02/10/2009 12:00AM

Against the odds

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Pool 1 of the annual Churchill Downs-sponsored Kentucky Derby Future Wager usually includes several intriguing horses, even though we barely have started on the long, winding road to Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

That said, serious bettors are unlikely to make more than a token play in this pool because the relative odds of most of the 23 separate betting interests will not match their proven talent or their real chances to reach the Derby starting gate.

Taking a chance on any horse under 25-1 at this early date, is an act of wishful thinking at a nasty, unfair price. Yet that is precisely why a bet on "All other horses" - represented by betting number 24 at 2-1, or 5-2 may be unsatisfying but it's just about the only play that can be justified.

Getting at least 378 of the 401 Triple Crown nominees (which probably will expand to 410 to 415 when late nominations close next month) is a lot closer to a fair deal than getting highly touted Capt. Candyman Can at 20-1 or so. Even though this hard-hitting son of Candy Ride was a good winner of the seven-furlong Hutcheson at Gulfstream in his 2009 debut on Jan. 30, he has not yet demonstrated any real affinity for two-turn racing or races beyond a mile. If the Kentucky Derby were a one-turn mile, I'd be all over him.

Perhaps Futures bettors will ignore Capt. Candyman Can because he does not seem likely to relish 1 1/4 miles or two turns at Churchill Downs. But, at least in this case, should he drift up to 25-1 or higher, there might be a case to be made in this highly speculative wagering pool.

Getting 2008 juvenile champion Midshipman at 12-1, or 15-1 hardly would be a bargain. While this son of Unbridled's Song only competed on synthetic tracks, I am not worried that he will lose his form on dirt. But I am worried that he is not being given the best program to promote his best form on the first Saturday in May. As most experienced players know, no horse trained in Dubai has come close to winning the 1 1/4-mile classic.

Taking 25-1 or lower on Midshipman, or his Dubai-based, Godolphin-owned stablemate Vineyard Haven to win America's most difficult race makes me wish I could legally book the action.

This I say even though Vineyard Haven ran the two most visually impressive races by a 2-year-old in New York last year and those performances came after Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel publicly stated that this son of Lido Palace was a "potential star."

While Godolphin's private trainer Saeed bin Suroor is a world-class horseman, there is no value expecting Vineyard Haven or Midshipman to show up in peak form at Churchill Downs without a prep race in this country. Although 25-1 or better might be fair, fat chance you will get those odds on either horse.

Of the good 2-year-olds of 2008 still based in America, I was most impressed by Old Fashioned and the filly Stardom Bound.

Stardom Bound lived up to her name with a series of strong rallies to win three straight Grade 1 stakes, including the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She also looked the part winning the Grade 1 Las Virgenes at one mile on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita last Saturday with a smooth, almost effortless rally.

Old Fashioned was an easy winner of the 1 1/8-mile Remsen at Aqueduct Nov. 29. He won that race wire to wire, but actually performed as if he was a stretch-runner on the lead. Controlling a slow pace, Old Fashioned overpowered six overmatched rivals with a good burst of speed coming into the stretch. Trainer Larry Jones certainly is an asset, having trained a pair of hard-hitting second-place finishers in the two most recent Kentucky Derbies - Hard Spun in 2007 and Eight Belles in 2008.

While the complete 23-horse lineup for Pool 1 was not known at press time, I am including my "playable odds" for 20 horses listed alphabetically that probably will be involved. Playable odds are those at which I would consider making one or two Future wagers.

* Big Drama, 35-1: Won $1 million Delta Jackpot at 1 1/16 miles for his fourth score in five career starts. Class test needed.

* Capt. Candyman Can, 25-1: Very fast gelding to be sure, but so far he has been a one-turn specialist.

* Charitable Man, 25-1: Serious speed before injured last fall. By Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Lemon Drop Kid, so let's hope he comes back sound and soon.

* Chocolate Candy, 30-1: This Jerry Hollendorfer-trained California Derby winner is another son of Candy Ride to watch. Has won three races around two turns at one mile or longer, but also needs a class test.

* Friesan Fire, 30-1: A Larry Jones-trained winner of two route stakes this year at the Fair Grounds. Good tactical speed; runs well in tight quarters.

* Giant Oak, 40-1: Failed to fire in the Risen Star won by Firesen Fire, but is by Giant's Causeway and deserves another chance.

* Haynesfield, 30-1: This New York-bred son of sprint champion Speightstown won the two-turn Whirlaway at Aqueduct last weekend. Let's see him against better.

* Hello Broadway, 40-1: This Barclay Tagg trainee was an okay second to Capt. Candyman Can in the Hutcheson and may improve when going two turns and a longer distance.

* I Want Revenge, 50-1: Made threatening moves in the CashCall Futurity last fall and again in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita on Saturday. Chance to improve in this relatively weak year for 3-year-olds.

* Midshipman, 30-1: As stated, a good, very game horse being stubbornly managed far away from the fray.

* Notonthesamepage, 60-1: Showed strong speed in a six-furlong sprint stakes on Jan. 3 at Gulfstream, but fell off the page when trying two turns at Keeneland last fall. Probably not a Derby type.

* Old Fashioned, 25-1: You will not get 25-1 in Pool 1 on one of the few to impress since this crop came out last summer. Watch him in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park this Monday.

* Patena, 50-1: One good race, one not so good at Fair Grounds this winter. On the plus side, he is bred to love 1 1/4 miles.

* Pioneerof the Nile, 25-1: Finished boldly after some traffic issues to win the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita last Saturday. On the downside, I was surprised to see him used so much to get that win. The Derby is still is a long way off.

* Silver City, 35-1: This Bret Calhoun trainee, sired by Unbridled's Song, has shown good moves in sprints at three different tracks and will be worth watching when stretching out in the Southwest.

* Stardom Bound, 30-1: Which you will not get. This very strong, classy finisher with generous body and distance breeding may get her first serious Derby test against male rivals in next outing. Not impossible.

* Taqurub, 35-1: Undefeated in three outings last year, all sprints, and expertly trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. That said, he's bred in the purple for one mile, not 10 furlongs.

* The Pamplemousse, 35-1: Dominating winner of the one-mile San Rafael on Jan. 17 on the Pro-Ride also seems bred for middle distances.

* Vineyard Haven, 30-1: Probably the best horse in the crop and Godolphin's best chance to date to win the Derby their way.

* West Side Bernie, 40-1: Finished well in all routes to date and if he does it again facing tougher, would be worth keeping in mind for Pool 2.

* All Others, 2-1: Considering the general mediocrity displayed to date by all but a few 3-year-olds, this large group of unknowns and modestly accomplished runners on one betting ticket is the deserving favorite to produce the 135th Derby winner at the approximate odds for all betting favorites. The "field" also can be used as a saver in tandem with the horse you do want to play at much higher odds.