There is not much more future to the Kentucky Derby futures. With only a few days until the 147th running of America’s greatest horse race, this is the time when a bettor counts himself lucky to still have a live ticket on a horse in the gate or vows never to dive into this sucker bet again. At least until next fall, when he has forgotten about this whole experience.
Me? I got Mandaloun on Thanksgiving weekend at 110-1. Within hours of placing that bet, the Tapit colt out of an Empire Maker mare was a winning favorite in an allowance race, and his odds were cut to 75-1. He will be no longer than about 20-1 when the race starts about 6:57 p.m. EDT Saturday.
This hardly makes me wise. Two weeks after I invested in Mandaloun, I threw some money down on Savile Row at 50-1. That one still has me baffled. Or Bafferted. It was actually the result of a mistaken push of the screen on the app, because my open tickets say it was for only $2 at odds I would not touch before midwinter, let alone late fall. Whatever. At the time, that horse had not raced in more than a month. Now he has not raced in nearly six.
Then I took a shot with Defeater at 125-1 two days after he finished second following a slow start in a February allowance race at Fair Grounds. He has not gotten back on the track since, not even in the morning.
Finally I took a 75-1 shot with Hozier after his maiden win for Bob Baffert on Feb. 15 at Santa Anita. His runner-up finish to Concert Tour followed. Then he looked awful minutes before he looked worse finishing last in the Arkansas Derby. Hozier is here at Churchill Downs, but he is as far from the Derby as that parade of nearly 300 horses that came and went from the futures lists last winter.
One live ticket out of four — really, three plus an accident. That is better than last year, when my money found its way into 10 futures tickets by the time the Derby was being run in September. I think Ny Traffic was the only one who was still live at post time. Two minutes later it was as worthless as all the others that had been trashed even before the draw. Honestly, I cannot remember. I could just as easily have blown that money on gum and candy.
I envy anyone who got Florida Derby winner Known Agenda less than two months ago at 300-1. Think about the opportunities to hedge off that. Sure, he got stuck with the rail draw. Only one horse has won in the last 58 years from that spot — Ferdinand in 1986.
Mandaloun’s stablemate, the 5-for-5 favorite Essential Quality, was never much of a bargain in the futures market. He opened at 30-1 overseas and 20-1 in Las Vegas last fall, and those prices did not even make it to Election Day. After he handily defeated early Derby favorite Jackie’s Warrior in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the male star of the Brad Cox barn was bet down to 10-1. He and Life Is Good would take turns as the wintertime favorite. Then Life Is Good got hurt, and Essential Quality has been no longer than 6-1 for nearly two months.
Bettors who got to the party late will be lucky to get Essential Quality at 3-1. That is where Station Casinos opened him in its first futures after Tuesday’s draw. That price comes with a fragrance. Once it wafts over the Strip, it will be sniffed out by horseplayers knowing that when the gates fly open Saturday, he will be closer to the 9-5 that William Hill made him, especially after Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale gets done betting $2 million on him.
Among the other short shots, Rock Your World is best-priced at 5-1 at William Hill, Hot Rod Charlie is more than 9-1 at Circa, and Known Agenda is no longer than 575 at Circa, a far cry from the 300-1 odds he carried in early March. If any steam exists, it appears to be on Highly Motivated, the Blue Grass runner-up to Essential Quality, who has shortened to 12-1 at William Hill.
The contretemps between the corporate suits at Churchill Downs and the angry mob of racebook operators in Nevada stinks to high heaven. Although more noise was heard about a possible 11th-hour meeting this week, optimism was long ago replaced by skepticism. More than a few loud voices on social media have vowed never to show up in Las Vegas to bet horses as long as the Derby is booked independent of the mutuel pools, forcing casinos to put low limits on payouts for exotic bets.
Then again, those voices sound much like those who promised never to watch the NFL or baseball or the NBA or the NHL after the players’ strike in, well, pick a year. Or said they would boycott certain businesses when it was fashionable for reasons of community anger, controversial investment or cancel culture. Or vowed to move to Canada when any number of presidents was elected. (No, it was not just in 2016.)
While pari-mutuel horse betting in Las Vegas is on life support, futures pools have attracted some momentum and interest, even if it is only the curiosity that comes with window shopping. They, too, are an endangered species in Nevada, as is the rest of the thoroughbred game.
With Joe Asher out at William Hill, who knows if the new owners at Caesars will be keen to let his longtime associates, Paul Bach and Dan Shapiro, keep writing those odds as they lovingly have for years? Booking the horses was as much a labor of love for Paul Zilm at Circa Sports, but he, too, is gone. He left to focus on his family, although he has consulted Matt Metcalf’s team in the final weeks before the Derby. Will Circa maintain the momentum now that Zilm’s full-time presence is in the past?
Anyone reading this report every week knows I have been riding that wave of modest momentum for six months. It has made me a supposed expert in Derby futures, even though I have never cashed.
At least we have 2021, a year of recovery on so many levels. It felt like a normal futures year again, one that will be made complete by the stories of horseplayers who will cash their futures bets at long odds Saturday. Even the red-boarders who fire off I-told-you- sos on Twitter will be a welcome sight.
And to the losers, I hope you consider my company worthy. Unless Mandaloun wins. Then I will act like Leon Lett.
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more often for big races like the Kentucky Derby. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted at VSiN.com/podcasts. Now based in Louisville, Ky., the RFRP features two episodes this week. The first Wednesday afternoon will be a handicappers pop-up featuring bookmaking horseplayers Chris Andrews, Johnny Avello and Duane Colucci. The regular episode Friday morning will include Kentucky Derby trainers Brad Cox, Chad Brown and Bob Baffert, jockey Luis Saez, the big bet of Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and longtime Kentucky turf writer and publicist Jennie Rees. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST Bet.