The Run for the Roses makes its annual sprint around the Churchill Downs oval on the first Saturday in May but fans of Kentucky Derby betting don't have to wait that long to get a piece of the action. In fact, many sportsbooks already have future book prices on the first of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown events.
Thoroughbreds have been compared to strawberries in that it doesn't take very much or very long for them to spoil so sportsbooks usually are willing to offer what seems like a generous prices, with the knowledge that some 3-year-olds who look promising in March and terrific in April, may never make it as far as the starting gate in Louisville in May. Unlike teams sports such as football, basketball or baseball, where you're at least assured that your team will compete, there are no guarantees—and certainly no refunds--if your horse does not run in the Kentucky Derby.
There are lots of ways to bring a horse up to the Kentucky Derby but seven races--the Florida Derby on Mar. 31, The Louisiana Derby on April 1, the Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby and Santa Anita Derby on April 7, and the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby on April 14, all at a mile and one-eighth--are seen as the most accepted races to prepare a horse for the rigors of the mile and one-quarter Kentucky Derby.
With nearly all of the top contenders aiming for one of these seven events, let's take a look at the early top 10 contenders:
Union Rags (3/1): An unlucky loser of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year when he had a wide trip, Union Rags was impressive winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes by four lengths at Gulfstream, Feb. 26. Next is the Florida Derby and if he wins that, expect those 3/1 odds to be cut to under 2/1.
Hansen (5/1): Gave Union Rags his only loss last autumn and showed he's approaching top form when he won the Gotham Stakes by three lengths at Aqueduct, March 3. Hansen had been dismissed by some handicappers as a front-runner, a style that rarely wins the Kentucky Derby—but he sat off the pace in the Gotham before closing resolutely for the win. If he can do that in the Wood Memorial or the Blue Grass, either of which should be his final prep before Kentucky, he'll be a legitimate alternative to Union Rags.
Creative Cause (8/1): Like Union Rags and Hansen, Creative Cause improved mightily in his previous start, taking the San Felipe Stakes despite a wide trip at Santa Anita, March 10. Some future book betting aficionados question his maturity and ability focus on the test at hand, attributes which will be tested in the Santa Anita Derby. But if you like Creative Cause, bet now, because the price only will go down if he wins his final Kentucky Derby prep.
El Padrino (8/1): Answered some questions when he didn't need a wet track to secure a win, taking the Rosen Star Stakes at The Fairgrounds, March 25. But the nose victory, while impressive in some ways because El Padrino had to fight hard to achieve it, also may have been draining. We'll know more at the Florida Derby, March 31.
Gemologist (10/1): There's always at least one horse that hasn't beaten top competition or won a quality stakes race but garners a fair amount of buzz based on the eye test; how he looks on the racetrack. That would be Gemologist, who crushed field of allowance horses by seven lengths at Gulfstream, March 16. He's also won at Churchill Downs, which proves he can handle the track, but his acid test will come in New York April 7 at the Wood Memorial.
Bodemeister (12/1): Finished a game second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe but will be bucking history if he makes it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate: No unraced 2-year-old has won the Derby since 1882. On the other hoof, Bodemeister has some impressive speed figures.
Alpha (15/1): Captured the Withers Stakes in New York, Feb. 2 and will have just one more race before the Derby, either the Wood Memorial or the Louisiana Derby. Alpha has yet to be tested for class and would have to prove he belongs before many Kentucky Derby betting fans will put up a portion of their bankroll.
Secret Circle (25/1): At least one 3-year-old always comes out of Arkansas and Secret Circle may be the one. He won the Rebel Stakes, March 17, the prelude to the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, April 14. Some question whether he has the pedigree to get the distance.
Dullahan (30/1): Seems to be on the improve and if you take 30/1 you do so with the expectation that he will either win or race very well in his final Derby prep, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, April 14.
Castaway (30/1): Took his first stakes victory (the Southwest Stakes) off a maiden win, which doesn't happen every day, so his potential is unknown.
Kentucky Derby betting never is without risk but if you want to lock in a strong price on a horse than will be less than that at post time, you have act quickly.