Derby futures bets make no sense now

There is no sense in horseplayers kicking themselves for not getting Tiz The Law at 20-1 to win the Kentucky Derby. Or Honor A. P. at 50-1. Or Art Collector at 250-1.


Those odds really were available for the three horses that should carry the shortest post-time prices next week into the run for the long-ago-bloomed roses.


But that does not mean bettors should be in a rush to use their current futures odds to make up for lost opportunity. Not with Tiz The Law (1-1 Circa Sports, 4-5 Stations, 4-5 William Hill) having as many minus signs next to his name as there were in last weekend’s golf tournament at TPC Boston. And not with Honor A. P. (13-2, 7-1, 7-1) and Art Collector (6-1, 9-2, 9-2) being the only other horses less than 10-1.


“These prices are way too short.”


Those were the words of DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello. He ought to know. For 13 years at the Wynn Las Vegas, he crafted the Derby futures book by which all others are still measured.


There was nothing complicated about what Avello said last week on VSiN’s “Road to the Derby” (7 p.m. EDT, 4 p.m. PDT Friday, on demand for subscribers at He offered as a reminder the usual caveats about horse futures, the ones that read like the warning label on a pack of cigarettes.


“A horse could get sick,” Avello said. “A horse could get injured. He could draw a bad post position. Inclement weather.”


But then he offered the best reasons why there is no bargain right now in a futures bet on the Champagne-Florida Derby-Belmont-Travers winner. Or more to the point, the Kentucky Jockey Club loser.


“Tiz The Law’s only loss was at Churchill Downs,” said Avello, referring to a third-place finish last November over a sloppy track and, more important, in congested traffic.

And then there was the mathematics of it all, the simple fact that parimutuel bets on Derby day will not be influenced by the exposure that bookmakers have absorbed, especially with four extra months of wagering.


“Others are going to draw money in this race even though you may think they’re not going to,” Avello said. “Some 50-1 shots that should be 75-1 are going to be 22-1. I think you’ll get this race day. I don’t see any reason to bet this at this point.”


Ah, but wait. Avello did see one avenue worth pursuing in the futures. How about a bet that Tiz The Law fails to win the Derby? Circa Sports has that price right now at minus-130.


“I would bet that now,” Avello said. “I don’t think that will get that much shorter. If anything, I think that could go higher.”


And unlike a ticket on a horse to win, all those trap doors Avello mentioned about a horse’s health and fitness and his draw and an off track would work to a bettor’s benefit on a Tiz The Law “No” bet. Like a bet on him to win, it is action as long as the race is run. If he failed to get to the gate for any reason, the “No” bet would still pay off. It is just like any “No” ticket that was written for Uncle Chuck; it will cash at Circa at as short as minus-1350.


The “No” action also offsets some of the exposure Circa has on Tiz The Law.


“We have some sharp players coming in on the ‘No,’ ” said risk supervisor Paul Zilm, who works with sportsbook director Matt Metcalf in writing the horse futures at Circa. “It’s enough to keep us from going beyond even money for Tiz The Law to win.”


Imagine if Omaha Beach failing to win the Derby had been available last year at, say, minus-500. Like a blackjack player taking out 2-1 insurance against a dealer showing an ace or some type of 10, it was not fashionable. But it might have been a nice option to have. It certainly is attractive this year at minus-130, especially when the global market overseas shows Tiz The Law as a minus-130 “Yes.”


“We offer the ‘Yes-No’ in as many of our future pools as we can that would draw interest,” said Zilm, referring to all sports and not just racing. “We have found that there really isn’t interest once you get to a certain level.”





To that end, Circa offers the “No” prop for six other horses as shown on the accompanying table. “For this event and pool,” Zilm said, “we felt 20-1 made sense for a cutoff.”


Now that the Derby field is down to 19 confirmed starters, the yet-to-be-supplemented allowance winner Rushie and the possible late alternate Money Moves, most of the dust has settled on futures pools. If the parimutuels are any reflection — and in proper context they usually are — it will be a toss-up between Kentucky’s own Art Collector and California shipper Honor A. P. for second choice behind Tiz The Law. After that there is plenty of value that probably is not going away this week.


How often does five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert go to Louisville with horses like Authentic (21-2, 10-1, 10-1) and Thousand Words (13-1, 12-1, 12-1) carrying double-digit odds? If a case is to be made for a fresh, well-rested starter like King Guillermo (17-1, 22-1, 24-1), the Belmont runner-up Dr Post (20-1, 30-1, 35-1) or the continuing forward progress of Caracaro (32-1, 22-1, 40-1), the reward is there for the taking right now.


It may be there at Station Casinos, which added Derby futures this month and plan for now to take them right up to post time. That could depend on whether Churchill Downs makes a deal with the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which includes Stations. Before talks broke down last spring, Churchill was insisting that all NPMA racebooks drop their futures pools before allowing them into its all-sources Derby pool.


Nevada racebooks have not taken bets on Churchill Downs since the impasse began in October. Without a deal, some of the state’s shops are preparing to book the Derby on their own with lower limits. But that could change if the relationship thaws between the track and the racebook cartel. So stay tuned.


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