February 15, 2002

Long and Busy Weekend

Where to begin? Tomorrow there's a major race for the three-year-olds (the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream), one for three-year-old fillies (the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds), two six-figure pick 6 carryovers (one at Santa Anita, the other at Oaklawn), another three-year-old Derby prep Sunday (the Risen Star at Fair Grounds), all of it followed by special Monday racing (thanks to Presidents' Day) all over the country. Take your pick.


No, those aren't the call letters for a TV or radio station. Rather, they stand for Kentucky Derby Future Wager, something the good people at Churchill Downs would like us to get down on now so as to lock in a really good price on the Triple Crown nominee we think will be wearing the Roses on the first Saturday in May.

And they do have a point. Last year, Monarchos was just rounding into prominence, having won an entry-level allowance by the time Pool 1 of the KDFW was offered. Not many paid attention, and Monarchos closed at 17-1 in that session. Those tickets were looking good when that horse came back to win the Florida Derby, though they were in doubt when he threw in a half-hearted effort in the Wood just prior to the big Derby.

You know the rest, and Monarchos rewarded all his backers with a juicy mutuel, regardless of when the tickets were bought, thanks to Point Given's inability to close the deal in the Derby.

Even the vaunted Fusaichi Pegasus was a shocker in Pool 1 of the KDFW in 2000, closing at 12-1 at the end of that session, light-years away from his 2-1 actual odds on Derby Day. Clearly, the early bird can get a sizable worm!

The trick, obviously, is to find one of the 23 named three-year-olds you believe will not only make it to the starting gate on May 4, but who will have better than a longshot's chance of winning. Easier said than done.

So far, the sophomore class has been a lackluster bunch, with no one horse standing head and shoulders above the rest. It's hard to even name more than two or three who come up to chest level, really. And the current odds bear that out. The mutuel field (labeled "All Other Three-Year-Olds") is the favorite at press time, hovering near 7-5.

But by Sunday afternoon EDT, at least two horses (and probably a couple more than that) will begin taking action, based on their winning or finishing close in the Fountain of Youth or the Risen Star. For this reason, it boggles the mind that more than $125,000 has so far been tossed into Pool 1 of the KDFW. What's the hurry?

After all, it's not like a Las Vegas futurebook ticket, where your price is locked in as soon as the money changes hand. The KDFW is fully pari-mutuel, and the machines don't close until 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon on the East Coast. So getting a Came Home at 12-1 Friday night means little if he closes at 6-1 48 hours later. Of course, it can work the other way too.

Just hope you haven't already jumped on the horses that win the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star. Because the odds on those guys are guaranteed to plummet.

Overall, this Kentucky Derby looks like it's going to be won by a horse that has yet to be discovered. Problem is, if you know who that horse is, he's probably stuck, for now, in that large class of "All Others." In which case you'll have to pray he doesn't get hyped between now and the close of Pool 2.

Of course, your wager on the Kentucky Derby itself will be gladly accepted on raceday, anytime before post time of the Churchill Downs feature.

Drinking from the Fountain

Let's begin with the Saturday Gulfstream feature, the race Triple Crown handicappers will be watching intently.

It's the Grade I, $200,000 Fountain of Youth, the 11th of 12 races on another big weekend card there. The distance is a mile and a sixteenth.

Booklet steps in as the now horse, winner of three straight, five out of six and a huge threat to stick it to the field the only way he knows how: gate-to-wire. If he gets the lead uncontested, it doesn't figure to be much of a race. Even if he doesn't, he's shown some all-the-way-around tenacity.

Stephentown has versatility on his side, but will have to improve a tad to be a threat here. And since these are three-year-olds, you know it might happen. First-time Lasix won't hurt, either.

Speed Hunter gets two turns and a route of ground for the first time. His last race was lights-out. Can he stretch that brilliance out? It looks pretty good!

Harlan's Holiday came back last time, unable to run down a loose-on-the-lead Booklet. This time, Harlan has a race under his belt, and is likely to receive more help on the front end in softening up Booklet. A definite bounce-back candidate.

Blue Burner is perfect, and has Mott and Bailey, to boot. He made a gorgeous transition to the route game last time, though he's still behind these guys in terms of sheer talent. He'll probably draw more action than he deserves.

Political Attack has more than enough talent. But what he doesn't have is versatility. He desperately needs the frontrunning trip to have any chance, and it seems unlikely Booklet will readily give it up. That is, unless Booklet's sharp trainer, John T. Ward Jr., decides to experiment. Wouldn't bet on it.

Maybry's Boy now gets two turns, and he's the horse in here with a chip on his ample shoulder. He flopped badly last time, favored at even-money without seriously lifting a hoof. Tough call, since there are others in here who have proven themselves around two turns against this type of company.

Grey Beard keeps improving, and must continue that pattern to have any shot in this one. He seems up against it.

That's the field, and from this outlook, the three strongest contenders appear to be Booklet, Speed Hunter and Harlan's Holiday. Speed Hunter offers the biggest price potential, primarily because he's having to prove himself under conditions he's never tried. But that's not the gamble it seems, because Booklet is one missed break away (or one hotly contested pace away) from throwing a poor race, and Harlan's Holiday still needs to reassert his two-year-old form.

Of course, one of the others could take a huge step forward and leave Speed Hunter gasping, but that's what makes it a horse race. Try Speed Hunter at a price, though the top two favorites should have every chance.

Southern California Carryover

No one hit the pick 6 at Santa Anita on Friday, thanks to some wild 60-1 shot taking the nightcap. The result is a Saturday jackpot with just over $106,000 already inside. The sequence tomorrow is on races 3-9.

Three events look especially tough, thanks to full fields. In the sixth, it's maiden special weights going six and a half furlongs. One race later, a bulky field of $10,000 claimers sprints six furlongs. And in the nightcap, it's a complete lineup of $40,000 Cal-bred maiden-claimers. Crack those hard nuts and you're still only halfway home.

Complicating the sixth is that it most likely was originally written for the turf, with forecast bad weather necessitating a switch to the dirt. Indeed, most of the runners last raced on the grass. The surprise candidate has to be 15-1 Voodoo Minister, a second-timer going for the potent duo of trainer John Sadler and jockey Garrett Gomez. Voodoo could be excused from his debut, as could most first-timers, and Sadler's stats the second time around are favorable, as are those of the sire and the dam. The scare horses are Primerica, also a second-timer, and Jive at Five, a firster.

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