It has been said that the future is now. That may be true, but not when it comes to playing horses three months before they run.
It also has been said there is safety in numbers. That also may be true, but there’s little value in the numbers when it comes to betting on horses 90 days in advance.
Take Round One of the Kentucky Derby Futures Wager offered by Churchill Downs, for example. The pool closed with the field as the 9-5 favorite, meaning that if any of the 413 horses listed on 45—count’em, 45—pages of past performances published by the Daily Racing Form for Round One wins, it would pay $5.80.
You could have gotten closing odds of 14-1 on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Action This Day and 19-1 on the Bobby Frankel-trained Master David. Buzz horses Eurosilver and Birdstone from two-time Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito’s barn were11-1 and 12-1. Undefeated Lion Heart was 14-1
But the field, which includes all horses other than the 23 listed in the individual betting pools, closed at 9-5.
Among the field are the filly Ashado, who shockingly received one vote as outstanding
2-year-old filly over Halfbridled in balloting for an Eclipse Award; a maiden called C.J. McCarron, named after you-know-who; a colt dubbed Coldntight, another name that bawdy owner Mike Pegram slipped past the august Jockey Club; a horse named Greedy Executive, whose sire is Siphon; a colt owned in part by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and the reason the mute button was invented, Dick Vitale, called It’s Awesome Baby; a colt by Grand Slam named after the late, great Yankee shortstop, Tony Lazzeri; a horse by 1994 Derby winner Go For Gin named Shots; a colt by 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold named Vermeil, after the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has been known to wear his heart on his sleeve when he’s not wiping his tears on it; and a colt simply called Work, which is what this lengthy paragraph is becoming.
But unearthing a Kentucky Derby winner this far in advance of May 1 takes a divining rod with acute focus.
"I guess Winning Colors (the filly that won the 1988 Kentucky Derby) was the most famous Future Book winner," said Gary Young, professional gambler, clocker and bloodstock agent extra ordinaire. "A lot of people made money on her at the Agua Caliente future book when it was in its heyday. I did OK with Brocco (on a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile future bet in 1993) but most of the time I don’t think there’s a lot of value unless you have a horse you feel very strongly is underneath the radar screen and could be a real comer.
"Even then it takes a lot of luck to get to the race and win the race. A few years ago they said the odds of a maiden winning the Derby were 100-1. Why even have that bet? A maiden is not going to win. It should be a million to one."
Pertaining to the 2004 Derby on May 1, Young singled out a few Derby Future Book prospects.
"I still believe if it’s going to be a horse from California it will probably be the one that won the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile, Action This Day)," he said. "I think the Eastern horses are the stronger group this year. Zito’s horses have the pedigrees and performances so far. Between Eurosilver and Birdsong, they’re pretty nice horses."
But the bottom line is it might be better to wait and wager just before race time on the first Saturday in May. Chances are good the favorite then will not be less than 2-1. And you will know your horse is going to run. You won’t have to cross your fingers like those who donated their cash on a wing and a prayer months earlier.
But if you’re not convinced, feel free to wager now. That’s why it’s called gambling.
THE HOMESTRETCH: When the other shoe drops in the Pat Valenzuela case, expect the 41-year-old rider to receive a lifetime ban from the California Horse Racing Board for violating terms of his conditional license granted two years ago. Valenzuela may be suffering from depression, but the board will rule that he did not test for substance abuse as he agreed to do, thereby violating his contract.
... The workers’ comp bill, AB 900, which was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the dismay and puzzlement of California’s racing industry, has been re-filed as AB 1838 with revisions addressing Schwarzenegger’s concerns, according to notes from the February meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
... Through Saturday, D. Wayne Lukas was winless with 51 starters at Santa Anita this meet, while trainer A.C. Avila had been shut out with 38 starters.
... Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella on the benefit of working horses in company: "A horse can go slower and get more from the work than it could going faster by itself. It’s comparable to shooting baskets by yourself and making them or someone defending you with a hand in your face and you can’t make a shot."