A fellow reporter was sitting nearby at the Breeders’ Cup, wondering aloud about the fascination with futures odds overseas.
“I don’t understand why a horse wins somewhere in Europe,” he said, “and within minutes there is a story about how he has become the 11-4 favorite for a race the following year.”
My colleague did not realize it, but this fascination with racing futures had already been a part of the landscape under his very feet. It is just that now, immersed in expanded sports gambling, we are seeing it more often here in America, even if we are still waiting for governments and bookmakers to play catch-up.
The proliferation of ADWs and betting apps has horseplayers craving value that has proven to be elusive, especially with the Kentucky Derby. Will someone please explain how Independence Hall was briefly last week as short as 5-1 at William Hill here in Nevada to win next May at Churchill Downs?
5-1? Really? The odds should be 5-1 that Independence Hall simply ends up in the gate to start the race.
But who knows? We may see similar prices next week on Thanksgiving Day, when Churchill Downs opens its nationwide Derby futures pool, a weekend-at-a-time, pari-mutuel wager that will have 24 betting choices.
While Independence Hall’s William Hill odds have drifted in the past week, betters and oddsmakers have since caught up with another 2-for-2 colt that actually made his most recent impression with a graded-stakes splash early last month.
A four-length winner in the Grade 1 Champagne on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park, Tiz The Law is the new consensus Derby favorite. He and Independence Hall are 8-1 at William Hill. He is the sole favorite at 14-1 off shore at Bovada. And according to Oddschecker in Europe he is 20-1, the same odds as the curiously short-priced By Your Side, an out-of-the-money loser in his last two. (That bottle of news apparently has not washed ashore in England.)
With Tiz The Law come visions of Funny Cide, the popular gelding also owned by Jack Knowlton and Ed Mitzen’s Sackatoga Stable. The better-known connection who they have in common is Barclay Tagg, who trained Funny Cide to victory in the 2003 Derby and Preakness Stakes. Turning 82 next month, Tagg has not had a Derby horse in 11½ years. If he were to win with Tiz The Law, he would become the oldest trainer ever to win America’s most famous race.
But on the long road from now to then, Tiz The Law is expected to be raced next in a prep next Saturday at Churchill Downs. The $200,000 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes may help Tiz The Law get over the greenness he displayed last month in New York. He broke awkwardly after getting fidgety at the start, and he looked distracted in the stretch despite opening up to win by four lengths.
“Out of the gate he bobbled badly,” Tagg said at the time. “He out-broke himself. You’re taking a chance to jump into a big race like this in just his second start. We didn’t do that to Funny Cide, who had it a little easier.”
Funny Cide’s prep schedule was as different as the era when he ran. After going 3-for-3 as a 2-year-old he did not race in his first graded stakes until the Holy Bull in January 2003, when he finished fifth. In fact, he finished second in the Louisiana Derby and Wood Memorial before winning as a 12-1 shot at Churchill.
Maybe bettors have taken a closer look at the five rivals that Tiz The Law faced in the Champagne. The colt by Constitution out of a Tiznow mare defeated three previously undefeated colts that are also among the Derby futures options – runner-up and beaten favorite Green Light Go (75-1 at William Hill), third-place Gozilla (125-1) and fifth-place Alpha Sixty Six (150-1).
Tagg had considered next month’s Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct for Tiz The Law’s first time going two turns. But that is nine furlongs. The Kentucky Jockey Club is 8½ furlongs.
“It certainly doesn’t look like he has distance limitations,” Tagg said. “We would like a mile-and-a-sixteenth race, but we don’t have one here (in New York).”
The Kentucky Jockey Club has also attracted another Sagamore Farms colt – Street Sense winner South Bend (75-1) – as well as maiden winners Enforceable (100-1) and American Butterfly (200-1).
Horses that do well in next week’s race are likely to attract betting dollars because they will have shown promise on the very track that will have our attention next May. But history shows that that means little. The Kentucky Jockey Club has produced only three Derby winners since 1932, most recently Super Saver in 2010.
In short, it is still very early. So if you make a futures bet this far out from the Derby, it had better well be worth it. Frankly, 8-1 is not. And really, neither is 20-1.
Racing notes and opinions
So much attention continues to be paid to racehorse deaths in southern California; the number this fall at Del Mar has risen to four. But just as alarming in a very different way is the exodus of important jockeys from the colony. Joe Talamo became the latest to announce that he was moving his tack. He will race in Arkansas this winter and Kentucky next spring. Talamo follows Kent Desormeaux and Martín García out of southern California. The opportunities for even the best jockeys there are drying up as the racehorse population recedes, partly a result of owners and trainers abandoning an area where track operators are still struggling to get past the 45 equine deaths since last Christmas.
A highly recommended read is Donna Barton Brothers’s blog “PETA Is a Bully,” which got a lot of traction last week on social media. It is a reasoned and well-researched call to action for racing supporters to seize the narrative from activists who have used horse deaths to push their agenda to abolish the sport. Brothers discussed her 3,500-word essay on the new episode of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod.
Led by overseas ante-post favorites Wagnerian (5-2) and You Can Smile (5-2), 15 horses race for $5.95 million this weekend in the Japan Cup, a 1½-mile Grade 1 turf race at Tokyo Racecourse. The 4-year-old Wagnerian and 5-year-old You Can Smile are among the five horses trained in this race by Yasuo Tomomichi. The enigmatic 2017 Japanese derby winner Rey De Oro (9-2) and last year’s third-place finisher Suave Richard (5-1) lured highly regarded foreign jockeys – William Buick rides Rey De Oro; current British riding champion Oisin Murphy is on Suave Richard. The absence of last year’s record-setting winner Almond Eye makes this race wide open, so my ticket will include four horses – You Can Smile, Rey De Oro, 2017 winner Cheval Grand (14-1) and Frankie Dettori’s mount Look Twice (14-1). With a 50 percent chance of rain in the forecast, the Japan Cup starts Sunday at 1:40 a.m. EST – Saturday at 10:40 p.m. PST. From Tokyo, American ex-pat Kate Hunter previews the race on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod.
Speaking of Japan, 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome is being sold by Perry Martin and Taylor Made Stallions to the JS Company in Japan. According to a Taylor Made statement Wednesday, the sale will be final once Chrome clears Japanese export protocols. He will stand at Arrow Stud.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is normally posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big racing events. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. A case on behalf of horse racing and a preview of the Japan Cup are on the REFP. Now with NBC, former jockey Donna Barton Brothers talks about her blog that takes on activists who want to ban the sport. Transplanted American Kate Hunter handicaps this weekend’s big race at Tokyo. There is also Twitter feedback plus a commentary about the new Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher.