LAS VEGAS--For those living in 49 states and assorted districts, territories and other fiefdoms, this week’s first Kentucky Derby Future Wager is like the sound of robins singing and the aroma of flowers blooming.
Here in Nevada, that particular spring actually sprung two months ago.
Not to sound snobbish (oops, too late), but in this desert trapezoid that does not need to wait on a Supreme Court case to go gamble, the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) that opened Thursday at Churchill Downs was like another bookmaker opening up shop to take bets on the first Saturday in May.
Where the rest of the nation has little choice aside from plunges off shore, horseplayers in Nevada for weeks have been able to shop for Derby value – if there is such a thing more than six months from post time. The question here is what exactly does the KDFW contribute?
- Bolt d’Oro, the early Derby favorite in Las Vegas, was bet down to 7-1 by late on the first day Thursday of the KDFW, 10-1 at William Hill and 12-1 at Wynn.
- Good Magic, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, was 10-1 in the KDFW. He was still available at 15-1 at Wynn Las Vegas and 16-1 at William Hill U.S.
- The most stark contrast lies with Gotta Go, winner of a black-type stakes race for trainer Ian Wilkes last month at Churchill Downs. At 66-1 in the KDFW, he may be bet at 100-1 at the Wynn and 200-1 at William Hill.
“I’m not afraid to take a bet early on these horses,” said Wynn race and sports book director Johnny Avello, who put up his opening Derby odds Sept. 21. “When I have Bolt d’Oro at 12-1, he’s a loser for me right now. But we are so far away. It’s a delicate pattern, and it takes a lot to get the horse there and have him ready. Maybe (trainer) Mick Ruis can get it done, but I’m betting he can’t.”
Since Avello and his rivals at William Hill are offering longer odds, why would anyone in Nevada bother with what Churchill Downs is booking? Many of the answers – both positive and negative – lie in the fact that the KDFW is actually a series of four parimutuel betting periods over extended weekends, meaning the odds will be more fluid for short bursts of time. There are also options not available at the Nevada books, including exacta betting and, in March, the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager.
But the unique bet that attracts the most early money in the KDFW is “all others,” a mutuel field combining all horses not among the 23 that have their own prices. For someone wanting to latch onto something with less risk, the 3-1 payoff is better than cashing a bet with those same “all others” on Derby day. It is not offered in Nevada, because there are so many individual options. Wynn lists 308 horses; William Hill 135.
Avello’s advice for Churchill Downs is to expand the number of horses with their own KDFW odds.
“I’ve spoken to them about this before,” Avello said. “The reason they haven’t expanded it is the tote system. In today’s world, come on guys, you’ve had 10 years to expand this. You should be at a minimum of 75 or 100 horses. If you put 100 horses in you can expand the amount of money that’s going to be taken in, and that makes the maybe field not so attractive. I’m surprised that they haven’t made that change over the last few years.”
Another unique KDFW lure is the sire prop. Bettors may wager on which stallion will have produced the 2018 Derby winner. In its first two years the sire bet paid 9-1 for Uncle Mo when Nyquist won in 2016, and 30-1 for Bodemeister when Always Dreaming finished first this year. Aside from “all others” (5-1), Medaglia d’Oro (9-2) was the early favorite among the stallions on the strength of his siring of Bolt d’Oro.
Although the sire wager is only available this weekend, the KDFW will appear three more times, each with a separate pool. In other words, the price you see when this first round of betting closes Sunday at 6 p.m. EST is the price you will get if you cash on May 5, and it will not be affected by the new pools that will be opened in February, March and April. The March wagering options will also include the Kentucky Oaks and the Oaks-Derby double.
Not exactly a growth business, the KDFW has drawn a reliable average handle of $1,309,911 in its 19 years, but that is still only 1 percent of the handle that the race will draw from all parimutuel sources. Now in its fifth year the addition of the early pool in November has added an average of only $226,057.
To put it bluntly, the market for Derby futures is soft, whether it is in Kentucky or here in Nevada.
“Is it a money maker? Some years yes, some years no,” Avello said. “It’s been a loser for probably three of the last four years. That’s because the favorite that I put up has actually won the race, and that never works out well for me. I always a have a customer or two who want to win $150,000 or $200,000 on a horse three to five weeks out. So I’ve got an 8-1 shot and they want to bet $25,000 on it, and of course I’m going to take that wager because that horse is going to be no worse than maybe 4-1 or 5-1. At that point I’ve got to take that wager. Maybe the horse doesn’t even get started in the race, or maybe he goes on and wins the race.”
In spite of recent history, is this all a roundabout way of saying that Derby futures are a sucker bet that reward luck more than skill?
“When you’re betting a horse at 15-1 or 20-1 in October, November or December, honestly you’re really taking a bad price unless this horse is an absolute superstar,” Avello said.
Then again, the fact that the post-time favorite has won the Derby the last five years has provided value for anyone who got on board early. Just look at the numbers. Always Dreaming paid 9-2 at the track to win this year’s Derby. But if you bet him last fall at Wynn, you were happy to be a sucker – at 200-1.
Enticed is favored in Derby prep at Churchill
Held out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Enticed (4-1) is a lukewarm, morning-line favorite for the $200,000 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, an 8½-furlong Derby prep with a full field of 14 Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Junior Alvarado gets the ride for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on the Godolphin colt that broke its maiden in the slop at Saratoga nearly three months ago. Enticed finished third early last month in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. Of the horses in this race Enticed has the shortest odds in Nevada’s Derby futures – 45-1 at Wynn and 50-1 at William Hill.
Gotta Go (6-1) drew the rail and is 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs. Maiden closer Givemeaminit (6-1) comes back after finishing a weakening fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. They are the second choices on the morning line for the race that has a listed post time of 5:56 p.m. EST Saturday.
The Kentucky Jockey Club field includes six horses – Gotta Go, Givemeaminit, Enticed, Quip (8-1 for this race), Tiz Mischief (8-1) and Lone Sailor (12-1) – that are among the 23 nominees in the KDFW.
Hoppertunity, Diversify headline Clark Handicap
After skipping the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Diversify (5-2) goes for his fourth straight victory Friday at Churchill Downs, where he is the morning-line favorite for the 143rd running of the $500,000 Grade 1 Clark Handicap. Nine horses are entered for the nine-furlong dirt race at 5:56 p.m. EST.
Drawing the outside post, Diversify will have Írad Ortiz Jr. trying to ride him to an early lead for trainer Rick Violette. The lightly raced 4-year-old gelding has seven wins in 10 starts and had not been in a graded stakes before last month’s gate-to-wire score in the 1¼-mile Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
With career earnings of $4,281,025, deep-closing 6-year-old Hoppertunity (3-1) drew the rail and, like Diversify, was assigned top weight of 123 pounds. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Florent Geroux, Hoppertunity won the Clark three years ago and is racing for only the second time since March, when he finished sixth in the Dubai World Cup.
The field from inside out includes Hoppertunity, Seeking The Soul (6-1), deep-closing Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan (8-1), Del Mar Marathon winner Destin (10-1), Goats Town (30-1), Mo Tom (20-1), Fayette Stakes winner The Player (6-1), Lukas Classic winner Honorable Duty (5-1) and Diversify.
Racing notes: Songbird will be bred to Arrogate
- It did not take long for owner Mandy Pope to choose a stallion for her new $9.5 million broodmare Songbird. Her Whisper Hill Farm is breeding the nine-time Grade 1 winner to the recently retired Arrogate. Pope’s team said that Pioneeerof The Nile was also considered before deciding that Arrogate, a 4-year-old by Unbridled’s Song, would be Songbird’s first partner. Despite three consecutive losses to close his career, Arrogate continues to be ranked as the world’s No. 1 thoroughbred of 2017 on the strength of his win in the Dubai World Cup. His stud fee for his first breeding season was set by Juddmonte Farms at $75,000. Pope also said that she would send Songbird to breed with Tapit in 2019.
- Arrogate and Songbird are two of the six horses nominated for the eighth annual Secretariat Vox Populi Award, a popularity contest that rounds up public votes on line. The other nominees include the late but durable Ben’s Cat, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner, comebacking mare Lady Eli and the one-eyed colt Patch. Public votes are invited for the award at Secretariat.com.
- Hoping to solve the problem of skimpy fields in southern California, Santa Anita has announced incentives to lure owners and trainers from out of state. Similar to Del Mar’s “Ship and Win” program, the new “Ship and Stay” plan will pay purse bonuses to horses that make their first three starts at Santa Anita. It is part of a bigger plan to discourage horsemen from simply using the stables there as a way station to other tracks. “You let these horsemen know, hey, if you’re going to train here, you’re going to run here,” Santa Anita spokesman Mike Willman said. “If you’re not going to run here, you’re not going to get the stalls you want to run your business.” Small fields forced Santa Anita to cancel two days of racing this past spring.
- How does California Chrome vs. Ray Lewis look? Not in a race. In court. TMZ reported that the Leverage Agency, which sells sports sponsorships, has sued both Lewis and Daytoon Distributors of North Carolina, the owner and packager of Ray’s Reserve Kentucky Bourbon. The defendants were accused of walking away from a $50,000 tab for sponsoring Chrome’s ninth-place run in last winter’s inaugural Pegasus World Cup. Jockey Víctor Espinoza wore the “Ray’s Reserve” name on his riding pants that day at Gulfstream Park. The bourbon was named for Lewis, the retired 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. His lawyer told TMZ that Lewis only licensed his name to Daytoon and bears no responsibility for the bill in question.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week it features Wynn Las Vegas race and sports book director Johnny Avello with an expanded look at Kentucky Derby futures, and Tony-nominated actress/singer Laura Bell Bundy, a Kentucky native who discusses her love of horse racing. Please subscribe and post a review where available at iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.