I am loathe to write about this subject, because it then drags this column and this website into a Vietnam of a dispute in which neither side is right or wrong. Or both sides are.
Like the Dodgers and Spectrum Cable, like TV channels at odds with cable/dish operators, like the neighbor kids who run home with their balls and bats, there is an impasse right now between Churchill Downs Inc. and racebooks around Nevada.
And this is where I risk the ire of one or both sides when I really do not have a horse in this race. And because I really don’t want to be drowned in pedantic details.
At issue is how much racebooks – represented by the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association – are being charged for the right to take bets on races at CDI tracks. This has actually been going on since Sunday, Oct. 27, when the plug was pulled on Nevada bettors.
One Las Vegas casino source said that this boils down to a dispute over whether a recent change in the takeout rate at CDI tracks should lead to a change in the fees paid by sportsbooks. There we go. The slippery slope of pedantia.
Fast forward to May 2, when the Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs. Welcome to the point when someone – probably Nevada – will blink. Put it this way. The pitchforks and torches of shut-out betting masses will not be marching on Kentucky.
Ultimately it is the horseplayer who is caught in this inconvenient middle. It happened last weekend, when Nevada was locked out of betting on the first pool of the nationwide, pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager that is run four times a year by Churchill Downs.
One would think that the absence of Vegas money during Thanksgiving weekend would have put a noticeable dent in the handle of the KDFW. But one would be mistaken. A record $350,312 came into the first pool, 36 percent more than last year.
That handle admittedly is a mere drop in the $165 million ocean of money that was bet on this year’s Derby. And since this early pool has only been going on for the past seven years, the historic sample is not very big. Still, the fact that Nevada’s money was not missed means that the NPMA does not have added leverage to get CDI to lower its fee.
The fact that William Hill is again taking fixed-odds futures bets of its own on the Derby only complicates matters in a way that I have tried and failed to understand, especially when the oddsmakers there are about as willing to talk about racing as my father was to tell me the secret handshake at his lodge.
Again, though, who really cares? In spite of its cloak of secrecy and its less-than-attractive prices, William Hill does scratch the itch of horseplayers who are jonesing – and will be all winter – for early action on the Derby. But good luck selling that when the futures become the present next May.
So rather than fall into the mire of he-said, she-said contretemps, I will wait this one out. I would just as soon focus this racing column and my weekly racing podcast on – well – racing.
Frankly, whether they are columns or multi-media dispatches of another kind, too many of my peers’ racing dispatches lately look and sound like one particular episode of “Frasier.” Remember when the Crane brothers spent more time at their wine club arguing over parliamentary procedure than they did drinking wine? Replace the Crane brothers with the NPMA and CDI, and my point is made.
Now, aren’t there some races this weekend?
Racing notes and opinions
Cigar Mile. Looking for a second straight win against older horses, Maximum Security (3-2 on the morning line) could stake his claim as the 2019 champion 3-year-old this weekend when he races 10 rivals in the $750,000 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct. The disqualified winner of the Kentucky Derby is coming off a victory six weeks ago at Belmont Park in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler. Trained by Jason Servis and ridden again by Luís Sáez, the front-running colt has two Grade 1 wins this year (arguably three) and will carry top weight of 122 pounds. Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun To Run (5-2) finished third to Maximum Security in the Haskell. The two of them may contest the early pace. Hoping that they burn each other out on the lead – and searching for some value – my lean will be to Chad Brown’s lightly raced Network Effect (15-1). He came off an 11-month break four weeks ago to win as a 6-5 favorite over the same one-turn mile as this weekend’s race. I will include Maximum Security, Spun To Run and Kelso Handicap winner Pat On The Back (15-1) in exotics. On a clear, breezy, 36-degree day, the Cigar Mile starts Saturday at 4:16 p.m. EST.
Remsen Stakes. How is Forza Di Oro (3-1) the morning-line favorite at Aqueduct for the $250,000 Grade 2 Remsen Stakes? Did I not see him lose by 4¼ lengths to Ajaaweed (9-2) in a maiden mile at Belmont Park? Would a better start and a second turn really make that big a difference? I don’t buy either one. Alpha Sixty Six (4-1) will have the blinkers off for the 1⅛-mile points prep for the Kentucky Derby. The colt sired by Liam’s Map finished fifth off his poor beginning two months ago in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes after breaking his maiden on debut in a Belmont Park sprint. But Alpha Sixty Six drew post position 8 in Saturday’s field of nine, and an outside trip did not help him in the Champagne. Without much obvious early pace in the field, the choice here will be the long shot Shotski (15-1), a maiden winner that finished a close fourth in the Street Sense Stakes in October at Churchill Downs. Trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer scratched Shotski from last week’s Kentucky Jockey Club to come into this race, which looks less loaded. Exotics would be greedy propositions under this long shot. But why not? I will add blinkers-on pacesetter Prince James (15-1), Alpha Sixty Six and maybe Cleon Jones (6-1) filling out my tickets. The Remsen starts Saturday at 3:43 p.m. EST.
Los Alamitos Futurity. It looks like Bob Baffert scared off the competition. Since the race now known as the Los Alamitos Futurity was moved after the 2013 closing of Hollywood Park, Baffert has trained the winner every year with three of them eventually starting in the Kentucky Derby. Now lowered to a Grade 2 worth $200,000, only four 2-year-olds are entered this weekend, and two of them are Baffert’s. Neither of them is Eight Rings, the American Pharoah Stakes winner that is 33-1 in Kentucky Derby futures. Baffert decided to rest him until the San Vicente in February. Instead, Baffert’s maiden winner Thousand Words (8-5) is the favorite coming off two bullet works and adding blinkers. From the same barn, 2-for-2 stable mate High Velocity (5-2) goes without blinkers after his Grade 3 Bob Hope victory three weeks ago at Del Mar. Anneau d’Or (9-5) comes back from a near miss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he was second to Storm The Court. Peter Miller’s ridgling Wrecking Crew (7-2) was third in that race, and he completes this weekend’s field. What little value there is may come with bettors underrating Anneau d’Or being from northern California. If he is overlaid, I will bet him. If not, I will just be there watching. With showers in the southern California forecast, the Los Al Futurity has a post time of Saturday at 4:58 p.m. EST.
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. Horse Racing Radio Network’s Anthony Stabile from New York handicaps Saturday’s Cigar Mile and Remsen Stakes. Trainer Blaine Wright discusses Anneau d’Or’s bid to win Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity and take a step toward next spring’s Kentucky Derby. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher, and it is sponsored by Xpressbet.