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Friday, November 15, 2013
Additional Future pool an opportunity

By Gary West
Special to ESPN.com

If you want to bet on Hartford or Unknown Road, you'll probably have to wait, or else jump on a plane headed to Vegas. Of course you could bet them at Churchill Downs in two weeks and accept odds that are shorter than your favorite jockey, but then what would be the point? The allure of extravagant odds is the only reason for anybody to bet Futures.

That's the problem with Churchill Downs' Kentucky Derby Future wagers. With only 24 betting interests -- 23 individual horses and then "all others" -- the extravagance is limited. And when you're selling extravagance, it's probably not a good idea to package it in a shoebox; that's like peddling fish by walking through the streets while yelling, "Stinky fish, stinky fish here."

Churchill has added an additional Future pool for the 2014 Derby; it opens Nov. 27 and closes three days later, just moments before the running of two relevant stakes.

Churchill has added an additional Future pool for the 2014 Derby; it opens Nov. 27 and closes three days later, just moments before the running of two relevant stakes, the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Remsen. So you could find yourself, if you're lucky and inclined to take the occasional moonshot, with a Derby Future bet at 100-1 odds on the romping Remsen winner. Of course, you could also find yourself, if you're the frequent object of fate's whimsical mischief, sheepishly holding a Derby Future ticket on a hopeless impossibility at 8-1 and saying, because at this point what else could you say, "There's my horse now, at the very back of the field in the Kentucky Jockey Club, conserving his energy for the big race -- in five months." It's all part of the fun -- and the craziness.

Yeah, it's crazy. Half the people who bet Futures think they're Napoleon. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, picking the winner is a challenge at the three-eighths pole. So of course it's crazy to try to come up with the winner 153 days in advance. But, well, it's the Derby. And it's fun.

But it would be more fun -- and more extravagant -- if you had the option to bet on, say, Hartford. He's an unraced son of Tapit who fired a couple of bullet workouts at Saratoga; these days, he's at the Stonestreet Center in Ocala, Fla., preparing for his debut. And it would be more fun -- and more extravagant -- if you had the option to bet on, say, Unknown Road. A son of Bernardini, Unknown Road rallied strongly to finish second in a good maiden race at Aqueduct. But he won't be among the 23 individual interests, nor will Hartford. You can, however, bet them in Las Vegas. At the Wynn, which offers the earliest Future betting on the Derby, Hartford is 150-1 and Unknown Road 75-1.

If you bet them in the first Churchill pool you'll probably have to accept odds that are less than 2-1 because they'll be among the hundreds of horses included in "all others." Since Churchill first offered this challenge to clairvoyants, soothsayers, psychics and prophets in 1999, "all others" has been, on average, 5-2 in the earliest pool. But all those betting pools opened in February. A pool opening almost three months earlier will have to include horses that are less proven and so can only invite more wagers on "all others." Still, at 2-1, or even 8-5, "all others" could be a sound investment. Six of the last 14 Derby winners were among "all others" in the first pool.

Yeah, it's crazy and fun, but also a little disappointing. The Churchill Futures could be so much better. Churchill is disingenuous to insist that it's unable to offer more than 23 individual horses, 24 betting interests, in its pools. If all those Churchill executives can't figure this out, maybe they should ask for help from some of the hierophants of handicapping who figure out the Derby winner 153 days in advance. In a nine-horse field, there are 504 trifecta possibilities and 3,024 superfecta possibilities, and the racetrack's tote system apparently has no difficulty keeping track of all of them; it shouldn't have any trouble following a few hundred possibilities in a Future pool.

Anyway, in the spirit of Future craziness and in honor of all the Napoleons of the world, not to mention the folks who hang out with hookah-smoking caterpillars, here are some thoughts on Churchill's first Future pool. Among the individual interests, five horses will probably get the most attention: New Year's Day, Havana, Strong Mandate, Shared Belief and Honor Code.

Of that group, only Strong Mandate is likely to offer odds that might induce Napoleon to reach for his wallet. New Year's Day won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a perfect trip and a rapid pace to set up his rally. If you like him, wait until May. Havana raced wide in the Juvenile, and although finishing second admirably, he raised questions about how much farther he wants to run. Shared Belief so sparkled while winning the Hollywood Prevue by nearly eight lengths that he'll attract considerable attention in the Future pool, but is he as good on dirt and around two turns? Honor Code, who rallied strongly to finish second in the Champagne but skipped the Juvenile to aim instead for the Remsen, could be the best prospect of the group, but he'll probably offer modest odds, even this far in advance. Already he's 12-1 in the Wynn Future pool.

But Strong Mandate might come with a little spice. He had to use his speed to overcome his No. 13 post position in the Juvenile and actually gave a much stronger performance than the winner. He led through a half-mile in 45.38 while racing four-wide and took the field through three-quarters in 1:09.70 -- the horse that ran with him early, Conquest Titan, finished last -- and still Strong Mandate held on to finish third, beaten by two lengths.

From here, with just a guess at what their odds might be, the three most appealing horses in the Future pool could be Mosler, Commissioner, and Noble Moon.

Tap It Rich has some appeal, too. Fifth in the Juvenile, he was rank early and put his inexperience on display through the entire journey. He should improve significantly in the next five months. Coup De Grace, a flashy maiden winner; Cairo Prince, the Nashua Stakes winner; and Almost Famous, who'll be one of the favorites in the Kentucky Jockey Club, all sparkle with potential.

But from here, with just a guess at what their odds might be, the three most appealing horses in the Future pool could be Mosler, Commissioner, and Noble Moon. They've all made a very positive impression, come from excellent stables, and look as though they're going to improve.

After winning his debut, Noble Moon got wiped out at the start of the Nashua and found himself trailing the field. But with a burst around the turn while angling out six-wide, he advanced boldly and finished third. Leah Gyramati trains the son of Malibu Moon. Commissioner, a son of A. P. Indy from the Todd Pletcher stable, improved dramatically to win the second start of his career at Saratoga. And that was at 1 ⅛ miles. It wasn't an especially fast race, but he sustained a drive for nearly a half-mile, which is extraordinary even for experienced horses.

And Mosler, after finishing fourth at 5 ½ furlongs in his debut at Saratoga, won impressively at Belmont. The won of War Front who's trained by Bill Mott cruised to the lead, responded when challenged, rated kindly and, despite racing greenly (he changed strides, or leads, three times in the stretch), drew clear to win in hand.

If they're among the 23 individual betting interests in the first pool and their odds take flight, it'll be time to embrace the craziness. Or maybe it'll be time, amid birdsong and loup-garou ululations, to plan a trip to Vegas.