SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Feb. 7, 2008--

The first of three Kentucky Derby Future wagers is underway. The 23 currently top-rated three-year-olds have been listed with early line odds, but it’s “All Other Three-Year-Olds” that have been installed the 5-2 favorite.

This in keeping with tradition. Future bettors generally cover the unknown bases early and, unless extraordinary value is available on a favorite by the time Pool 1 closes late Sunday, will await Pools 2 or Pool 3 before zeroing in on their preferences. It’s a sound approach.

With the assistance of Equiform performance figures, HorseRaceInsider is providing a thumbnail sketch of the 23 top-rated sophomores plus one; the talented and long-winded filly, Country Star. Contenders are listed in alphabetical order with early future odds, their dosage index in parenthesis, followed by their career best, relevant Equiform performance rating:
20-1 (4.00) ANAK NAKAL, 72.75: Nick Zito trainee showed improved early speed earning a “new pace top” while winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 2 over the Derby track. He showed good energy distribution in both prior starts. Plenty of room for forward development.

20-1 (3.00) BLACKBERRY ROAD, 72.5: Top-figure rating was earned finishing second to Anak Nakal, indicating a preference for the Churchill surface, a la Street Sense. Only negative is he’s had many chances to “break through” with a better rating.

50-1 (4.33) BOB BLACK JACK, [78.25, 6F]: Therein lies the rub. He looks and acts like a sprinter and is bred for speed top and bottom of pedigree. The question? How did he crack the Top 23?

30-1 (2.11) COLONEL JOHN, 73: Showing good energy distribution throughout his career, his best figure was his last when he finished a troubled second in his juvenile finale, the G1 Cash Call Futurity. Bred to run all day top and bottom, added maturity figures to help. Dreaming if you think 30-1 will be available on Sunday.

5-2 (2.08) COUNTRY STAR 72.75: The filly is available in the “all others” category [8-1 in Kentucky Oaks futures]. Bobby Frankel trainee never has taken a backward step in three career starts. By a hot, young sire there’s plenty of room for development. Frankel usually errs on the side of easiest path to the biggest purse, but this is the Derby. He’s always said that nicked up Empire Maker should have beaten Funny Cide in 2003. Maybe he’ll try to avenge that defeat with one of his daughters.

12-1 (3.67) COURT VISION, 72.5: Best figure was earned at Churchill Downs before “soft win” going 9 furlongs in extremely troubled Remsen. Has had three closely spaced workouts recently indicating season’s debut may be imminent. Owns enough pedigree and since Saratoga ’07 Bill Mott’s productivity has been nothing short of remarkable. Odds seem relative to futures’ timeframe, but deserving of anticipated heavy action.

20-1 (2.60) COWBOY CAL, 75.5 [73.25, 9F]: Taking the “Barbaro route” via two dominating turf-stakes wins, he boasts pedigree indicating he’ll run long and successfully on dirt, too. Difficult to assess the odds on the Todd Pletcher-trained sophomore, but then you might say the same about many of this year’s colts coming from synthetic-track preps.

20-1 (3.00) CROWN OF THORNS, 72.75: Despite coming off two sprints into the mile and a sixteenth G2 Lewis Memorial, he rated well enough and kicked clear decisively. Of greater significance is that his “soft win”--defined as a victory in which the pace and final figure were lower than that earned in a prior start--showed much better energy distribution. This gives Hall of Famer Richard Mandella enviable depth. Early price seems low.

30-1 (1.80) DENIS OF CORK, [72.25, 7f]: Regular readers know we’ve been high on this colt since his debut at Churchill Downs, and earns kudos for the guts shown winning his troubled-trip second start over a sloppy Fair Grounds track. The 70.25 earned was a “soft win” and he’s eligible to go forward in a big way off the compressed debut figure. Interesting to see where Calvin Borel, at the moment holding three Derby options, stays lands. Players should require every bit of 30-1.

15-1 (4.33) EL GATO MALO, 75.5: Undefeated in three starts by a combined 16 lengths, he’s more than talented and fast enough at this stage to be regarded a serious Derby contender, as far as he goes. He’s long on adaptability but a little short on temperament, although he’s eligible to settle down with more experience. But it’s a short pedigree that makes short price unappealing.

15-1 (4.14) ETCHED, 73.25 [74.25, 7f]: Visually there might not have been a more impressive juvenile to race last season. He drew off rapidly with a blinding middle move to win his debut then did the same when able to relax off slower fractions in taking the G3 Nashua mile in “soft win“ style while distributing his energy more like a seasoned veteran. But he’s being prepared in Dubai, so who knows?

30-1 (1.67) GEORGIE BOY [73.5, 7f]: Interesting horse if you can forgive gelding’s short both-sides pedigree. But he’s never taken a backward step in five career starts, culminating with a G1 win in Del Mar Futurity. He’s been working swiftly and diligently for Kathy Walsh, who has a deserved reputation for stretching horses out effectively.

20-1 (2.43) GIANT MOON 74: Undefeated in four career starts including the Whirlaway, his top figure 74 was a “reversal,” meaning he’s learning how to run. Trainer Rick Schosberg is giving the colt the “good-horse” treatment. He’ll be tested in earnest in the G3 Gotham. Bred to run all day, he needs to learn to settle better. Not enough price as quoted.

20-1 (1.50) INTO MISCHIEF, 73.75: Picked a good time, the G1 Cash Call, to learn how to distribute his energy. He showed some uncommon grit in that victory and he’ll need all of that for Mandella. His pedigree is simply too sprint oriented. Would be bigger price than this on Derby day.

15-1 (3.00) MAJESTIC WARRIOR, [75.25, 7F]: Made lots of fans with unlikely impressive victory in G1 Hopeful. True, the pace was extraordinarily hot and the leaders killed each other off. But Mott runner came from so far back it rendered seeing disbelieving. But no one truly knows what to make of his malady-plagued Champagne. Ability? Obviously. Classic distance aptitude? Not completely sold.

30-1 (2.00) MONBA, 72.5: Love his development. Good energy distribution from day one and not a backward step in three lifetime starts, never flinching as distances increased. His last was an excellent fourth following super-wide trip in the Cash Call, going in the right direction at the end and galloping out strongly. Owns a Churchill win and very likely to get faster. He’ll have to. Early-line odds seem fair, relatively speaking.

12-1 (4.14) PYRO, 77: Figures really jumped when he started going long--or were they a function of chasing rapid War Pass in the G1 Champagne and Juvenile? Probably both. But he’s fast, finishes well, has enough pedigree and the right connections. We’re sure prolific Steve Asmussen learned much after taking Curlin through last year’s chase. The colt sits atop many Derby Top Tens, so the price isn’t out of line. No need to wager until after Saturday’s Risen Star.

50-1 (1.67) SIGNATURE MOVE, 69.75: Two-for-two going long but recent soft win was painfully slow, as was his prior. Thus far, he’s been a pace presser that hasn’t proven much in a limited campaign. If you like him, add a zero to early-line odds.

20-1 (3.00) SMOOTH AIR, [75, 7f]: A remarkable colt. He’s never taken a backward step in five lifetime starts--highly unusual--and showed class and grit winning G2 Hutcheson. From low profile connections, hard trying colt is light on classic pedigree. He figures to win another prep somewhere along the way but the Derby seems a bit much. His odds will be thrice this quote by Sunday, as they should be.

20-1 (2.00) TALE OF EKATI, [75, 7F]: Picked up more than one set of eyebrows when he won the Futurity in style with excellent change-of-pace performance, then caught a sloppy Monmouth Park track. He has strong bottom-side pedigree and Barclay Tagg guides him, both good things. But talented colt is an unknown two-turn quantity and his odds, in that context, should be higher.

12-1 (4.09) WAR PASS, 79.25: Virtually impossible to knock. Undefeated in four starts, improving his performance figures with each start, earned almost same figure as Street Sense in taking the Juvenile. As everyone knows, he is sired by sprint champion Cherokee Run and his Mr. Prospector side is not all that much better. Given his obvious talent and the fact he’ll likely win a prep or two, 12-1 is probably much better than you’ll see Derby day. And isn’t that what this exercise is supposed to be about?

20-1 (1.22) YANKEE BRAVO, 70.5: Yet another undefeated three-year-old, he was most impressive winning California Derby from extreme outside post, showing poise and professionalism that belies a three-race career. Patrick Gallagher has managed him beautifully this far and Alex Solis seems really impressed with him. But too many questions to answer given relatively short odds.

20-1 (1.67) Z FORTUNE, 74.25: Undefeated New York-bred showed a new off-the-pace dimension winning his last and earning a lifetime best figure; his three victories having come at three different dirt venues. He’s already done the unexpected and has Asmussen in his corner but is a little light on both sides of his pedigree. He’s handled everything thrown his way.

15-1 (2.64) Z HUMOR, 74.25: Third in the Champagne, he was a dead-heat winner of the Delta Jackpot. By Distorted Humor from an A. P. Indy mare, pedigree is no issue, and with three recent workouts within a 14-day day period he’s probably close to his season’s debut. Given the higher profile of some of his rivals here, he might fall between the parimutuel cracks. That would make him worthy of closer inspection.