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Road to the Derby starts
here & now

Feb 17, 2004 6:50 AM

The road to the Kentucky Derby starts here. And now.

As in previous seasons, GamingToday will provide intensive coverage of the Triple Crown series ”” as always, from a Las Vegas betting perspective.

Even though the Derby won’t be run for 11 weeks, there is plenty to report, and as well as bets to be made.

"Future bets are big in Las Vegas," said Richard Saber, GT’s turf expert and race handicapper. "Even though it’s early, now is the time to bet your futures, while you can still get attractive odds."

Finding the best odds on potential Derby contenders usually involves checking odds at local bet shops such as Bally’s and the Palms, which both post long lists of Derby hopefuls.

Saber added that betting into Churchill Downs’ Derby Future Pool, which concluded its first (of three) pools last weekend, doesn’t offer much value.

"They only list 23 horses and the ”˜field,’" Saber said. "Most wise guys wouldn’t bother betting into the pool because key horses are left out, the numbers aren’t firm until the windows close and the field odds at 9-5 are simply prohibitive."

Nevertheless, the Kentucky Derby Future Pool can be a good barometer as to how players perceive the contenders.
This past weekend there was strong support for such promising young stars as Eurosilver, Lion Heart, Action This Day and Read the Footnotes, but the favorite’s role at the end of four days of wagering was the "field," which included "all other" 3-year-old Thoroughbreds.

The mutuel field was favored at 9-5 when betting closed on Sunday evening. Total betting in the first of three Kentucky Derby pools was $536,958, the second highest total since betting began in 1999.

Other Kentucky Derby contenders that received strong backing include the Nick Zito-trained duo of Eurosilver and Birdstone. Eurosilver closed as the pool’s second choice at 11-1 and Birdstone, an impressive allowance winner in his 2004 debut at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, was close behind at 12-1. Next came a trio of contenders at 14-1: Action This Day, Lion Heart, and Read the Footnotes, a gritty and impressive winner of Saturday’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.

Although a breakdown of figures was not available at press time, Churchill Downs officials said Nevada bettors comprised the largest block of players, and accounted for nearly 20 percent of future bets.

The second pool is set for March 11-14 and the third and last of this year’s three pools will run from April 1-4. The 130th running of the $1 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 1 at Churchill Downs.

While some pool prices may appear attractive, it would be prudent to shop future book odds offered by Las Vegas sports books. Often, players can find a few bargains.

For instance, last week Bally’s listed Tiger Hunt at a healthy 60-1, while future pool bettors took 34-1. Other overlays included Shaniko at 60-1 (47-1 in the pool), Read the Footnotes at 20-1 (14-1 in the pool), and Birdstone at 15-1 (12-1 in the pool).

Equally important, Nevada bettors can play Derby contenders that didn’t make the future pool list, and may not be posted until later pools, when the odds could be significantly less.

In Las Vegas, future bettors can still get respectable odds on horses that haven’t quite hit the national radar screen, including Tango Tales at 75-1, Preachin At The Bar at 40-1 and Limehouse at 100-1.

Finally, for players who want to do some handicapping of their own, Saber has few tips for finding a Derby contender.

Saber suggests looking at horses from the top trainers, usually bred in Kentucky from successful sires and dams.

He also uses dosage index as a guideline to determining a horse’s ability to run longer than a mile (the Derby’s contested at the classic distance of 1¼ mile), but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

And a horse needs to have had some racing experience as a 2-year-old.

"You want to avoid the Curse of Apollo," Saber said. "Not since 1882 has a horse won the Derby without having run as a 2-year-old. Apollo was the last to accomplish that feat."

Another thing, Saber pointed out: Keep following the Road to the Kentucky Derby in GamingToday.