Examining the Early Sleeper Possibilities for the 2019 Kentucky Derby

by Jim Beviglia
on January 11, 2019
5

Minute Read

It may not seem like it in the dead of winter, but many people are already discussing this May’s running of the Kentucky Derby. With that in mind, we have a look at the early 2019 Kentucky Derby sleepers. From this group, you just might be able to choose the horse that ultimately captures the fabled Run for the Roses.

Horse racing enthusiasts don’t really need the calendar very much when it comes to thinking about the Kentucky Derby.

As soon as two-year-olds start to make their way to the track in the second half of the year, prognosticators have their eyes on the ones who seem to have the potential to win the most prestigious race of all. Even in the coldest months, they are keeping track of how these freshmen are developing.

That’s why it’s never really too early to begin to talk about the horses that could be surprising contenders. It isn’t until the first Saturday in May when the race takes place, but already the early 2019 Kentucky Derby sleepers are starting to line up.

Why is it so important to be able to spot these upset-capable contenders? Well, there is the simple pride gained from being such an astute judge of equine talent. But more than that, it’s about finding horses who could make for enticing value plays when it comes time to bet the race.

No major race is more wide-open than the Kentucky Derby, what with 20 horses crowding the racing surface, many of whom have never raced at the distance of 1 ¼ miles. Upsets are not at all uncommon. That’s why spotting sleepers can be an extremely valuable talent.

And that’s why we’re talking about some potential early 2019 Kentucky Derby sleepers. Not only will we identify a few who could be among the top competitors, but we’ll also explain why they might be flying under the radar a bit.

If nothing else, these are names to watch when spring arrives, many of the Derby prep races take place, and the field for the grandest race of all starts to take shape.

What Makes a Kentucky Derby Sleeper

It might not make sense that somehow there can be sleepers for a race that is still months away from taking place. After all, many horses will be derailed by injuries or poor performances from now to then. And there could be horses who no one has heard about to this point who might just surprise everyone. (Justify, anyone?)

Still, a good way to determine sleepers is to check out whenever the Kentucky Derby sets up a round of futures wagering. For those who are unaware, a futures wager in horse racing gives you the chance to bet on a horse to win well in advance of the race.

The risk in a futures wager is that the horse, for whatever reason, won’t actually make it to the race in question. Unlike a horse that is scratched on race day, you don’t get a refund from a futures bet if your horse doesn’t race. That means that you’ll come up empty, pretty much through no fault of your own.

The compensation for the bettor comes from the fact that the odds you can get from a futures bet are much more favorable than if you wait to bet the horse once the actual morning line odds are set the week of the race.

For example, most Kentucky Derby favorites go off at somewhere between even money and 3 to 1. But a futures bet will usually get you odds of much higher than that, even if you happen to pick one of the top choices.

For example, in the first 2019 futures pool held back in November, Game Winner, the 2018 Breeders Cup Juvenile Champ, was made the favorite by the bettors at 5-1. The co-second choices, Coliseum and Instagrand, settled at 10-1 apiece. Those are fetching odds for the three top choices.

Bettors can also go with “the field” in a futures pool. That term refers to any horse besides the specific ones who were officially listed. The field in the November pool stood at 6-5, which shows how many bettors believe that it will be a horse who either is making a late start in its career or hasn’t yet done anything special who will eventually emerge.

The next futures pool for the Derby is scheduled for February 8th to the 10th, giving bettors all over the world their next chance to speculate on possible early 2019 Kentucky Derby sleepers. (There will be two more futures pools subsequent to that, in March and April.)

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at several horses who might be a little bit underestimated at this point. Any one of these has the capability to win it in May if things break right in the interim and on race day itself. See what their odds look like in the coming months of futures pools to see if you can take advantage.

Signalman

No horse was bet down more than this son of General Quarters in the first round of Futures betting. He dropped from 50 to 1 to 30 to 1. That is significant in a pool like that, where the tendency is for most horses to see their odds go in the other direction.

Trained by Ken McPeek, Signalman was a game long shot in back to back Grade 1 events as a two-year-old. He came from last to finish third in the Juvenile behind Game Winner. That leads us to believe that the longer distance of the Derby could be right up his alley.

It is interesting to see him get betting attention in the Futures Pool that eluded him during his actual races, where he never went off at shorter odds than 4-1. Could it be that the wise guys are just catching onto this closer? We’ll see how it shakes out.

Maximus Mischief

Back when it was called Philadelphia Park, Pennsylvania’s premiere thoroughbred track produced Smarty Jones, who captured the Derby and was not too far from a Triple Crown. Now the track is known as Parx Racing, but it has another Derby contender in this colt.

If you believe in speed figures, Maximus Mischief is the guy for you. In his second career start last year, he posted a 104 rating. That is the peak performance of anyone in the 2-year-old class, besting even Game Winner’s 103 in the Juvenile.

Question marks abound. The competition he faced at Parx in romping to two straight wins last fall was suspect at best; in the race where he posted the high number, there were only two other horses in the field. But there seems to be something special about this youngster, something that might just make him worthy of a Philadelphia flier of a bet.

King for a Day

At this stage in the game, you should be looking for connections and pedigree for determining factors in a possible sleeper. This colt’s Dad (Uncle Mo) and Grandad (Indian Charlie) had all kinds of talent, even if some bad luck kept them from displaying it during their 3-year-old campaign. And you don’t get more distinguished than Todd Pletcher in terms of big-stakes trainers.

But King for a Day has more than just intangibles going for him. His gutsy maiden victory at Belmont Park stamped him as one to watch. And although he came up short in his first graded stakes action, a wide trip was the major culprit, not any lack of talent.

Because he wasn’t one of the horses competing in the Juvenile, he might be overlooked. Yet the way he drew off from a challenge in that aforementioned maiden victory was impressive. As a matter of fact, it’s the kind of move that Derby winners make, which makes his 53-1 odds in the last Futures pool seem egregiously large.

Conclusion

These are three horses that have all the makings of early 2019 Kentucky Derby sleepers. Much can change between now and when they line up in May. But these three are a good place to start when you start looking off the beaten path for your potential sleeper Derby picks.

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