04/06/2009 11:00PM

Last shot to reap windfall on your Derby pick

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Is there any betting value to be found in Pool 3 of Churchill's Kentucky Derby Future Wager? This will be your last chance to commit to a bet on a horse with a chance to collect a higher payoff than the one everyone else will receive on the day of the race.

The first decision to make is whether the mutuel field is still a good bet. I was a fan of that bet in Pool 1, but at this point the favorites for the Derby appear to be strong enough and consistent enough to make that a questionable wager this late in the game. Realistically, there is a pretty good chance that the winner of the Derby will come from the grouping of well-backed contenders in Pool 3 that includes individual betting interests Quality Road, Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire, The Pamplemousse, Pioneerof the Nile, and Old Fashioned. Toss in the 16 others who make up the 23 individual betting interests in this pool, and bettors who like the field are probably fighting a losing battle.

Betting value doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of a longshot payoff. The 6-1 morning-line odds on Quality Road are probably higher than his price will be on the day of the Derby. That price will be even more of an overlay If Dunkirk isn't able to compete in the race because of insufficient graded stakes earnings, which is a plausible scenario.

This weekend's Derby prep races should enter into making your decision. If I Want Revenge has dominated the Wood as he did with his 8 1/2-length triumph in the Gotham stakes, he'll be just as enticing as Quality Road. But if I Want Revenge has disappointed, Quality Road's chances look that much better.

If the winner of the Santa Anita Derby was a dominant one, and was among the favorites in that race, he will also deserve to be a single-digit price in this pool.

While a number of the favorites look good, there will still be opportunities for a longshot player to take a swing at the fences. Win Willy looked good flying past Old Fashioned to win the Rebel going away. He's 20-1 on the morning line, but if a contender runs a big race in one or more of the preps on Saturday this horse could be overlooked as money pours in on the hot horse.

The horses who finished first and second in the UAE Derby are getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment from most handicappers, but they deserve some respect. If you're thinking about taking a chance with only one of them, I'll give the edge to Regal Ransom, since he was faster than Desert Party as a 2-year-old, and because he just edged that rival going 1 1/8 miles.

Hold Me Back won the Lane's End in his last start, and is 30-1 on the morning line. There has been some concern expressed about the fact that he won all three of his races on synthetic surfaces and finished fifth in his lone race on the dirt, but that is somewhat misleading. Many observers are overlooking the fact that the Beyer Speed Figure of 75 that Hold Me Back earned for his fifth-place finish on the dirt in the Remsen was a career-best Beyer Figure for him at the time, higher than the 70 he earned in his maiden win on the synthetic surface at Arlington and higher than the 75 he received for his first-level allowance victory on the synthetic surface at Keeneland. In terms of his Beyer progress, he is simply an improving horse, regardless of the surface he has run on, with a steadily rising pattern of 70-75-77-97. Of course, that 97 wouldn't suffice in the Derby, so he will need to continue to improve in the Blue Grass stakes or, if he passes that race, in the Kentucky Derby. Nevertheless, he deserves at least a small play at a huge price.

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