When I was behind the counter for over 30 years in this business, the Kentucky Derby was the closest thing to the Super Bowl in bringing out the casual bettor.
Usually that is a bonanza for the casino. Like every other bookmaker in the business, I remember the losses much more clearly than the winners.
Wayne Lukas’ filly, Winning Colors, crushed me in 1988. Personally, I love betting fillies against the boys and have had a lot of success with that strategy. But I was no fan of the ladies that day.
It seems like every woman who ever liked a “horsey” as a little girl came in and bet on Winning Colors. Not only did we get crushed in the future book, in the days before pari-mutuel betting we were booking the race day stuff out of our pockets, too.
Even though that one loss still haunts me (you’ll never hear me say a nice word about Lukas) the Derby was a day everyone in our business looked forward to. What made it even better was the fact that California horses have had an inordinate amount of success, as well. But as they sometimes hurt our wallets in the short run, the interest in Californians coming to Nevada was a great thing for our total business.
They stay in our rooms, eat in our restaurants, play our slot machines. If they happen to cash a winning ticket, so be it.
As a bettor myself, I also looked forward to all the public bets on horses that had no legitimate chance to win the race. All that cash floated into the pool and increased the odds on horses who did have a chance.
This year is going to be a lot tougher.
When the Kentucky Derby created the point system as the primary criteria for qualifying to run for the roses, horses with cheap speed who make an appearance every year were going to find it much more difficult to enter the race.
There are always unintended consequences. Whether it’s Congress loosening banking regulations or calling your ex-wife to wish her happy birthday, sometimes only afterward can we realize the full effects of our actions.
As a handicapper, this makes it much more difficult to find the winner. In past years about half the field could be eliminated before the post positions were assigned. That won’t be the case this year. The likely starters in this race look like horses that can travel a piece of ground. Whether they can do it in a little more or less than two minutes is the big question.
Nonetheless, with less than a week to go before the race, here is how I’m looking at this year’s race.
With the probability of a reasonable early pace, this gives Todd Pletcher’s Verrazano his best chance to win. The judgment of the jockeys is always a key factor, but even more so with a bunched up 20 horse field.
Johnny Velazquez, aboard Verrazano, is tops in the game right now. A clean break will be imperative. Verrazano has the early speed to put himself in a good position. Look for him to be near the leaders the whole way.
Revolutionary is a horse that will not benefit from the slow pace. He showed some versatility in staying near the front in his Louisiana Derby victory and he might have to do the same in Kentucky.
It is Revolutionary’s win in the Withers that brought him to my attention. He was last at the top of the stretch, made a move, got checked, made another move, went between horses and won by a head. He has tremendous agility and acceleration, which will be needed if able to weave his way through this pack.
If it is a jockey’s race, Calvin Borel rides Revolutionary. Borel has been the darling of Churchill bettors for a while. With wins in three of the past six Kentucky Derby tries he is now a favorite among anyone plunking money down on this race. He looks like the perfect fit for Revolutionary.
One of the game’s most respected horsemen, Shug McGaughey, trains the “now” horse, Orb. Shug is Kentucky born and bred, has had numerous champions, and if central casting needed a model for a trainer they wouldn’t have to look any further than the Hall Of Famer.
Despite his success, McGaughey has had only six Derby starters in his career. That’s what Todd Pletcher aims for every year. To the Derby betting public he is best known for saddling favorite Easy Goer, who finished second to Sunday Silence in the 1989 edition. If he wins this one, his stature among the public will match what it already is among his colleagues.
Orb is a homebred of two of horseracing’s most respected owners, Stuart Janney and the Phipps family. He has caught the eye of horsemen at the track with stellar workouts. Orb won’t be too close the pace on Saturday either, but he has the ability to beat this field. He is in capable hands with jockey Joel Rosario. Orb will probably go off the favorite.
A lot can change in this last week prior to the race. I think the race is pretty wide open. I hit on the top three choices but there are a lot of others in the field who stand a very good chance of wearing the rose blanket.
Regardless, bet the race. It is un-American to do otherwise. I have a feeling if you’re reading GamingToday, you don’t need too much encouragement. Good luck. Especially if you bet the same horse I do.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].