Derby prognosticators…prepare to dance in a minefield. Churchill Downs rolls out its 2nd futures pool this week. About 30% of bets from Pool #1 last November already blew up. And only 9 of the 23 listed horses in Pool #1 show up on the list for Pool #2.

The analysis for Pool #1 included this warning: “This is a high-risk proposition! Bet small and bet long odds only!” With the attrition rate among Pool #1 contenders shooting past the 50% mark, bettors who heeded our warning either hold live tickets at generous odds or suffered only minor contusions.

We mentioned 9 horses worth considering. Recognizing the difficulty of identifying Derby-caliber talent 6 months in advance, we attached minimum acceptable odds to these contenders.

Of the 14 horses we gave a thumbs-down to, 9 fell off the Pool #2 list. Of the 9 horses we mentioned as possible bets, 4 remain on the list. Only one horse qualified as a play for us: Noble Moon at 63-1. With a recent win in the Jerome Handicap, he remains on the Derby trail and on the Pool #2 list.

(Click here to read our Pool #1 analysis.)

Our minimum acceptable odds remain the same as for Pool #1, with one exception (listed first):

  • Take 30-1 on a top-5 contender facing questions that drive bettors away.
  • Demand at least 50-1 on contenders who’ve demonstrated stakes-level talent.
  • Accept nothing less than 75-1 for horses yet to win a competitive stakes race.
  • Look for 100-1 on lightly raced horses flashing exceptional ability in sprint races or against low-level competition.

Here’s our quick-hit analysis of the Pool #2 contenders:

  1. Bobby’s Kitten: Patience in Pilgrim Stakes a big positive. Play at 50-1 or better.
  2. Cairo Prince: Like his Nashua effort. Love his Holy Bull. Odds too low now, though.
  3. California Chrome: Not impressed with toppling of Cal breds in slow time. No play.
  4. Candy Boy: Needs to show better early speed. Improving. Play at 75-1 or better.
  5. Commissioner: Minor achievements. Obviously doesn’t hold an elected position. No play.
  6. Conquest Titan: Picked off tiring horses in the Holy Bull. Speed as 2yo intriguing. Play at 75-1.
  7. Havana: No sign of patience yet. A keen-to-lead (KTL) type so far. Late fractions spell “Fade.”
  8. Honor Code: Too slow early. No play.
  9. Indianapolis: Sprint stakes win vs. 3 others. Fast. Lots to prove. Hope for 50-1 or better.
  10. Intense Holiday: Runs like a lethargic tourist. No play.
  11. Kristo: Fades when pace heats up. No play.
  12. Matterhorn: Bizarre entry. Did someone on the selection committee break out the Maker’s Mark when this name came up? Idle since his November MSW win in debut. Will have only 2 preps and 3 lifetime races if he makes the Derby. And he has yet to try 2 turns. No play.
  13. Midnight Hawk: Has blown away 9 rivals in 2 races in fast time. Big-time contender if he learns to relax at all. Play at 50-1 or better.
  14. Noble Moon: Ran through trouble in the Nashua, and then coasted to a win in the soft Jerome. Play at 50-1 or better.
  15. Rise Up: Unmoderated speed. Failed in only attempt at a tier 1 track. No play.
  16. Samraat: We rate recent win in Withers at AQ as 5 lengths faster than Noble Moon in the Jerome at AQ. But final furlong was SLOW. Can he learn to relax early? Play at 50-1 or better.
  17. Shared Belief: 3 for 3 on poly. Missed works recently because of foot problems. Most accomplished horse on this list, with a Grade 1 win around 2 turns. If bettors abandon ship because of worries about his foot issue, he’s worth a shot at 30-1 or more.
  18. Strong Mandate: Unimpressed with BC Juvie effort, but speed is topnotch. Again, if bettors ignore him, consider taking some action at 30-1 or better.
  19. Tapiture: Won Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club as a maiden. Stable obviously thinks highly of him, but we need to see him handle an honest pace around 2 turns. Consider at 75-1 or higher.
  20. Tonalist: Apparently the selection committee is far more impressed by his recent maiden win at Gulfstream than we are. His “fabulous” finish at 9 furlongs rung up at a tepid 13 seconds, even though he strolled through an opening half mile in about :49 and should have had more than that left in the tank. No play.
  21. Top Billing: Most recent win looks much like that of Tonalist. Slow early, not stunningly fast late. No play.
  22. Uncle Sigh: Followed strong NY-bred MSW win with grueling battle gate to wire in the Withers. Currently owns uncontrollable speed. Dangerous if he learns to rate. Play at 75-1 or better.
  23. Vicar’s in Trouble: Blowing up the 3yo division at Fairgrounds. Followed up huge Louisiana-bred stakes win with quality win in Grade 3 LeComte, where he crushed stakes winner Albano and allowance winner Gold Hawk. We’ll take a piece of the action at 50-1 or better.
  24. Field: We demanded even money or better in Pool #1 and just missed getting that. Here 9-5 strikes us as a bargain. We see 9 horses lacking Derby-level talent. With injuries likely to remove a few of the remaining 14, odds of 9-5 or higher position us to own half the Derby starters at nearly 2-1 odds.

Bet small and bet smart!

—Roger LeBlanc

[Check out The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby: 3 Easy Angles to learn about the factors we rate most highly in our Derby analysis. It’s a fun read, full of facts and unique views of this classic race. Buy Print Copy]