Derby Trail Update – 1/23/22 – By Eric Solomon

 

Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

 

 

The Round-Up

The Fair Grounds took center stage on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this weekend, running an excellent 14 race card. Six of those races were open races for three year olds, and four of them were carded at two turns on the dirt. The highlight was the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, offering a total of 17 Derby Points.

Call to Midnight was not one of the runners included in the second pool of the Kentucky Derby Future wager, and not a horse that I saw as a true contender in this race. However, he sat near the back of the field, while Epicenter did the heavy lifting on the front end. James Graham, who rides this course exceptionally well, guided him to the outside of the long stretch, and was able to come over the top to nail Epicenter on the wire. The pace scenario definitely aided this son of Midnight Lute in victory. There were five races run at 1 Mile and 1/16, including the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes. The opening half mile of 47:01 seconds that Epicenter set while under pressure, was at least a full second faster than any of those other races. The final time of 1:44:36 was faster than the other three year old races on the card, but almost two seconds slower than Mandaloun in the Louisiana Stakes (which was a very fast race, earning a 106 Beyer). The Beyer for both Call to Midnight and Epicenter came back as an 88, which is solid, but not spectacular. Pappacap, making his first start since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finished 3rd, less than a length behind the top two. He continues to run gritty races, but never looking like a winner. He tucked in behind Epicenter in the early stages, as the fast pace was developing. Joe Bravo was able to find an opening along the rail, and it looked like he was going to pass him easily, but he would never get by Epicenter throughout the length of the stretch. 

I think moving forward, Epicenter is the one that I’d want from this race. He had an easy trip when winning the Gun Runner Stakes last month. This was his first real test, and he led every step of this race until the last stride when he was caught at the wire. I think with a moderate tempo on the front end, he’ll be stronger in the stretch. As for Call to Midnight, I know there is a temptation to think closers will automatically be better at longer distances, however, I’m still in the camp that believes that as the races get a little longer, he’ll have some distance limitations based on his pedigree (Midnight Lute out of a First Defence mare). He got the right trip and some sharp players were able to cash in on this $59.00 winner, however, I’m still not sold on him as a true Derby candidate. The first three finishers are all under consideration for the Risen Star on February 19th, where they could be facing one of the top Derby Prospects, Smile Happy, scheduled to make his first start since dominating the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November at Churchill. 

On the undercard, there were solid performances, but no standout efforts that would make me think any of those horses would be able to have an impact in stakes company in their next starts. Race 3 was an optional claiming/N1X allowance race won by Pioneer of Medina, who bobbled a bit at the start, but was able to win in gate to wire fashion, earning an 80 Beyer for his effort. Stellar Tap, making his first start since a dull effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, ran third, despite a tough trip, bumping a few times with Underhill’s Tab both early and at the top of the stretch. He did show some grit to keep grinding to a third place finish, two lengths behind the winner. I’d definitely play him at this level next out, but I don’t see him as a stakes contender at this point. Underhill’s Tab, on the stretch out, was the disappointment for me. He was absolutely empty in the stretch, and appears to be destined to return to a one turn race. 

Brad Cox finished one-two with Gunfighter, making his fourth career start and his first at two turns, besting Maasai Warrior in Race 2. The winner earned a 79 Beyer for that effort. Favored Peaceful Waters won the 5th race for Al Stall and Colby Hernandez earning a 77 Beyer in his third start, and first at two turns. His pedigree (Dialed In out of an Aldebaran mare) suggests that he’d perform well in longer one turn races, and perhaps a race like the Pat Day Mile would be a realistic target for him. 

One other horse worth mentioning from the Fair Grounds that could be worth keeping an eye on is Vinco. He was the runner up in the 9th Race on Saturday, which was a slow maiden special weight contest at six furlongs. He’s a son of Quality Road that was purchased by West Point Thoroughbreds for $1.5 million back in May. He was steadied sharply shortly after breaking from the rail, relegating him to the back of the field, twelve lengths off the pace. He closed well to get into second, while racing a bit green throughout the stretch. He looked like a horse that would do better at two turns, so I’d expect him to be entered in the maiden special weight race that is in the condition book on the Risen Star undercard. He probably has too much work to do to be a legitimate player in the Triple Crown races, however, Dallas Stewart and West Point will absolutely take a chance in big races if their horse is doing well. If he improves enough to break his maiden next out, definitely expect him to take a chance in a Derby Points race down the road. 

Outside of New Orleans, Bob Baffert, who is still barred from entering horses in the Derby, unveiled two expensive runners this weekend in maiden special weight company at Santa Anita. After Justify exploded on the scene in a maiden special weight race in early February of 2018, there’s always a little added attention when he sends out a pricy three year old to make their debut. Kerouac was purchased for $420K and he debuted in a 1 Mile and 1/16 maiden special weight race on Friday, January 21st. This son of Uncle Mo was away slow and never was involved, finishing 4th, over 15 lengths behind his stablemate, Armagnac. While the track was on the slower side, the final time of 1:46:17 was still slower than a top three year old would be running at this time of year. On Saturday January 22nd, Bletchley Park, who was purchased for $2.6 million last March, made his career debut in a six furlong maiden special weight race. This son of Nyquist was defeated by Happy Jack, a 24-1 first time starter for Doug O’Neill. The final time was an unremarkable 1:11:07. Perhaps Bletchley Park will improve at two turns next out, but he certainly didn’t look like a horse that would be having an impact in stakes company any time soon. 

Derby Future Wager Vs. The Books

With the parimutuel Derby Future Wager closing at 6:00 ET tonight, it’s time to start looking to see if and where value can be had. Going into today, there was about $168K bet into Pool 2. We’ll see if there’s any big odds swings between now and the close of the wager, but as I predicted earlier in the week, you can get a better price on most of the individual horses from most of the sportsbooks. In some cases, the difference is small, but in other cases, there is considerable difference. As of 2:40 ET, I’ve compared the odds from the Circa Sports Book to the current odds in the Derby Future Wager betting. Right now, you’re getting a better price on Zandon and Commandperformance in the Derby Future Wager. The 33-1 on Zandon right now might represent some of the better value on the board, as Vegas definitely seems to think that the Remsen was a strong prep. 

 

Horse Circa Future Odds Current Derby Future Wager Odds
  • Chasing Time
40-1 14-1
  • Classic Causeway
75-1 49-1
  • Commandperformance
30-1 42-1
  • Courvoisier
140-1 35-1
  • Dash Attack
100-1 32-1
  • Emmanuel
35-1 18-1
  • Epicenter
33-1 26-1
  • Giant Game
38-1 27-1
  • High Oak
120-1 41-1
  • Jack Christopher
35-1 13-1
  • Major General
125-1 40-1
  • Make It Big
120-1 82-1
  • Mo Donegal
23-1 21-1
  • Pappacap
33-1 22-1
  • Rattle N Roll
27-1 26-1
  • Simplification
100-1 54-1
  • Slow Down Andy
45-1 21-1
  • Smile Happy
16-1 7-1
  • Tiz The Bomb
50-1 9-1
  • Trafalgar
135-1 65-1
  • Varatti
135-1 45-1
  • White Abarrio
200-1 99-1
  • Zandon
26-1 33-1
  • FIELD
N/A 2-1

 

Upcoming Races

 

The next Derby Points race is the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes next Saturday, January 29th at Oaklawn Park. Outside of that, there’s not a three year old race of consequence happening Wednesday or Thursday this week, so I’ll post the full rundown of that race and some notes on any other three year old race that might look interesting, on Thursday, January 27th.

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