Consider this week on the Kentucky Derby futures odds watch the lull before the Kentucky Derby prep storm. And that storm blows in this weekend, ushering in three prep races opening 2021.

Alain Barows-KD Futures
Alain Barows seized the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby lead with his Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun victory earlier this month. The undefeated colt debuted on Circa Sports’ Derby Futures Board this week at 55/1. (Image: Tomoya Moriuchi/

Those are Friday’s Listed Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, Saturday’s Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Listed Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The first two offer 10-4-2-1 Derby points, while the latter offers nothing but experience and another sifting of the now 3-year-old herd for handicappers.

Expect odds movement aplenty coming out of those three races as the 2021 Derby prep season kicks into a higher gear.

Meanwhile, William Hill Nevada boosted odds on four of its horses and lowered odds on four others. Circa Sports hiked odds on 94 runners, while lowering them for 16 others. Circa’s six new horses come with interesting angles – along with shorter odds (less than 100/1) for four of them.

Land of the Rising Sun Lifts Another Derby Prospect

The first comes from Japan – Alain Barows (55/1). He’s 5-for-5, capturing the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki Racecourse by five lengths earlier this month. That’s the first step on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Japanese horses aren’t exactly hot Derby prospects, with Master Fencer owning the best finish by a Japanese import – seventh in the 2019 Derby. Lani ran in all three 2016 Triple Crown races, finishing third in the Belmont Stakes after being a non-factor in both the Derby and Preakness. And Alain Barows’ 1:40.7 mile time in the Zen-Nippon scares nobody on this side of the Pacific.

Making this even a bigger underlay is the fact Alain Barows’ connections haven’t committed to the Derby. No Japanese horse ran the 2020 Derby.

Does Past Derby Success Mean Futures Board Success?

A more reasonable selection is Wipe the Slate (65/1). This son of 2016 Derby winner Nyquist is brought to you by the connections that claimed two Derbys in the past decade: owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez. That trio won the 2016 Derby with Nyquist and the 2012 Run for the Roses with I’ll Have Another.

Whether Reddam, O’Neill, and Gutierrez have another Derby prospect here needs to be viewed through the prism of a few factors. First, Reddam is the colt’s third owner, so take that for what it’s worth. Second, Wipe the Slate chalked up a maiden-breaking win Saturday. The seven-furlong victory at Santa Anita came with an 88 Beyer Speed Figure and 96 Equibase Speed Figure. Both respectable numbers for a 2-year-old.

Wipe the Slate has that win and a second in two races. The second, however, came by 9-½ lengths to Life Is Good on Nov. 22. Life Is Good remains Circa’s Derby favorite at +950. He’s William Hill Nevada’s second favorite at 10/1. The current top Derby prospect for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is expected to run the Sham Stakes Saturday.

Affable Owns Likeable Stretch Kick for Futures Punters

Two other Circa newcomers bear further attention. The first is Affable (80/1), who finished second by 3-¼ lenghths to Wipe the Slate as the even-money favorite in that Santa Anita race. That goes with his second-place finish by 1-¼ lengths to Savile Row in his November debut at Del Mar.

Two races. Two runner-up finishes. But Affable displayed a stubborn stretch drive in both races, stalking and pressing both Wipe the Slate and Savile Row all the way to the wire. He earned 90 Equibases in both races.

The second is Barraza (90/1). He brings gilt-edged credentials as an Into Mischief progeny trained by Bob Baffert and bred at powerhouse Spendthrift Farm. Barraza, however, brings lead-based speed. He wilted in the stretch, finishing fourth as the co-second favorite in Saturday’s race with Wipe the Slate and Affable.

2021 Kentucky Derby Futures: Top Contenders

Circa Sports William Hill Nevada
Life Is Good +950 10/1
Essential Quality 16/1 8/1
Prime Factor 27/1 22/1
Classier 40/1 26/1
Caddo River 40/1 40/1
Señor Buscador 40/1 50/1
Highly Motivated 45/1 40/1
Spielberg 50/1 35/1
Arabian Prince 50/1
Greatest Honour 50/1 60/1
Alain Barows 55/1
Jackie’s Warrior 55/1 40/1
Prate 55/1 50/1
Hot Rod Charlie 60/1 50/1
Savile Row 60/1 50/1
Keepmeinmind 65/1 50/1
Wipe the Slate 65/1

In his first start, Barraza also missed the board. He finished fourth by nearly seven lengths in the same race Savile Row won. Neither time did Barraza break 80 on the Equibase Speed Figures, and neither time did he show any punch down the stretch.

This week, Circa and William Hill Nevada list 211 horses. Essential Quality remains William Hill’s favorite at 8/1.