Uncle Chuck breeds support for Derby

Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law might still be the consensus favorite. But Uncle Chuck has been generating most of the steam among sharp bettors trying to cash in on this summer’s Kentucky Derby.


Even before he got on the track and ran to daylight victories in his only two races, trainer Bob Baffert’s latest late bloomer made a 22-1 debut in the Derby futures at Circa Sports. His odds have just kept getting shorter, down to 8-1 at Circa and 10-1 at William Hill.


Those look like overlays compared with the parimutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager just offered by Churchill Downs. In last weekend’s sixth of seven pools, Uncle Chuck closed with odds of nearly 7-1 (plus-690). Only Tiz The Law (plus-260) and Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P. (plus-600) were shorter priced.


The true illustration of how much respect seasoned bettors have for Uncle Chuck nationwide came in Sunday’s final hours of the KDFW. Since the odds were ever-changing right until the 6 p.m. EDT close, the smart money rolled in late. Uncle Chuck was still 9-1 with an hour left and 8-1 until money poured in on him in the final 10 minutes.


He was not the only late mover in the KDFW:

— In the final hour, Max Player was cut from 28-1 to 22-1, Enforceable from 38-1 to 35-1 and Mystic Guide from 57-1 to 50-1.

— In the last 10 minutes, Indiana Derby winner Shared Sense went from 50-1 to 42-1 and Thousand Words from 68-1 to 65-1.


All this came from the usual surge in betting just before the curtain came down. The handle went from $1,596 per hour in the first two days to $19,733 in the final 60 minutes. Some 38.4% of the money was bet in the last six hours.


But national interest in the parimutuel wager might have peaked last month. The $188,616 bet into the Derby win and exacta pools represented a 44% drop from Pool 5 and a 68% fall from the $590,911 wagered in February. Last weekend’s pool did share attention with the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager going on at the same time. With its win, exacta and Oaks-Derby double offerings, another $114,141 was bet.


Maybe the Oaks options diluted the pool. Maybe it was Churchill Downs’ controversial decision last spring not to refund bets from the three future wagers before the pandemic set in. And maybe it was simply the postponement of the Derby. Whatever the case, there appears to be some horseplayer fatigue.


We could get a better idea Aug. 7-9, the dates of the seventh and final KDFW. Either way, the herd of would-be Derby candidates will be thinned by the running that weekend of the Travers and the Ellis Park Derby, where Art Collector will run.


But next month’s clarity in the 3-year-old division could come with less value. Put it this way: If Tiz The Law or Uncle Chuck were to win the Travers, he would almost certainly be the Derby favorite. If neither does, Honor A. P. or Art Collector might inherit the shortest price.


Then again, a contrarian who does not buy into the conventional wisdom that the Kentucky Derby is turning into a four-horse race would argue that the price is right deeper in the market. Whether it is a futures bet or something on race day remains a dilemma that is age-old for bettors.


Whatever, it is getting late on the extended road to Louisville. Finally.


Derby futures: Who’s hot?


Honor A. P. (6-1 KDFW, 5-1 Circa, 5-1 William Hill). Absence makes the odds grow shorter. At least it does for the Santa Anita Derby winner. While he held steady in this KDFW pool and at William Hill, Circa shortened him from plus-660. Even though rivals have staked their claims since he last raced June 6, trainer John Shirreffs’ colt still shares the second-best Beyer Speed Figure (102) among Derby contenders. Honor A. P. gets to make a new impression Aug. 1 at Del Mar, where he will meet 2-for-2 Baffert colt Cezanne in the ungraded 8½-furlong Shared Belief Stakes.


Art Collector (8-1, 6-1, 8-1). That winning performance 1½ weeks ago in the Blue Grass continues to resonate. Circa shortened him from 7-1, making him its fourth choice. By holding him at 8-1, William Hill made him a co-third choice with Authentic. The best horse Tommy Drury has ever trained will be a heavy favorite when he races Aug. 9 in the ungraded Ellis Park Derby.


Ny Traffic (19-1, 30-1, 22-1). His near-miss in closing hard and nearly catching Authentic in Saturday’s Haskell made him most likely to succeed at 1¼ miles. His 12.7-second finish in the last furlong checked one of the boxes in Jennie Rees’ Final Fractions Theory. That is the one that says 27 of the last 30 Derby winners were clocked at 13 seconds or less for the last furlong of their final 1⅛-mile prep and/or 38 or less for the last 3 furlongs. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said the three-time graded-stakes runner-up will not race again before the Kentucky Derby.


Derby futures: Who’s not?

Authentic (9-1, 7-1, 8-1). Underscoring the quirkiness of this colt, jockey Mike Smith said he was jumping shadows cast by the rail poles before holding on to win Saturday in the Haskell. But the clock does not lie. Authentic has not come close to meeting the :13/:38 standards of the Final Fractions Theory. Even the eye test told bettors to fade him; he had been 6-1 in both Nevada futures. Trainer Bob Baffert said he still has confidence in the Into Mischief colt and that he will be trained right up to the Derby.


Dr Post (24-1, 15-1, 28-1). Although Circa cut him from 16-1, that was because of liability, not his regression from second in the Belmont to third in the Haskell. KDFW bettors were bearish, and William Hill drifted him from 18-1. Did substitute rider Joe Bravo take the Quality Road colt too far back in the early going Saturday? Maybe. Will most bettors forgive that when trainer Todd Pletcher brings back regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr.? Maybe not, especially since the Haskell will remain a lingering impression if Dr Post is trained right up to Sept. 5.


Tap It To Win (unlisted, 80-1, 150-1). Circa drifting him from 60-1 was an indication that bettors are still fading the fifth-place horse from the Belmont Stakes. It is probably because he might never go two turns again. Yes, the Belmont failure came only 16 days after an allowance victory; trainer Mark Casse admitted that that was a mistake. On fuller rest the Tapit colt is expected to start Aug. 1 at Saratoga in the 7-furlong Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. A futures bet now on Tap It To Win is as much a gamble that he will actually be entered in the Derby.

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