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A Map of the Derby Trail
By Steven Crist
Only 48 hours until the first Kentucky Derby Futures pool opens? Okay, I guess it really IS time to take down the holiday decorations and get tied on for the rites of spring.
With 31 graded races offering chances for Derby-qualifying earnings in the first 16 weeks of the year (and that's not including overseas races and those restricted to fillies). and Futures pools running 11, 8 and 5 weekends before Derby Day, I needed to make myself a little map to keep things straight. The chart below is a week-by-week listing of those 31 races, with the turquoise bars indicating the dates of the Derby Futures pools.
The five Grade 1 Derby preps -- only one of which will be run before the final Futures pool closes -- are highlighted in gold. Column 2, titled "Wks.," refers to the number of weeks each prep is before Derby Day:
Of the 31 graded races, only four are on synthetic tracks, two are on turf, and four are at seven furlongs, leaving 18 dirt races at a mile or more.
Seven of the 31 races have already been run, and you'll only get to see one more, Saturday's Risen Star, before Pool 1 closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. The ninth, the San Vicente, will be run Sunday but probably after the pool closes. The 10th, the Southwest Stakes, is scheduled to be run Monday as part of a President's Day card at Oaklawn.
You'll then get to see six more of the graded preps before Pool 2 closes at 6:30 pm on Sunday March 13, the day after the San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby, and the new, ungraded Timely Writer.
The Derby Futures would be a far more interesting and popular bet if Churchill Downs would offer wagering on each of the 364 Triple Crown nominees instead of limiting the choices to 23 individual horses and an "all others" mutuel field that is always the favorite in pool 1. I have never understood or gotten a good answer to why this can't be done pretty easily, assigning each nominee a three-digit number and using existing pick-3 or trifecta-pool software. Track officials say they are committed to making something like that happen someday, but not this year.
I detect "will not be ready for a mid-March start" vibes from Uncle Mo's training regime. A few short works and now less than three weeks to post time. This will not happen. Prediction: end of March debut and then train up to the Derby.
Steve, really, you don't know why Churchill doesn't fix this? The answer is they have nobody left in Kentucky to properly build and market this to the fans. The few people that could do this have been let go or gone to focus on the ADW. All that is left are finance people, accountants, PR people, a racing secretary and maybe one racing guy at the other three tracks. By the way, this is what has happened to every racino in America. The tracks are the lifeblood of horse racing, and with them giving up on growth, it makes it pretty difficult for owners, trainers, breeders and fans. This is the biggest problem in racing. Nobody is investing in the game.
Until they can offer individual betting interest on ALL the contenders with odds that go into the 3-4 digit areas I won't place a bet. As the race draws nearer and they have a better idea about the merits of these horses I don't see why they can't. On another note what happened to fridays NYRA card? 66 betting interests to begin the day; no threat of rain or snow; 65 degrees and yet there are TEN late betting interest scratches!! FOUR of which are the morning line favorites. Sad state of affairs. Shame that the Gulfstream card is bad also.
Ron: I understand your sentiment, and one thing I would like to see is a “get tough” policy implemented by Churchill on horses getting into the Derby that would require more recent starts than the current system. I would have it set up to where there were FOUR rounds of “preps” for the Derby set up eight, six, four and two weeks before the Derby, with all first preferences given to horses who start first in all four rounds of preps, then in the last three, last two (with first preference in this subset to those who also races in the first round of preps) and finally those who started in the last round of preps two weeks before the Derby (with preferences given to those who started in the six and eight-week, then six and then eight week out preps with the final round). A point system would also be in place where the points would be much higher in the later rounds of preps, and finish position in the better races would be worth more points. This would replace the annual dance with earnings in Graded stakes and would force connections to make four and even five starts before the Derby the way they used to be. As I would have the preps scheduled: Eight weeks out: Fred Caposella/Whirlaway (Aqueduct), Hutcheson (Gulfstream), San Vincente and Sham (Santa Anita), El Camino Real Derby (Golden Gate), Sam F. Davis (Tampa Bay), Risen Star (Fair Grounds), John Battaglia Memorial (Turfway), Smarty Jones (Oaklawn) Six weeks out: Bay Shore (Aqueduct, with the main track opening moved up to accomodate it), Louisiana Derby (Fair Grounds), Sunland Derby (Sunland), Tampa Bay Derby (Tampa Bay Downs), Holy Bull (Gulfstream), Spiral/Lane’s End (Turfway Park), Robert B. Lewis (Santa Anita), Southwest (Oaklawn) Four weeks out: Gotham (Aqueduct, returned to one mile), Fountain of Youth (Gulfstream), Rebel (Oaklawn), San Felipe (Santa Anita), Lexington (Keeneland), Illinois Derby (Hawthorne) Two weeks out: Wood Memorial (Aqueduct), Blue Grass (Keeneland), Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita), Florida Derby (Gulfstream), Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn, with the meet moved back to its former closing date) While in the short run we would see horses fall by the wayside, long term this is designed to strengthen the breed and make those who have bred one way change it for durability, which while it won’t come overnight I suspect would be what we’d eventually see with these changes that are badly needed for the sport.
One thing Churchill should be doing is since the first pool is on Presidents Day weekend, they should have it where that pool closes on MONDAY instead of Sunday, as many people do get the Presidents Day holiday off. While some who have to work Monday might complain, I suspect having it close Monday, a very slow day in sports would do very well.
steve, could not agree with you more about offering individual bets on all nominees. most years i have a dozen possibles at this point in time but this year i don't see anyone but uncle mo or dialed in winning the derby. if i could get 3-1 on the entry right now i'd take it.
Although I had a small winning bet in last year's pool 1, and was relishing my pre-Sham Tapizar future bet at 50 to 1, it was the latter experience that underscored for me the relative insanity of futures betting. If a horse like Eskenderya, who truly could have been any kind, can't get to the Derby, then betting eleven weeks out is pure gambling... (though I confess to having put twenty on Soldat -- hours after the Holy Bull -- at 66-1 figuring that was a great price on two things happening: 1 - that Uncle Mo doesn't make the race, and 2 - that it rains in Louisville). Nevertheless, and more importantly -- thanks Steve for sharing your labor of love with us degenerate horseplayers. And, before I get pilloried, I very much want Uncle Mo to make the Derby and would have gladly instead spent my twenty for an assurance that he would... although I'd still take 66-1 on it raining if I could have the same assurance that Soldat would make the Derby. DISCLAIMER: this "advice" is from a man who had a futures bet on Gloria de Campeo in last year's Dubai Cup -- made about six weeks prior, at 18-1, substantially less than the actual 25-1 winning odds.
Keep your eye on Sway Away in the San Vicente for a long shot future bet. He is coming off a long layoff, but if he comes back in good form, who knows? Phil
I like To Honor and Serve right now.I believe he has a better pedigree than Uncle Mo.Of course it's early though.T hanks
Goood to see another great article despite the "off" season. Thanks for the efforts. I wish and guess I should evaluate what I do in MY spare time.....or better yet.....just a little click - gets YOUR work. Thanks for the devotion when most arent even "there" yet. Thats what puts $$$$ in big investors pockets - being there first - and not as the "also ran". Have a good holiday....the presidents of old were so kind to give us extra racing days :)
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