Just when it appeared safe to come out of quarantine and not be bombarded with theories about what would happen if this team or that team were to “run the table.”
We pretty well know what happens now in the usual context of that phrase. Exactly one team really will run the table, march through the madness, win the Big Dance, cut down the nets, lift the trophy and raise the banner. No adjustment of your speculation or cliches is necessary.
Horse racing, however, offers its own table to run. While it might not copy the wearisome phrase, it is the same concept. What happens if Life Is Good and Concert Tour and Essential Quality and Greatest Honour get through their upcoming major preps unscathed?
Never mind who will be the Kentucky Derby favorite. Having run the prep table, will the top four take in such a big share of the handle that the rest of the field cannot help but carry value? Consider that the best price for the fifth betting choice now in Las Vegas, Mandaloun, is 22-1. Since that is longer than 20-1, and no more than 20 horses will be in the gate, a bettor who is dead set against the top four should then just bet the other 16. (Surgeon general or someone else’s warning: Please do not take that as serious advice.)
Life Is Good is best-priced at 7-2 in Nevada futures. If he wins next month’s Santa Anita Derby, it is reasonable to expect he will shorten to 3-1.
His Bob Baffert stablemate, Concert Tour (6-1), might not go back to Oaklawn Park, where he won last weekend’s Rebel Stakes. Why tangle with last year’s juvenile champion, Essential Quality, before May 1? He could go east to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, win there and get to 5-1. “We are way upside down on Concert Tour,” William Hill’s Joe Asher said.
A first-blush overlay right now at 7-1 because he has raced only once since last fall, Essential Quality could remain undefeated by holding serve for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox in the Arkansas Derby. He would certainly be no longer than 5-1 to win at Churchill Downs. But that does not necessarily mean 7-1 is a good price now. This has “see below” written all over it.
Deep closer Greatest Honour (8-1) will be the favorite for Shug McGaughey in next week’s Florida Derby, the prep that has produced more Kentucky Derby winners, 24, than any other. Another stretch run from out of the clouds will catch eyes, attract dollars and perhaps cut him to 6-1.
Because of months of exposure and the fact that fixed-odds betting is not a zero-sum game, the Nevada prices do not have to bear much resemblance to how the pari-mutuels fall in place in 45 days. The Kentucky Derby media guide may offer a better snapshot.
Twice in the 21st century, four horses carried post-time odds shorter than 10-1 with the favorite as short as 3-1:
— In 2005, Bellamy Road was 5-2, Afleet Alex 9-2, Bandini 6-1 and High Fly 7-1. The next-shortest price was 12-1 for Noble Causeway. That was the year Giacomo won at 50-1.
— In 2015, American Pharoah was also 5-2, but he won. Dortmund was 4-1, Carpe Diem 7-1 and Firing Line 8-1. Frosted was next at 10-1.
If this example of history teaches anything, it is that the current drop-off between the fourth betting choice at 8-1 and the fifth at 22-1 will not be duplicated on race day. It is hard to believe Essential Quality will be the third choice, but whatever horse is will probably be at least 6-1. Is it worth the possibility Essential Quality will not even get to the gate just to get him now at 7-1?
Right now the value plays in the futures are between Mandaloun at 22-1 and something around 75-1. Longer than that and they probably will not see the Derby unless it is on a TV in full view of their barn stalls.
History teaches one other lesson. If it is not a good idea to presume every first-place team late in a conference basketball season or every 9-0 team in a normal college football season will run the table, is it any better an idea in horse racing?
There was actually a colt named Run The Table. Running twice in New Jersey about six years ago, he finished eighth and then seventh, and he never raced again.
Maybe someone should just come up with a new cliche.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?
Concert Tour (+ 590 Circa, 6-1 William Hill). For a change, the flavor of the week did not become the Derby favorite for the moment. He did, however, provide Baffert his record-extending eighth victory in the Rebel Stakes. That it came at the expense of a local favorite (see below) gave the win more significance. Gary and Mary West might have thought they had Derby winners with Game Winner and Maximum Security. They can entertain the notion again with the Street Sense colt out of a Tapit mare. On second thought, his 94 Beyer Speed Figure from Saturday does not measure up to stablemate Life Is Good’s 107 from this month’s San Felipe Stakes.
Hozier (40-1 Circa, 25-1 William Hill). How many Bafferts can you get into one “Who’s Hot?” section? Having shown the ability to rate the pace in breaking his maiden last month at Santa Anita, this Pioneerof The Nile colt closed from seventh in the last 550 yards to finish a distant second in the Rebel. If he is not in Concert Tour’s league, and if Concert Tour is not in Life Is Good’s league, Hozier might not be fast enough even as longer distances are more to his liking.
Risk Taking (45-1 Circa, 20-1 William Hill). His odds shortened at William Hill despite not racing since he won the Grade 3 Withers early last month at Aqueduct. It could not have been because bettors made him 42-1 in this month’s pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager. His 1:02.1 workout over 5 furlongs Sunday at Belmont Park could not have been why. He is still on target for next month’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial, but we already knew that. Maybe someone with grand visions for this Medaglia d’Oro colt trained by Chad Brown put a big bet on him.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?
Caddo River (30-1 Circa, 75-1 William Hill). Even Cox cannot have a winner every time out. Seven weeks after winning the Smarty Jones Stakes by 10 lengths, this front-runner never actually got to the front in the Rebel. As the 6-5 favorite, he finished fifth. Not only did he look rank, he acted it, too, when he drifted hard to his right in the homestretch and bumped his way into a chain reaction that looked more like the pickpockets who got my wallet 1½ years ago on the Paris Metro. Maybe jockey Florent Geroux was prescient when he said on last week’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod that “I’m not sure it was the toughest field in the world” that Caddo River faced in the Smarty Jones.
Prate (50-1 William Hill). Another one from the Cox barn, this debut winner was reported by the Daily Racing Form to have had leg surgery recently, so he is off the trail and out indefinitely. Circa crossed him off its futures list after he had been 90-1. The Juddmonte homebred by Into Mischief was an even-money favorite when he finished first by 4¼ lengths going 6 furlongs Dec. 19 at Fair Grounds. It looks like he might have been hurt Feb. 21, the date of his last timed workout.
Get Her Number (250-1 Circa, 150-1 William Hill). He got the worst of the bumping in the stretch in the Rebel but was never going to be a factor. He finished seventh in the race in which he came in as the only Grade 1 winner. Remember, he was first last September in the American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita. Trainer Peter Miller said he suffered a setback in training after that, and he did not look competitive coming back from five months off. With $225,667 in earnings and a top-level victory to his name, this Dialed In colt who won his debut last summer on the Del Mar turf has already more than paid off on the $45,000 investment Gary Barber made in him at the sales ring a year ago. Maybe Get Her Number has already peaked. There is no shame in that.
In addition to this report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently for coverage of big events. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Fair Grounds TV analyst Joe Kristufek previews Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for download Friday and free subscription now at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.