Life Is Good was always going to generate betting steam for the Kentucky Derby. That goes along with being a ballyhooed Baffert. But who knew the same thing would be said of Speaker’s Corner?
Chalk it up to being at the oddest junction that futures betting will cross even in the most normal of years. It is that point just after the first pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager conducted by Churchill Downs. It is right in the middle of the ongoing fixed-odds betting at William Hill Nevada. And it is just as Circa Sports has been preparing to open its second annual Derby futures.
Those are the landmarks in the modern era of Derby betting, going on three years since Johnny Avello’s legendary futures book was put in mothballs when he left the Wynn Las Vegas to become the boss at DraftKings Sportsbook. The prices might not be as good as they were in Avello’s heyday, but now is the time when horseplayers have choices to challenge their betting skills, their prescience and their acuity. Knowing who is moving the needle on these markets is half the battle in trying to separate a wise wager from a sucker bet.
Take the KDFW pari-mutuels. Life Is Good was the ultimate public play in a pool that does not have a deep end for sharp horseplayers. Why take 5-1 at Churchill Downs if 10-1 is available in Las Vegas? Because the average Joe will not jump on a plane and fly to Nevada to drop a dime on the Baffert of the Month. Frankly, wise guys are not doing that either. At 100-1, sure. But 10-1? Not without a free hotel suite, comped meals and booze and an endless line of credit.
That does not mean Churchill Downs’ first pari-mutuel pool was without some sharp strategy around the edges. That was clearly the case with Speaker’s Corner. Installed at 50-1 on the KDFW morning line, he had opened as a garden-variety 125-1 shot a month ago at William Hill. Bred by Godolphin and trained by Bill Mott, he is a colt with some very blue bloodlines — by Street Sense out of a Bernardini mare.
Speaker’s Corner was slow to start his career. Literally. He was late out of the gate in his third-place debut as an odds-on favorite in a Saratoga sprint. He got his act together nearly two months ago in a 7-furlong test at Belmont Park, overcoming a bumpy start to beat next-out winner and fellow Derby prospect Caddo River (27-1 KDFW, 40-1 William Hill) by three-quarters of a length.
Ahead of his start Saturday at Aqueduct in the Remsen Stakes, Speaker’s Corner turned in a bullet breeze last Wednesday at Belmont Park. Maybe that and the timing of this weekend’s Derby prep are why some wise guys moved in on him late in the pari-mutuel window Sunday. They took him from 47-1 to 34-1 and then in the final 10 minutes to 29-1, easily the biggest move on any of the 22 individual horses in the KDFW.
The Las Vegas price also shortened for Speaker’s Corner. To 100-1. If bettors were that serious about him in the pari-mutuels, they should have worked out a visit to Nevada — comps or no comps.
The timing for such a trip would be good this week, especially since Circa Sports posts its opening Derby futures Wednesday. If it follows its own lead from last year, it will have competitive prices early. And they will not last long. Whatever price Life Is Good carries will undoubtedly be shortened before the end of the first week, maybe even the first hour.
Worth watching in the Circa futures will be the prices of some of the buzz horses that are not making as much noise as Life Is Good did in his runaway debut 1½ weeks ago at Del Mar — or Essential Quality (remember him?) in his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile triumph last month.
After winning Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Keepmeinmind shortened to 50-1 at William Hill before closing at 19-1 in the KDFW. Mandaloun, now 2-for-2 for likely 2020 training champion Brad Cox after a win on Saturday’s Churchill Downs undercard, was cut from 110-1 to 75-1 at William Hill. How they are priced at Circa could go a long way toward informing bettors how under-the-radar prospects may be valued this winter.
Speaker’s Corner might make the next big move — up or down — in the futures market. Life Is Good will be looming with trainer Bob Baffert pointing him to next month’s Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. And even though he is bound for a winter at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Essential Quality’s path to the Derby has yet to be mapped by Cox. When it is, players will be examining it closely.
Those are the horses whose big splashes are in the rear-view mirror, the primary focus of public players. The pros will watch them with more amusement than interest. Instead, they will have their eyes trained out the front window, the one with a view of big moves in morning workouts by horses no one else is noticing lest they cause their odds to prematurely shorten in Nevada.
Find a room with that front-window view. It could be worth every bit as much or more than that comped weekend on the Strip.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On this week’s episode, trainer Kelly Breen discusses Firenze Fire’s bid to win the Cigar Mile Handicap, Fox Sports handicapper Jonathon Kinchen from the In the Money Media Network discusses the Aqueduct card, and Duane Colucci of the Rampart Casino handicaps weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod will be available for download Friday and free subscription now at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.