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Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 Analysis

by Johnny D

February 6, 2020

A good way to begin analysis of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 candidates is by excluding those you don’t think can win the race. That narrows options and increases the chances that one, two or three horses will tickle your fancy, including the first Saturday in May winner.

Remember, nobody knows nothing, so rely on your opinion as compared to offered prices. If any of the options below interest you, wager on them with Xpressbet from Friday noon through Sunday at 6 pm ET. Morning line prices, as set by veteran price-maker Mike Battaglia, are listed below but actual odds will vary until they’re locked in at the close of wagering Sunday evening. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you might even take a swing at predicting the Kentucky Derby Exacta. Personally, it’s enough of a challenge for me to attempt to hit the Derby exacta with a minute to post, let alone three months in advance.

While I’m not normally fan of future wagers — too many things can go wrong between now and the first Saturday in May — horseplayers can have some fun with them. Here’s one man’s opinions on runners included in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2.

At best, maybe you can find a winner or two. At worst, hopefully, this analysis provides a useful head start toward what promises to be an exciting and unpredictable 3-year-old season. More information and past performances are available here.

#1 Anneau d’Or (Blaine Wright, 30-1): Has a touch of quality but needs to finish what he starts. Following a dynamic turf victory first out, this colt appeared to gain the lead, momentarily, in the stretch of both the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos Futurity. However, he failed to seal either deal--losing by a head and a neck to eventual Eclipse Award winner Storm the Court and Robert B. Lewis winner Thousand Words, respectively. With just three starts under his belt, the son of Medaglia d’Oro out of a Tapit mare has room to improve. 30-1 is a big price on this guy and he could be worth a wager. Low-profile Northern California connections pad the number. He may return to action Feb. 15 in the Gr. 2 Risen Star.

#2 Authentic (Baffert, 15-1): This son of Into Mischief broke maiden first-out at 3-5 odds in a Del Mar sprint. The the two-turn, mile and one-sixteenth Gr. 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita was his next start. From the rail, he broke in front, galloped along on the lead and opened up in early stretch. Through the lane he put on quite a show by ducking, diving, switching leads and maybe even brushing the rail while lugging in under Drayden Van Dyke.  No doubt this guy’s got worlds of talent, but he has to eliminate the goofy behavior in the lane. Of course, he couldn’t be in better hands than Bob Baffert’s and may be aimed toward the March 7, Gr. 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. He may be a bit distance challenged, but a flyer on him at 15-1 wouldn’t be the worst shot in the dark.

#3 Basin (Steve Asmussen, 30-1): Ran a game race first out at Churchill to lose by a mere nose. His next two starts were at Saratoga and he couldn’t have been more impressive in breaking maiden and in winning the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes in the slop. Three Technique chased him home in the maiden race and Shoplifted was a distant second best to him in the Hopeful—so company lines are good. He’s got speed and has done nothing wrong. Next stop is to see him handle two turns and that should come in the Gr. 2 Rebel at Oaklawn March 14. By Liam’s Map out of a Johannesburg mare distance shouldn’t be an issue. He’s worth a close look on the come.

#4 Chance It (Saffie Joseph Jr., 30-1): He’s experienced, with six career starts. Second first time out, he then dominated maiden foes going five and one-half furlongs at Gulfstream in June. His third start was a solid stakes score against fellow Florida-breds. He then was nailed in the final strides going seven-eighths in another state-bred stakes. Two turns, again against Florida-breds, proved no issue as he came home well to win easily. Facing open company, as favorite, he won a desperate stretch-long battle going a one-turn mile. This guy’s tough, but the water’s going to get much deeper and soon.

#5 Dennis’ Moment (Dale Romans, 12-1): It’s pretty much been all or nothing for this guy, so far. First out he clipped heels and dislodged the jock. Next out he won maiden by nearly 20 lengths going seven-eighths at Ellis Park. He then won the Gr. 3 Iroquois without breaking much of a sweat. As favorite in the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he stumbled out of the gate and lost all chance. He’s trained well so far in 2020 and it’s fair to expect big things from him when he returns in the Feb. 29 Gr. 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. He’s got a real chance to run well on Derby Day, but 12-1 seems to short a price.

#6 Enforceable (Mark Casse, 30-1): Off a solid first-out runner-up finish, this guy then finished third as 9/5 favorite while racing in a bit of traffic sprinting again at Churchill. At Saratoga, he tried a mile and one-sixteenth on turf, had some traffic issues again, but lacked a real closing kick. His first dirt route going a mile and one-eighth at Saratoga was by far his best race to date as he won a stretch battle and drew clear late. Two subsequent stakes races produced at third in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, when he moved with Maxfield wide on the turn but couldn’t keep pace with that one, and an off-the-board effort when closing from last in the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. His first start of 2020 is the race that got him a spot on this list. He used a wide, sweeping move to storm home through the Fair Grounds stretch to win the Gr. 3 Lecomte. He has improved this year, for sure, but probably doesn’t have the quality to sustain such a wide sweeping move against better competition. He’s headed toward the Feb. 15 Risen Star at Fair Grounds.    

#7 Exaulted (Peter Eurton, 50-1): Finished a solid second to Nadal in his maiden voyage. That was a nice run, but it’s way too early to pull the trigger on this one…even at 50-1 odds.

#8 Gold Street (Asmussen, 30-1): He broke maiden in his fourth start and that’s usually not a great sign—most really good horses win either first or second time out. Still, Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s probably going to win a Kentucky Derby one day…maybe this May? Steadied and shuffled back to last in a five and one-half furlong maiden race, this guy got plenty of experience first time out at Ellis Park. Much improved second time out at Churchill, he settled for second behind a heavy favorite. Gold Street showed speed again to stalk an early pacesetter, took over, but lost a desperate head bob at the finish. Fourth outing proved the charm as Gold Street broke well, stalked, pounced and drew off going six furlongs over a wet Churchill strip. At even money in the Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds over a wet strip, he again proved best after forcing the early pace from inside. He earned a spot on this list by winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at Fair Grounds with a stout wire-to-wire trip. He looked good doing it, too, as all that experience paid off. Expect this guy to be strong in Fair Grounds sophomore races, but down the road he’ll have more company up front. Note that he hasn’t had a break since August, racing at least once a month. He’s scheduled to compete in the Feb. 17 Gr. 3 Southwest.

#9 Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher, 30-1): Dispatched at 3-5 odds first time out in a five and one-half furlong maiden race at Saratoga, he won off like a good thing. That victory made him 3-2 odds from the 10-hole in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, where he raced wide the entire way and finished second to the explosive Maxfield. Due to the taxing race, Morris’ connections skipped the Breeders’ Cup in hopes of having a top 3-year-old. They said that he needed to put on some weight and mature a bit mentally. He’s got talent, that’s clear. If you wager on him, you’re hoping the time off did him some good. That’s a fair price on this wild card. Expect to see him in the Gr. 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Feb. 17.

#10 Honor A. P. (John Shirreffs, 30-1): This son of Honor Code, who is a son of A. P. Indy, caught the eye when he closed ground to finish a well-beaten second in a six furlong Del Mar maiden race. He got left at the start, was able to gather his legs under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, moved up gradually on the field, tasted a few left-handed smacks and gained ground with every long, metered stride. He returned at odds-on to win a one mile maiden race at Santa Anita—broke alertly, rode rail, drew off--in October, but hasn’t been seen in the afternoon since. He was scheduled to start in the Gr. 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita but came back after a gallop with an issue.

#11 Independence Hall (Mike Trombetta, 10-1): Unbeaten in three starts, this colt posted a rare triple-digit Beyer Speed Rating at two when he won the Gr. 3 Nashua Stakes by more than 12 lengths at Aqueduct in November. He returned to the races Jan. 1, 2020, broke slowly and then dominated the one-mile Jerome at 1-9 odds. Before that he broke maiden at Parx by nearly five lengths going seven furlongs. The jury is still out on this guy, but he’s shown talent, for sure. What he hasn’t done is face top-level competition. He’s got speed, a great stride and an athletic look about him. Still, 10-1 seems a bit of an underlay. He races Saturday in the Gr. 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa.

#12 Max Player (Linda Rice, 20-1): He won the Gr. 3 Withers Feb. 1, impressively. There’s reason to believe the race didn’t have much depth—slow early, slow late and not much of a Beyer Speed Figure. Max broke maiden by more than four lengths in his second start at one mile in the slop at Parx. Guess he’ll need to continue to improve to be a Derby factor. 
#13 Maxfield (Brendan Walsh, 15-1): Unbeaten in two starts, this son of Street Sense drew lots of attention when he exploded on the turn to win the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He used a breathtaking move to roar to the front, leaving Gouverneur Morris and Enforceable in his wake. Unfortunately, he was injured while preparing for Breeders’ Cup, has had surgery and now is on the way back, although no return race has been selected yet.

#14 Nadal (Baffert, 12-1): Snappy first-out maiden winner at Santa Anita has lots of upside. Downside is that he will have to buck the dreaded Apollo jinx shattered by barn-mate Justify in 2018. The then 136-year-old trend suggests that a Kentucky Derby winner must have started at two. Trainer Baffert didn’t start Justify until February of his 3-year-old season and that colt not only won the Derby, but also the Triple Crown. Nadal’s one month ahead of that schedule, though it’s difficult to imagine another horse beating the Apollo jinx so soon. Make no mistake, though, this is one talented colt. He’s expected to start in the Gr. 3 Southwest Stake at Oaklawn Park Feb. 17.

#15 Palm Springs (Pletcher, 50-1): At odds-on he finished second to fellow pool 2 entrant Violent City first time out. From the rail he broke a bit slowly, moved up to be just about even with the leaders but stuck inside of three-horse spread. Jockey Javier Castellano then took Palm Springs back a bit and that seemed to cost him momentum. He rallied well in the stretch to suggest more distance would help. Palm Springs returned Feb. 1 at one mile to score a nose decision at Gulfstream. This time he broke from the far outside in the nine-hole, forced the early pace, took the lead under early left-handed pressure, seemed to lose focus a bit in the lane and nearly was collared by Mister Candy Ride late. Palm Springs will need to do better to win the Derby.  

#16 Premier Star (Jorge Navarro, 50-1): First time out this colt battled hard in the stretch before drawing away to a solid length and three-quarters win. He returned in an allowance race and completely dominated the competition by more than five lengths, wrapped up. He needs to show a bit more before we give him a pro or con review. Next test comes in the Gr. 3 Sam F. Davis Feb. 9 at Tampa.

#17 Silver State (Asmussen, 50-1): First time out, going six and one-half furlongs at Churchill, this son of Hard Spun dead-heated to break maiden with next-out winner Relentless Dancer. Silver State broke last in the field of 11, moved up steadily on the inside, angled out for the stretch run and closed determinedly to share the win. Next out, in a Churchill allowance/75k optional claimer at a mile over a sloppy track, Silver State again broke slowly, moved up steadily, split horses in the lane and just missed.  In the Lecomte, won by Enforceable, Silver State stumbled a bit at the start, was back in the pack early, moved up on the inside, swung extremely wide for the stretch run, split horses and was too late to catch the winner. I really like the way this guy has progressed. While he doesn’t have as much pure talent as some of his classmates, he’s got plenty of fight in him. He has overcome poor starts, moved in traffic and closed in the lane. Distance doesn’t appear an issue. I’d take anything near 50-1 on this guy. He’s got a Derby ‘in-the-money’ look about him. Next up could be the Gr. 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds Feb. 15.

#18 Storm the Court (Eurton, 30-1): We haven’t seen this guy since he won the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile which led to the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top 2-year-old male. He is scheduled to return to the races Saturday in the Gr. 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita, so his price here will fluctuate according to that performance. Before the BC he was a well-beaten third in the Gr. 1 American Pharoah and broke maiden at Del Mar while racing first out at five and one-half furlongs. In the Gr. 1 Del Mar Futurity, he lost all chance and jockey Flavien Pratt soon after the start when he was bumped by a bolting foe. If you fancy him, wait until after the San Vicente, see how he runs and what effect that has on his price.

#19 Structor (Chad Brown, 30-1): He hasn’t started on dirt yet, but has won all three turf starts, including the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. In the hands of Chad Brown, good things are possible, but turf horses are turf horses for a reason. This one will need to show me he’s as good on dirt and even that might not be enough to defeat many of these. Slated to return at Gulfstream in the Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth.

#20 Thousand Words (Baffert, 15-1): He’s done nothing wrong in three starts with as many wins, including the recent Gr. 3 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. He’s got a workmanlike style, with a bit of pace, that throws 24 second quarters at foes like breaking sticks. He doesn’t dominate foes, but he keeps winning with a dogged presence. Anyone hoping to beat him had better be ready for a fight in the lane. He could face barn-mate Authentic in the March 7 Gr. 2 San Felipe Stakes.

#21 Three Technique (Jeremiah Englehart, 50-1): He’s got five races under his belt and never has been worse than second, including a Saratoga maiden win and an optional claiming/allowance score at Aqueduct. His only stakes appearance came last out in the Smarty Jones when he broke last and closed ground to be second. He’s a trier, but will have to go a bit to dance with the best of these. His next start may be in the March 14 Gr. 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.

#22 Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg, 8-1): No doubt this guy is talented. His most recent triumph came in Gulfstream’s Gr. 3 Holy Bull Stakes, which he dominated. He lugged in a bit through the lane and appeared to be looking around near the finish. Don’t think he beat much, but he did it the right way—except for the gawking around, that is. The only blemish on his resume is a close third in the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club when he was trapped inside for much of the final furlong. He’s also got a Gr. 1 Champagne victory already in his pocket. On the basis of his dominant Holy Bull triumph and previous performances, he’s the individual pool 2 morning-line favorite. He’s headed toward the Louisiana Derby, March 21, and should be the favorite in that race.

#23 Violent City (Ian Wilkes, 50-1): Romped to easy four-length maiden victory Jan. 11 at Gulfstream Park at 7-1 odds in a nine-horse field. It’s unusual for trainer Ian Wilkes to win with a first-time starter, so you know this one can run a bit. Like Nadal, he’ll be fighting the Apollo jinx, having not raced at two. We need to see more from him before giving thumbs up or down.

#24 All Other 3-Year-Olds (5-2): The pari-mutuel field for the first pool of the New Year has closed as the bettors’ choice every year since the wager was inaugurated in 1999, and the final odds were 5-2 each of the last five years.

Bottom Line: Here are a few horses this writer thinks are worth backing in pool 2:

1. Anneau d’Or (30-1): Guy hasn’t done a thing wrong against top competition. If he were trained by Baffert he’d be half the price.

17. Silver State (50-1): Like the development with this one. Price is right. Will cash with him somewhere in exotics along the Triple Crown trail.

3. Basin (30-1): He’s got a bit of shot in here at this 30-1 price. He hasn’t gone two-turns, but hasn’t done a thing wrong yet either.

20. Thousand Words (15-1): No bargain at this price, but he’s unbeaten, a tough out and a Baffert.

Race On!