Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: May 5, 3:11 AM ET
Dumb money a plus for handicappers
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
It's pretty safe to say that Optimizer has virtually no chance to win the Kentucky Derby. He was beaten 20-plus lengths in the Arkansas Derby and has won only once in his career, in a grass maiden race last year at Saratoga. His chances of victory are probably in the 1-in-200 or -300 neighborhood.
And come post time for the Derby, he will likely be about 40-1.
This is a new phenomenon, one that accelerated with Mine That Bird's incomprehensible victory in 2009. Dumb money now floods into the Derby win pool, creating bizarre underlays.
No horse in the 2011 Derby field went off at odds higher than 39-1. That includes forgettable types such as Decisive Moment (39-1), Derby Kitten (36-1) and Twinspired (32-1).
In 2010, the longest shot on the board was Discreetly Mine, at 31-1. Non-entities such as Conveyance and Homeboykris were 27-1 or lower.
The irony is that perhaps the biggest underlay in Derby history actually won. In 2009, Mine That Bird looked like he couldn't have won the race with a rocket tied to his back. He had failed to win two ungraded prep races coming in and finished last a year earlier in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was sent off at 50-1, when most handicappers thought his chances of winning were non-existent.
Yet, somehow he managed not to only win but to demolish the field. Three years later, the effect of that win will still be felt. The players who bet one race a year -- and maybe even some semi-serious handicappers -- are still looking for the next Mine That Bird, and their wagering dollars keep coming in on the Optimizers of the world. Someone could enter a billy goat and it would be 48-1.
That's good news for serious players, at least those that have concluded that the Mine That Bird win was a once-in-the-history-of-the-world fluke. The odds on serious contenders such as Bodemeister and Union Rags will be inflated by at least two points because of the rush to play hopeless long shots.
Below is a list of what I believe the odds on each horse should be followed by my prediction of what their post time odds will be:
The dumb money phenomenon does not show up nearly as much in the exotic pools because novice horseplayers tend to stay away from wagers like the exacta and trifecta. The win and even place and show pools are where all the value is.
So sit back and enjoy the race on Saturday, and bet to win on the horses that make sense. You may not cash, but at least you will have made a smart wager.
NYSRWB makes the right move
With racing getting hammered left and right for having too many horses break down and too much drug use, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board stepped in Monday and ordered that no purse can be more than double the claiming price. For example, $10,000 claimers can run for no more than $20,000.
This is an attempt to reduce the rash of breakdowns in cheap races, in which bad horses have been running for huge purses. That has apparently motivated some trainers to run infirm horses hoping they can get a big payday out of their walking wounded.
The problem is that no other racing commission in the East has taken the same step. Now those same cheap horses will flock to places like Parx Racing, where the claiming-value-to-purse ratio remains out of whack. That's only going to hurt New York racing fill fields.
The NYSRWB has become a proactive group that is doing its best to help clean up the mess that is racing. But too many other racing commissions and commissioners just don't care. Racing leaders in West Virginia, Delaware and, particularly, Pennsylvania must follow suit.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.