02/16/2011 6:37PM

A Map of the Derby Trail

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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.