It was not unusual to be watching a tote board last weekend, looking for overlays and hoping against a late plunge in the odds for particular horses. This routine has been repeated thousands of times for years at tracks and racebooks, on tablets and phones.
But since the coronavirus has turned the very idea of routine into a wistful objective, the tote board in question Sunday was for a race that will not happen for five months, even as the “Minutes to Post” clock ticked to an unforgivable zero at 6 p.m. EDT. That was when Pool 4 of the parimutuel Kentucky Derby future wager conducted by Churchill Downs closed.
Bob Baffert’s 2-for-2 allowance winner Charlatan (5-1) was the shortest-priced individual horse. Barely. He attracted only $89 more in win bets than Florida Derby first-place finisher Tiz The Law (5-1). With the postponement of America’s biggest race until Sept. 5, the mutuel entry of “all other 3-year-olds” than the 23 listed for betting last weekend wound up the 3-1 favorite.
But favorites are not where the wise guys go. The search for value gravitates to horses at longer odds, and that is where the steam was generated just before the KDFW betting deadline.
Paying closer attention than ever to those closing minutes, the biggest plunges in the last half-hour came on Enforceable (33-1) and Three Technique (63-1). They joined Basin (56-1) in attracting significant weekend money from value chasers.
After winning the Grade 3 Lecomte and finishing an impressive second in the better division of the Grade 2 Risen Star, Enforceable ran a wide trip to an underwhelming fifth-place finish in last month’s Louisiana Derby. By early Saturday afternoon he had drifted to 56-1 in the KDFW. Then the money came in Sunday and, in the last 15 minutes of betting, Enforceable was cut from 45-1 to a closing 33-1, slightly longer than his 25-1 in fixed-odds futures at William Hill Nevada.
Although he was a beaten favorite in his stakes debut, Three Technique acquitted himself as a clear second-best in January’s muddy running of the Smarty Jones. But then the colt partly owned by former NFL coach Bill Parcells ran up against Baffert’s undefeated Nadal and finished a distant fourth in last month’s Rebel. Through the first two days of the KDFW, Three Technique was at least 99-1. Then came Sunday, when value players put their toes in the water before a big play in those last 15 minutes, and his odds went from 87-1 to close at 63-1. That is in stark contrast to his 30-1 price at William Hill.
The big play on Basin came Saturday afternoon, when he went from 85-1 to 67-1. Then Sunday, Steve Asmussen’s colt that was a distant third in the Rebel attracted a steady flow of money before he closed at 56-1. That compares favorably to his 20-1 odds at William Hill.
It did not take as much money this year to move the numbers. According to Dick Downey’s incomparable research at TheDowneyProfile.com, what would usually be the KDFW’s final win pool had its smallest handle since it began in 1999. At $213,664, it was off 57% from Pool 4 last year and down 61% from the record set two years ago. Three main factors had to weigh into the drop: the economic downturn in the pandemic, a lack of interest five months before the race and the anger of bettors who were turned down for refunds from the first three pools.
One other quirk with this spring’s KDFW is that 17 of the 23 individual horses listed closed with longer odds than they carry now at William Hill. Baffert’s two-time graded-stakes winner Authentic stands out. He closed 10-1 in the KDFW but is only 9-2 at William Hill and 8-1 in foreign markets. Still open for mobile wagering, the bookmaker’s Nevada operation lists 183 horses compared with 28 at this time last year, when Derby possibilities had been winnowed.
Churchill Downs announced last week that there would be at least two more KDFW pools. The best guess is they will happen in July and August once graded stakes for 3-year-olds are scheduled.
Whenever they happen, the added KDFW pools will have a familiar look based on parimutuel reaction to the final preps for the Derby. What is uncharted, though, is how they will compare with William Hill and foreign racebooks, all of which will carry unprecedented exposure into the final days before all these bets are decided Sept. 5.
This week’s Derby futures spotlight
Major Fed (75-1 at William Hill). This maiden winner is one of the few horses that wound up with shorter odds in the KDFW than he is attracting at William Hill. A colt by Ghostzapper, he had plenty of excuses for his fourth-place finish to the favored Wells Bayou last month in the Louisiana Derby. He had not settled and was not looking forward when the Fair Grounds starter opened the gates, so he got out slowly. He steadied when a rival veered in on him on the backstretch. Then he and jockey Joel Rosario were gradually pushed — literally — eight-wide in the stretch. But Major Fed still made up 7¼ lengths, and that screams the ability to go longer for trainer Greg Foley. The question here is whether serious horseplayers want to go shorter than 100-1 on any horse this far out from the Kentucky Derby.
Sonneman (125-1). This is one of the horses that XBTV’s Zoe Cadman mentioned last week on the “Ron Flatter Racing Pod.” Trained by Mark Hennig and ridden by Rosario, the $375,000 Curlin colt carried 5-1 odds into a 7-furlong allowance race Saturday at Gulfstream Park. From last place 11 lengths behind an honest pace, he closed to win by 1½ lengths against a field that included three other last-time winners. Making his 3-year-old debut in his first start since breaking his maiden last October at Belmont Park, Sonneman impressed Hennig by coming back after a poor start. “He’s a horse that could really benefit from the delay in all these big 3-year-old races,” Hennig said. Carrying Derby odds of 300-1 at William Hill before last weekend, he still has triple-digit odds that make him an ongoing value play.
Shashashakemeup (100-1). After being eased to a last-place finish in the better division of the Risen Star and then finishing fourth in a turf sprint, this Shackleford colt closed from 5¼ lengths back to score a 49-1 upset in a loaded 6-furlong allowance race Sunday at Oaklawn Park. Trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden for the first time by Smarty Jones’s old jockey Stewart Elliott, he saw his Derby odds shorten from 150-1 after the victory. Questions remain about whether Shashashakemeup can deliver at two turns or when the early pace is not as hot as it was last weekend. It also did not hurt that 4-5 favorite Ginobili ran like a no-show. One big thing going for him may be getting away from Gulfstream Park, where he is 0-for-4 with losses by an average of 16½ lengths. With Sunday’s victory he is 2-for-2 away from South Florida, including a debut win last November at Churchill Downs.
American Butterfly (150-1). Trained by four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Joe Talamo, he was the 4-1 second choice Sunday when he finished third to Shashashakemeup. But this colt by American Pharoah out of a War Front mare got stuck in traffic and was forced wide turning into the stretch, making his in-the-money finish look more impressive. It suggests there is more in the tank at a longer distance. “I thought about maybe going long with him right away,” Lukas said before last weekend, “but I opted for a condition race short.” William Hill shortened American Butterfly from 200-1, and there is still value for any bettor who believes this horse will do better than he has in his four stakes losses, all out of the money, by an average of 10½ lengths.