Uncle Chuck draws wise guys' Derby interest

It is truly frustrating to be a horseplayer in Nevada, where racebooks and their apps offer incomplete betting menus on a daily basis.


But when it comes to Kentucky Derby futures, Las Vegas offers choices the rest of the country can only envy. The prices may not be what they were when Johnny Avello was booking them until two years ago at the Wynn. But Circa Sports and William Hill still offer fixed-odds value seldom found in the parimutuel choices rolled out a few weekends a year by Churchill Downs.


It was still fascinating, though, to watch the 54-hour window of interstate opportunity draw to a close Sunday, when smart money overtook the inexcusably early betting in Pool 5 of Churchill’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager. It even provided evidence that Uncle Chuck is the wise-guy horse right now for the first-ever summertime Run for the Roses.


In the first two days of the KDFW, an average of $3,539 was bet each hour between Friday’s noon EDT opening and 3 p.m. Sunday. That averaged jumped to about $9,000 each of the next two hours and then to $32,051 in the final hour. That included $13,197 in the last 10 minutes before the equivalent of post time at 6 p.m. Sunday.


While Tiz The Law held firm at 2-1, Uncle Chuck was the perfect example of the horse experienced players were waiting on. A seven-length debut winner last month over a mile at Santa Anita, the Uncle Mo colt earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. But the fact that he is trained by five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert makes him more of a betting attraction for the public. Seasoned horseplayers know that, so if he had plunged to, say, 5-1, they might have stayed away.


With two hours left in the KDFW, Uncle Chuck was 20-1. That was when bigger bettors made their move, cutting him to 16-1 by 5 p.m., 15-1 by 5:50 and finally 13-1 when the clock struck zero.


Baffert found the nationwide steam on his late bloomer to be premature.


“It’s something to have fun with,” he said. “But come on, 13-1? That’s ridiculous. He just broke his maiden. I guess it’s OK to put a little money on him there. But that last prep before the Derby, that’s when you know what’s going on. You still have to get to the Derby first.”


By then, though, Uncle Chuck will not be 13-1. Or 16-1, as he is now in fixed odds at Circa Sports. Or 15-1 at William Hill. Or 20-1 in global betting. Baffert said he might run next in Saturday’s Los Alamitos Derby or July 18 in the Blue Grass Stakes. One way or another, then, players will learn more very quickly — and move his odds accordingly.


So is Uncle Chuck worth betting now? This is the equivalent of early March in a normal Derby year, and it is about now when horseplayers might lower the thresholds. But at 20-1 or shorter? No matter how good a horse may be, that price might not be right.


Derby futures: Who’s hot?


Creed (19-1 KDFW, 13-1 Circa, 22-1 William Hill). A 7¾-length maiden-breaking victory last month at muddy Belmont Park was definitely eye-catching, especially since he was 6¾ lengths behind shortly after the start. Bettors quickly gravitated to trainer Shug McGaughey’s colt by Honor Code, cutting his odds from a 50-1 opener at Circa and 90-1 at William Hill. But isn’t this the overhyped Hidden Scroll all over again? A one-turn victory does not a Derby winner make.


Max Player (24-1, 33-1, 60-1). This is turning into a testimonial for Honor Code colts. It was not that he finished third in the Belmont Stakes. It was that he made up six places despite being forced seven wide in the turn, a move that suggests 1¼ miles will be no trouble. Trained by Linda Rice, he was coming off a 4½-month break after winning the Grade 3 Withers that, like the Belmont, was 1⅛ miles. So is his next race, the $1 million Haskell on July 18 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. And to think that this time last month Max Player’s odds were 100-1.


Dean Martini (unlisted, 150-1, 125-1). Only 1½ months ago he was an 0-for-7 maiden. The day he finally won he was claimed for $50,000. So he is on his third owner, and Tom Amoss is his third trainer. But now this Cairo Prince gelding has won two of his last three races. His victory Saturday in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 that is certainly worthy of the Kentucky Derby. The only problem is that he is not nominated for the Kentucky Derby. Will his current owners pay the $95,000 to get him in? That would make Dean Martini a 19-1 bet to win $1.86 million. But first he needs more points, and they could come next month in the Ellis Park Derby.


Derby futures: Who’s not?


Storm The Court (unlisted, 125-1, 100-1). Now 0-for-4 this year, the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner still qualifies for certain “non-one” races. Yes, he overcame his outside draw and a dawdling start to finish a hard-charging third Saturday in the Ohio Derby. And he looked more relaxed than ever, a payoff for trainer Peter Eurton’s decision to take the blinkers off. When he went from a 90-1 opener to 12-1 in early futures last fall, I asked if he was really more likely to win the Kentucky Derby than he was at 45-1 to win the Breeders’ Cup? Bettors have made their answer emphatically clear.


Tap It To Win (unlisted, 55-1, 125-1). His fifth-place finish and his 14-length loss in the Belmont was actually his best finish in a stakes race. In three tries at that level he has finished a total of 78 lengths behind. Trainer Mark Casse admitted that a 16-day turnaround might not have been a good idea. Something shorter than 9 furlongs at Saratoga figures to be this Tapit colt’s next start — and not on the Derby trail.


Rushie (104-1, 140-1, 100-1). He was a respectable third in the Santa Anita Derby, a race that separated Authentic and Honor A. P. from the rest of the west. Nevertheless, trainer Mike McCarthy’s allowance winner was a curious addition to the KDFW. Somehow he had a morning line of 20-1, even though his Las Vegas odds have never been shorter than 85-1. Bettors stayed away, making him a three-digit long shot. Make that a consensus three-digit long shot.


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