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Mar 02, 2012

Let's be Frank: Kentucky Derby Pool 2 top plays

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


(Sports Network) - Union Rags cemented his spot as the early favorite for the 2012 Kentucky Derby with his smashing win in last Sunday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Now the big question is, will the public make him the betting choice in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager?

The runner-up to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was the 7-1 second choice behind the mutuel field in Pool 1. However, the next rated single entrant was the 12-1 Algorithms, who is now off the Derby trail after fracturing his splint bone in his right front leg over the weekend.

The mutuel field wound up as the 3-2 favorite in Pool 1 but the "all others" betting choice has always been the betting favorite in the 14-year history of the Future Wager. Nevertheless, the role of favoritism in the other two pools is not a guarantee. In fact, Uncle Mo took over that role in Pool 2 last year and the same thing could happen this time around with Union Rags. Moreover, the field's range of odds from Pool 1 to Pool 2 compared to Pool 2 to Pool 3 is much lower.

Case in point: In last year's Future Wager, the field closed at 2-1 odds for Pool 1, at 7-2 for Pool 2 and at 8-1 for Pool 3. Therefore, it is imperative for bettors who feel the Kentucky Derby winner will be one of the single entrants to wager more of their money this weekend rather than waiting for the last pool when the odds of most of their horses will take huge hits.

On the other side, those who wagered on the field last month might want to stick with that strategy in Pool 2, especially if they are certain the Kentucky Derby winner will come from one of the horses outside the top 23.

The primary reason for this is the fact that all six Derby winners that were part of the field in the first future wager also were listed in the field in the second one. Furthermore, all six horses paid almost double the price in Pool 2 compared to Pool 1.

The two exceptions came when Charismatic went from $10.20 up to $30.20 in 1999, and last year when Animal Kingdom began at $6.20 and ended up paying a relatively small $9.40 in Pool 2.

The big difference usually occurs in Pool 3 since only three - Mine That Bird (2009), War Emblem (2002) and Charismatic (1999) - of the six Derby-winning horses were part of the mutuel field in the final future wager. Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2008) and Animal Kingdom (2012) were in the field for only the first two pools.

POOL 2 BEST BETS

The key to whichever strategy one uses is to make sure you get the best possible odds when matched up against not only Pools 1 and 3, but also when evaluated against the probable odds on Derby Day. The worst thing to do is bet a horse this weekend at a lower price than in Pool 1 just because you failed to do so at that time.

For example, Fed Biz, who closed as the seventh betting choice at 21-1 a few weeks ago, is the morning line co-third choice at 12-1 in Pool 2. That does not mean he will stay at that price throughout the weekend, but it would be a shock if he reaches 21-1 again.

Another example is Union Rags. Although 7-1 might have been too low to take in Pool 1, it is doubtful he'll be that high again, especially if he wins the Florida Derby.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is also critical to look for a horse that might go off at higher odds in Pool 2 than it did in Pool 1. With the mutuel field not expected to take as much action this time around, the number of colts that might have a huge spike in odds will be few and far between, particularly with just one major prep race (Gotham Stakes) this weekend.

The one horse that does fit the bill is Creative Cause. The Norfolk Stakes winner failed to win the San Vicente Stakes at 1-2 odds back on Feb. 19, but finished third, beaten by just one length. The effort was not a damaging one, especially since it was his first start since running third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile while cutting back from 1 1/16 miles to seven furlongs.

Creative Cause closed at 17-1 in Pool 1 and opened at 20-1 on the morning line for Pool 2. Only 10 of the other 22 Pool 2 single entries have higher morning line odds, a surprising number since almost all (19 of the 22) of the other single horses in Pool 1 were higher-priced than his 17-1.

Perhaps the more important Future Wager angle to look at is a rather obvious one: does the horse have a realistic chance of winning the Kentucky Derby.

Horses at various odds such as Secret Circle (15-1 morning line), Scatman (20-1) and Battle Hardened (50-1) are doubtful to bring home the roses, while others such as Fed Biz (12-1), Creative Cause (20-1) and I'll Have Another (30-1) have realistic chances of crossing the finish line first at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

It is interesting to note that no Kentucky Derby winner has ever come from the field in Pool 1 and then get placed as a single entrant for Pool 2. The six new shooters that fit the pattern this year are Bodemeister, Castaway and Secret Circle from the Bob Baffert barn, along with Mark Valeski, News Pending and Scatman. I would advise staying away from all six.

My crystal ball predicts Union Rags will wind up being the betting favorite come Sunday evening with the mutuel field closing as the second choice. I would shy away from betting on either of them at their expected low odds.

Based on the criteria of 1) having a reasonable shot at winning the Derby and 2) preferable odds compared to Pool 1, the best direction to go is to use Creative Cause, I'll Have Another and Empire Way (50-1 morning line).

THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Union Rags - The only question left is his ability to win at 10 furlongs

2) I'll Have Another - Slowly getting ready for Santa Anita Derby

3) Fed Biz - Will race in next weekend's San Felipe

4) Gemologist - Pletcher's forgotten colt is working diligently for 3-year-old debut

5) El Padrino - Won Risen Star in dramatic fashion

6) Out of Bounds - Might not be as effective at 1 1/4 miles

7) Alpha - Could take on Union Rags in Florida Derby instead of heading back to New York for the Wood Memorial

8) Creative Cause - Harrington unsure of CC's next start: either San Felipe or Rebel

9) Hansen - A possible sloppy track on Saturday at Aqueduct clouds the Gotham

10) Empire Way - With Fed Biz and Out of Bounds in the San Felipe, the price will be right

11) Exothermic - Could be the top 3-year-old if he can transfer his turf acumen to dirt

12) Mark Valeski - Was impressive dueling with El Padrino in his first two- turn race



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