Derby Hunt Continues

The Kentucky Derby is still several months away, but leading Las Vegas handicapper Gordon Jones says now is the time to start zeroing in on top contenders who aren't necessarily the "media-hype" horses that currently garner the most ink. While Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ Stevie Wonderboy was on everyone's list, including Jones', his exit due to injury leaves things wide open. First Samurai, a son of 2000 Run for the Roses winner Fusachi Pegasus, is the futures choice at many sports books, but others are emerging from the pack and donning the mantle of legitimate contender. Jones, a resident handicapper at the Boyd Group-owned Sam's Town, certainly doesn't discount First Samurai -- now about 18/1 at local bet shops. "The big two in Florida are First Samurai and Keyed Entry (20/1), the horse that beat him in the Hutcheson Stakes," Jones said Keyed Entry's conditioner is Todd Pletcher, the 2005 Eclipse Award winner who still is seeking his first trip to the Derby winner's circle. A pair of West Coast colts also have caught Jones' eye: 50/1 shot Da Stoops, a Sunshine Millions winner at six furlongs, and Bob Baffert-trainee Too Much Bling, who was 80/1 before he added a victory in Santa Anita's San Vicente Stakes to the San Miguel Stakes he won in January and quickly tumbled into the 15/1 to 20/1 range.

"Both have shown they are good sprinters," Jones said. "Now we have to see if they can stretch it out. "They're like Ferraris going against Fords.

" Jones shrugs off many of today's alleged top 3-year-olds, such as Barbaro, Achilles of Troy ("He has no chance"), Bob and John and Henny Hughes. "They sent Henny Hughes to train in Dubai, halfway 'round the world," he said. "Once you go to Dubai, you never come back." Jones cautions that some horses included in Kentucky Derby futures books haven't even been nominated to the race, which will be run on May 6; likewise, some horses who have been nominated aren't on futures book lists. One that falls into the latter category that Jones is keen on is Harborage, a 3-year-old son of 2001 Kentucky Derby champion Monarchos who just recently broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs.

Jones asked for odds on the colt and bet it at 150/1 at one local store. Another 3-year-old that has been drawing action around town is Lawyer Ron, a colt that is four-for-four on the dirt, including the Risen Star, and heads the field for Monday's (President's Day) $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. "He's the one they like here," said Stratosphere Tower Race and Sports Director Robert Jaynes. Lawyer Ron was a 100/1 long shot when Jaynes first posted Derby futures, but has fallen to 15/1.

First Samurai, Too Much Bling, Keyed Entry and a long shot named Honor Due also have been attracting Stratosphere bettors' attention. "A lot of what they're betting depends on the price," Jaynes said. "Horseplayers are always looking for value." .

By: Brian Gabrielle



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