Mattress Mack's big Derby bets

By Ron Flatter  ( 

November 30, 2021 07:45 PM

Forget the Bob Baffert factor for at least a week. How about Mattress Mack and Kenny McPeek? They were the movers and shakers in the Kentucky Derby futures market.

Mattress Mack, aka Jim McIngvale, made like the whale he has been so often in Las Vegas, where he has won and lost millions of dollars on sports bets. This time he took his wagering talents to Louisville, where his sister-in-law poured $13,000 in his name into the mutuel pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager at Churchill Downs.

With the printing of a few tickets $500 at a time, McIngvale bet $10,000 and drove Smile Happy from 15-1 to closing odds of 8-1 to win the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7. With another $3,000, he took his prized stallion Runhappy, the sire of Smile Happy, from 17-1 to 7-1 in the Derby Sire Future Wager.

McIngvale took the plunge Sunday, the day after Smile Happy ran away to a 3¼-length triumph at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a points prep on the same track as next spring’s Derby. His bets went down a little more than an hour before Pool 1 of the KDFW closed.

“I’m all about Smile Happy and Runhappy,” McIngvale said in an interview with Horse Racing Nation that will be heard in its entirety Friday on the VSiN racing podcast. “I’m also all about having another promotion this year at the Kentucky Derby that says if the favorite wins it, people who buy a $3,000 mattress get it free.”

Therein lies the method to Mack’s madness. That $13,000 is pocket change around McIngvale’s Gallery Furniture empire in Texas. Using his own prism, it is the equivalent of about four mattresses. Even if he does not put another dime on the Derby, selling four mattresses with a promotional guarantee would offset the cost of those bets.

From deeper in those pockets, McIngvale has $2 million riding on the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. If he does not cash those 23-1 tickets for $46 million, the sale of more than 650 mattresses in a tandem promotion should cover him.

Last spring McIngvale bet $2.4 million on Essential Quality to win the Derby, and he lost. But he also had that promotion. If he sold 800 mattresses with that money-back guarantee on Essential Quality, he broke even.

Talk about multisport parlays. Those mattresses are stuffed with hedge money.

“The ideal case would be that Smile Happy or (another Runhappy foal) would be a very good horse and would be close to contention to be a favorite in the Kentucky Derby,” McIngvale said. “I’d love to bet that kind of money ($2.4 million) on a Runhappy horse.”

Almost forgotten in all this is McPeek. Now 59, the longtime trainer has three of the top six horses in the combined Derby futures markets. It was not steam but merit that drove Smile Happy from 50-1 to 20-1 in the Derby futures posted by Caesars Sportsbook at William Hill Nevada. Rattle N Roll, who won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity Stakes, is 22-1 in Las Vegas and closed at 21-1 in the KDFW. Tiz The Bomb, the turf specialist who was scratched out of the Kentucky Jockey Club because of an ill-timed blister, closed at 24-1 in the KDFW. He is not listed in Nevada.

McPeek also has a maiden winner, Lucky Boss, who drifted to 250-1 in the futures at Caesars at William Hill.

Asked to compare this group of 2-year-olds with a talented string he had 20 years ago with Repent, Harlan’s Holiday and Sarava, McPeek said, “This is probably the best I’ve had” at this point in the year.

Saying “I was busy selling sofas and mattresses to pay for my racehorse habit,” McIngvale did not see Smile Happy’s Kentucky Jockey Club victory live. “I talked to Kenny McPeek after the race, and he was super excited, and Kenny McPeek is one of the best horsemen I have ever known. So if he’s excited, I’m excited.”

And if McIngvale is excited, his dollars will not be far behind. Horseplayers would be wise to remember that if they are looking for a good price. Where it may not be wise to follow his lead in track pari-mutuels, there is always the desert. That is where Mattress Mack money has come and gone, but not on thoroughbreds.

“I don’t bet (horses) in Las Vegas,” he said. “I just bet in Kentucky, where I can support the local tracks and local  horsemen. I think that’s very important to do.”

At the risk of having cliches collide, Mattress Mack is putting his money where his horse’s mouth is. Runhappy, whose second crop features Grade 2 winner Following Sea, ranks No. 3 in the U.S., and he stands at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. Anyone who has caught even a passing glance of racetrack signage across the country or TV coverage of the sport has seen those big red-and-blue advertisements for Mack’s 9-year-old stallion.

“He’s right now the No. 10 leading sire in average earnings per running for this entire year,” McIngvale said. “With his stud fee of $12,500, that’s a whole lot less than the other ones.”

After a lean first crop, Runhappy’s name is certainly gaining respect when it shows up on the sire line of past performances. Does it rise to the level of producing champions? The coming months will tell.

In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at This week’s episode features Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale discussing his $13,000 bets into last weekend’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Anthony Stabile of the New York Racing Association previews this weekend’s Cigar Mile card at Aqueduct. Paul Zilm talks about Circa Sports’ opening Derby futures, and he handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.


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