Most likely 380 different exacta combinations will rear their challenging heads on the first Saturday in May. A 20-horse field and mathematics will assure that daunting task, and the burden only lessens if less than 20 ponies leave the gate. But even in years when you love the Derby winner (Street Sense, Smarty Jones for me), you might not have landed on the runner-up (darn you, Hard Spun and Lion Heart). So it's with great challenge and greater trepidation we look at the inaugural exacta component to the Kentucky Derby Future Wager this week.
The good thing about playing an exacta in the KDFW is that 24 wagering interest are offered here vs. 20 in the Derby. That means 552 possible combinations, 551 of which have to be losers by definition. More losing tickets means every winning ticket will pay more. By adding a mere four more betting interests, the number of exacta combinations actually rises 45 percent (552 vs. 380). Hit the exacta here and you should get paid. Of course, hit the exacta here and you should be anointed with a street named in your honor beside Churchill Downs.
If picking the proper pair is too steep a mountain to climb, there's always the easy-by-comparison challenge of simply picking the Derby winner a mere seven weeks before post time. Tongue firmly in cheek on that one, of course.
The name of the futures game is value. So let's explore the 24 wagering interests for this week's KDFW Pool 2, which will be offered Thursday through Sunday at wagering outlets across the country and online.
1. Bear's Rocket (50-1; Pool One n/a)
The Reade Baker trainee is a forgotten soul the past six weeks, but delivering steady, well-spaced works at Palm Meadows without any interruption. With seven starts at age two, he'll be plenty ready with two Derby preps if he's good enough. Not for me just yet, though I think he could be sneaky-good in the Blue Grass if they head that way.
2. Beethoven (30-1; Pool One 31-1)
Give kudos to John Ward for developing this colt the right way. He was allowed to build his foundation in the Fountain of Youth, essentially giving away the win in that one-turn mile for the greater goal in Louisville. You could do worse in this pool at 30-1, but better value exists. He's certainly an exacta consideration at a price.
3. Big Drama SUSPENDED
4. Chocolate Candy (30-1; Pool One 28-1)
Steady, solid, but unspectacular: he's your Giacomo or Real Quiet from the west this year and just hoping to catch lightning in his consistent bottle. Not for me, but I can see reason with those in his corner. He's another pricey exacta player to consider, however.
5. Desert Party (30-1; Pool One n/a)
Is he the Godolphin entrant by default or by performance? His connections tempered his route prowess until Vineyard Haven soured and Midshipman was sunk by injury. Still, you had to visually love his UAE 2000 Guineas performance and there's a lot to like. If he winds up at the Downs, he won't be 30-1 for sure, so he's not a bad value gamble this week in the straight pool or exacta.
6. Dunkirk (12-1; Pool One n/a)
This is THE hot horse of 2009, and KDFW bettors get a nice break in that he won't be running this weekend, but instead in the upcoming Florida Derby. If he wins the Florida Derby for fun, he's likely the Kentucky Derby favorite ala Big Brown a year ago probably no worse than second choice. That said 12-1 is potential value right now for those projecting a big score in the Florida Derby. If you're in his camp, he's a "play now" at anything 10-1 or more. If you don't like him, you can always hope that the world beats his number to a pulp.
7. Flying Pegasus (20-1; Pool One 28-1)
We'll find out everything we need to know in Saturday's Louisiana Derby. His tough trip second in the Risen Star will either be embossed or forgotten. No mystery here, and likely his value will lack any true debate afterwards.
8. Friesan Fire (12-1; Pool One 18-1)
If you like Friesan Fire, and there's plenty of reason to, you're hoping for a defeat Saturday in the Louisiana Derby. This is a horse who has run without a break many months, has been lightly trained in-between starts and does not need to win Saturday to enhance his credentials. A good second, third or fourth and he's just as strong a Derby candidate. But he's likely a 10-1 or more horse on Derby Day as the "other" horse in the Jones barn to Old Fashioned; so unless the KDFW number skyrockets after a Saturday loss, we might as well sit back and wait. A steady exacta consideration.
9. General Quarters (30-1; Pool One n/a)
This is one serious runner who will continue to fly under the national radar no matter what he does in the Tampa Bay Derby. The General would be a huge price in the Kentucky Derby due to his unknown connections -- almost regardless of what he does between now and then. Wait it out, but respect him and consider him in the exactas.
10. Giant Oak (20-1; Pool One 24-1)
If he wins the Louisiana Derby after troubled trips, he'll be everyone's buzz horse and offer no value. If he suffers another tough-trip defeat Saturday, he could be the next nibbling Dollar Bill-type horse on the trail. Let the proof show in the pudding and evaluate. Not for me at this point, but I'm open-minded enough to say that he's talented enough to sway me if shown otherwise at Fair Grounds.
11. Hello Broadway (30-1; Pool One 30-1)
I really appreciate Barclay Tagg's handling of this brother to Nobiz Like Shobiz. The barn went the Tampa route with Big Truck last year and that worked out well. Sending him around two turns against moderate competition is a great steppingstone and I'll be surprised if he doesn't turn out to be a real player in the coming weeks. Watch the price, but anything in the 20-1 range sounds good to win, and he's an exacta player.
12. I Want Revenge (10-1; Pool One 54-1)
This may be the right horse, but this has to be the wrong time. You don't buy high. The value ship sailed when you missed 54-1 in KDFW Pool 1. His Gotham win was the best stakes performance of the year in my "Countdown to the Crown" ratings at ESPN.com and deserves your admiration. But unless he runs off with the Wood by daylight again, you might actually get a bigger price on Derby Day than you will seven weeks out. The only way to play him this week might be inclusion in exactas.
13. Imperial Council (20-1; Pool One n/a)
Solid finish in the Gotham puts this Shug McGaughey trainee on the right path. He's still light on big-time experience, so I don't think the public will be going all-in for the KDFW just yet. He's got the best route pedigree and trainer for a route distance of any horse in the mix. Imperial Council rates a worthy play in that 20-1 to 30-1 range and a definite exacta consideration.
14. Old Fashioned (8-1; Pool One 7-1)
If you took 7-1 in Pool 1, you surely would take 8-1 in Pool 2, right? With a big win in the Rebel Saturday, his price figures to plummet. This horse has the tools necessary and could take a step back Saturday and be just fine by Derby time. The best scenario for KDFW players is a loss Saturday while nothing disastrous. I'd love to get 12-1 on him if he runs second or third in the Rebel, knowing full well he could come back and ace the Arkansas Derby and return as one of the favorites. Don't take anything less than 10-1 in any scenario, however. You could find value keying him in exactas with some pricey alternatives.
15. Papa Clem (15-1; Pool One 44-1)
Even if he runs away with the Louisiana Derby, I doubt seriously this horse will get much respect in the big picture. He's a classic 10-1 or 15-1 shot on Derby Day at best, even if Rafael Bejarano sticks. I think he has a big chance to wire his Fair Grounds foes Saturday, so the price will dip. But if you can get 25-1 after a win, take it. Otherwise, wait.
16. Patena (15-1; Pool One 22-1)
Given he coughed for about 10 days in the past month, there's reason to think we won't be at full tilt for Saturday's Louisiana Derby. But with new trainer Rick Dutrow having done his famous "hind-end work" on this impeccably bred colt, there's no telling if he'll run through the TV screen in New Orleans. If he does, say hello to a legitimate top two or three choice on Derby Day. He was great value at 22-1 in Pool 1, and the hope here is he runs a solid second or third Saturday and holds near that level again. Patena is certainly playable in either the win or exacta pool.
17. Pioneerof the Nile (10-1; Pool One 13-1)
The oddsmakers at Wynn Las Vegas have had this guy almost stride-for-stride with Old Fashioned all winter, so his 13-1 price in KDFW vs. 7-1 for Old Fashioned might have been your value opportunity. He should be a short price to dust a small and overmatched field in the San Felipe on Saturday, which won't tell us any more than we already know: this Bob Baffert trainee has the goods. He's playable at 10-1 or more once again, and a legit shot to win his next two. The all-weather surface vs. dirt questions probably will keep him from dipping below 4-1 on Derby Day even if he runs the prep table. A must-consider with longshots in the exacta.
18. Quality Road (12-1; Pool One n/a)
His strong victory in the Fountain of Youth did not answer the two-turn question, and it's hard to play a horse in mid-March at that 12-1 morning line with such an unknown still on the table. But, like the upstart Dunkirk, he has immense talent and is only a Florida Derby win away from being one of the shortest prices in Louisville. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens takes more "sharpie" money than any horseman I can recall the past decade, so it will be interesting to see if any horseplaying whales come on board here looking for a score.
19. Silver City (30-1; Pool One 35-1)
While I love this horse to no end, there are definite reservations about his ability to be a 10-furlong performer. His Southwest second to Old Fashioned was a stretch-running mismatch and he'll need to take a great leap forward in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. If he shows that vast improvement in the Rebel on Saturday and you still get 30-1 or more, he's worth a KDFWF look-see. Otherwise, I hate to admit he's a pass for now.
20. Take the Points (30-1; Pool One n/a)
This one would shock me. I just don't see him in the same sentence with many listed here. To his credit, we know he can handle various surfaces and the travel rigors. Pass.
21. The Pamplemousse (10-1; Pool One 29-1)
With all-weather track fears and a lack of a mainstream Derby "name" trainer, he'll be 6-1 or more on Derby Day regardless of what he does in the Santa Anita Derby next time out. You missed your chance in KDFW Pool 1 at 29-1. Sit back and wait on this talented guy or dabble in some exactas.
22. Theregoesjojo (15-1; Pool One n/a)
That 15-1 price is nuts double it for value. Nothing about his performances puts him on a much different plane than Beethoven when you project out to 10 panels. He's a good horse; just not 15-1 good in terms of this pool. Wait for Louisville if you're a fan.
23. West Side Bernie (30-1; Pool One 40-1)
Bernie does not scream "toss out" or "hammer time." He's just kind of here, you know? A solid, hard-trying horse who knocks down what they set in front of him. He could easily wind up a top 10 horse in the Derby, but does anyone feel great about his chances of residing in the exacta? He's no slouch, but he's not a play for me either.
24. All Other 3-Year-Olds (8-1; Pool One 9-5):
Obviously the fat has been trimmed here from Pool 1 as should be the case. The best-tasting leftovers include the likes of Mr. Hot Stuff, Mr. Fantasy, Free Country, Soul Warrior, Terrain, Captain Cherokee, Flat Out and Mayor Marv; newcomers like Zensational, Al Khali and Affirmatif; the fillies Rachel Alexandra and Stardom Bound if sent into the fire; or a rebound from Vineyard Haven. If you feel great about any of these named, you're likely to get the listed 8-1 or more on Derby Day on any of these individually. At this point, "all others" is an intriguing play for inaugural KDFW exacta bettors on top and bottom of the key horses you like.
Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is part-owner of the handicapping website Horseplayerpro.com. You can e-mail Jeremy about this topic or anything racing-related at Jeremy@Horseplayer.com.