob Baffert trainee, whom we tabbed as one to watch on debut in November. He’s one who shines in the morning and lives up to his works in the afternoon. This morning line is on the low side for a two-race sprint winner, and he’s likely to get some play.
PROS: This son of Medaglia d’Oro is beautifully bred for routes and comes from successful bloodlines. He stepped up from maiden company and won a stake. Both wins have been professional and, unlike a couple of other Baffert contenders this year, he appears to be mature without any issues. He’s won on two different surfaces, suggesting he can adapt.
CONS: He’s yet to run beyond six furlongs and is slated to go seven furlongs in his next start. He has only competed in California and against lesser competition. He has no Derby points and won’t get any in the San Vicente, so everything could be on the line in his final prep. That’s some pressure.
The debut winner has returned to the work tab at Palm Meadows but remains behind his rivals, many of whom have had a start or two since they turned 3. He’s a half-brother to Title Contender, who won last year’s Ohio Derby and British Columbia Derby.
PROS: His debut was a key race that featured Harpoon (second) and Tonalist (fourth). His win in that mile test was impressive and from off the pace; he adeptly maneuvered through traffic.
CONS: It’s tough to back a colt whose lone claim is a maiden win at Aqueduct in November, even if it was a key race. He’ll need to work his way back quickly. His works so far at Palm Meadows have been on the slow side. He has no Derby points. His pedigree looks more suited for middle distances.
STRONG MANDATE (20-1)
D. Wayne Lukas enjoys relaying the talent of this son of Tiznow, and he has been right in the mix against some of the top 3-year-olds. Lukas said this colt has a good mind and he’s handled shipping and adversity. This is one of the few established 3-year-olds currently on the trail who looks to have “the whole package.”
PROS: He boasts a solid pedigree for long distances and the classic bloodlines you look for in a Triple Crown contender. He had some taxing races close together as a 2-year-old, but is now on a favorable path in Derby preps. He’s at Oaklawn where Lukas can keep a watchful eye – and he’s training lights out. He romped in the slop in the Hopeful.
CONS: His running style is yet to be determined, but so far he’s a colt whose best performances have been as pacesetter or close to the pace. He threw a clunker in the Champagne; was he brought back to soon after three straight races? Surprisingly, he has just 2 Derby points and the Oaklawn preps look stacked with talent. He’s likely to take some play.
This consistent son of Tapit has not finished worse than third in four starts. The Steve Asmussen trainee is under the radar and in the shadow of his Florida foes while training superbly at Fair Grounds. He shouldn’t be overlooked.
PROS: He’s shown an affinity for Churchill Downs, where he was a very good third in the Iroquois and won the Kentucky Jockey Club. His running style is adaptable and he’s an athletic colt who can respond quickly to cues – a key trait for a Derby contender. He’s collected 12 Derby points and therefore has less pressure than some of his other rivals. He’s recording some impressive stamina-building works at Fair Grounds.
CONS: His pedigree is loaded with familiar classic lines, but could lean toward middle distances – up to 1 1/8-miles. He was second to Strong Mandate at Saratoga, but didn’t face the same level of competition at Churchill as some of his rivals did on other circuits.
A newcomer on the scene for trainer Christophe Clement, who is considered by some as more of a turf trainer. Clement knows how to prepare long-distance runners, and that’s a benefit when it comes to the Derby trail. He’s taking his time and weighing all the options for a colt he said has “got all the makings of a horse who should stay long on the dirt.”
PROS: As Clement detailed, this is a son of Tapit who is loaded with stamina influence on the dam side, specifically through Pleasant Colony. His debut was a key race won by Matterhorn that also featured Harpoon. This colt has won at 1 1/8-miles on dirt already – something few 3-year-olds can say at this juncture, and that race in particular appeared to be quality. If you like him, you’ll likely get solid odds here. If he dominates in a Florida Derby prep, he won’t be anywhere near this morning line going into the race.
CONS: You have to have faith he’ll get the points. He’s a maiden winner whose next start is being debated and he’s competing in Florida, arguably the toughest circuit on the trail. So far in his young career, he’s preferred to come from far off the pace; he could be pace dependent, but it’s too early to tell.
TOP BILLING (15-1)
An In the Money 3-year-old to watch since his debut in December, we predicted he’d be better suited for the Derby than stablemate Honor Code. Now, he tops many Derby lists, and rightfully so after looking like a star in an allowance race at Gulfstream. Trainer Shug McGaughey is coming off a dream Derby and could be in a “zone” with these 3-year-olds.
PROS: As a son of Curlin, his pedigree is outstanding for long distances and also the Churchill Downs surface. The Curlin progeny so far have often improved during their 3-year-old season. He hasn’t flinched yet, including a good second to Commissioner when he stretched out from a sprint to 1 1/8-miles; that is a huge step forward, particularly off a layoff from a 2-year-old season. McGaughey said the colt has a good mind, is professional and doesn’t mind shipping. He’s not a monster in size but has a muscular build. His main rivals (Honor Code, Cairo Prince) are passing on the Fountain of Youth, opening the door for possibly a big performance.
CONS: There can’t be any bumps in the road as he has no Derby points. With all this steam, he’ll take some play, and 15-1 is already very low to take on an allowance winner. He’s raced twice in January and all three of his career races have been in a span of less than two months.