03/29/2012 12:21PM

Free: Usually reliable mutuel field may fail to cash in Kentucky Derby Future Wager

Shigeki Kikkawa
Creative Cause is among the top horses whose 2-year-old form has carried over to this season's Kentucky Derby preps.

Ever get the feeling you took a wrong turn? Backed the wrong horse?

Perhaps then, you will relate to apprehension regarding the 2012 Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Something this year is very odd.

The third and final pool for the 2012 Derby closes Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, and this handicapper’s ticket will be the same as the first two pools – No. 24, “all others.”

If the season continues on its surprisingly predictable path, the ticket will be a loser.

Churchill Downs introduced parimutuel future wagering in 1999, and for 13 years the theme usually is change. Even though the pools always include the top 23 Derby candidates of late January, February, and March, the candidates often fall short.

For recent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners, the trail has been particularly tough.

Seven of the last 13 BC Juvenile winners never won again: Answer Lively (1998), Anees (1999), Johannesburg (2001), Vindication (2002), Action This Day (2003), Wilko (2004), Stevie Wonderboy (2005), and Vale of York (2009).

Macho Uno (2000) missed the Derby, though he later won two graded stakes. War Pass (2007) won an allowance, finished second in the Wood, and never ran again. Midshipman (2008) and Uncle Mo (2010) missed the Derby.

The exception was Street Sense (2006), still the only Juvenile winner to win the Derby.

The Derby also is tough for in-the-money BC finishers. Since 1998, only 11 made it to the Derby gate. Just two hit the board. Cat Thief, third in 1998, was third in the Derby. Afleet Alex, second in 2003, was third in the Derby.

Into this welcome chaos, many Future Wager bettors view the list of 23 individual runners with disdain. Wager on a single horse, one of the top 2-year-olds of the previous year? You must be kidding.

The alternative is ever-reliable No. 24, “all others,” which includes hundreds of Triple Crown nominees. Do unknown late-bloomers ever win? You bet they do.

Animal Kingdom (2011 Derby) and Big Brown (2008) were No. 24’s the first two pools. Mine that Bird (2009) was No. 24 all three pools. No. 24 is a profitable bet.

No. 24 won six times in Pool 1, generating a $44 return for $26 invested ($2 wagers).

No. 24 also won six times in Pool 2, generating a $93.20 return from $26 invested.

No. 24 won three times in Pool 3, generating a return of $87.40 from $26 invested.

Over the past four years, No. 24 has won seven of the 12 Future Wager pools.

However, three previous years (2005 to 2007) were not good. No. 24 went 0 for 9.

Now it looks like No. 24 will generate a goose egg in 2012.

Although the BC Juvenile is not usually a key race, 2011 is proving to be the exception.

For the first time in the Breeders’ Cup era, the one-two-three Juvenile finishers have returned to win graded stakes prior to the first Saturday in May.

Hansen (Grade 3 Gotham), Union Rags (Grade 2 Fountain of Youth), and Creative Cause (Grade 2 San Felipe) have maintained, and improved, on their outstanding form of 2011.

Technically, the graded stakes achievement has never happened, though 1984 top BC finishers came close when they commenced their Derby seasons. The winner Chief’s Crown won two Grade 1’s – the Flamingo at Hialeah and Blue Grass at Keeneland.

BC runner-up Tank’s Prospect won the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park; third place Spend a Buck romped in two big ungraded races at Garden State Park – the Cherry Hill Mile and Garden State.

Spend a Buck, Tank’s Prospect, and Chief’s Crown – led their division at 2 and also 3.

This year, history is repeating itself. Months after they finished one-two-three in the Breeders’ Cup, Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause continue to lead their division at age 3.

Those three consistent colts might cause some bettors to re-think wagering strategy for this weekend’s third and final pool of 2012 Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

A shakeup in the division has yet to occur. This year, a shakeup might never occur.

And yet, Future Wager bettors historically committed to the No. 24 strategy are virtually obligated to carry it out to the bitter end, while hoping for at least 10-1 odds.

I still believe in chaos. I still believe in No. 24, but admit this year to possibly having taken a wrong turn.

My sinking feeling about the 2012 Kentucky Derby Future Wager is I backed the wrong horses.