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Feb 15, 2008

Pyro power

By: by Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - War Pass was the talk of the town after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory, the race that garnered him the Eclipse Award as the top horse of his generation. However, all everyone wants to speak about now is Pyro's impressive showing in the Risen Star last Saturday.

The son of Pulpit unleashed a furious stretch drive going from last to first to capture just the second win of his career.

Breaking poorly out of the gate, a negative habit he must improve on, the Steven Asmussen-trained colt trailed for much of the race, and in fact, was 11th and last at the three-quarter pole. Fortunately for those who wagered on him at 4-5, he kicked into another gear through the stretch to win going away. His final quarter, clocked in less than 23 seconds, was nothing short of phenomenal for such a young horse making his first start in over three months.

Pyro, who was eligible for a "non-winners of one allowance" race prior to Saturday, can now rest a bit easier knowing he has the ability to get past the wire first, something that had only happened once before and by the thinnest of margins. Back in early July, he won his maiden by just a nose at Churchill Downs.

This win legitimizes the Beyer numbers he and War Pass accumulated while finishing up their two-year-old seasons. Both were recipients of the prestigious 100 mark (twice), and were the only horses in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool to have eclipsed that mark as two-year-olds. (Incidentally, Pyro's number for the Risen Star was only 90 despite the flashy finish.)

The understudy to War Pass has suddenly rocketed past his adversary and closed as the 5-1 second choice in the first Future Pool wagering behind the mutual field, which stands at 3-1. (The field has been favored in every single first pool since its inception in 1999.) War Pass was also bet down hard, going from 12-1 to 6-1.

Only one horse has ever won the big three - the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, two- year-old Eclipse Award and the Kentucky Derby - since the advent of the Breeders' Cup in 1984, and that history is what War Pass must overcome to join Street Sense, who accomplished the feat last year.

Can lightning strike two years in a row? Does War Pass have what it takes to continue piling up victories throughout the spring? Is he the next Seattle Slew, as some have mentioned? I personally have my doubts, considering that he is not bred to be a classic distance winner. In addition, he has yet to be challenged on the front end, allowing him to maintain his leads in a much easier fashion. That will certainly change as winter turns into spring.

The Nick Zito-trained colt will race three times prior to the first Saturday in May, with the first coming in an allowance race later this month. Two stakes events, the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial, will follow as the two-year-old champ looks to remain undefeated heading into Louisville.

THE WORST BET IN THE WORLD

Only one Kentucky Derby winner (not in the mutual field) paid more on Derby Day than in Pool 1 of the Future Wager, and that was the longshot Giacomo back in 2005. I point that out because even if Pyro were to win the Derby, it's extremely doubtful he'll pay more than $12-$14 given that the last two post- time favorites went off at 9-2 and 5-1, and the two second choices were no higher than 6-1.

That raises the question: is betting on Pyro in the Future Wager pools even worth it? Even if he is the real deal and continues his winning ways, the odds are strong that this price of 5-1 will be the lowest figure he'll be from now until May 3.

For those in love with Pyro, why wager on him now when his odds will likely be greater down the road? Think of it in these terms, using a baseball analogy. Remember when the Cardinals were one of the favorites at 7-1 prior to the start of the 2006 season? They were also 7-1 at the All-Star break, but went to 13-1 right before the playoffs. Those folks who ran with them at 13-1 raked in almost twice as much money as the gamblers who wagered on them even three months earlier!

I would advise all my readers to stay away from any future bets on Pyro, as well as War Pass. The odds are way too low and there is certainly value elsewhere. All Pyro did was run down a bunch of lightly-raced, untalented horses, save for second-place finisher, Z Fortune. To show how bad the field was, Visionaire, who was sitting third on the rail just off the pace for most of the race, lost tons of ground around the far turn, but still rallied down the stretch to finish, you guessed it, third.

So where does that leave the interested gambler? It's true the field has won 33% of the nine first Future Wager pools, but once again, there's no value at 3-1. A troika of horses, besides Pyro and War Pass, saw their odds drop over the course of the three days of wagering and they were Crown of Thorns, Colonel John and Monba.

Crown of Thorns, who delivered an easy 2 -length victory in the Robert B. Lewis on February 2, went from 20-1 to 18-1. However, the victory was not as impressive as it looks on paper, and the son of Repent has yet to race on a dirt track.

Colonel John and Monba come out of the Cash Call Futurity run at Hollywood last December and both were hammered in the betting. The former dropped from 30-1 to 19-1, while the latter went from 30-1 down to 16-1.

Monba looks to be the real deal with two wins in his first three starts. In fact, he looked more impressive in his lone defeat, closing like a freight train to finish fourth in the CC Futurity. If Todd Pletcher is going to finally win a KY Derby this year, Monba will be the horse to get him the roses.

Colonel John has two wins and two seconds, but unlike Monba, who has a victory over the Churchill Downs surface, the "Colonel" has never raced outside of California and that means four races over Polytrack.

Court Vision, this columnist's Kentucky Derby selection, remains the 15-1 fourth-choice behind the field, Pyro and War Pass. He'll make his long-awaited 2008 debut against Monba in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on February 24, in what is shaping up to be the top early prep race of the season.

One other name to keep in mind is Tomcito. The Kentucky-bred, who raced in Peru as a two-year-old and will make his next start in either the UAE Derby in Dubai or the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, both to be run on March 29. If his connections choose the latter, there's a chance he could make the Derby with a solid performance. If not, look for him to sit out the first two legs of the Triple Crown and wait for the Belmont.

JEFF FRANK'S TOP 10 KENTUCKY DERBY PROSPECTS

1) Court Vision, 15-1; 2) Monba, 16-1; 3) War Pass, 6-1; 4) Etched, 26-1; 5) Tomcito, 3-1 (field); 6) Pyro, 5-1; 7) Colonel John, 19-1; 8) El Gato Malo, 16-1; 9) Anak Nakal, 33-1; 10) Crown of Thorns, 18-1



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