Commentary

Staking your Future in the Ky. Derby

The time is now for those looking for a good value on their favorite runner

Updated: February 19, 2014, 11:26 AM ET
By Steve Davidowitz | Special to ESPN.com

Two years ago, Doug O'Neill won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with I'll Have Another. Total purses from those two prestigious races alone were in excess of $1.7 million. But O'Neill will tell you that he got as much if not more pleasure from cashing $20,000 in winnings from a $100 bet he made on his horse in January in a Nevada Casino.

O'Neill drove from Los Angeles with two buddies (who also bet the horse) to a casino on the Nevada border to make that bet at 200-1 the day before I'll Have Another was to win his 2012 debut after a five-month layoff.

"

O'Neill Driving back there to pick up the money after the Triple Crown made me think that I just might be close to getting even for all the future bets I've made through the years.

" -- Trainer Doug O'Neill
"Driving back there to pick up the money after the Triple Crown made me think that I just might be close to getting even for all the future bets I've made through the years," O'Neill said. "I got an even bigger kick sharing the winnings with all the guys and gals who worked so hard in my barn to get the horse ready to do what he did."

There are other legendary Derby Future Book scores, like the group associated with Funny Cide, the New York bred who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby at 75-1 and higher at some race books. Or, the group of good handicappers who hit for more than $250,000 collectively when the Vegas books did not appreciate how good 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus was after he won a minor race in northern California early in that winter.

And there's the one that also involved a group of stable hands in 1988. That was the year that D. Wayne Lukas' barn reportedly cleaned up on the filly Winning Colors after she had won only a maiden race at the end of 1987.

Winning Colors would go on to win the 1988 Kentucky Derby as one of the race day favorites. But when the stable hands made their Futures wager that winter in Caliente, Mexico, they got $100 for each $1 bet. When they returned to count their money, their winning tickets were worth an estimated $300,000.

The legend also says that Todd Pletcher, a Lukas assistant at the time, took home about half that for himself. Some even say it helped him finance his inevitable start as a full-fledged trainer going out on his own. At last count, Pletcher had won more than $260 million in purses, including the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. Some also say that Pletcher's stable hands did quite well with the well named Super Saver.

The Derby winter book betting pools are fun and they spike interest nationwide on America's most famous race. They also can be useful wagering options for those who pay close attention to what is going on in the Derby prep races run virtually every weekend at the nation's top tracks.

For most of the 20th Century, Derby Futures only could be found in Nevada and Mexican race books. Fifteen years ago, however, Churchill Downs got into the act, offering a variation that has cultivated interest and criticism from fans who like the idea, but would like some improvements.

A few basic facts

Whereas Nevada and Mexican race books post their odds on hundreds of 3-year-olds, some as high as 400-1, Churchill runs its Derby Futures bet as a pari-mutual wagering pool with 23 specific horses and a 24th betting number dedicated to "All Others." (All Futures Bets are at $2 minimums, but much higher sums can be wagered.)

The race books adjust their odds up or down as horses do well or poorly, or as money comes in to support specific horses. Meanwhile, Churchill sets up four different futures pools beginning in the fall and continuing on through March. Each of these futures pools has a three-day betting window and the final odds are determined for each pool by the total sums wagered on each horse when the pool closes.

Based on the performances of Derby prospects, Churchill also will add and subtract some horses from each different pool moving forward.

For example, in pool No. 2 that was open Feb. 6-8, several horses were deleted from the 23 that were included in pool No. 1 in the fall. No doubt, when pool No. 3 is set up for the last weekend in February, there will be more changes.

Below you will find the final odds offered on the 24 betting interests in CD's Derby Futures Pool No. 2. Alongside, you will find the odds that were offered for each horse as set up by John Avello, the official odds maker at the Wynn in Las Vegas. You might find some of the comparisons surprising.

I've also added a short comment about each horse's current form to indicate why some were bet or why they may have lost esteem with Derby futures players. In addition, I've listed seven horses who are promising Derby prospects that were excluded from Churchill's pool No. 2. Generous odds are being offered on them by the Wynn racebook. No doubt, some will be included in Churchill's pool No. 3, Feb. 27-Mar 1.

Below are seven horses that made favorable impressions in recent weeks. The odds listed with each are those quoted by John Avello for the Wynn Racebook in Vegas.

Bayern (40-1): Won 2014 return with a flourish, will go in stakes in next.
Chitu (85-1): Finished solid 2nd to Candy Boy in the Robert Lewis.
Kobe's Back (60-1): Impressive win in 7 Furlong San Vicente, Feb. 15.
.Tamarando (40-1): Won Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, Feb. 15.
Dance With Fate (125-1): Finished good second to Tamarando.
Tanzanite Cat (100-1): Won Oaklawn stakes in Jan; 5th in stks, 2/17.
Z Lucky (400-1): Good 2nd against weaker in 2014 debut Feb. 17.

Churchill Downs has gotten criticism for only offering 23 different horses in each Futures Pool. This leaves many potential contenders in the "All Others" category at short odds. The seven horses named above fall into that category. If you like any of them to win the Kentucky Derby you would only have gotten $1.50 to $1 on their chances in CD's Pool No. 2. If you bet them individually in the Wynn Racebook yesterday, today, or even next week, you would get huge odds.

Also, with two different Futures options players can shop for their best prices for any horses named in both pools. California Chrome for instance is 60-1 right now in Vegas, but was only 30-1 in Churchill's Pool No. 2.

It surely would make more sense if Churchill increased the number of betting interests to 100 in each pool. This would push up the odds on many good horses which would make plenty of futures bets more attractive. Remember the Kentucky Derby is still 2-½ months away and you automatically lose your bet if the horse gets hurt or scratches along the way.

One big plus for Churchill is that they offer exacta betting as an added feature to their Derby Futures while Vegas does not. Avello admits that is something he wants to change. "The exacta is a great idea and we might put one into play during the next few weeks," he said. "At the very least we should have it ready next year."

While some players use these Futures to have a season-long rooting interest in the world's most famous race, others play option No. 24 as a safety play against what they might wind up betting when the Derby actually is run on May 3.

Even more intriguing, one must wonder if there is a trainer or a group of stable hands who already have placed a significant bet on a horse who has yet to show that he is true Derby timber. If that has occurred, we will not know about it until a new legend is revealed after the roses are draped over the Derby winner on the First Saturday in May.

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