The calendar has turned. While you were nursing your hangover on New Year 's Day, every three year old in the northern hemisphere was celebrating their official birthday. That means that the horses that will run in this year's Kentucky Derby are now all three year olds. And that means that we are close to the race. Close enough that I almost can't contain my excitement.
Starting with two races held on Feb. 4 we will be previewing all of the significant Derby prep races leading up to the first Saturday in May. To build a foundation for those previews, it's a good time to look at futures odds as they sit now to see what kind of value is available at this point. The last couple of years with American Pharoah and Nyquist there hasn't ultimately been much value available at this point, but perhaps this year will be different.
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Here is a look at the class of the three year old field as I see it right now (Kentucky Derby futures odds are from Bovada ):
Classic Empire (+700): This colt was likely to enter the year as the co-favorite until Not This Time was unfortunately retired. This is a son of Pioneerof The Nile, who was second in the Derby himself in 2009 and sired American Pharoah, so the bloodlines are strong here. He also won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile impressively last year and will be looking to be the second straight horse to pull off the Juvenile-Derby double following Nyquist. Trainer Mark Casse is red hot and could be in line to win three Eclipse awards this year -- Classic Empire and Tepin are near locks, and he could take trainer of the year, too. Jockey Julien Leparoux hasn't won a Triple Crown race, but he rides in Kentucky and he has seven Breeders' Cup wins so he will be comfortable and ready. This is very much a deserving favorite at this point. We'll likely see in the Holy Bull on Feb. 4 if he can carry his momentum forward.
Mastery (+800): As we have come to expect, Bob Baffert has a strong stable of youngsters heading onto the Derby trail, and at this point this one is probably the best. He won big races in California as a two year old, so it makes sense that bettors are on board -- California runners have dominated the Derby lately. Last time out he absolutely dominated the Los Alamitos Futurity, coming close to the track record -- which two year olds just don't do. This horse has serious speed, and with Mike Smith aboard he is certainly in good hands. There are other top horses in California, so we have to be patient to see how he stacks up, but Baffert loves this horse, and at this point that's good enough for me. We'll likely see him in the Robert B. Lewis or the San Felipe.
McCraken (+1000): This horse is undefeated in three starts -- all at two -- and all three have been at Churchill Downs, so we know he obviously likes the Derby surface. And he's a son of Ghostzapper, so we know that the distance won't be an issue. As with any horse, I want to see how he transitions to being a three year old, but at this point there sure is a lot to like.
Mo Town (+1600): As the name suggests, this is a son of Uncle Mo, who also sired Nyquist, so we know he is capable of winning from his breeding. He won the Remsen last time out, so he has an early step up in the New York division of the road to the Derby -- though that area hasn't been strong lately. John Velazquez rides, and he won the race in 2011 so he is in good hands -- though this isn't a Todd Pletcher horse, so Velazquez might not stick in the saddle.
Gormley (+2000): Up until now we have talked about horses that haven't run at three years. Gormley not only has, but was very strong. In the Sham on Jan. 7 he dueled with Baffert's American Anthem in an epic battle, and he came out on top. It was a very impressive performance and further proof that California is strong yet again. Trainer John Shirreffs won the Derby with long shot Giacomo, and jockey Victor Espinoza has three wins, including both 2014 and 2015.
Practical Joke (+2500): Chad Brown has won everything else lately, so why not a Derby? This was a top New York horse heading into the Juvenile, and he was a decent third in that race. I have more concerns about the distance capabilities of this horse than any other on this list, but the talent is obvious, and I love his running style. Jockey Joel Rosario won the Derby in 2013.
Lookin at Lee (+3000): I'm a nostalgic racing fan, so I tend to be drawn to sons of horses I really liked. This colt is a son of Lookin at Lucky, who won the Preakness in 2010 and was second in the Juvenile the year before. He was a horse that was always in the mix and had endless heart. This colt looks to be the same. He doesn't have the big wins to his credit that others here do, but he has seriously tested both Not This Time and Classic Empire and was a solid fourth in the Juvenile. He looks like a horse that will continue to grow into himself, and at this price I love the upside. It also doesn't hurt that he is strained by Steve Asmussen, the guide of my all-time favorite horse Curlin.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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