People love action.
If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have bets like the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which requires horseplayers to forecast the winner of the classic race several months before it even draws.
It takes an awful lot of gusto to plunk down some hard-earned bones on such a risky venture. Each interest is like a numbered suitcase on the hit game show Deal or No Deal. Inside each one could be that million-dollar prize (a Derby winner at a better price than at post time) or just enough cash for the bus ride home (a Derby trail dud or injury defection).
From noon Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday, ambitious horseplayers will take their place on the proverbial stage before the 24 models holding numbered briefcases. The shadowy figure of the banker will be looming, asking players to accept his odds. Howie Mandel will be there, too. Whatever you do, don’t shake his hand.
The question is…Deal or No Deal?
Which entries in the first future wager pool appear to offer the best value? Which ones make it look like the banker is lowballing the contestants? Below are a few horses that fit into one of those categories.
Keep in mind these speculations are based solely on the morning line odds set by Churchill Donws handicapper Mike Battagalia. The odds can, and will, fluctuate according to the action in the pari-mutuel pools, which could negate some of my statements.
Also, unless otherwise noted, this is not an analysis of talent, but a projection of betting value. Just because a horse is labeled a “No Deal” does not mean I do not think it is capable of winning the Kentucky Derby, and vice versa.
For a complete list of the horses being offered in the Future Wager and their odds, a Thoroughbred Times story can be found here.
Vale of York
Has a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner ever given odds this long in the first Future Wager pool? I debated long and hard about which category to place the Irish-bred Eclipse Award finalist. On one hand, an awful lot of planets aligned to put Vale of York’s nose across the line first in the Juvenile. He benefitted from a European turf-friendly surface, was a first-time Lasix user and got the best of a multi-horse head bob. Also, there is talk of sending the Invincible Spirit (IRE) colt to Europe instead of testing the Derby trail, which gives this wager an added risk. On the other hand, let us consider a scenario. In all likelihood, Vale of York will take the road to Louisville going through Dubai. If he cleans up the preps and shows a pulse in the UAE Derby, there should be no reason to expect he won’t go off at less than 15-1 on the big day. This has the potential to be a high-risk, high-reward investment.
Aside from earning the bragging rights that go along with picking the Kentucky Derby winner several months in advance, one of the appeals of the Future Wager is trying to get a horse at a better price than on race day. Unless Noble’s Promise puts the throttle on his three-year-old campaign and notches a couple highlight reel-caliber wins, odds in the mid-teens ought to be a reasonable expectation on the big stage.
More deals and duds can be found behind the jump.
In recent years, the Tampa Bay road to the Kentucky Derby has become an increasingly legitimate prep route. Street Sense won the track’s key Derby prep, the Tampa Bay Derby in 2007. Last year, Musket Man turned in a respectable third at Churchill Downs. This year’s buzz horse out of central Florida is Pasco Stakes winner Uptowncharlybrown. The Limehouse colt has won his two career starts, both at Tampa Bay Downs, by a combined 15 lengths. However, do not jump to throw money at him just yet. His stock is particularly volatile during this pool because he is entered in Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. If he wins, or puts in a strong effort, prepare to open your hearts and wallets, especially if his price remains in the neighborhood of the morning line. If he loses, especially badly, it might be best to wait for later pools to see if he can right the ship. I have confidence that won’t be necessary. Whatever you do, just be sure to do it after the race is run.
Outside of Eclipse winner Lookin at Lucky, the California platoon appears rather ho-hum this year. Conveyance came out on top against a beige field in the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita to improve his record to a perfect three-for-three. That record is nice, but not 12-1 nice. There is certainly time for the Indian Charlie colt to establish himself as a serious threat for the roses, but at this time and price, I’ll pass. Another factor to consider is, barring Derby trail defections, Conveyance will probably lose regular rider Garrett Gomez sometime in the coming races. That element of the unknown does not make him any more attractive in a long-term wager.
The list of Kentucky Derby contenders is rife with allowance-level horses who have yet to make their stakes debuts. Every year, a chosen few become buzz horses who take one big shot at the Derby by making that first blacktype start in a major prep. While there are still plenty of races to be run, Drosselmeyer has a good chance to be that horse. The Distorted Humor colt came alive running on the dirt after failing to break his maiden on the turf. He has more experience at two turns than just about anyone in this pool and he owns a win at Churchill Downs, which never hurts. Hanging on to regular rider Kent Desormeaux would be a major boon, as well. If he explodes like I think he’s going to explode, this should be one of the last times we see him offered at 20-1 for a long while.
Come on, now. The only way I’m looking at a horse with only one career start for a future wager is if it wins by double digit lengths, it somehow beats older company at over 1 1/8 miles, of if I own it. Pulling a Beyer figure over 105 in that start wouldn’t hurt, either. This horse has accomplished none of the above. Lots of horses on the Derby trail own a single turn win by a length and change. Until Concord Point does something to separate himself from that group, it’s hard to justify giving him much consideration, especially at a price lower than 50-1.
This is more of a “feel” pick than anything else. The Hear No Evil colt swept the two-year-old stakes scene at Calder Race Course last year and proved himself a worthy Florida-based contender with a second place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes. So far, he has made the right moves and could very well establish himself as one of the leaders of the Florida platoon. That said, the Florida South road is always deep and ripe with allowance horses who crash the Florida Derby, as mentioned earlier (See: Big Brown, Quality Road). If he manages to stave off the Johnny Come Latelys, he will without a doubt give single-digit odds on the big day. That might be a big “if”, but it could be a profitable one.
Last year, Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby as a “field” horse and paid $5.80 in the first future pool. On Derby Day itself, the gelding paid $103.20. The field is a smart pick for exacta wagers, but it is rare to get more out of it as a straight wager than any of the “field” will give on Derby Day. If none of the horses being offered in this pool look appealing, the best thing to do is pass on the field and back a longshot in May. If it hits, you’ll make more money and feel better about yourself in the process.
Who else is worth taking the banker’s deal? Which horses make you want to slam that little glass box over the flashing button while you fire an intense stare at his shadowy booth above the set?