by Dick Powell

Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) will be available in a few weeks but it’s not too soon to start paying attention to it as the division has become very fluid lately.

The Risen Star Stakes (G2) was run last Saturday at Fair Grounds and, while it provided an exciting finish, it didn’t make the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture any clearer. BRAVAZO pulled off the upset at 21-1 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas when he out dueled SNAPPER SINCLAIR at 41-1. INSTILLED REGARD was sent off the 7-5 favorite following a nice win in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) but finished fourth in a wide trip.

BRAVAZO earned a BRIS Speed rating of 98, but there is just something about this group that gives me the impression they will take turns beating each other and will be vulnerable to shippers for the big money in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

It rained all weekend at Oaklawn Park and Monday’s track was listed as muddy (sealed). It was a fair track with a mix of running styles being successful and there was no bias in running paths. The Southwest Stakes (G3) saw a field of 10 run for $500,000 before more than 20,000 fans.

Bob Baffert’s MOURINHO was sent off the 6-5 favorite following his win in the Smarty Jones Stakes over the track last month. He battled for the lead every step but the pace began to take its toll around the far turn. Ricardo Santana Jr. sent COMBATANT to the outside and Kent Desormeaux sent MY BOY JACK to the rail.

COMBATANT was farther back than usual but his acceleration was sudden. Desormeaux took the risk that the rail might not open up but, just like it did for Corey Lanerie aboard Hawaakom in the Razorback Handicap (G3) one race before, a hole appeared for MY BOY JACK to get through and open up a decisive lead. COMBATANT lugged in at the furlong pole and had to survive both an objection and steward’s inquiry to keep the place position.

The muddy track makes extrapolating the form from the Southwest going forward difficult but at least the top two looked like they can go forward. MY BOY JACK earned a BRIS Speed rating of 98 and, if he can catch another wet track in a classic race like Exaggerator did in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1), he could be dangerous.

I have a $40 win bet on COMBATANT from Pool 2 of the KDFW at 74-1. My goal is to get him to the Derby gate, where I can possibly hedge against the $2,900 coming to me from the future wager. His second-place finish earned him some points and he should have two more starts in races with big Derby eligibility points. He can make it if he continues to run well.

Not in Pool 2 but sure to be in Pool 3 are Todd Pletcher’s MAGNUM MOON, winner of an allowance race last week at Tampa Bay Downs, and Bob Baffert’s sensational debut winner JUSTIFY. They will take someone’s place so I vote MOURINHO off the island and maybe MASK, who has not breezed since January 20 after looking so good winning the Mucho Macho Man Stakes and is running out of time to get back on track.

The Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) will be run at Gulfstream Park on March 3, then the following weekend will see three major prep races – the Gotham Stakes (G3) going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, San Felipe Stakes (G2) going two turns at Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs.

All four of these stakes will be run before Pool 3 closes and there are 50 points available to each winner. Last year, you needed 40 points to make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, so a win or two seconds in the next two starts should be enough to get in. Wait for them to be run before you jump into Pool 3.