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Top Billing - Top pick in Kentucky Derby Futures

By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It took trainer Shug McGaughey an eternity to win the Kentucky Derby. Now it looks as if he could duplicate what only Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas have accomplished over the last 40 years.

Baffert and Lukas are the only two trainers to win the Kentucky Derby in back- to-back years since Lucien Laurin saddled Riva Ridge in 1972 and the great Secretariat the following year.

McGaughey trained Orb to win the Run for the Roses last May and now has Top Billing (as well as Honor Code) ready to square off against stakes competition later in the month.

The 3-year-old was ultra-impressive on the Holy Bull undercard, winning an allowance race by 2 3/4 lengths. Top Billing not only went from last-to-first, but he also ran a sparkling 1:10 3/5 (for six furlongs) after the first quarter-mile before coasting the final sixteenth in 6 3/5 seconds.

Top Billing certainly is bred to run the demanding 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby. His sire, Curlin, won a handful of races over the distance, while his damsire, A.P. Indy, was victorious in the Belmont Stakes as well as the Breeders' Cup Classic. Furthermore, Top Billing is a half-brother to Untouched Talent, the dam of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up, Bodemeister.

The chestnut colt's first true test will come in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park. He will likely face Commissioner, the only colt to ever finish ahead of him. That race came at Gulfstream on Jan. 3 when Top Billing was blocked entering the stretch and then was caught in tight quarters through the lane only to lose by a neck.

McGaughey's charge was listed as the fifth choice (15-1) in the second Future Wager, which is in action until Saturday. The trainer's other top horse, Honor Code, was co-third choice with Shared Belief at 10-1.

The odds of these two horses would have been lower if not for minor injuries that have the former missing the Fountain of Youth and the latter failing to appear in the Robert B. Lewis. The mutuel field was installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite while Cairo Prince was the 8-1 favorite among single wagering interests.

This is the first time the Kentucky Derby Future Wager began when the horses were 2-year-olds, so this wager is technically known as Pool 2. The mutuel field wound up 4-5 in Pool 1 with Honor Code the single entrant favorite at 10-1.

A field horse has prevailed in Pool 1 seven times in the 15 years the wager has been in existence and that includes Orb last year. In fact, the field has been the winner in four of the last six years, so it is best not to wager too much money on any of the single entrants this early in the year.

Past history has indicated it is best to wait until the final pool rather than wager so early in the year. Orb paid more money in Pool 3 than he did in Pool 2. Animal Kingdom backers received $64.40 in Pool 3 compared to $9.40 when he was part of the field in Pool 2 and $6.20 in Pool 1. Also, back in 2010, Super Saver's odds were 35-1 in Pool 3 while his odds in Pool 2 were 24-1. His odds were even lower in Pool 1 at 20-1.

Still, for those folks who need action, my advice is to go with Top Billing as the top play, with small amounts on Shared Belief and Honor Code only if those two are at least 15-1. A few longer-priced horses to keep in mind are Conquest Titan (30-1 morning line) and a pair of 50-1 shots, Candy Boy and Tonalist.

THE ROBERT B. LEWIS STAKES

This weekend's lone 3-year-old stakes is the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert's Midnight Hawk will be the favorite in the small field of seven.

Midnight Hawk is 2-for-2, including a victory in last month's Sham Stakes. Still, he did not look all that impressive running his final quarter in a very slow 26 seconds.

Last year, Goldencents won the Sham in the same 1:36 2/5 while running his final quarter-mile in 26 1/5. He wound up running fourth in his next start, the San Felipe Stakes. It is doubtful Midnight Hawk will not hit the board on Saturday, but to bet serious money on him would be a huge mistake.

The choice is the aforementioned Candy Boy. The son of Candy Ride made a premature early move in the CashCall Futurity last December only to finish second, beaten almost six lengths by Shared Belief.

Robert B. Lewis - (1) Candy Boy (2) Midnight Hawk (3) Diamond Bachelor

THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN" FOR 2014

The "Dirty Dozen" is presented with morning line odds for Future Wager Pool 2:

1) Top Billing (15-1) - Next stop Fountain of Youth for allowance winner

2) Shared Belief (10-1) - Drops down a spot due to recent inactivity

2) Honor Code (10-1) - Injured ankles force him to miss Fountain of Youth

4) Cairo Prince (8-1) - Waits for Florida Derby after Holy Bull victory

5) Midnight Hawk (20-1) - Needs to maintain straight path in Robert B. Lewis

6) Commissioner (20-1) - Meets top choice again in Fountain of Youth

7) Strong Mandate (20-1) - Shows bullet works for 2014 debut in Southwest

8) Samraat (30-1) - Impressive victory over Uncle Sigh in Withers

9) Bourbonize (7-5, Field) - Battles Strong Mandate in Southwest on Feb. 17

10) Conquest Titan (30-1) - Second to Cairo Prince in Holy Bull

11) Havana (30-1) - Finally hit work tab; targeting the Swale

12) Candy Boy (50-1) - Meets Midnight Hawk in Robert B. Lewis

02/06 10:52:57 ET


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