History — and an earlier version of this report — tell us 40 of the last 41 New Year’s Day favorites for the Kentucky Derby failed to win the race.
Horseplayers scheming for years to cash in on that ample trend might have an easy way to do it now. But betting against Life Is Good, or any of a few other 3-year-olds, is not as much a get-rich-quick scheme as it is another method of hedging or even bridge jumping.
Borrowing a page from some foreign bookmakers, Circa Sports has taken the seven shortest-priced horses in its Derby futures and offered yes-no options on each of them. The “yes” prices match their odds to win May 1. The “no” prices are what players can lay to bet they will not win.
Life Is Good, the 8-1 (actually plus-815) Derby favorite at Circa, opened at -1,425 in the “no” pool. Bet $1,425 to make $100 if he loses the Derby — or even if he does not get into the race. The other six horses include Bezos (yes 10-1, no -1-18), Concert Tour (yes 11-1, no -1-20), Essential Quality (yes 12-1, no -1-22), Caddo River (yes 16-1, no -1-30), Prime Factor (yes 17-1, no -1-32) and Prevalence (yes 20-1, no -1-38).
Working with sportsbook director Matt Metcalf, risk supervisor Paul Zilm put a toe in the water last year with Circa’s first-ever Derby futures, which opened after the race was pushed back four months. The “no” options that were introduced were an eye-opening new wrinkle for Las Vegas racebooks.
“ ‘Yes-nos’ in 2020 seemed to gain steam the closer we got to race day,” Zilm said. “They started out slow, for sure, but I think that can be attributed to many people really trying to take their shots early on. Players like to find that 50-1, 100-1, 200-1 shot they hope to get in the gate. Once the field comes more into focus, the ‘yes-nos’ offer increased limits and the ability to position themselves a little better.”
It might not provide the ego trip that an early bet does on the eventual Derby winner. But a “no” bet on a buzz horse — say, Life Is Good — gives horseplayers a constructive way to vent their contrarian criticism.
“It’s a way for someone to take a stand if they absolutely hate a horse or think they have no chance,” Zilm said. “We saw it plenty in multisport parlays too. You are usually laying a big number, but players like that extra option. I am sure they are factoring it into other wagers they have made or are making for the race.”
The “no” bet also offers a strategic option for players who get in early on a good horse that only looks better — and shorter — as the Derby nears. Tiz The Law was a perfect example.
“Tiz The Law hadn’t had his awesome Belmont run yet when we opened,” Zilm said. “We had him plus-575. We had some players take him at that number. By (Derby) day he was down to minus-150. We saw some of those people simply betting the ‘no’ and getting 6-5 to guarantee a profit. Some laid the ‘no’ in parlays to create some flexibility in outcomes. We saw parlays with ‘nos’ to Super Bowl futures, among other things. Players got creative and had fun with it, for sure.”
So it is not just about bridge jumping. Not that anything is wrong with that.
“There were no huge bridge jumpers in 2020,” Zilm said. “But with a longer ramp in 2021 and just more people knowing what we are doing, it’s always a possibility.”
Horseplayers are really no different from sports bettors. Sharps might check their egos before they open their apps, but they are outnumbered by a casual public that might actually put its money where its mouth is.
“The thing I love about horseplayers is they can really love a horse or not,” Zilm said. “When they don’t, they will fire against it any chance they can.”
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S HOT?
Bezos (10-1 Circa, 20-1 William Hill). It is rare enough that William Hill posts odds for an unraced horse. But when was the last time Churchill Downs did that in its pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager? Bezos closed last weekend at 26-1, taking what appeared to be a big bet 15 minutes before Pool 2 closed. The same owners who campaigned Authentic, the likely 2020 Horse of the Year, paid $400,000 for him, named him for Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos and sent him to — who else? — six-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. An impressive bullet work out of the gate Jan. 20 only stoked the hype for this Empire Maker colt. Expect to see Bezos make his debut no later than next month at Santa Anita.
Caddo River (16-1 Circa, 15-1 William Hill). A 10¼-length victory in Friday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park brought a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 and added attention to this colt, who is now 2-for-2 at 1 mile and with jockey Florent Geroux. He was odds-on for those races, suggesting that his two second-place finishes in sprints last year were against tougher competition. Since he is by Hard Spun, speed should not be a question. His dam Pangburn, by Congrats, was most accomplished at 8½ furlongs. It becomes a simple question, then, for trainer Brendan Walsh and his backers. Can Caddo River get 1⅛ miles, let alone 1¼?
Prevalence (20-1 Circa, 25-1 William Hill). An 89 Beyer punctuated the debut win Saturday at Gulfstream Park for this Medaglia d’Oro colt. After some bumping out of the gate, jockey Tyler Gaffalione never had to move a finger on his way to an 8½-length victory. That it came on the Pegasus undercard, though, makes this a cautionary tale. The last time a horse had this sort of coming-out party was two years ago, when Hidden Scroll won by 14 lengths in the slop on Pegasus day. Recklessly bet down by futures players, he was a flop on the Derby trail, and he has accomplished almost nothing since. Not to say that Prevalence is Hidden Scroll. Just that dazzling maiden wins can be deceiving.
DERBY FUTURES: WHO’S NOT?
Cowan (125-1 Circa). While it is true he met expectations finishing second as a 2-1 choice in the Smarty Jones, he finished in a different time zone from Caddo River. Trainer Steve Asmussen asked a lot of this Kantharos colt by graduating him from turf sprints to 1-mile Derby preps. Coupled with his 5¾-length loss to Senor Buscador in last month’s Springboard Mile, it looks like he is racing beyond his reach. He finished a close second to Golden Pal last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, so maybe the grass is really greener for Cowan.
Angkor (300-1 Circa, 150-1 William Hill). This $250,000 Anchor Down colt was a beaten favorite in his last two starts, most recently a distant sixth in an 8½-furlong allowance against past winners at the Fair Grounds. Trained by former Ken McPeek assistant Phil Bauer, Angkor just has not lived up to the promise he showed in his four-length debut win last fall at Churchill Downs.
Schnell (750-1 Circa, 300-1 William Hill). Since winning his first start last summer at Los Alamitos, Schnell is 0-for-5 with four finishes out of the money. His only time hitting the board since came in a black-type sprint at Evangeline Downs. Racing in the mud Saturday in a Fair Grounds allowance, this Star Guitar colt trained by Ron Faucheux went off at odds of 7-2 and finished last. Even at 750-1 he is an underlay.
In addition to this report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently for coverage of big events. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On this week’s episode, trainer Doug O’Neill discusses horses that could win him his third Kentucky Derby, outgoing Gulfstream Park TV analyst Jason Blewitt previews the Holy Bull Stakes, and Rampart Casino’s Duane Colucci handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.