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Horseplayers should beware expectations

Little in life is more frustrating than bloated expectations colliding with a deflated reality. That should be crocheted on a sampler — in small print — and hung over every horseplayer’s headboard.

Case in point: Bezos. Hell hath no fury like a bettor scorned, especially by a Bob Baffert horse that was supposed to be the next big thing. Bezos — the colt, not the soon-to-be self-exiled head of Amazon — settled for a seventh-place debut finish as a 3-5 favorite Sunday at Santa Anita. It was anything but big, and it brought out the red-boarders on Twitter.

“What a flop,” was a line from New York. “Did not live up to the hype,” wrote one person claiming to have been a former racing official. “Awful,” was the word used by a colleague with whom I have worked. “Bust,” said one burner-looking account with three followers.

Whose fault is that? Did Bezos — again, the horse — ever actually tell anyone he was going to make like Man o’ War only to look more like Manilow?

While Baffert has been known to drop the names of prized new horses in private conversations that go public in the twinkle of an eye, it is highly doubtful that he called Churchill Downs last month to say, “Why don’t you make Bezos the first unraced horse ever to appear in the 22-year history of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager?”

Churchill Downs did just that last month, and bettors followed him in like he was the Pied Piper of Arcadia. Chalk that up as a win for the house. The $7,172.68 wagered on him to win May 1 will look good paying a little of the offseason power bill under the Twin Spires.

OK, that is just as unfair to Bezos as were the ridiculously high hopes for him before his debut. But come on, 26-1 to win the Kentucky Derby? And 15-1 here in Las Vegas? Circa even cut him to 11-1.

Now Bezos is 40-1 at Circa and 25-1 at William Hill Nevada. Those odds still look like they are a sucker bet. Multiply by five and you might have a price worth taking.

Concert Tour might not have had the hype of Bezos, but since he is also a Baffert boy, players chased him right into the deep end of his winning debut last month. So far they are still afloat, even after betting him down to 25-1 before he got to 2-for-2 with his victory Saturday in the Grade 2 San Vicente sprint. Now he is 10-1 at William Hill, and Circa made him its 9-1 Derby co-favorite with stablemate Life Is Good.

While Bezos is unsurprisingly absent this weekend from the pari-mutuel KDFW, Concert Tour will compete with Grade 3 Sham Stakes winner Life Is Good for the individual favorite’s role, regardless of what the morning line says.

While breathless bettors clamor over them, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality might actually turn into a bargain. That is because he will not make his 3-year-old debut until Monday’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the day after the KDFW pool closes. The better to keep his odds higher than they would be if he were to have run and won before closing time Sunday.

Justified or not, Concert Tour, Life Is Good and Essential Quality will carry short odds in all these markets. Too short for a lot of bettors in midwinter.

“When you’re betting a horse at 15-1 or 20-1 so early, honestly, you’re really taking a bad price unless this horse is an absolute superstar,” DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello said three years ago when he was running the mother of all Kentucky Derby futures books at the Wynn Las Vegas. “I’m not afraid to take a bet early on these horses.”

What was Bud Fox’s line from “Wall Street”? “You don’t sell a seat to a guy for $89 when he’s willing to pay $389.” Why would a bookmaker offer 100-1 when bettors will take 10-1? That is the seller’s credo. Buyers, however, need not be willing enablers.

To those same buyers, beware of expectations. Just because the crowd joined Bezos does not make it a good move. The same applies for Concert Tour, a colt that has yet to show any acumen going two turns.

The late University of Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido had a standard, dog-eared answer whenever he was asked by some unsuspecting reporter about expectations.

“That word,” he told me in 1997, “is not in my vocabulary.”

DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?

Risk Taking (50-1 Circa, 25-1 William Hill): Was I ever wrong about this guy. I scoffed at him graduating from turf to dirt and adding blinkers to break his maiden on his third try. The public was impressed enough to make him the 9-5 favorite Saturday in the Grade 3 Withers. The public was right. After spotting 4½ lengths to his rivals, he made a powerful move into the stretch on the way to a 3¾-length victory that earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 89. Now this $240,000 Medaglia d’Oro colt tries to rewrite history, especially the chapter about trainer Chad Brown being 0-for-5 in the Derby.

Dream Shake (20-1, 65-1): He won the race that Bezos was supposed to win, coming through at 20-1 odds in his debut Sunday for trainer Peter Eurton. Is this $75,000 Twirling Candy colt a bargain that could yet make noise on the Derby trail? Circa players may be saying yes. Or did he punch above his weight the way Storm The Court did for Eurton in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? William Hill bettors may be more skeptical.

Candy Man Rocket (75-1, 30-1): His pace-stalking trip with jockey Junior Alvarado was a winner Saturday in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, and it was worth an 85 Beyer. This $250,000 Candy Ride colt is 2-for-2 as a 3-year-old, including a 9¼-length maiden breaker last month at Gulfstream Park. He passed the two-turn test for trainer Bill Mott last weekend, but at what cost? He was seen bleeding from the mouth after he came through the winner’s circle, raising questions about his ability to race without Lasix.

DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?

The Chosen Vron (125-1, 175-1): Eric Kruljac not only trains this Vronsky gelding, he is also a part-owner, and he had a role in his breeding. A 6¾-length debut victory Christmas weekend against nine other California-breds landed The Chosen Vron in the Derby futures market, but it is a big leap from intrastate company to graded stakes. That was clear when he wilted to third behind the Baffert pair Concert Tour and Freedom Fighter in Saturday’s San Vicente. The races only get tougher and longer on the Derby trail, so last weekend may have been pivotal.

Donegal Bay (250-1, 150-1): He was easily the biggest disappointment in the Withers, finishing seventh as the 3-1 third choice. The Uncle Mo gelding trained by Todd Pletcher had earned his place in the Derby futures with a pacesetting 4¼-length maiden mile win in December at Gulfstream Park. He just could not keep up with faster company last weekend. Maybe it was dealing with a second turn for the first time. Or maybe Derby contenders are out of his reach.

Get Her Number (300-1, 175-1): Whatever happened to the winner of last September’s Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes? Because of what he said was bone bruising, trainer Peter Miller gave this $45,000 Dialed In colt a long break before bringing him back to morning workouts at San Luis Rey near Del Mar three weeks ago. Based only on the stopwatch, he has not wowed anyone into thinking he is back to his old self. That may be why his odds have suddenly gone long. Or maybe it is the uncertainty of whether Miller will keep him on the dirt or take him back to the turf, where he broke his maiden last summer at Del Mar.

In addition to this article, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently for coverage of big events. The return of a 2020 champion and the first win-and-you’re-in Kentucky Derby prep highlight this week’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. Darley America president Jimmy Bell discusses Essential Quality, last year’s juvenile champion that races Monday in the Southwest Stakes in Arkansas. Track announcer John G. Dooley previews Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans. DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

 

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