No time for the timorous or the bewildered, the moment calls for strong-willed boldness, for turning an insolent nose up at caution and letting the imagination soar and spin like an inspired typhoon beyond the architraves and up into the cupola of afflatus. Yeah, you got it, it's time for a little foolishness. In this post-Pharoanic world, with more than five months until the band strikes up "My Old Kentucky Home" and 20 horses charge headlong through the shadows of the Twin Spires like so many kids stampeding through city park sprinklers, with five months and 11 days, to be exact, until roseate rowdiness gets its arms around a transfixed, intoxicated-with-at-least-the-moment nation, is it too early to think about betting on the Derby? Of course not. It's never too early to think abut the future.
Starting on Thanksgiving Day, Churchill Downs will double down on its Kentucky Derby Future bet, offering two pools. Both close Sunday afternoon, and at that point your odds are frozen.
In the traditional Future Wager, Nyquist, the unbeaten winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is the 10-1 choice among the 23 individual betting interests. But the mutuel field, meaning all horses not listed among the 23, is the 7-5 favorite. Swipe, Brody's Cause and Mohaymen, by the way, are all 15-1. It's a straightforward bet, requiring more courage than sense -- or maybe just a soaring imagination and a measure of good fortune. And so let the typhoon spin. Last year, American Pharoah paid $27.60 in the first Future, or nearly $20 more than he paid Derby Day.
And then there's the new future wager, where Tapit and Pioneerof the Nile are 15-1. Yes, 14-year-old Tapit and 9-year-old Pioneerof the Nile. For the first time, Churchill will offer the Kentucky Derby Sire Future. It challenges bettors to wager on which sire will produce the Derby winner, which means it invites not just imagination but, well, a little deliberation. And yes, the odds are goofy.
Nyquist, for example, is 10-1 in the Derby Future, but Uncle Mo, his sire, is 20-1 in the Sire Future. Brody's Cause is 15-1 in the Derby Future. His sire, Giant's Causeway, is 20-1 in the Sire Future. Now, why would anybody bet on Nyquist at 10-1 when in the Sire Future he could get double the odds, as well as another 132 sons and daughters of Uncle Mo who are eligible for the 2016 Derby? Yes, yes, I know: When Donald Trump leads in the polls and the Kardashians are television celebrities, such a question hardly seems necessary.
And so in the spirit of letting the typhoon spin, I offer a few thoughts on the Futures. Even if his odds weren't as low as a limbo bar for munchkins, I couldn't bet on Nyquist for the simple reason that he won't win the Kentucky Derby. He was outstanding in the Breeders' Cup, winning despite a wide trip, and he's going to be, or should be, a unanimous choice for champion 2-year-old.
But winning the Derby is all about progress and development. The Derby winner will be much better than any 2-year-old is today. The Derby winner will be a talented youngster who matures and develops significantly over the next five months. And, if he's like his sire, Nyquist doesn't have much development in his future. Although he was a brilliant juvenile, Uncle Mo didn't develop or progress at all as a 3-year-old, and so, until his sons show they have more going for them than speed and precocity, until they mature into formidable 3-year-olds, I'll remain skeptical about their Derby chances.
The two best Kentucky Derby prospects I've seen this year have been Mor Spirit and Gift Box, promising colts whose considerable talents are just starting to expand and grow. Mor Spirit is 20-1 and Gift Box 30-1 in the Derby Future. And both are expected to race Saturday, Mor Spirit in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill and Gift Box in the Remsen at Aqueduct.
In the Keeneland stable area one morning, as American Pharoah prepared for his final race, the Breeders' Cup Classic, and many people began waxing sentimental, the colt's trainer, Bob Baffert, rather than becoming emotional about the horse leaving for retirement, explained that he was excited about the young horses coming up. He welcomed the challenge, he said, of finding the next superstar. That motivated him, pushed him out of the bed in the morning and put the bounce in his step. Baffert specifically referred to a recent winner at Santa Anita. That was Mor Spirit.
A week before the Breeders' Cup, the son of Eskendereya won by more than four lengths, with jockey Gary Stevens only tapping him on the shoulder, not so much for encouragement as to keep him awake. Looking as though he were out for a routine gallop, Mor Spirit put himself in a comfortable stalking position. He loped along through solid fractions. Stevens loosened the reins, and Mor Spirit quickly hit the front in midstretch, after seven-eighths of a mile in 1:24.48, then sauntered home to complete the mile in 1:37.48. Beyond the wire, he galloped out powerfully. And it was a fast race for the day. (Ain't Misbehavin, a 3-year-old, won a midlevel claiming race in 1:24.70 for the seven-eighths.)
Gift Box was equally impressive at Belmont Park. His trainer, Chad Brown, has built an impeccable reputation in recent years for developing turf horses, but Gift Box could expand his trainer's repute. In his debut, after getting bumped at the start, Gift Box advanced between horses, raced four wide, then went after Matt King Coal in the stretch. They left everybody far behind, and, despite getting bumped twice down the lane, Gift Box put his nose in front at the wire, stopping the teletimer at 1:43. It, too, was a fast race. The 1-mile split a 1:36.22, slightly faster than the winning time in the Champagne Stakes earlier in the day.
Eskendereya, Mor Spirit's sire, is 30-1 in the Derby Sire Future, strangely enough. Already Mor Spirit has been bet down to 18-1 in the Future Pool at the Wynn in Las Vegas. And he's 20-1 in Churchill's traditional Derby Future. In other words, the Derby Sire Future might offer astute bettors some intriguing possibilities and combinations -- unless those bettors are fans of Gift Box.
He's from the first crop of one of the sport's most promising stallions, Twirling Candy, who is strangely absent from the individual betting interests in the Derby Sire Future despite being 13th this season among sires of 2-year-olds. Pioneerof The Nile, by the way, is No. 77, Street Sense No. 49 and Super Saver No. 54. But yes, they're proven stallions and Twirling Candy isn't. And the Derby Sire Future isn't a proven bet. But for the moment, it's intriguing and fun, so let the imagination soar.