Hello and welcome to my new blog for attheraces.com.
The Kentucky Derby is still more than ten weeks away but the preparations for America’s most famous race have begun in earnest. There are a trio of prep races this weekend, and we’ll get to those later this week, but first let’s take a look at where we are for this year’s Derby through the lens of the current betting markets.
Game Winner, the Eclipse Award winning juvenile, is currently the 9/1 betting favorite and deservedly so based on his win in the Breeders’ Cup in which he overcame trouble (a wide journey, some bumping late) to earn a 93 Beyer Speed Figure. He is bred for distance on both sides and gave the visual impression of a horse for whom the Derby distance will not be an issue and he is in the hands of Bob Baffert, who seemingly makes all the right calls with his three-year-olds. His return engagement is unknown but he’ll be a big favorite wherever he turns up next.
Improbable’s odds are in a similar range, though there’s at least one outlier as far out as 12/1. He, too, is an undefeated colt trained by Bob Baffert. He was last seen in the Los Alamitos Futurity, winning easily and earning a 97 Beyer. One has to at least question his pedigree for 10 furlongs as he’s by City Zip, known as more of a sire of sprinters. But given how he’s looked in the afternoons and the hands he’s in, you certainly can’t dismiss his chances of getting the extra furlong and a half.
One more to mention before we get to the flavour of the week is Instagrand. This son of Into Mischief impressed observers and figure makers alike with devastating wins in his first two races, including a 10-length win in the Best Pal at Del Mar that made him look like the best of his generation.
He earned a 92 Beyer that day, so if you just project normal figure improvement based on maturity from then to now he still may well be the fastest sophomore in America.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to the two-year-old championship. In what can only be described as a bizarre and highly unorthodox move, owner Larry Best pulled Instagrand out of training, indicating that he thought it would be best for his long-term development to have the rest of the year off.
There are loads of questions here: Are we to take the owner’s rationale at face value? Yes, he’s got the pedigree to go long but will he be as good past sprint distances? Where has he been anyway? But at prices as big as 20/1 in places, Instagrand might be the value in the futures market, especially if we can get confirmation that he’s working well towards whatever his next target is before the price craters. If he comes back and wins well again going long (something he’ll be favored to do almost undoubtedly), he’ll be a single-digit price everywhere.
Hidden Scroll was incredibly impressive Saturday in an undercard maiden race on Pegasus World Cup day. He couldn’t have won any easier, wrapped up in the end, and still scored a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. It was a Justify-esque performance and has understandably caused his name to appear on all manner of “Derby lists” across America.
Adding to his appeal is that he’s in the hands of trainer Bill Mott. Mott is known for his patience, and for a horse of his to show the kind of speed Hidden Scroll did is most unusual, suggesting the horse had the raw talent to show it, as opposed to being drilled to have it like a horse from the Baffert barn (not a criticism of either trainer by the way, just an acknowledgment of their different styles).
The track was sloppy on Saturday and did seem to be playing well for both speed and the rail so perhaps the effort wasn’t as strong as it looked and it may be premature to expect him to improve upon it as a heavy favorite whenever he next appears. But in the big picture, for me the positives of his being in Mott’s hands outweigh the possible regression to the mean he might see in his next start. At 14/1, he is a backable price for the first Saturday in May.
I’ll be back later in the week with quick looks at this weekend’s three Derby prep races, the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, the Withers at Aqueduct, and the Holy Bull at Gulfstream.
Peter Thomas Fornatale is the host and creator of the In the Money Players Podcast. He is also the US correspondent for Sky Sports Racing.