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Price is Paramount

Union Rags

Performance and persistence
key to success in Kentucky Derby Future Wager

“Past results are no guarantee of future success,” they say in the investment world. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby Future wager, at least in my case, I hope past results  (or lack thereof) are not a true indication of future success.

The Kentucky Derby Future Wager has been offered by Churchill Downs as part of the official build up to the First Saturday in May since 1999. This year’s first pool closed last Sunday with a record wagering handle of $631,304. The previous high was $620,362 wagered in pool one in 2005. Of this year’s encouraging record handle, $494,263 was bet in the win pool and $137,041 was placed on exacta wagering.

The mutuel field, or all other 3-year-olds, closed as the serious favorite in pool one at odds of 3-2. The winning return on Derby day for each $2 wagered will be $5. Last year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, was part of the mutuel field and returned $6.20 to Future Wager players following his victory. On Derby day, as an individual wagering interest, he returned $43.80. The previous year’s winner, Super Saver, returned $43.80 to Future Wager players and only $18 on Derby day.

Second choice in pool one this year at odds of 7-1 is Union Rags, the runner I fancy for this year’s Derby. The 7-1 closing odds are far too low for me to take this far out from the race. If he progresses on target and turns into the powerful colt a lot of people think he might be, however, 7-1 would look like a gift on race day. As of this writing, he has not even made his seasonal bow yet which is scheduled to come in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26.

By all accounts, Union Rags appears to be training forwardly for his first race of the year. If he runs off the charts in the Fountain of Youth, his odds are likely to drop even lower in the next pool. If he is less than impressive in the Fountain of Youth, however, his odds may float up in pool two, making a wager on him potentially more attractive in pool two. A solid effort in his first start back is all you look for as a handicapper. He doesn’t have to win the Fountain of Youth to be a serious horse in the Kentucky Derby as long as he continues to move forward in his training and fitness level to peak at the right time.

Despite losing the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to Hansen, Union Rags flashed brilliance last year as a juvenile. He splashed to victory over a sloppy track at Saratoga to win the Saratoga Special (G2) in his second career start. He drilled Alpha in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in his first try beyond a sprint distance. Union Rags then endured a wide trip and ran greenly through the stretch when it appeared he had Hansen in his sights in the Juvenile. He fell a head short of victory and ultimately, a championship.

Trainer Michael Matz has been patient in bringing Union Rags up to his 3-year-old debut for Phyllis Wyeth and her Chadds Ford Stable. Earlier this week, the son of Dixie Union lost his regular rider, Javier Castellano, as he committed to the Todd Pletcher-trained Algorithms. That son of Bernardini defeated Hansen by five lengths in the recent Holy Bull Stakes (G3) over a sloppy track at Gulfstream Park. Shortly after Castellano made his choice of rides public, Matz awarded the mount on Union Rags to Julien Leparoux. They should make a fine team.

Pool two of the Derby Future Wager is slated for March 2-4 and the third and final pool will run from March 30-April 1, a full month before the Derby is run in Louisville, Ky. Each pool will have 24 betting interests, 23 individual horses and a mutuel field selected by a four-member committee of racing analysts and handicappers. Takeout on the Future Wager is 16 percent.

Long before Churchill Downs introduced the bet in 1999, I was wagering on Kentucky Derby Futures through sportsbooks in Las Vegas. While I consider even having a starter in the gate on Derby day a “partial victory,” I have yet to actually cash a ticket on a Derby runner with a bet I made months in advance.

In recent years, some of my “partial victories” included War Chant, 9th to Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000; Millennium Wind, 11th behind Monarchos in 2001; Perfect Drift (oh so close, finishing 3rd to War Emblem in 2002) and Colonel John, (a fast-closing but non-threatening 6th behind Big Brown in 2008). I bet on Dialed In last year.

Who will it be this year? With pool one having closed last weekend without a penny of investment from me, I’m still looking to Union Rags to be that special colt this year. Whether or not I make any wagers in the next round will depend largely on Union Rags’ performance in the Fountain of Youth.

Behind Union Rags, there appeared to be plenty of value in pool one.

Algorithms, undefeated in his three starts, closed in pool one as the third choice behind the field and Union Rags at 12-1. Pletcher also has El Padrino, who recorded a 100 Beyer Speed Figure in winning an optional claiming event at Gulfstream in his last start. A son of Pulpit, El Padrino was bet down from a 20-1 opening line to 16-1 at closing. Discreet Dancer, a son of top-notch miler Discreet Cat, closed at 30-1, while Out of Bounds, a California-based son of that same sire, closed at 23-1.

Alpha has looked strong in his two starts this year, winning the Count Fleet Stakes and the Withers at Aqueduct. He has joined trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s string in South Florida to continue his preparations for the Derby trail there. He was sent off at a healthy 19-1 in pool one.

Battle Hardened surprised some, but not his connections, in winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his last start for trainer Eddie Kenneally. Creative Cause, third behind Hansen and Union Rags in the BC Juvenile and winner of last year’s Norfolk Stakes (G1), is gearing up for his first start of the season in California and he closed at 17.

To share who you backed in pool one or who you have your eyes on for pool two, comment on this post.

For a complete list of final odds and will pays from pool one, click here:

NYRA Photo

  • Jasen Mangrum

    I didn’t play anyone in pool 1, but I like to wait until pool 2 before jumping in. I think horses that don’t run between pool 1 & 2 tend to be inflated because people bet on what they saw most recently.

    • Michael W. Compton

       Agree Jasen. I figure I will get involved in pool 2 as well. Thanks for posting.

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