Not exactly bowled over by what they’d seen from others in the two months since the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) pool, bettors firmed up their support of Classic Empire, Mastery, and McCraken as the leading individual candidates for the 2017 Derby in last weekend’s second Future Wager pool.
Juvenile champion Classic Empire, on target for his three-year-old debut in Saturday’s Holy Bull (G2), was a clear 5-1 individual favorite in pool 2, down from 6-1 in pool 1. Mastery, who dominated in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) between the two pools, dropped from only 10-1 to 9-1, perhaps due to recent inactivity. However, the Bob Baffert trainee recorded his second published work of the year on Monday, a bullet four furlongs in :46.80 at Santa Anita, and seems to be back on track.
McCraken made the biggest move of the trio, dropping from the 12-1 fourth choice in pool 1 down to a joint second favorite at 9-1 (both he and Mastery would pay $20.60). It’s not what I had hoped for, but then there have been plenty of positive reports emanating from the Ian Wilkes barn on the Ghostzapper colt, who is penciled in for the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on February 11. Bettors were slightly cooler about Remsen (G2) winner Mo Town in this round. The narrow third choice in pool 1, he drifted from 12 to 15 last week and is presently joint fourth choice.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from pool 2 was bettors’ reaction to the Sham (G3), contested on January 7 at Santa Anita. After an ugly Breeders’ Cup performance, Gormley was 37-1 in pool 1, but saw that price virtually halved in pool 2 after his narrow victory in the Sham over American Anthem.
However, bettors obviously felt American Anthem, who only had run only once before the Sham, had better long-term prospects instead of the Grade 1-winning Gormley. Considering he bravely went down by a head after setting a pressured pace of :22 2/5, :45 2/5, and 1:10 while stretching out from six furlongs to a mile, you won’t find much argument from this corner. However, 15-1 seems a touch low for a colt that is still relatively inexperienced and hasn’t won beyond two turns.
Hopeful (G1) winner Practical Joke, a distant third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), got a little more love in pool 2, dropping from 26 to 20. A lot more was poured on Uncontested, who romped to a facile, 5 1/4-length win in the slop at Oaklawn in the $150,000 Smarty Jones on January 16. He dropped from 76 to 25 after that display as the lone speed. The Wayne Catalano charge has been rather one-dimensional to this point, and tougher tasks preesumably await in the Southwest (G3) and Rebel (G2).
The Todd Pletcher contingent is relatively light compared to previous years, and his sharp maiden winner Battalion Runner, a newcomer to the KDFW, received the most backing of his pool 2 trio. A son of Unbridled’s Song, who has a nice one named Arrogate making a name for himself these days, Battalion Runner closed at 22-1 and will seek to justify that support on Friday in a 1 1/16-mile, entry-level allowance at Gulfstream.
El Areeb, who earned back-to-back Brisnet Speed ratings of 100 and 102 winning the $100,000 James F. Lewis III at Laurel and the Jerome (G3) at Aqueduct, closed at 32-1. That seemed high in relation to Lecomte (G3) winner Guest Suite (31-1), whose last two Speed ratings were 90 and 93, and stakes winner Irish War Cry (26-1), who has yet to race beyond one turn.