Hard to believe it's less than 90 days until the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 3. It's really sneaking up on us but gives hope that spring is right around the corner. After the 11 inches of snow in New England on Wednesday, thoughts of the Derby provide some measure of comfort.
Also, this weekend, you can get in on some Kentucky Derby action, as Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be conducted at a nearby racetrack, simulcast center, or through an online wagering account. Betting will close at 6 p.m. on Saturday or prior to the loading of the horses for the Robert R. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, whichever comes first.
There are 23 individual horses listed, plus the Mutuel Field, which was listed as the 7-5 favorite by oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. With 413 horses nominated to the Triple Crown, that means you would get approximately 390 horses for your $2 wager. Usually, as many as 11 horses from the mutuel field enter the Churchill starting gate on the first Saturday in May, so such a bet can narrow your betting choices on Derby Day, albeit at a lower price received on those contenders.
Let's look at this weekend's Future Wager from a local perspective.
Last week, it was mentioned that Lowell's Rick Violette, a Keith Academy and University of Lowell graduate and one of the nation's top trainers, turned 61 on Jan. 30. Well, two days later he received a belated birthday present, when owner Leonard Riggio's undefeated Samraat (4-for-4) nipped Uncle Sigh by a length at the wire in the $250,000 Gr. 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack. As the winning trainer, Violette pocketed a cool $15,000. Not a bad day's work.
The race reminded many of a mini Affirmed vs. Alydar duel, with both New York-breds at each other's throatlatch from flagfall to finish, with Samraat pulling slightly away at the end. Samraat will be betting interest No. 16 in this weekends' pool and is listed at 30-1 morning line odds. His next start may be in the April 5th Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the March 29th Louisiana Derby, either of which would garner Samraat and Riggio ample points to get this Noble Causeway colt into the Churchill Downs starting gate with a good finish.
However, Violette provides a caveat, saying, "We're in a good spot now, but if he's kicking the walls down, he can certainly come back for the Gotham (Gr. 3, $500,000) at Aqueduct on March 1. There are a lot of options. We've nominated him all over the country for races, including the Florida Derby. How he's doing is the main thing. The points are at the back end of our thinking."
For his part, Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh, hopes for a rematch against Samraat in the Gotham. "Maybe he got me on experience today; I look forward to Rocky II," said Contessa following the Withers. "That's how I feel after a race like this. This was Rocky, I'm ready for Rocky II."
That could happen, but Violette points out that Rocky faced a different opponent each time. Still, Violette feels the performance of both horses enriches the reputation of the New York breeding program.
Riggio, who bred Samraat, is the chairman of Barnes and Noble Inc. He began with a single college bookstore in 1965 and now serves more than 500 colleges and universities, as well as overseeing 3,000 retail stores with 80,000 employees.
One of Violette's longtime clients, Seth Klarman of Klaravich Stables, also has a horse nominated to the Triple Crown. His name is Financial Mogul, a single betting interest in Pool 1 in late November, but a member of the mutuel field in Pool 2, largely because of his sixth-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25.
The colt was in striking distance at the top of the stretch but faded in the lane, losing by over 7 lengths. However, the result is understandable, owing to the fact that he had not raced since Nov. 3rd at Aqueduct. Following a layoff of 11 weeks and facing a quality field to boot, the result is entirely understandable.
On Thursday, Violette provided an additional reason for the late fade by Financial Mogul in the Holy Bull. "With the weather in Florida, it's easy for a horse to catch a slight virus, and that's what happened with him. We sent him to Fair Hill (Md.) where they found and took out a lot of mucus and other gook," said Violette. "It was nothing major and he's ready to breeze already. We may go in the Gotham at Aqueduct, but we've also nominated him all over the country, too. He is one quality colt and we have high hopes for him, also."
Klarman, by the way, is based in Cambridge and has sent Violette many fine horses over the years, including Subordination, Balance the Books, Outperformance and Read the Footnotes. Yes, it should be quite a spring and it starts this weekend.
Paul Daley's e-mail address is email@example.com