Road to the 2011 Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 01: Jockey Martin Garcia atop Conveyance leads the field around turn one during the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky. The 2011 Kentucky Derby will take place on May 7th, 2011. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

I suppose I could wait on the first 2011 Derby post but, really, we've reached the depths of winter, the time of the year when we're just waiting for the calender to turn to the next year and for a host of two-year-old horses to enter into that magical time of year known as the three-year-old season. It's really never too early to talk about the Derby - well, except for possibly right after the Derby itself - but right now is a good time to take a bit of stock on what lies ahead in the coming months, particularly from the all-important graded earnings list.

From a purely graded earnings perspective, this weekend's Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park will likely give the winner close to enough earnings to get into the 2011 Derby. Additionally, there won't be another Derby prep worth as much money as the CashCall until March 26th and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. That's a lot of time before another large purse Derby prep.

Below is a list of the significant two-year-old and three-year-old stakes races for 2010 and 2011, in terms of Derby implications. Technically, any graded stakes race has the potential to impact which horses are able to get into the starting gate in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but the races below are what we would consider the "traditional" Derby preps. The list of horses that have used a non-traditional path to the Derby is few and far between, and the list of winners to take that path is practically non-existent. Even Barbaro, a turf horse at the beginning of his career, switch to the main track to run in the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby.

Date

Track

Race

Gr.

Dist.

Surf.

Purse

Winner

6-Nov

CD

BC Juvenile

I

8.5

Dirt

2,000,000

Uncle Mo

20-Nov

DED

Delta Jackpot

III

8.5

Dirt

1,000,000

Gourmet Dinner

20-Nov

HOL

HOL Preview

III

7.0

Poly

100,000

Premier Pegasus

27-Nov

AQU

Remsen

II

9.0

Dirt

200,000

To Honor and Serve

27-Nov

CD

Ky. Jockey Club

II

8.5

Dirt

150,000

Santiva

18-Dec

HOL

CashCall Futurity

I

8.5

Poly

750,000

15-Jan

SA

Sham

III

8.5

Dirt

$100,000

22-Jan

FG

Lecomte

III

8.0

Dirt

$100,000

30-Jan

GP

Holy Bull

III

8.0

Dirt

$300,000

12-Feb

GG

El Camino Real

III

9.0

Poly

$200,000

12-Feb

SA

Robert B. Lewis

II

9.0

Dirt

$250,000

12-Feb

TAM

Sam F. Davis

III

8.5

Dirt

$225,000

19-Feb

FG

Risen Star

II

8.5

Dirt

$300,000

20-Feb

SA

San Vincente

II

7.0

Dirt

$150,000

21-Feb

OP

Southwest

III

8.0

Dirt

$250,000

26-Feb

GP

Fountain of Youth

II

9.0

Dirt

$400,000

26-Feb

GP

Hutcheson

II

7.0

Dirt

$150,000

5-Mar

AQU

Gotham

III

8.5

Dirt

$250,000

12-Mar

SA

San Felipe

II

8.5

Dirt

$250,000

12-Mar

TAM

Tampa Bay Derby

II

8.5

Dirt

$350,000

19-Mar

OP

Rebel

II

8.5

Dirt

$300,000

26-Mar

FG

Louisiana Derby

II

9.0

Dirt

$1,000,000

26-Mar

TP

Spiral

III

9.0

Poly

$500,000

27-Mar

SUN

Sunland Derby

III

9.0

Dirt

$800,000

3-Apr

GP

Swale

II

7.0

Dirt

$150,000

3-Apr

GP

Florida Derby

I

9.0

Dirt

$1,000,000

9-Apr

AQU

Bay Shore

III

7.0

Dirt

$200,000

9-Apr

HAW

Illinois Derby

III

9.0

Dirt

$500,000

9-Apr

AQU

Wood Memorial

I

9.0

Dirt

$750,000

9-Apr

SA

Santa Anita Derby

I

9.0

Dirt

$1,000,000

16-Apr

OP

Arkansas Derby

I

9.0

Dirt

$1,000,000

16-Apr

KEE

Blue Grass

I

9.0

Poly

$750,000

23-Apr

KEE

Lexington

III

8.5

Poly

$300,000

23-Apr

AQU

Jerome Handicap

II

8.0

Dirt

$150,000

30-Apr

CD

Derby Trial

III

8.0

Dirt

$200,000

7-May

CD

Kentucky Derby

I

10.0

Dirt

$2,000,000

Just looking at the schedule above, I think there are a few things that we can mark as "certain" right now:

-The winners of the Louisiana Derby, Sunland Derby, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, and Blue Grass are pretty much guaranteed a spot in the starting gate. All of those races have a purse of at least $750,000, which means the winner of each will earn roughly $350,000. Last year, the horse listed 20th on the Derby graded earnings list was Jackson Bend, with $230,000 to his name. Since it's almost a guarantee that a few of the top 20 won't go to the Derby for one reason or another, it's a good bet that $350k will get the job done.

Because the few races at the end of the prep season calendar carry so much weight, the earlier preps (like the Sham, Lecomte and the Sam F. Davis) are really preps for the preps. it's great to pick up the earnings in those races but you need to finish up well in the big money races if you want to guarantee yourself a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

-Due to the change at Santa Anita from synthetic to dirt, only four three-year-old Derby preps will run over synthetic surfaces in 2011: the El Camino Real Derby (Golden Gate), the Spiral Stakes (Turfway), and the Blue Grass and Lexington (Keeneland). The Spiral Stakes at Turfway is the new name for the Lane's End, in case you were wondering.

-As much as the winners of these races are fashionable picks to win the Derby, it's certainly no guarantee. 2010 Derby winner Super Saver didn't win any of his prep races and the Derby was his only win in all of 2010. He did, however, run well in his final prep (2nd in the Arkansas Derby) and he had previously performed well on wet tracks and the Churchill surface. Recent winners Big Brown, Street Sense, Barbaro, and Smarty Jones were all winners during their prep season, while Mine That Bird, Giacomo and Funny Cide all came into the Derby without a single prep season win.

Future Wagers

If you're looking to get in on some future wagers in Vegas (or wherever you may be that provides that sort of action). At the bottom of this post is the current Vegas future odds from the Wynn Las Vegas for all Derby contenders with odds under 100/1. (Link to complete list at Brisnet)

I love the action of the future wager on the Derby but you've got to demand some major value if you're going to throw a bet down on a horse race that is over five months away. Uncle Mo at 6/1? No chance in hell. To Honor and Serve at 10/1? I'll pass. I'm looking for something with a little more teeth, something with some bang for the buck. I've got to at least be getting 40/1 and would prefer something in the 50 to 60/1 range if I'm going to make a bet this far out. And there are three colts that might warrant a bit of a nibble at this point in time.

-Tapizar ran what I consider to be a fantastic maiden breaking race back on November 27th at Churchill Downs (link to video replay). He won going two-turns at a mile and a sixteenth, so he's already shown some routing experience. He displayed a really nice stalking style, as opposed to a lot of juvenile winners that simply run the rest of the field into the ground. He accelerated very nicely when Shaun Bridgmohan asked for more run at the top of the lane. And finally, he ran on well in the final furlong in a very professional manner.

Tapizar will need to pick up some stakes earnings pretty quickly in 2011, but with Steve Asmussen as his trainer you'd have to think he'll have plenty of opportunity to grab some cash. He currently sits at 60/1 on the Wynn odds, which is plenty of value for a colt that could have a lot more to show.

-Another impressive maiden winner at the Churchill fall meet was the Nick Zito trained Dialed In, who won a 6 ½ furlong maiden special on November 12th after experiencing a ton of trouble (link to video replay).

Dialed In currently sits at 40/1 on the future board, a little less than I'd like to take for a colt that has yet to try two-turns and who's only race saw him get into a ton of trouble, all of his own making. Still, you know Nick Zito would love to pick up another win on the first Saturday in May and Dialed In will head to Gulfstream this winter with an eye on the big stakes races.

-Finally, Richard Dutrow's Rocking Out sizzled in his debut race at Aqueduct in late November, a six furlong maiden special on the main track. I don't love the pedigree on this colt if we're talking about going ten furlongs (sired by Include out of an Elusive Quality mare) but it's not like the Derby has been overflowing with traditional mile and a quarter horses in recent years. Additionally, he's sitting at a nice 75/1 on the future odds board, very enticing odds on a Dutrow horse that will likely get a chance to shine down in Florida this winter.

Horse

Open

Current

Uncle Mo

40

6

To Honor and Serve

175

10

Boys At Tosconova

50

25

Cool Blue Red Hot

125

30

Rogue Romance

225

40

Industry Leader

225

40

Mucho Macho Man

250

40

Dialed In

100

40

Bretheren

175

40

Biondetti

225

45

Astrology

125

45

Stay Thirsty

75

50

Curlinello

100

50

Coil

150

50

Sway Away

75

60

Tapizar

125

60

Tiz Blessed

150

60

Santiva

200

60

Vengeful Wildcat

125

75

Rocking Out

150

75

Vengeful Wildcat

125

75

Shadow Warrior

100

75

Sovereign Default

65

75

Pathfork

200

75

J P's Gusto

100

75

Gourmet Dinner

175

75

Frankel

60

75

Buffum

75

75

Animal Kingdom

225

75

Sherriff Cogburn

60

85

Smash

100

85

J.B.'s Thunder

150

85

Bandbox

200

85

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