Sometimes it pays to be obsessed about details. And in my case it could pay off at 90-1 on Kentucky Derby day.
Those are the odds I got making a future bet on Hidden Scroll. No, not back in January before he ran off to a 14-length win in his debut. I got that price last Sunday. And it was entirely by accident.
Every weekend since the first of the year I have kept close track of Derby futures, first with William Hill, then with off-shore and European bookmakers and lately with the Westgate Las Vegas after it joined in this month. Anyone who follows me on Twitter @ronflatter has seen the results of that work in the regular posting of updated odds.
Then came last Sunday. I woke up to see the new odds at William Hill, where the futures had been suspended for part of the previous day because of the running of the Louisiana Derby. That is routine, since there are always more than a few changes in the prices after a big prep.
As I scrolled down the new list on my phone app past Game Winner (4-1), Improbable (6-1), Instagrand (7-1), Code Of Honor (8-1) and Roadster (10-1), something was missing. Where was Hidden Scroll? He had been 12-1, but the only horses listed at that price were Mucho Gusto and Bourbon War.
So I kept scrolling until I hit the oddest entry. “Hidden Scroll 9033-100.” Whoa. That is 90-1 – plus 33 cents.
This was not the first time I had seen this sort of post on the William Hill app. I think it was Bourbon War that lingered a few weeks at whatever price he was, and it was also shown as “___33-100.” The difference in that case was that his odds did not look like an overlay the way Hidden Scroll’s did last Sunday.
So I did as anyone would do stumbling across, say, a $20 bill in the middle of Central Park. I looked around to see if someone was watching, I picked up the money, put it in my pocket and walked off. (That actually happened to me in New York, but I digress.)
In this case I placed a tiny bet on Hidden Scroll to see if that “9033-100” actually worked. And the ticket came back with a will pay at 90.33-1. So I did it again. And again. And then I went to Twitter.
“I don’t know why,” I wrote, “but Hidden Scroll went from 12-1 to 90-1 at @WilliamHillUS (actually 90.33). What did I miss? Not the chance to get a bet down at that price.”
Knowing full well, though, that a clear and obvious typographical error is reason enough for a bookmaker to void a bet, I sent a text to Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading here in Las Vegas for William Hill, to see where everything stood – and whether this was a typo.
“We lose pretty good to that horse,” he wrote. “Don’t know about a typo. But we never rescind bets without the customer’s approval.”
So that was that. At some point during all this sleuthing, Hidden Scroll’s odds reverted to 12-1 on my app, so it sure felt like a typo. Maybe William Hill did not have to honor the bets at “9033-100,” but it has. (Thank you, Nick. You are a mensch.) Anyone like me who got that price fell ass backward into what may be one of the top six choices to win the Kentucky Derby – at 90-1.
I am not sure what the lesson is here except to paraphrase Jay Spry from “The Wire.” When it comes to Kentucky Derby futures betting, God still resides in the details.
Shug keeps Code Of Honor on the path of Orb
This is a happily familiar path for Shug McGaughey. The Hall of Fame trainer used Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby victories to prep Orb for a triumph in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
Now he is hoping to do the same thing with Code Of Honor.
“I guess I am just as excited,” McGaughey told VSiN. “It’s sort of the same pattern. We had a little bump in the road in January with Code Of Honor. Now we’re at kind of the same spot we were with Orb.”
Code Of Honor bounced back from an autumn illness and then a fourth-place finish early this year in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes to win last month’s Fountain of Youth. The next stop is this weekend’s running of the $1 million Grade 1 Florida Derby on what is forecast to be a sunny day at Gulfstream Park. Saturday’s post time is listed as 6:30 p.m. EDT. The winner will be assured of a place in the Kentucky Derby, and the runner-up should have enough points to get there, too.
Drawn to the rail for the 1⅛-mile main-track race, Code Of Honor (3-1) is the second choice on the morning line. Hidden Scroll (5-2), the flashy third-time starter that faded from first to fourth in the Fountain of Youth, is the favorite. The question for both of them is whether the pace will be as suicidal out front as it was last month.
“Considering as fast as he went early, the fact that he was able to finish up at all was actually quite remarkable,” Hidden Scroll’s trainer Bill Mott told the Gulfstream Park media team. “I think it leaves us at a little bit of a loss to know where we’re at. We’re at a little bit of a learning stage with him. Not only do we have to find out if he can rate a little bit, we have to find out if he can truly get a mile-and-an-eighth real well.”
With Javier Castellano replacing Joel Rosario on Hidden Scroll, McGaughey did not sound concerned that the pace might be slower ahead of Code Of Honor than it was when it fell his way in the Fountain of Youth.
“Obviously we got a quick pace, and we had the ‘1’ post,” McGaughey said. “My discussion with the jockey (John Velázquez) was to save ground as long as he possibly can. That won’t be a worry here. I don’t think they’re going to be lolling around. But if they do, we’re going to be laying fairly close.”
Code Of Honor has shown himself to be a versatile colt, even if that was not always the plan. He led at every call in his debut, a maiden victory in a sprint last summer at Saratoga. He stumbled out of the gate last fall in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and spotted the field 10 lengths before closing to finish second. Then after his misfire in the Mucho Macho Man, he conceded ground early before successfully rating the pace on the backstretch in the Fountain of Youth.
Sired by Noble Mission out of a Dixie Union mare, Code Of Honor was a late arrival in 2016.
“He’s a May 23 foal, so he’s still two months away from being a true 3-year-old,” McGaughey said. “I just think that maybe there’s still a little bit more they’re from a physical standpoint.”
Since favorites have failed in eight of the last nine Kentucky Derby preps, one might think that McGaughey would be fine not having the choice horse this weekend. On the contrary. He said he welcomes high expectations, especially if a victory Saturday thrusts Code Of Honor to the top of the futures market.
“That’s fine for me,” he said. “I’d rather be the favorite than 10-1 or 20-1. If we win the Florida Derby, we’ll look forward to it if we are the favorite.”
Racing notes and opinions
Why is Hard Belle in the Florida Derby? Of the 11 horses in the Florida Derby, the inclusion of out-of-his-league Hard Belle (50-1) caused a burst of consternation on Twitter. With only a maiden win in 13 races, mostly worth $50,000 or less, the colt trained by Jaime Mejía has been defeated by an average of nearly 12 lengths in his last eight races. ESPN’s Chris “The Bear” Fallica wrote @chrisfallica: “Wow. Brutal. Shame that horse is taking up a spot in the gate. Maybe they can find a nice 50k claimer next time so the horse has a chance.” Mejía is only 3-for-98 during this Gulfstream Park meet. His frequent critic Greg @LvilleFan1 wrote: “Once again Jaime Mejia should be shot for entering this horse in this spot. The horse will be running in his 7th race this year and can’t even hit the board in a starter race. HE, is what’s wrong with this sport.” So since he is likely to jet to an early lead and fade before the final turn, just why is Hard Belle in the Florida Derby? For one thing the race was undersubscribed. For another his entry fee of $5,000 will be more than offset by the $10,000 purse guarantee for simply starting the race. So if there is a finger of blame to be pointed, it should be aimed not at Mejía but, instead, the Gulfstream Park racing office for writing such conditions. What is the saying? Don’t hate the player, hate the game? That seems to apply here.
The Florida Derby winner should come from off the pace. Hard Belle and Hidden Scroll are the most likely to contest the lead early in the Florida Derby. If Hard Belle runs off from the rest of the pack, the question is whether Hidden Scroll has learned not to get sucked into another speed duel. The colts best equipped to endure a hot, early pace may be Code Of Honor and two closers – Mark Hennig’s Bourbon War (7-2) and Holy Bull winner Harvey Wallbanger (15-1). All three were clocked under 33 seconds for the final 1½ furlongs of their last race at Gulfstream Park. Jason Servis’s Maximum Security (9-2) is 3-for-3 including an 18-length win his last time out, but this is a big step up to two turns with Luís Sáez being his third jockey in as many races. The thought here is that Hard Belle’s addition soups up the pace again, and that the best play will be to box Code Of Honor, Hidden Scroll, Bourbon War and Harvey Wallbanger. Here is hoping that the horse that is named for a drink beats them all to last call.
Audible is the choice to win the Dubai World Cup. Seven U.S. horses try to prevent Thunder Snow (6-1) from becoming the first repeat winner of the $12 million Grade 1 Dubai World Cup on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. EDT. But the 7-year-old British gelding North America (5-2) is the morning-line favorite after winning a pair of Grade 2 races at Meydan this winter. He was expected to be the pace-setter in last year’s race, but he was blowing bubbles while the rest of the field left him behind at the start. Front-running 5-year-old gelding Capezzano (7-2) is another course horse that has won his last three at Meydan. Dallas Stewart’s closer Seeking The Soul (7-1), the 2017 Clark Handicap winner, is the shortest-priced of the Americans. But the choice here is Audible (12-1). Yes, he was a distant fifth in the Pegasus World Cup, but that was on a sloppy track. Todd Pletcher’s 4-year-old colt has won the last five times he has raced on a fast track, including last year’s Florida Derby.
Taking a chance on Stubbins in the UAE Derby. Two also-rans in points preps here in the U.S. will try to win their way into the Kentucky Derby by racing in the $2.5 million Grade 2 UAE Derby on Saturday at 10:05 a.m. EDT. Plus Que Parfait (15-1) was second in the Kentucky Jockey Club before regressing off the board in the Lecomte and Risen Star stakes at the Fair Grounds. Gray Magician (15-1) was fourth early this year in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and finished second in a stakes race last month at Laurel Park. The favorite Divine Image (2-1), winner of last month’s Grade 3 UAE Oaks, looks for her second straight victory against the boys over the same 1 3/16 miles as her $300,000 stakes score last month. English trainer Charlie Appleby has suggested that a victory could propel Divine Image into the Kentucky Oaks. Mid-pack local colt Walking Thunder (5-1) gets jockey Frankie Dettori, and British pace chaser Jahbath (6-1) brings in a four-race winning streak, but neither has raced farther than a mile. The lean here is to Doug O’Neill’s shipper Stubbins (10-1), an eight-length, gate-to-wire stakes winner early this month in the Santa Anita slop. The Godolphin filly Swift Rose (30-1), loser by a neck to Divine Image in the UAE Oaks, should not be overlooked.
Oh, yes. Beware of the UAE Derby hype. If it is not Divine Image, whatever horse finishes first in the UAE Derby will not only qualify for the Kentucky Derby, he will no doubt elicit social-media hype declaring him to be a sure thing to win it. And that this year will be different from all the past disappointments. Well, there has been no shortage of those. Fourteen UAE Derby horses have raced in the Kentucky Derby, where they all failed to hit the board.
More notes from Meydan. Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Roy H (1-1), the morning-line favorite for the $2.5 million Grade 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, has been scratched because of an abscess in his left-front foot. Either X Y Jet (9-2), runner-up in last year’s Shaheen, or two-time Grade 1 winner Imperial Hint (5-1) figures to inherit the favorite’s mantle. The six-furlong race starts Saturday at 10:40 a.m. EDT. ... On the way to her highly anticipated showdown this fall with two time Arc winner Enable, the 4-year-old Japanese filly Almond Eye (7-5) looks for her fifth straight Group/Grade 1 victory when she races in the $6 million Dubai Turf on Saturday at 11:20 a.m. EDT. With three consecutive graded-stakes wins at Meydan, the 5-year-old Godolphin gelding Dream Castle (7-5) figures to be the second betting choice.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey discusses Code Of Honor, his colt that is trying to sweep the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby on the way to the Kentucky Derby. From south Florida, racing journalist and handicapper John Pricci of Horse Racing Insider previews Saturday’s races. The Racehorses by the Letters feature looks at the best ever starting with “U,” The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at Apple, Google Play, Stitcher and other leading podcast platforms.