It was quite the dilemma William Hill Nevada faced before it posted its first Kentucky Derby futures this week. A dilemma that senior trader Paul Bach had not faced in all the years he has been writing the odds.
What was he to do about seven-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert? On one hand, Baffert and his horses are banned from taking part in the next two Runs for the Roses because of Medina Spirit’s positive drug test after winning this year’s Derby. Baffert’s 2-year-olds are not even eligible for points from preps that have already begun.
On the other hand, Baffert and his legal team are already in two courthouses fighting the repercussions of that failed urinalysis. There is every reason to think Churchill Downs Inc. will be lined up with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New York Racing Association as defendants in his lawsuits.
Eventually, Bach ignored the noise and got back to basics when he listed 10 Baffert horses, including the favorite Corniche (15-1), among the 127 choices William Hill offered futures bettors on the 2022 Derby.
“I did not take into consideration that they might not be able to race,” Bach said in an email response to questions about the opening odds. “If the horse is talented enough, I’m sure the connections will transfer training duties to another trainer.”
Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf said as much last week on “The Ron Flatter Racing Pod,” reinforcing the point that these early preps are not as important as they will be come late winter and early spring, when they will have many more points on offer.
“The last two preps to the Derby are worth 50 points for the winner and 100 points for the winner,” said Wolf, whose 2-year-old colt Rockefeller (75-1) is one of the 10 Bafferts in the futures. “If the horse is good enough to go on and is a contender for the Derby, then we would have to go to Plan B.”
Baffert has three horses among the five shortest-priced choices in the William Hill pool. In addition to Corniche, whose 98 Beyer Speed Figure is the best of any 2-year-old in 2021, there are also Del Mar Futurity victor Pinehurst (25-1) and maiden winner Winning Map (35-1).
“I try to include Baffert horses because I always get calls to add them,” Bach said. “I’m just saving myself aggravation.”
How Churchill Downs will handle Baffert horses in its first Kentucky Derby Future Wager next month is yet to be seen. That will be the first of five weekends when pari-mutuel wagers may be placed on 24 betting interests for the May 7 race. If Baffert horses are not included individually, KDFW bettors may still put their money on them by choosing the “all other 3-year-olds” option that covers horses not among the individual choices.
Where Churchill is expected to start its futures around Thanksgiving, William Hill got an early start on the campaign. It usually launches during Breeders’ Cup week. As Bach put it, “I went early, because I had 125 horses on my list. Usually by the middle of October, I have 80 or so. So I decided to go with it.”
Following his usual routine, Bach said he prepared for months to take Derby wagers.
“Beginning in the spring when the 2-year-olds start running, I identify the 2-year-old maiden special-weight races,” he said. “I watch the race, and if I think the horse has some talent and upside, I put them in my stable. When the horse runs back, I adjust the odds or toss, depending on performances and the types of races and horses the connections are running him against.”
The name that appeared most often among trainers in the William Hill futures this week was not Baffert but Steve Asmussen with 11, led by Gunite (75-1), who won the Hopeful Stakes, and American Xperiment (75-1), who was third in the Del Mar Futurity.
Practical Joke was the most prominent sire in the new futures with Hopeful runner-up Wit (75-1) and maiden Bourbon Heist (75-1) carrying the shortest odds of his seven progeny listed by William Hill.
Asmussen is 0-for-23 in the Derby, and Practical Joker’s first foal crop is only just becoming eligible for the race. Bach said there was nothing intentional about having so many of their horses in the betting market.
“If the horse shows talent, especially if he does it impressively, he’s on the list,” he said. “If he runs back poorly, the odds will reflect that.”
Since Caesars Entertainment completed its $4 billion takeover of William Hill in April, this is the first full Derby futures trail that will be under new management. That means Bach’s old boss and racing cohort Joe Asher is no longer a part of the process. But Bach said the futures are and have always been his baby.
“This has always been a team of one,” he said. “I decide who’s in, what the odds are and where they move.”
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode from Keeneland features track executive and horseplayer Jim Goodman discussing opening weekend, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher talking about Malathaat and Life Is Good and his top 2-year-olds and DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicapping weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.