February may seem a little early to consider diving head first into the realm of high-stakes Thoroughbred racing, but with the first round of the Kentucky Derby future pool off and running, now is the perfect time to begin sharpening those handicapping skills in preparation for this world-class racing event.

Even though this year’s Kentucky Derby is three months away, hardcore racing enthusiasts can now take full advantage of three advanced wagering opportunities offered by Churchill Downs: February 8-10, March 1-3, and March 22-24 – giving people the benefit of potentially locking in their bets at higher odds than what will be offered on the day of the Derby.

What that means is: last year, if you would have placed a $2 wager (the minimum bet) on the 2012 Derby winner I’ll Have Another, you would have secured odds at 29-1, instead of the 15-1 being offered the day of the race – giving you a payout of approximately $30 more for the same bet.

Unfortunately, this wagering tactic does not always go according to plan, as there is always the possibility that your horses’ odds will be higher on Derby day than what you got locked into during your advanced wager. Two years ago, Animal Kingdom entered the first round of the future pool at 2-1 and the second round at 7-2, but come Derby day, he shot out of the gate at 21-1 – paying out nearly $44 on a $2 bet.

Placing a wager in the future pool also comes with the added risk that your horse, for any number of reasons, just might not make it to the starting gate. And since there are no refunds, a prematurely made bet could result in ruins.

In the first day of the opening pool, All Others (#24) came out as the expected favorite, with the next four slots being filled by horses owned by Todd Pletcher: Verrazano (#20), Shanghai Bobby (#17), Revolutionary (#16) and Violence (#21), followed by Goldencents (#9), Itsmyluckyday (#11) and Flashback (#7).

The first round of future wagering ends 6pm Sunday. The 139th annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs will take place Saturday, May 4, 2013.