If you think that Johnny Avello at the Wynn Las Vegas would feel threatened by the competition of the Breeders’ Cup Future Wager being put together by the Breeders’ Cup itself, you don’t know how Johnny Avello got to be this town’s best bookmaker for horse racing.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I like it. I’m glad they’ve started something.”
It has only just started.
Last weekend’s nationwide betting made Accelerate (3-1) the pari-mutuel favorite for the Classic and Monomoy Girl (3-1) the shortest-priced for the Distaff. This weekend the Breeders’ Cup will feature advance wagering on the Juvenile, for which Jerry Hollendorfer’s flashy colt Instagrand (4-1) is the morning-line favorite. Betting on the 2-year-olds themselves and a separate pool on which sire will produce the Juvenile winner were to start at noon EDT Friday and continue through 6 p.m. EDT Sunday.
The Breeders’ Cup will have one more weekend of future bets in early October with a second pool for the Classic and one for the Turf.
“We’ve been thinking about bringing this back for years,” Breeders’ Cup vice president of content Peter Rotondo Jr. said. “Remember in 2002 and 2003 we did it. But that was before advance-deposit wagering was hot and before social media. It was a different world.”
In other words, it did not work 15 and 16 years ago. There was just not enough business then to make it worth the organizers’ while to keep it going.
“I remember trying to make sure that it made it into the program and make sure the TVs around Saratoga had it,” Rotondo said. “A lot has changed since then.”
Not just ADWs but betting apps. The ability to get bettors to their phones and tablets rather than bricks-and-mortar tote windows give this attempt at a nationwide future wager more than a fighting chance. Now it is just a matter of getting the word out.
“It was kind of sprung quickly without a lot of people knowing about it,” Avello said.
That’s true. It was less than two weeks ago when word leaked that the Breeders’ Cup might resurrect its futures betting. The first formal notice of it came in a news release Aug. 22. Two days later the first bets were being taken.
The late notice no doubt had a lot to do with the skimpy handle last weekend. With only $2 minimum win betting available, the Classic pool drew $86,670.05 and the Distaff only $17,732.73. By comparison, last November’s first Kentucky Derby Future Wager brought in $177,103.
“It came late,” Avello said. “But as long as they’re getting it started, people will know that it’s going to be around next year.”
Still, with earlier-than-usual interest in this year’s 2-year-olds, Avello predicted that this weekend’s Juvenile wager will do stronger business, especially with Instagrand and Bob Baffert’s Roadster (6-1), the only two horses on which Avello has already taken bets for next year’s Kentucky Derby. The two California colts are expected to duel Monday in the Del Mar Futurity.
“That might be their biggest write,” Avello said, “because that’s the one people are really pumped up about.”
Rotondo said choosing the Juvenile for a pool of its own was part of a bigger plan to promote the move of all the Breeders’ Cup 2-year-old races to the first day of the championships this fall at Churchill Downs.
“We’re running all those races on Friday (Nov. 2),” he said. “We’re branding the day. This is a way to start talking about the (2-year-olds) as a promotional way to lead into that Friday. We’ve lucked out in a way because there have been some amazing performances already between Del Mar and Saratoga.”
In addition to Instagrand and Roadster, both Rotondo and Avello pointed to Mucho (8-1) and Call Paul (8-1), the co-third choices on the morning line in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Wager. Trained by Bill Mott, Mucho got a Beyer Speed Figure of 91 for his 9¾-length win early this month at Saratoga. Call Paul ran his record to 2-for-2 for Jason Servis with his victory in this month’s Saratoga Special.
“The timing was right,” Rotondo said. “Obviously working with Churchill Downs is important, since they’ve done it before many times with the Derby and Oaks (future wagers), so we took a shot.”
While the Breeders’ Cup is back in the business of pari-mutuel futures, the Wynn continues to attract steady business with its own, well-established Classic wager with Avello’s shrewdly written odds. At his book, for instance, Accelerate is 9-2. Bettors who have access to both an ADW (hypocritically made unavailable to residents here because of Nevada state law ...) and the Wynn (... which says you have to be here to play here and only here) may do some shopping – but only on the Classic. That is because Avello does not have the luxury of endlessly risk-free booking that pari-mutuel operators enjoy.
“I would do more,” Avello said. “The problem is once I do it and put it up, it’s really hard for my staff to stay on it. If something happens and I don’t catch it before the guys hit me, I get caught sleeping. It’s more of a safety precaution not to do it than it is not wanting to do it.”
But Avello said he might add a Distaff future wager before fall. As he put it, “I have to pick and choose what I think works and makes the house money.”
So consider him to be a fan of his new rival – an ill-fitting term for a man who goes the extra mile to promote racing at every turn, even if it is not his idea.
“I’m just happy to see them doing something each weekend, throwing something else out there,” Avello said. “Peter Rotondo is a good guy. He wants to try to do innovative things, so that’s good.”
Racing notes and opinions
Gunnevera (4-1) is an uncertain, morning-line favorite for this weekend’s $750,000 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, the last big feature of the Saratoga summer that ends Labor Day Monday. The field of 14 comes in with a lot of warts, but that also makes it bountiful for bettors looking for a price. Trained by Antonio Sano and ridden by Edgard Zayas, Gunnevera’s only win since last August was three weeks ago in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Another closer – Seeking The Soul (9-2) – was a beaten favorite 17 days ago in an ungraded stakes at Indiana Downs. Yoshida (5-1) won a Grade 1 at Churchill Downs in May for Bill Mott, but this is his first start on dirt. With no obvious pace-setter, the horse that gets to the lead in this nine-furlong race could have his way to the very end. That horse could be Leofric (20-1) or Term Of Art (30-1), two Brad Cox trainees that finished one-two early this month in a Grade 3 at Mountaineer Park. Since they will be long shots, a win bet on both might not be a bad idea. Post time for the Woodward is 6:47 p.m. EDT Saturday.
It runs only five racing days in September, but the all-turf meeting at Kentucky Downs is turning into an increasingly popular attraction for fans and bettors as well as a pot of gold for horsemen. The track on the Tennessee border makes the claim that it has the biggest average daily purses in North America at $2 million, and Saturday’s opening-day feature – the $750,000 Tourist Mile – is a perfect example. With 11 wins in 18 starts including the Wise Dan at Churchill Downs, Cox’s 4-year-old gelding Mr. Misunderstood (2-1) is the favorite in a field of seven. Cox has suggested that this may be a stepping stone for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The Tourist Mile is scheduled for 6:26 p.m. EDT Saturday.
Good Magic’s immediate racing future is uncertain after he was diagnosed with a high count of white blood cells after finishing ninth as the favorite in last Saturday’s Travers at Saratoga. “He came out of the race actually sick,” trainer Chad Brown said Thursday. “We’ve been treating him with antibiotics, and the horse actually looks better today.” Brown said after a check-up, Good Magic would be sent to Stonestreet Farm in Kentucky for an indefinite period of time off. Good Magic is a 13-1 long shot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Future Wager and is 30-1 at the Wynn.
We lost John Asher on Monday. By “we” I mean the Kentucky Derby and racing in particular and Kentucky in general. The longtime Churchill Downs public-relations man who put a smiling face and golden voice with the track he adored died at age 62 of an apparent heart attack during a family vacation in Florida. One of his favorite sayings about the Derby was that it was always “sunny and 75” on race day. If it was raining, he would say, “the weather was fine when I left home.” The first time I heard him tell me that was five years ago, when we were walking in the mud through a downpour looking through the stable area for trainer Dallas Stewart the morning after the Derby. We swapped stories and talked about racing and families and life and so much more. That was every conversation with John. There is already a call to name a stakes race after him – the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby day seems appropriate – and there will no doubt be moments of reflection in his honor during Breeders’ Cup week this fall. To say he will be missed is a feeble understatement.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week turf writer turned publicist Jennie Rees and Breeders’ Cup executive Peter Rotondo Jr. discuss Saturday’s Woodward Stakes, the opening of Kentucky Downs and the new Breeders’ Cup Future Wager. They also remember the late Churchill Downs publicist John Asher. The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.