Seeing red can be a good thing, especially when it comes to betting on racing futures.
Like red is the color of a good score in golf, a bad score in bookkeeping and a Republican score in an election, it is also an indication of odds getting longer for a horse. Who among horseplayers does not want that?
There were lots of 2-year-olds with drifting odds in the last week, especially at Circa Sports here in Las Vegas.
Risk supervisor and racing specialist Paul Zilm turned 110 of the 199 choices in the Kentucky Derby futures at Circa into horses of a different color. Nearly half — 94, to be exact — went red, their odds growing longer and more attractive to bettors.
“As we have added horses to the list, raising some odds is a necessity to stay at or close to our target hold percentage,” Zilm said. “Our philosophy as a sportsbook is to be active with all our futures.”
From Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality (16-1) to the longest shots, such as Erawan (500-1) and Notable Exception (500-1), higher odds truly swept across the board at Circa.
While those moves seemed more about air, Circa also shortened odds for 16 horses, including the 9-1 favorite Life Is Good (actually + 950). Most of those adjustments were built on steam.
“Those are horses who we have likely taken money on at higher odds,” Zilm said. “I think (Sunday) morning I moved Life Is Good back over 10-1. As soon as I did, like within 30 minutes, I took another limit bet on him. Then by dropping him below 10-1, I had to tinker with others to get back to the target.”
William Hill Nevada got a five-week head start on Circa in booking Derby futures, and it has a reputation for being more conservative with its moves. It stands to reason that only eight of its 161 choices had odds changes in the last week — four up and four down. Recent debut winner Prime Factor (22-1), trained by Todd Pletcher, was the most significant horse to be shortened.
Since there were no Derby points preps in the last week, there was not much happening on racetracks to move the needles at either book. Circa added six horses, including the unraced Defeater (150-1). Sired by Union Rags, he makes his first start in a Fair Grounds maiden sprint Saturday for trainer Tom Amoss.
Two Derby points preps — Friday’s Jerome at Aqueduct and Saturday’s Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita — and a non-points race — the Mucho Macho Man on Saturday at Gulfstream Park — will certainly lead to movement at both Circa and William Hill, especially since Life Is Good is nominated for the Sham. If he wins, he will be the consensus favorite for the Derby, and 9-1 will look like a steal by comparison.
If that happens, count on Newton’s Third Law of Motion to be applied to the Derby futures.
“If horses are bet and we need to lower, then it’s only fair to raise others to keep that hold percentage fairly static,” Zilm said. “There may be instances when we take bets overnight or on a busy weekend, and it takes a day or two to get the hold down. But in general that’s our goal.”
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?
Greatest Honour (50-1 Circa, 60-1 William Hill)
Winless in his first three starts, this colt from Shug McGaughey’s barn had been 125-1 at Circa and 80-1 at William Hill before breaking his maiden Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Greatest Honour is clearly getting better with each race, narrowly losing last month at 9 furlongs before scoring as a 1-2 favorite at 8½ last weekend. Owners Donald and Donna Adam of Courtlandt Farms bred their Street Cry mare Tiffany’s Honour to the vaunted stallion Tapit, so the bloodlines already were worth a look before Saturday’s victory.
Alain Barows (55-1 Circa)
Anyone burned last year by Cafe Pharoah and the false hope he presented will be resistant to this latest hope from Japan. A 1:40.7 time two weeks ago in the one-mile Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun points prep is nothing to get excited about, even when considering the clock starts the moment the gates open in Japan as opposed to waiting for a run-up in U.S. races. But how many 2-year-olds in this conversation are five-for-five? This American-bred colt by Henny Hughes is. Is that worth 55-1? Probably not. Not yet.
No Cents (100-1 Circa, 125-1 William Hill)
Racing in sprints at Monmouth Park and Laurel Park, this Goldencents colt trained by Cathal Lynch has not been in elite company. But after a close loss in his summertime debut, he has done nothing but win. His fourth consecutive triumph came as a 7-10 favorite in a black-type stakes Saturday in Maryland. He lugged inward racing the last 100 yards of a career-long 7-furlong start. Considering his breeding, route races could be a turn too far.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?
Vittorio (90-1 Circa, 60-1 William Hill)
No races. No workouts. Simon Callaghan has had this Ghostzapper colt on ice since his maiden-breaking win at Del Mar in August. Thanks to Circa drifting him from 75-1 last week, this is his second appearance on this list. When he shows up again in the morning at Santa Anita, there may be reason to warm to him.
Tiz Mandate (350-1 Circa, 200-1 William Hill)
The optimism that came from a narrow debut win at odds of 11-1 was squelched Saturday when he was a non-factor, finishing fifth, in the stakes race that No Cents won. The lack of faith in this Strong Mandate colt was on display at Laurel Park, where he went off at 14-1, the longest shot in the six-horse field.
Erawan (500-1 Circa, 350-1 William Hill)
A debut winner early last month at 23-1 in a maiden mile, this Rock Hampton colt has raced three times since. That’s right. Four starts in seven weeks. He followed his last-place effort in the Grade 2 Remsen by finishing sixth in an 8½-furlong black-type stakes Saturday at Laurel. It is hard to imagine this Jose Corrales trainee showing up next spring at Churchill Downs let alone luring any smart futures money.
In addition to this article, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode will feature previews of this week’s Kentucky Derby preps. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.