Early Signs Good For The Derby

The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands is just under 80 days away, but the year’s early indicators point to good things.

A few weeks back the number of horses nominated to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown spiked to 398 3-year-olds – an unexpected gain of nearly seven percent in the number of horses made eligible to run in the spring classics.

And now we have the results of the first of three betting pools in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

The three-day pool that provides racing fans with a chance to wager on possible Derby contenders weeks in advance of the Run for the Roses at odds that could be much more attractive than those available on Derby Day.

Lot of Entries

Racing’s only active pari-mutuel future pool also benefitted from a burst of fan and bettor enthusiasm and a record $631,304 was wagered during the three-day pool.

That’s an increase of 6.6 percent in betting from 2010 and erased a record set in the opening pool of 2005, the year in which 50-1 shot Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby.

The strong 3-2 favorite in the pool was not an individual Derby prospect, but the mutuel field, or “All Others” ruled the weekend.

That $2 win bet covers all 3-year-old Thoroughbreds in the world other than the 23 individual horses among the 24 wagering interests in the Derby Future Pool.

“All Others” has been favored in each of the opening pools of the Future Wager since the bet was introduced in 1999, so the strong support for that interest this year was no surprise.

If you’re looking for an individual horse that could be called the favorite to win the 138th Kentucky Derby, it would be either Union Rags or unbeaten Algorithms.

The former suffered the only loss of his career in a narrow setback to eventual 2-year-old champion Hansen in last fall’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs and is trained by Michael Matz, who did a marvelous job of getting the ill-fated Barbaro to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle in 2006.

Local Connection

Algorithms, owned by the Starlight Racing partnership headed by Louisville native Jack Wolf that includes attorney and civic leader Ed Glasscock and son Clint, defeated Hansen in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park to maintain a 3.0 record.

Union Rags closed as the favored individual horse at 7-1, while Algorithms, one of four Pool 1 horses trained by Derby winner Todd Pletcher, was next at 12-1.

After that the individual odds ranged from 16-1 on the Pletcher-trained El Padrino to 141-1 on Longview Drive.

Why bet the mutuel field at such an early stage?

For one thing, there’s a good chance that the winner of the 2012 Kentucky Derby was not on Pool 1’s list of individual horses.

Animal Was Late

Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Derby, was not a betting interest until last year’s third future pool, and the eventual winner was a member of the “All Others” betting interest in Pool 1 in five of the previous 13 renewals of the Derby Future Wager.

And why would you bet on a horse so early?

One thought is that you’re looking for Funny Cide, who paid $27.60 on a $2 win wager in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, but returned $188 for the same wager in Pool 1 of that year’s future bet.

And, of course, there are bragging rights for handicappers.

Boost To Ego

The fact that you or I not only liked the Derby winner, but bet on him three months before the race, is a nice boost to the ego of the Derby fan and horseplayer.

The fate of tickets purchased in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 will not be revealed until the race is run on the first Saturday in May, but the bet has rebounded in the past two years after a string of three consecutive years during which the opening pool’s betting total failed to top $480,000.

In a national Thoroughbred wagering marketing that has been on a two-year slide, the 2011 total of $592,492 and this year’s record betting total – just the second to top $600,000 in the Derby Future bet’s 14-year history – cannot be viewed as anything but a positive indicator for the Derby and the industry.

And, as a longtime member of the Churchill Downs team and the racing industry, I can assure you that we graciously accept any good news that develops.

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 is scheduled for March 2-4, and the year’s third and final Derby Futures Pool is set for March 30-April 1.