That missing ingredient from this winter’s road to the Kentucky Derby finally arrived Wednesday morning like a late Christmas gift.
They may not be available here in Nevada anymore, but Johnny Avello’s Derby futures are out (click here to see the full opening list), complete with tantalizing prices bound to attract more than a few serious horseplayers to their transplanted nexus in coastal Mississippi.
“I couldn’t release it in New Jersey because of the regs, and I couldn’t release it in Mississippi because of the regs,” Avello told VSiN. “Finally this week I got approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission that it was OK to do at the Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville.”
Bettors who can get to the DraftKings Sportsbook there may choose from a growing list that started this week with 286 horses. They range from the favorite – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner (10-1) – to the longest shots – maiden winners Artaban (500-1) out of Ellis Park and Billy Youre Fired (500-1) from Parx.
Game Winner would have carried more value, Avello said, had he been able to open his futures as usual in September, which is when he used to post the opening odds during his 13 years at the Wynn Las Vegas.
“I only opened him 10-1 because it’s so late in the game,” he said. “He’s one of those horses that I would have had about 45 or 50 back in September.”
Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert has 11 horses on Avello’s list, including Game Winner and Los Alamitos Futurity victor Improbable (16-1), the second favorite. Gunmetal Gray (30-1), Jerry Hollendorfer’s winner of last weekend’s Sham Stakes, opened as the third choice. Signalman (40-1), the winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club, and Maximus Mischief (45-1), the undefeated winner of the Remsen Stakes, are also among the five shortest-priced 3-year-olds.
It may delight horseplayers to know that there actually may be an value play in the Baffert barn. After finishing sixth last Saturday as a beaten favorite in the Sham, Coliseum (opened 125-1, now 75-1) has long DraftKings odds that are in stark contrast to William Hill, which actually moved Coliseum from 10-1 to 8-1 after the loss.
“Someone bet him pretty good before the race,” said Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading for William Hill. Although he said that the price might go longer once his “horse guy looks at it,” the number has held firm all week. Only Game Winner (5-1) and Improbable (7-1) are shorter at William Hill.
“If you bet (Coliseum) at 125-1 you certainly get good value if he turns out to be what we all expected him to be,” Avello said. “If he throws in a clunker again, that ticket is done. But 8-1? That’s ridiculous. He would be all of that entering the gate for the Kentucky Derby. I would think he’s 40-1 to make the race.”
In addition to Coliseum, two other early movers from Wednesday’s opener included Galilean (125-1 to 75-1) and Gun It (125-1 to 100-1).
Two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher has 18 horses in the DraftKings futures. Moretti (85-1), an impressive maiden winner late last month at Aqueduct, is the shortest-priced among them. The fact that Hall of Fame jockey John Velázquez made a rare trip from Florida to New York to take that ride only stoked the attention for Moretti, which Pletcher said will be pointed next to the Withers at Aqueduct or the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
“I have to put a price out there that shows that he needs to continue to move forward to get there,” Avello said. “I don't want to put a price on Moretti at 35 or 40-1 I don't think that’s high enough for anyone to bet him. If he wins his next race, he’s probably going to get dropped to 35 or 40.”
Three leading trainers who have yet to win a Derby have a combined 54 horses in the DraftKings futures. Steve Asmussen’s 24 are led by Saratoga Special and Iroquois runner-up Tight Ten (85-1), Chad Brown’s 15 by second-place Remsen colt Network Effect (60-1), and Mark Casse’s 15 by Woodbine Summer Stakes runner-up War Of Will (75-1). Even perennial European training champion Aidan O’Brien has a horse on the list; Anthony Van Dyck (175-1) was a two-time group-stakes winner in Ireland that was last seen finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Avello’s futures even include one filly. Jaywalk (250-1), the likely winner of the Eclipse Award as 2018’s best 2-year-old female, is on the board even though the Derby qualifying deck is stacked against fillies.
The new futures also include no fewer than three unraced colts – Lebron J (175-1) trained by Doug O’Neill, Tatweej (225-1) by Kiaran McLaughlin and Fait Accompli (250-1) by Marsha Schwizer – all trying to follow Justify and be the third Derby winner ever to go unraced as a 2-year-old.
“Those are horses that I usually either read about at some point or somebody tells me, ‘John, these are horses that I’m interested in betting, would you put them in?’” Avello said. “There’s a guy named Jerry who used to send me a letter every year. Every one of the horses he would tell me about cost a minimum of $400,000 to $1 million. He was just going on the price of the horses. I would stick a lot of those in there, and he would bet them. I still don’t think he cashed a ticket yet.”
But it only takes one winner to turn around years of losses, right? Just how much of a profit is available in the DraftKings Kentucky Derby futures? In other words, what is the betting limit?
“We’re not going to be as aggressive at the Scarlet Pearl,” Avello said. “It’s not the Wynn. It’s not the type of place that we’re taking those type of bets. I’ll let guys come in and win $20,000 on a horse.”
Already, Avello has heard from players who plan to make the trip to D’Iberville, one of the growing number of places around the country where sports betting flowered after the May 14 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowed legalization.
Based simply on social media reaction to the return of his Derby futures, there is a big appetite to bet them beyond the walls of a burgeoning, 3-year-old casino in Mississippi. Since DraftKings already takes bets in New Jersey, Avello said he is working on getting the futures posted there soon, especially since he is running the inaugural Sports Betting National Championship at Jersey City this weekend.
“I’m going to address it this week to see if it’s something that we can move forward on fairly quickly,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time (before the Derby). Right now you just have to walk up to the counter in the Scarlet Pearl to make your wager. That’s the only way to bet this future book.”
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition will feature DraftKings’ Johnny Avello discussing at length his newly posted Kentucky Derby futures. Also, horse owner Mick Ruis looks back on his star-crossed year with Bolt d’Oro, last year’s winter-book favorite for the Derby. The feature Racehorses by the Letters will consider the best horse with a name starting with “J.” The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.