Kentucky Derby wagering is open for business.
The first Derby futures pool ends Sunday with bettors looking for long shots that can win on the first Saturday in May. It's much like betting on NFL teams in August to win the Super Bowl, only a lot riskier.
I'll Have Another was practically unknown last February before he won the roses. Contenders are solid plays, but little money is returned. The "all other" entry at 9-5 is a bad bet.
So here are two to watch: Violence and Verrazano. Both are trained by Todd Pletcher, who won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver. Trainers are critical to rating Derby horses. Jockeys jump from contender to contender this time of year before settling on their best chance, so they're currently impossible to factor. Instead, find a stable that regularly sends horses to Churchill Downs, and your chances greatly increase.
Pletcher is the leading trainer nationwide nowadays, a disciple of four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas. Pletcher has finally broken through the Triple Crown winner's circle, and Verrazano (like the New York bridge) seems like the sharper colt right now. Verrazano sizzled in his Jan. 1 debut with a 7?-length victory at Gulfstream Park. He followed with a 16?-length win Feb.?2 with a 104 speed rating.
Meanwhile, Violence should love the distance. The undefeated son of Medaglia D'oro roared late in a recent 11Ú16th mile stakes. Violence-Verrazano is reminiscent of Lukas' Timber Country-Thunder Gulch combination that together swept the 1995 Triple Crown.
Ironically, another Pletcher runner, Shanghai Bobby, is the early favorite among 3-year-olds as Derby preps start to litter coming weekends. However, Shanghai Bobby faded at the end of the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 26 after two fall victories. He's definitely not worth short odds.
It has been 11 years since trainer Bob Baffert won his third Derby, but he's always one to watch. The Californian has four rated runners, but Flashback is his best with two easy victories.
Lukas no longer dominates the Triple Crown like he did in the late 1990s, but the sport's career earnings leader has two contenders in Oxbow and Will Take Charge.
Pulled up and taken from the track in a van in his debut last year at Saratoga, Oxbow has won only two of six. But he won a stakes by 11? lengths on Jan. 19 at Fairgrounds. Will Take Charge was awful in his one race last fall at Churchill but is coming off a strong victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 21.
A pricey long shot could be trainer Kenny McPeek's Frac Daddy, who was 99-1 in early wagering. McPeek's Sarava won the 2002 Belmont Stakes at 70-1, and he finished second in the 1995 Derby with Tejano Run. Frac Daddy, with two seconds and a victory, could be one to use on Derby Day in exactas and triples, but try a $2 win wager now for a monster payoff.