A futures oddity in Derby betting

First it was Storm The Court. Now it is Mr. Big News.


What they have in common is a quirk that comes up every so often in futures betting for the Kentucky Derby. But this year will offer more opportunities for it to happen.


After his upset victory at odds of 46-1 in Saturday’s rainy, sloppy Oaklawn Stakes, Mr. Big News is now showing odds of 40-1 in global futures to win the Derby. So in the abstract, this colt, never a threat in his only previous stakes start, is now more likely to win America’s biggest race Sept. 5 than he was to win an ungraded $150,000 prep race April 11.


The same thing happened with Storm The Court last fall, when he was a 45-1 winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Right after that he shortened to 12-1 to win the Derby. Now at William Hill Nevada he has drifted to — what do you know? — 45-1.


Of course, this is an apples-and-oranges comparison, with one price coming from a parimutuel race pool and the other from a fixed-odds futures bookmaker carrying exposure from months of bets. It is still a good conversation starter.


But never mind the impression that Mr. Big News left coming out of the Oaklawn Stakes. For Derby futures bettors, a more important number was coming in.


Go back in the past performances to Nov. 23, when this Giant’s Causeway colt was a year removed from being sold for $95,000 — and a month removed from a ninth-place, 14-length loss in his sprint debut at Keeneland. Trainer Bret Calhoun decided on a two-turn race last fall over 8½ furlongs at Churchill Downs. With the track turned to slop, bettors stayed away from Mr. Big News. They were right. He finished fifth, 13 lengths behind, after going off at odds of 66-1.


And therein lies the tale that should pivot futures players away from him.


There have been 381 Kentucky Derby starters since 2000. Only 10 ever carried odds of 60-1 or longer into any prep race before running for the roses. Besides Deputy Glitters (eighth in 2006) and Shackleford (fourth in 2011), the other eight finished out of the top 10 in the Derby, including Bodexpress’ 13th-place result last year.


So based on 20 years of charts at Churchill Downs, one might say the odds are 37-1 against Mr. Big News even getting into the Kentucky Derby, 189-1 that he finishes in the top 10 and at least 381-1 that he finishes in the money.


Is this to say Mr. Big News’ victory Saturday was a fluke? Well, yes. The 5-2 favorite, Thousand Words, skidded and went spread eagle on his front legs at the start, finishing 11th. The suicidal pace set by Gold Street with Sir Rick and Flap Jack in tow — 22.07, 45.47, 1:10.92 — set up perfectly for Mr. Big News to close from 14½ lengths behind in the 1⅛-mile race, even in the slop. It is hard to imagine those fractions being duplicated in the 1¼-mile Derby, which is filled nowadays with points-prep stalkers rather than speedsters.


Then again, this will be the first Kentucky Derby run with 3½-year-olds rather than 3-year-olds. So who is to say how late bloomers in the summer will catch up with horses still showing their precocious side in the spring?


Let’s face it. Catching a fluke at the right time and under the right circumstances can be profitable. Just ask the few who cashed at 46-1 last week with Mr. Big News. Or 65-1 last May with Country House.


Derby futures: Who is hot?


Farmington Road (50-1 at William Hill). The most impressive horse in the Oaklawn Stakes might have been the runner-up that overcame more than a few problems. Sent off at odds of 6-1, Farmington Road started awkwardly from Post 12, forcing jockey Martin Garcia to stand straight up in the irons. Forced to settle in last, he was 17 lengths behind in the first turn. That was not the plan when trainer Todd Pletcher added blinkers for this race. But the hot pace helped, and Farmington Road was still making up ground when he got within a half-length of Mr. Big News at the 9-furlong finish, a good sign when a 10th furlong is added. Because Javier Castellano was recovering from the coronavirus, Garcia became the fourth jockey in this Quality Road colt’s five races. Before last weekend, Farmington Road was 75-1 in the Derby futures. Now he is a candidate to line up May 2 in the Arkansas Derby. (By the way, Mr. Big News was not yet listed in the William Hill futures at midweek.)


Shooters Shoot (not listed). With nowhere to go since Santa Anita was ordered to stop racing, trainer Peter Eurton shipped this Competitive Edge front-runner to Oaklawn Park, where he won a $61,000 mile allowance before the rain came Saturday. More than that, as the 5-2 second choice, he defeated four horses that are among those listed in the futures, including 6-5 race favorite Blackberry Wine. The question is whether Shooters Shoot has grown out of his terrible 2s; he lost his first two races by a total of 36 lengths. Lately he finished a distant second in Charlatan’s impressive debut before breaking his maiden by 3¼ lengths over a mile last month at Santa Anita.


Pneumatic (not listed). Trainer Steve Asmussen had been in a slump at Oaklawn Park before he and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. won three in a row Saturday. One was a separate $61,000 mile allowance, again before the rain, in which this colt ran his record to 2-for-2. A closer by Uncle Mo out of a Tapit mare, Pneumatic was a 6-5 favorite who looked rank before settling in to win by 2½ lengths chasing an honest but not scalding early pace. Like Shooters Shoot, this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred might be a candidate for the Arkansas Derby. But it looks like the race may be oversubscribed, and a lack of graded-stakes dollars is likely to keep them both out. Fortunately, there will still be four months to find a place to go before Labor Day weekend at Churchill Downs.


Derby futures: Who is not?


Three Technique (30-1). Ankle surgery sidelined this colt owned by former NFL coach Bill Parcells. According to the Daily Racing Form, he will be brought back this summer in one-turn races. The same target was expressed by connections of Independence Hall, which was taken down from William Hill’s futures after carrying odds of 30-1.


Basin (25-1), Shoplifted (100-1), Digital (150-1), Gold Street (125-1), Background (150-1), Thousand Words (50-1). Do bettors draw a line through these out-of-the-money finishers in the Oaklawn Stakes? It is understandable because of the race’s long-shot winner and its sloppy conditions and, in the case of Thousand Words, that awful start. This could be where value begins.


Blackberry Wine (65-1), Cleon Jones (350-1), Scabbard (125-1), Fort McHenry (350-1). The same question applies to these horses that lost Saturday to Shooters Shoot. Normally, Derby bettors would ignore any horse that lost an April allowance. But this is not a normal year. Blackberry Wine might yet be a glorified miler, but Saturday’s race alone should not be an indictment, especially if Shooters Shoot turns into a legitimate contender.


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