Last year's Kentucky Derby one-two stables, Rick Dutrow and Larry Jones, both have multiple 2009 contenders for the roses. Meanwhile, last year's top two juveniles in America have taken up winter residence on the beaches of Dubai. And California's leading prospects will be muddied by that pesky "can he handle dirt" question until they hit the wire at Churchill Downs.
Yes, you're supposed to be confused three months before post time. But this confused?
Welcome to the opening round of Kentucky Derby Future Wager action, which opens Thursday at noon eastern and continues through Sunday at 6 p.m. eastern. We've had our eyes on this crop since last summer and continue to chronicle the sophomore class's every move weekly in ESPN.com's "Countdown to the Crown."
Let's see if we can't put some of that hard work into some hard-earned cash with an eye on the future. As loyal readers might recall, I've always held fast that you need to demand 30-1 or more to get value in the opening pool, given the myriad of variables that can evaporate your investment.
1. Beethoven (15-1)
Way undervalued in the line, you should demand mid-20s (at least) on this guy. He's sending out good vibes to trainer John Ward, a horseman who earns my utmost respect. Beethoven gives you every impression he'll belong at Churchill if healthy, and he is playable at the right price here.
2. Big Drama (30-1)
Slow start to his '09 campaign makes him treacherous to back at this point, but his Delta Jackpot win looked more legitimate when West Side Bernie returned to run a good third in Gulfstream's Holy Bull. Six-start juvenile is not for me at this point.
3.Capt. Candyman Can (10-1)
I would not bet him at 10-1 with Monopoly money. The 'Captain is a very nice horse, but questionable at the distance and being leaned on by connections to win now, not later. Too many other, value-laden options exist to play now at less than 30-1.
4.Chocolate Candy (50-1)
None of his starts to date make you think he has the brilliance to win the Derby, but hard-knockers like Real Quiet and Giacomo have shown you don't need to be dazzling to be draped in roses. Price will be impacted big-time on how he runs Saturday in El Camino Real Derby.
5.Flying Pegasus (30-1)
He ran a winning race when second in the Risen Star (wide draw, off a layoff) and figures to be a major force as the spring progresses. There's a lot to like. Trainer Ralph Nicks, the ex-Bill Mott assistant, knows his way around good horses. Son of a Derby winner holds good KDFW value.
6. Friesan Fire (12-1)
With his Risen Star win fresh in the minds of players, and the obvious national support and respect for trainer Larry Jones, it might be hard to buy this talented horse at a good number. If he drifts closer to 20-1, you could do way worse. Has all the looks of a horse who will be dancing.
7. Giant Oak (15-1)
He's considered from this corner to be a sucker horse, that tantalizing closer who never gets there and often has excuses. I truly feel he's a superior turf horse, and that's where he'll make his career hay. Not for me, but it's not like you're burning money to light your cigar by backing him.
8. Haynesfield (50-1)
Even if he wins the Gotham, it's not like the world is suddenly going to jump in his camp and plunge his price in future pools. He'll continue to be under-the-radar in the coming weeks, so why not wait and see what he can do against better competition. I don't recommend him at this point.
9. Hello Broadway (50-1)
He has far too many fans to be near 50-1 when KDFW Pool 1 closes, including myself. Respect for Barclay Tagg and his big brother, Nobiz Like Shobiz, likely puts him around half this price, which still has some appeal. I prefer him over Capt. Candyman Can as the distances increase.
10. I Want Revenge (50-1)
He's lightning-fast in the morning, but can't put things together in the p.m. Equipment changes, style changes, you name it. If the lightbulb turns on, he could be something. He's interesting from this point: if he runs off with the Santa Anita Derby by six, you'll laugh at these odds.
11. Midshipman (12-1)
No horse shipping halfway around the world should be 12-1 three months before post time. I don't think the public will back the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner with much confidence, so you could see a spike in this price. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Not for me.
12. Notonthesamepage (30-1)
Freakishly fast and he's not necessarily tied to a pedigree that makes you think he can only sprint. If his health issues are in the rear-view mirror, as they appear certainly to be based on his Gulfstream demolition, he could be this year's breakout sprinter. He's worth a real price look.
13. Old Fashioned (10-1)
The good news for his backers is that Monday's Southwest won't take place until after the KDFW Pool 1 closes. If he runs off with the Southwest, he'll be a clear-cut No. 1 in all jurisdictions. Why take 10-1 now, though, when Pool 2 might offer that if he gets beat Monday, which may happen?
14. Papa Clem (20-1)
Overlooked when a good second in the Lewis Memorial and likely to be forgotten in this pool as well. If you're a west coaster not trained by a name like Bob Baffert, it's tough to garner national respect. This horse should not be taken lightly, though, and deserves a price chance here.
15. Patena (20-1)
He will be nowhere near 20-1 when the wagering subsides. Big talk from new owners IEAH Stable and trainer Rick Dutrow will resonate with the betting public. I've loved this horse since before the Lecomte and think he could be scintillating. Pool 2 coincides with his return bid in the Louisiana Derby, so you had better buy now before he could rise to Derby favorite status. He might actually tempt me off my historical 30-1 demand for value in a KDFW Pool 1.
16. Pioneerof the Nile (12-1)
All-weather surface or not, this Bob Baffert trainee won't be overlooked by the public. He should close rightfully among the top two or three choices. His dam, Star of Goshen, ran one of the best races I've ever seen in person at Churchill. If they run the Derby today, he's the one to beat. His complete resume makes him the kind of horse who could take a step back in his next prep, inflate his price, and be just as tough in Louisville. In other words, probably best to wait this weekend.
17. Silver City (50-1)
This super-talented guy flies under the radar for a few more days before Monday's Southwest, where I expect him to dethrone Old Fashioned and have the nation take notice. Buy him now. He loves Churchill, turned in a stellar 2009 return win at Oaklawn and is the most appealing player in the KDFW given the 50-1 price.
18. Stardom Bound (12-1)
No way do I dip in at 12-1 this time of year on any horse, much less a filly against the boys. That's not to slight her in the least bit, because she has enormous talent. But with the Oaks looming as well, it's not even certain this will be a goal come May, meaning you must demand more value.
19. Taqarub (30-1)
Kiaran McLaughlin's upstart had as good of a sprint win in the Jimmy Winkfield as any horse in America this year. While by sprinter/miler Aldebaran, the female family is loaded with tremendous turf route mares. If he wins in Florida next time out to go 4-for-4, you'll be smiling at this 30-1.
20. The Pamplemousse (30-1)
He struck while the iron was hot, winning the San Rafael over a rested Square Eddie. The thought here is that he's not among the west's very best as the distances elongate, so he's hard to recommend nationally at this point.
21. This Ones For Phil (12-1)
Baffled by the 12-1 number here, even given his enormous speed figure in the Sunshine Millions Dash and the presence of Rick Dutrow alongside. Would be a tempting play in the 30-1 range, but he's not likely to see that level, falling somewhere in the middle. Mixed vibes, honestly.
22. Vineyard Haven (12-1)
You'll get everything you need to see from this Dubai raider in Thursday's UAE 2000 Guineas. If he beats older South American-bred horses, you're looking at a big-time Derby threat. If he spins his wheels overseas, it will be easy to lose consumer confidence. Let's see him tango.
23. West Side Bernie (50-1)
He continues to outrun my expectations, meaning he's either improving or I've been flat-out wrong about his abilities. I'm not too cocky to say it can't be the latter. Still, big doubts remain about 10 furlongs, even given the fact he closed decently in the Holy Bull.
24. All Other 3-Year-Olds (5-2)
No doubt this option will be heavily backed, especially given the Dubai uncertainty and all-weather-form doubts many horseplayers continue to cling to. Playing "all others" includes the entire Ken McPeek barn, which has owned Gulfstream, not to mention horses like New York-bred sensation Mr. Fantasy, my No. 3-rated contender in the country right now. Rick Dutrow has high hopes for Alma d'Oro, while you also get all-you-can eat portions of the entire Nick Zito barn, as well as the rising California maiden winner Mr. Hot Stuff.
Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is part-owner of the handicapping website Horseplayerpro.com. You can e-mail Jeremy about this topic or anything racing-related at Jeremy@Horseplayer.com.