By Greg Melikov
The first of three Kentucky Derby future wager pools opens Friday and runs through Sunday for the 136th renewal of Americas Race on the first Saturday in May.
The pools were shortened a day to three because little betting was conducted on Thursdays. Exacta wagering introduced with last years second pool will be available in all three along with the standard win bet.
The future wager covers 23 individual 3-year-olds, with some pretty good odds, and a 24th betting interest that includes other runners. The minimum bet: $2 with no refunds if a horse doesnt go. Churchill Downs determines which are excluded of illness, injury or another condition.
The remaining pools in March are scheduled for 5-7 and 26-28.
Last years wagering totaled $1,236,299, a slight rebound from the second-lowest total in 2008. The lowest was $1,665,990 in 03.
Opening pool favorites likely will include the 1-2 finishers in the 09 Breeders Cup Juvenile, Vale of York and Lookin at Lucky. Theyre high weights in the hypothetical rankings known as the Experimental Free Handicap released late last month by The Jockey Club.
The annual ratings cover performances during the 2-year-old campaigns based on handicapping a 1 1/16-mile race on the dirt — the surface at Churchill Downs.
However, both leading juveniles have only raced on synthetic surfaces or turf.
The likely early favorite in first pool will be Lookin at Lucky, who won the Eclipse Award for best juvenile. At one racebook in Las Vegas the son of Smart Strike is listed as the 7-1 favorite. He captured five races on the varying synthetic surfaces of three California tracks.
Vale of York is 20-1. Before his lone victory in the United Stakes, the son of Invincible Spirit was 3-1-1 on the grass at four different tracks across the Atlantic.
Hes among eight of 17 early nominees for the Derby by Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammeds Godolphin Racing operation.
Both horses are late foals: Vale of York on April 4, 2007, and Lookin at Lucky May 27 that year.
Bob Baffert, who trains Lookin at Lucky, has another dozen horses among the 366 nominees, down 8.7 percent from last year/ Two years earlier there was a record 450 early candidates.
Baffert is going for his fourth Derby triumph since Silver Charm scored in 97. His other winners: Real Quiet in 98 and War Emblem in 02.
Todd Pletcher leads all trainers for the fifth time in the past six years with 20 nominees. Hes looking for his first Derby winner the past decade when the closest of the 24 he ran second: Invisible Ink in 01 and Bluegrass Cat in 06.
Other juveniles that should attract some action in the first pool are:
Buddys Saint: After running second in his debut at Belmont Park, he cruised to victory in two stakes races at Aqueduct last fall. The son of 05 Horse of the Year Saint Liam has been training well for Gulfstreams $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 20. Hes 12-1 at the racebook.
Jackson Bend: The son Hear No Evil won five straight at Calder, where he swept the three-race Florida Stallion Stakes series after finishing second in his debut. He was second in Gulfstreams Holy Bull last month to the winning Winslow Homer, who suffered a cannon bone stress fracture. Hes 20-1.