Yes, Nevada, there really are Kentucky Derby futures

Independence_Hall_by_Adam_Coglianese_NYRA
Independence Hall raced off with jockey José Ortiz to a 12¼-length win last Sunday in the Grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct, stamping him as the William Hill futures favorite for the 2020 Kentucky Derby. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA photo)

Las Vegas

 

I was wrong. Dead wrong. Loud wrong.

 

This goes beyond picking a losing horse. This goes to the declaration made in this column and on my weekly podcast that said racing futures were dead in Las Vegas.

 

They are not what they once were, but in reality they have not missed a beat.

 

Jonathan Lintner of Horse Racing Nation got it first and got it right last week when William Hill posted both Breeders’ Cup Classic and Kentucky Derby futures.

 

My first reaction was WTF? (For the uninitiated, Phil Dunphy on “Modern Family” says that stands for “Why the face?”)

 

Less than two months ago, after talking with bookmakers and exchanging emails with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, I had declared “Futures betting on horses is a thing of the past in Nevada.” That was the headline. I am not allowed to claim that someone else wrote it, because I did.

 

I could get into a whole litany of excuses about what went wrong and how the walk did not match the talk and point fingers. But ultimately the mirror rules. In some cases I believed what I should not have. In other ways I applied some facts where they did not belong, and I made incorrect assumptions that led me to faulty conclusions.

 

For all that, I apologize – and try to move on. Because who really cares about how the sausage was made? Let’s just get to the meat of the odds. And they are already in flux.

 

Dennis’ Moment and Eight Rings opened as 10-1 favorites to win the Derby. Then came the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where Dennis’ Moment started on his knees and Eight Rings never got going. Now they are 25-1.

 

Storm The Court opened 90-1. Then he went and won the Juvenile. Now he is 12-1. Whoa, wait a minute. Wasn’t he 45-1 to win the Breeders’ Cup? Am I to understand now that he is considered much more likely to win May 2 at Churchill Downs? Let me know how that works out.

 

Maxfield, the Grade 1 winner that was scratched from the Juvenile with what has been described as a minor injury to his right front leg, held steady at 12-1. But he and Storm The Court are not co-favorites.

 

Instead, it is a horse that was not even at the Breeders’ Cup. Independence Hall was a 12¼-length winner last Sunday as a 9-1 shot in the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct. He earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure that was four points better than any other 2-year-old has produced in North America in 2019. So he opened this week as the new 10-1 Derby favorite.

 

Sired by 2014 Florida Derby winner Constitution and trained by Michael Trombetta, Independence Hall is 2-for-2, having won his September debut at Parx by 4¾ lengths.

 

After the Nashua victory, Trombetta stopped short of committing Independence Hall to a Derby campaign. Yet he admitted that next month’s Grade 2 Remsen, a Derby points prep at Aqueduct, is being strongly considered.

 

“We’ll see how he is and talk to the owners and come up with a plan for him,” Trombetta said. “This is a great conversation to have. This was a step in the right direction.”

 

José Ortiz, who rode Independence Hall after flying home to New York from his nine races in the Breeders’ Cup, went one better.

 

“I don’t think any other 2-year-old out there can kick like him,” he said. “He seems special.”

 

That would apparently include the only winner that Ortiz rode last week at Santa Anita. After finishing first in the Juvenile Turf, Structor was conspicuously absent from the William Hill Derby futures, even though trainer Chad Brown said that he was leaning toward moving the son of Palace Malice off the grass.

 

“I’m going to try this horse on dirt at some point,” Brown said last week. “He trains very well on it. He deserves it, and he’s got the right running style to potentially run on both surfaces.”

 

Structor’s Beyer from last Friday was only 79, so there is some building to do between now and next spring. But there is plenty of time. And who knows? By then maybe Structor will become a fiend on dirt. And maybe the dean of Las Vegas horse handicappers – Johnny Avello – will resurrect his futures somewhere for DraftKings Sportsbook.

 

Then again, I could be wrong.

 

Racing notes and opinions

 

First past the wire in two September stakes, Spectacular Gem leads the full field of 14 for the $175,000 Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf, the 8½-furlong feature for 3-year-olds at 5:36 p.m. EST Saturday at Churchill Downs. Trained by Jimmy Baker and ridden by James Graham, the colt by Can The Man wired the field in the nine-furlong Jefferson Cup over the same turf course as they are using this weekend. Tracksmith, Faraway Kitten and Clint Maroon – the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in that race – are back for a rematch. The race is not lacking for early speed. Spectacular Gem may be challenged for the early lead by Osage Moon, Pirate’s Punch, Mr Dumas and 2018 Breeders’ Futurity winner and turf debutant Knicks Go. I am counting on that speed breaking down, so Tracksmith and Faraway Kitten will be keyed on my tickets.

 

Blue Prize earned $2,598,613 in her 3½ years as a racehorse on nine tracks in the U.S. and her native Argentina. On Tuesday she made her owners John Moores and Charles Noell nearly double that with one strike of the gavel. The 6-year-old (OK, 5½) winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff was sold as a broodmare in Kentucky at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale for $5 million to Larry Best’s OXO Equine. Sired by Pure Prize, Blue Prize also won two runnings of the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland.

 

Midnight Bisou was an even-money favorite last Saturday when she was upset by Blue Prize in the Distaff, ending a seven-race winning streak. Her owner Jeff Bloom said that her next stop will be a first race against the boys Feb. 29 in the new $20 million Saudi Cup. Bloom also told Thoroughbred Daily News that Midnight Bisou would probably not race Jan. 25 in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, Fla. These plans to stay in training represent an about-face for Bloom, who removed Midnight Bisou last week from the Fasig-Tipton sale.

 

Trainer Bob Baffert said that beaten Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite McKinzie would be aimed for the Saudi Cup and the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Others that have been mentioned as possible starters for Saudi Arabia include Axelrod, Gift Box, Gronkowski and Joevia.

 

Thunder Snow, the horse that came back from an embarrassing start in the 2017 Kentucky Derby to win the last two Dubai World Cups, has been retired to stud for Godolphin. The 5-year-old sired by Helmet was a four-time Group 1 winner. Even though he never won in the U.S., he finished in the money the three times he started over here since his rodeo act coming out of the gate 2½ years ago at Churchill Downs.

 

I was humbled by the news that the Ron Flatter Racing Pod has been named a finalist for Best Radio Show/Podcast of 2019 by America’s Best Racing. It is one of the 12 categories for the inaugural Fan Choice Awards, for which on-line voting began Wednesday and runs through Nov. 20. The other finalists include: ABR’s The Winner’s Circle with Bram Weinstein, At the Races with Steve Byk, Down the Stretch with Bill Finley and Dave Johnson, Horse Racing Radio Network with Mike Penna, In the Money Players’ Podcast with Pete Fornatale and Jonathon Kinchen, the Jason Beem Horse Racing Podcast, and the Racing Dudes’ Blinkers Off. Other awards range from the race, jockey and trainer of the year to the best cocktail available at any racecourse. Votes may be cast at https://www.americasbestracing.net/fan-choice-awards. One voter will be drawn at random to win a trip for two to next year’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland and place a $10,000 win bet on the Classic.

 

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. From Santa Anita, ESPN’s Kenny Mayne and trainer Todd Pletcher are guests on the RFRP, which is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher.

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