It is strangely funny how something can be taken for granted – missed only after it has gone away. Now that the Breeders’ Cup is over with, where in the world are the Kentucky Derby futures wagers?
I admit it. I am writing this feeling like a caffeine addict who cannot satisfy his morning-cuppa jones with the instant decaf that is in the cupboard. I am shaking like I have been overcome by the DTs (look that one up, kids). I have this overwhelming urge to jump in my car and drive off for countless miles until I run into the nearest ADW – the likes of which are hypocritically barred here in Nevada. (Don’t get me started on that.)
Something tells me that I am not alone. Fewer than six months before the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, something is missing. And we are not talking about just any old Derby odds.
I had an exchange on Twitter with someone who wanted to know why the Westgate had not put up Derby futures yet. The Westgate? Come on. It has a racebook, but is not the horse shop. It was the Wynn that used to be the haven for horseplayers – the place that had the real Derby futures. Could this Tweep have mixed up his dubyas?
No, he insisted. He said that he had lost money on a Derby bet at the Westgate last winter. Even in my addled state, I somehow summoned the discipline to avoid pointing out that the Westgate looks to other bellwether markets to set its Derby lines after the first of the year. And I stopped short of posting a snarky Tweet to remind one and all that it is not winter yet. I saved that burst of pith for this column.
That brings us to the kernel of this withdrawal. In a normal year we would already have had Johnny Avello’s list of 300 or so Derby candidates to chew on. Like clockwork for 13 years, Avello cranked those sheets out complete with attractive odds and myriad possibilities to throw an early Hail Mary – or five – at the Derby.
Sucker bet? Of course it is. But how much are we really talking about investing? Ask the few who threw some money last February at Justify at odds of 300-1 to win the Derby, odds that were posted even before his very first race. Do they look like suckers?
Is it a wise ROI play? Hell, no. It is better than the Powerball, although not by much. Still, it is fun. And Avello’s sheets were a must grab from the Wynn Las Vegas every September.
But right around the time that summer turned to fall this year, Avello announced that he was leaving the Wynn for a new gig at DraftKings, which has branched out from daily fantasy sports to jump onto a certain May 14 Supreme Court decision to get into the sports-wagering business.
Naturally, I asked Johnny if he would be moving his Derby futures to DraftKings. He said yes, but there were details to be worked out.
Now we have reached the Ides of November, and there are still no Johnny Avello futures.
There was a glimmer of hope that they would be posted this weekend in Mississippi, where DraftKings is opening its first bricks-and-mortar sportsbook at the new Scarlet Point Casino resort in d’Iberville, just north of Biloxi – and a mere 678 miles south of Churchill Downs. But one of the worker bees – let’s say a spokeswoman – at DraftKings’ corporate offices in Boston assured me Wednesday that they were not in the horse business. Yet.
Not long after that, I got a text from Johnny saying that his futures were still on hold.
It is not like I cannot get a bet down. William Hill has posted a list of 73 horses for its modest Derby futures. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner is the favorite – at 6-1.
Seriously? 6-1? In November? Fourteen months ago when Bolt d’Oro was the favorite in the Avello futures at the Wynn, he had just been bet down from 40-1 to 30-1.
Even if one concludes that the William Hill futures are better than nothing, there is an alternative coming next week. Churchill Downs will open the first nationwide Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool from Thanksgiving Day until the following Sunday, and it will be available through every ADW in the country. (Did I mention that ADWs are not allowed by a Nevada legislature that is practicing bald-faced hypocrisy? I could not remember.)
By now we would have the Avello odds to be our North Star. They would be a guide for William Hill, the Westgate and even Johnny’s old friends at the Wynn to set static odds. They would also be an influence for Mike Battaglia at Churchill Downs to set a legitimate morning line for the KDFW and its pari-mutuel betting.
Eventually the red tape will be cleared, and Avello will be able to publish his odds somewhere. He did tell me that Game Winner would be his favorite, but he did not divulge the odds.
Let’s get real. No one worth his or her horseplaying salt should take a plunge on Game Winner right now. This time of year should be about taking a chance on a colt that Bob Baffert is not training or a Chad Brown colt that is not racing on turf or a 200-1 shot that fired a bullet work that everyone else missed.
This is about talking to Johnny about Coliseum, the 2-year-old that is racing for the first time this weekend. He is a 2-1 morning-line favorite to win a maiden race that starts the Saturday card at Del Mar. Coliseum has been sent to Baffert by Godolphin, which paid $300,000 for the colt. This is the same Godolphin that is owned by the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Mohammed, who is desperate to win a Kentucky Derby for the first time.
After I told him this story, Avello told me that he would then include Coliseum in his first Derby futures. But that was before things got complicated this week.
There is no other bookmaker here in Las Vegas or maybe anywhere who will take requests like this. Johnny did, after all, take big bets before he left the Wynn on Instagrand and Roadster to win the Derby. In August he opened Roadster at 25-1 and Instagrand at 30-1. At William Hill now, Instagrand is 10-1 and Roadster 50-1. And both are for the moment out of training.
No, it is not the same this autumn. We do not have Johnny’s hundreds of horses to choose from. At William Hill we have dozens – and we are grateful. When the KDFW opens Thursday, we will have 23 choices plus “all others.” (By “we,” I do not mean Nevada. I might have said that already.)
Here’s hoping that the rigmarole that is holding up Avello’s futures is dispensed with sooner than later. Until then, I cannot be held responsible for the actions stemming from my withdrawal. God forbid, I may actually bet a lot of money instead on an overnight race from Moe, Australia.
Oh, where is Mr. Avello when we really need him?
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after big races such as here. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition features Horse Racing Nation’s Matt Shifman talking about Kentucky Derby futures and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner Chuck Grubbs discussing his successful betting strategy. The new feature Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse with a name starting with “B.” The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.