Let’s all admit it. To this day we envy the Vegas degenerate who took the call from California about an unraced horse, got second-hand affirmation from Bob Baffert, visited Johnny Avello at the Wynn, coaxed him up from 250-1 to 300-1, plunked down a nickel and cashed a 2018 Kentucky Derby futures ticket for $150,000.
Now every Tom, Dick and Joe rummages through the bargain rack of futures books looking for the next Justify.
Between the flea markets at William Hill Nevada, Circa Sports and on foreign shores, those racks now have 179 horses listed in the markets for the 2021 Derby. At least 178 are pretenders. No matter. There is no shortage of Charlie Bucket manqués pouring over pedigrees and sales records and work tabs in a mad search for the next golden ticket.
Here is the bad news. It may not exist.
Avello might have had the Willy Wonka stones to book that bet, but now that he is at DraftKings, he is not walking through that Las Vegas Boulevard door. At least not right now. His successors like Steve Alford at William Hill and Paul Zilm at Circa do not have carte blanche to go crazy with big odds on horses with significant backside cred. If this were 2018 revisited, not only would we be running around without masks, we would not be seeing 300-1 on Justify.
Of the 138 horses listed in the William Hill futures, only two – Florida-bred maiden winners Advance Cash and Valiant Thor – are at least 300-1. Advance Cash (300-1) lost his only two stakes starts by a combined 41½ lengths. After winning his debut Valiant Thor (350-1) has lost his three starts since by a total of more than 100 lengths. If it were legal, I would book the bets on those two.
When it opened its Derby futures Wednesday, Circa posted 15 horses at odds of at least 300-1. Four of them were among the top five finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. It is a long shot that any of them will even be aimed at the Derby, which has not had a female starter since Devil May Care was 10th in 2010, and none since the prep points system was brought in eight years ago.
The 11 males that Circa lists at 300-1 are a combined 12-for-41 with average earnings of $50,319. The gelding It Can Be Done is the only two-time winner in the bunch. One of those victories, though, was on the turf, where he has made his two most recent starts.
What’s Up Surfer also comes from that group, and he is undefeated for trainer Peter Miller. But before anyone throws a fistful of money at him, how about taking a closer look at his record? He is 1-for-1, winning a $50,000 maiden race last July at Del Mar. He has not been on the work tab since.
Circa does deserve credit for posting prices on 11 unraced horses, including a pair of seven-figure colts that went to Baffert. American Admiral (100-1) is owned in part by Coolmore, and he is by American Pharoah out of a Smart Strike mare. That all sounds well and good until seeing that he has been off the work tab since October.
It also sounds wonderful Godolphin paid $2.5 million for Lidstrom (100-1), a colt that Baffert has kept busy with 22 timed workouts since August. But Bruno De Julio, the respected workout analyst behind the eponymous Racing With Bruno, looked at three of Lidstrom’s works and said “he hasn’t raced yet because he can’t run.”
So maybe, just maybe, there is not a lucrative 300-1 needle to be found in the haystack – or among the horses that turn 3 when we finally rid ourselves of this pustule of a calendar year. There was no such pot of gold in September, when Authentic was no better than 50-1 at any point before the Derby. Even last year, Country House was never longer than 100-1 in the futures before he was awarded the victory at post-time odds of 65-1.
If this is cold water being thrown on the hopes of get-rich-quick schemers, so be it. More power, then, to anyone who makes a big wish come true next May.
Racing notes and opinions
Rainy weather has already had a big impact on Saturday’s $250,000 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct, New York. Because the main track is sloppy, trainer Kelly Breen said that he is scratching Firenze Fire (5-2). Mind Control (20-1) is also out. The morning-line favorite Performer (7-5) is looking for his sixth consecutive victory for Shug McGaughey, who has raced the 4-year-old Speightstown colt only once in the past year. With a sloppy track comes catnip for frontrunners, so the play here is on Mr. Buff (6-1), the 6-year-old gelding that won by five lengths last January when the Jazil was run over nine furlongs in the Aqueduct slop. In his first race since May, King Guillermo (9-2) brings questions but maybe value to go with them, and his ability to chase the pace could be handy on a wet track. Post time is scheduled for Saturday at 4:13 p.m. EST.
Good luck finding the even-money price that Princess Noor is carrying on the morning line into Saturday’s $300,000 Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos. The first winnable bet is that she will be odds-on. Trained by Baffert and ridden by Víctor Espinoza, the $1.35 million Not This Time baby was a disappointing fifth last month in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. She is 3-for-3 in her California starts, all at odds-on. She will go with blinkers off Saturday at 5:28 p.m. EST, perhaps conceding the early pace in the 8½-furlong race to Astute (7-5), a 2-for-2 Speightstown filly trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by Mike Smith. Speed ratings say this is a two-horse race for the 10 qualifying points that the winner will carry toward the Kentucky Oaks. It is hard to disagree. It will be even harder to make any money on this race. Maybe playing first-time starter Standing O (6-1) and Alpine Thunder (4-1) from the fourth race into a rolling double with Princess Noor and Astute is the way to go. Perhaps go horizontally into the sixth with debutantes Lady Mystify (6-1), Miss Melody (6-1) and Absolute Anna (5-1). Or just sit back and use the Scarlet as a scouting tool. Blind Luck and Abel Tasman, after all, won this race five months before finishing first in the Kentucky Oaks.
After the thousands of words that have been written here about the feud between the Hatfields – the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association – and the McCoys – Churchill Downs Inc., this addendum shall be brief. With its opening this week Turfway Park was added to the list of CDI tracks unavailable to Nevada bettors. For the uninitiated, simply type “NPMA CDI Flatter” into a search engine, and let the barrage of verbiage overwhelm.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode, Firenze Fire’s trainer Kelly Breen and Fox Sports handicapper Jonathon Kinchen from the In the Money Media Network discuss Saturday’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct, and Duane Colucci of the Rampart Casino handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.