Only the spirit of Sid Farkus may save bettors who are looking for someone to book their Breeders’ Cup and maybe even their Kentucky Derby futures bets in Nevada.
To paraphrase what the avuncular Sid told the ever-vanquished George Costanza nearly 26 years ago, “barring some unforeseen incident,” there will be no more horse-racing futures in Nevada.
Managers at the only two Nevada sportsbooks that offered fixed-odds betting on the Breeders’ Cup last year said that there are no plans to do so again this year. And without naming names, the state’s Gaming Control Board said it tightened the screws on “several of our licensees” that were in violation of a rule that the public would regard as obscure.
It was around this time last year when William Hill posted odds for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But when he was asked if it would happen this year, director of trading Nick Bogdanovich said, “I doubt it.”
The Westgate Las Vegas, which started offering its own futures in October last year, was more firm. “We’re not going to do it,” sports-book director John Murray said.
Devoting resources to post and maintain competitive odds becomes more of a problem for both books at a time when football and baseball seasons overlap – and with basketball and hockey getting started just before the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 1 and 2.
“The only guy who does horses (for us) runs Delaware sports and is slammed,” said Bogdanovich, who also looks after William Hill’s operations in other states. “I will ask him, but you can lay –500 (the) answer is no.”
It sounds like this goes beyond resources, though. In an email relayed by senior research analyst Michael Lawton, the Gaming Control Board said that it learned “through our routine audits” that “several of our licensees ... were taking ‘in-house’ wagers on races such as the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup, etc. However, rather than using either a live broadcast or a wire service from a licensed disseminator to determine winners and payouts, these books were using the pari-mutuel system.”
That, the board said, was a violation of Regulation 22.080, which says winners and payouts on horse races must be determined “only with information the book receives from licensed disseminators.”
Simply put, a disseminator is the company that controls the races. That could be either Breeders’ Cup Ltd. or The Stronach Group for this fall’s races at Santa Anita. And it definitely means Churchill Downs Inc. in the case of the Kentucky Derby. As one bookmaker without a dog in this fight – or a horse in this race – put it, “They are not going to give that away.”
The Gaming Control Board said that “the issue was discovered during routine audit procedures” and that it “routinely cites violations against licensees who violate this or any other regulation.” Despite being asked specifically by VSiN, the board stopped short of saying who was stretching the rules in this case. It did not mention William Hill, the Westgate or any other specific licensee in the entire email.
The board also insisted when specifically asked by VSiN that the Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs “did not initiate this. This was determined through our own routine procedures.”
Nevertheless, Churchill Downs Inc. did force DraftKings to take down its Kentucky Derby futures at the Scarlet Pearl casino in D’Iberville, Miss., only three days after they were posted last January. “Federal law requires the consent of the track on which the wager is placed as well as other necessary approvals,” CDI said at the time. “In this case the wagers did not meet the requirements of federal law, including obtaining of our consent.”
Churchill offers Derby futures. But the pools are open only four weekends – in November, February, March and April – and are pari-mutuel, limited to a maximum 24 horses. Similar pools were opened last fall for the Breeders’ Cup using Churchill Downs infrastructure. But most of the closing odds for these markets are not nearly as attractive as those in off-shore and overseas betting.
It was Johnny Avello who tried last winter to replicate at DraftKings the Derby futures that were so popular in his 13 years running the show at the Wynn Las Vegas. He recently said that he was hoping for some state gambling authority to give him a green light to try again.
But even as so many horseplayers wish the clock could be turned back to his time at the Wynn, the cold reality is that racing executives are taking custody of their ball and bat. And the Nevada Gaming Control Board will be watching.
Racing notes and opinions
Talk about a whirlwind 24 hours for racing between Wednesday and Thursday. There was The New York Times bombshell about Justify and his failed drug test before last year’s Triple Crown (see Thursday’s column). There was the news about futures betting here in Nevada. And there was Mandy Pope. She specializes in collecting expensive broodmares. Pope paid $8.2 million Wednesday for a yearling filly at the Keeneland September sale. American Pharoah is the girl’s well-known daddy. Less well-known is her mom – Leslie’s Lady. All she has done is foal Grade 1 winners like Beholder, Mendelssohn and the respected stallion Into Mischief. Why would I not be surprised if that baby filly never races and only breeds? And after seeing that price tag, why do I feel like I am in the wrong line of work?
Oh, two more big things happened between Wednesday and Thursday. Champion filly Monomoy Girl was removed from consideration for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, which she won last year. Trainer Brad Cox said that she pulled a muscle in a workout last weekend. Overseas, Crystal Ocean was retired after suffering a training injury to a cannon bone that required surgery. Dubiously ranked No. 1 in the world before this month, the 5-year-old horse sired by Sea The Stars finished a thrilling second to two-time Arc winner and current No. 1 Enable in the King George 1½ months ago at Ascot. Can we just get past this week? Please?
Kentucky Derby points races start Saturday at 5:26 p.m. EDT with the $200,000 Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs. Morning-line favorite Dennis’ Moment (9-5) will try to lead the whole way as he did in July, breaking his maiden for Dale Romans with a 19-length win at Ellis Park. There is no lack of speed in this 8½-furlong race for 2-year-olds, the first around two turns for all but a long shot in the field of 10 colts. My play will be on Letmeno (10-1), a mid-pack runner that finished second to rival Rowdy Yates (7-2) in last month’s Ellis Park Juvenile. Contested, early pace and the longer distance may be kinder to Letmeno, and his style historically does well in this race, which has not produced a Derby winner in its first 37 runnings.
Four-year-old filly and Fourstardave winner Got Stormy (8-5) is the morning-line favorite Saturday at 5:42 p.m. EDT for the $758,700 Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, a one-turn turf race near Toronto that is a win-and-you’re-in for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The feeling here is that the pace – or lack of it – does not set up for her. My ticket will be topped instead by the long-shot, 4-year-old gelding Silent Poet (15-1), a track-record-setting winner leading from gate to wire last month in the Grade 2 Play The King at Woodbine. Local horses do not traditionally do well in this race, but I am counting on Silent Poet not reading a history book while leading from gate to wire. Chad Brown’s closer Raging Bull (3-1), Awesometank (8-1) and Lucullan (8-1) will fill out my tickets that will be favorite-free.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Legendary comedian Shecky Greene discusses a lifetime of betting on races, something he still does every day in Las Vegas. Toronto media personality Jason Portuondo handicaps Saturday’s Woodbine Mile. There is also Twitter feedback, a discussion of the controversy over Justify’s positive drug test before his Triple Crown last year and a comment on the likelihood that Nevada is unlikely to offer Breeders’ Cup futures betting this fall. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.