Back To The Futures

                                                                                                                   9 March ’14

by Jim Freer

Sunday, March 9 – My jaw dropped  and my heart sank a bit  yesterday morning when I read the news that Top Billing had suffered a cracked  cannon bone in his right front leg and will miss this year’s Kentucky Derby. The size of my future anticipated bankroll also dropped – by $375. 
I had $5 on Top Billing at 75-1 to win the Kentucky Derby.  On Jan.1, those were the odds on him at the Wynn Las Vegas Race and Sports Book.  A friend made the bet for me while he was on vacation in  Las Vegas. Top Billing, who early this month was  12-1 at Wynn, sustained the injury while training  at  Payson Park in Indiantown in Martin County. My futures bet on Top Billing is dead, down the drain, kaput etc.
When a horse doesn’t get into the Kentucky Derby, for reasons including injury, there are no refunds at Wynn or at other sports books and services that offer futures betting on the race.
That is part of the perils of futures investing in the financial markets or on a horse race.

But I  had some fun, for just five bucks. For two  months,  I was telling folks: “If Top Billing  makes it to  the Kentucky Derby, he will have a good chance to win and will go to the  post at odds much lower than 75-1.” That always gives you a sense of moral victory. “Hey, horse, I  tabbed you as good early on.  It’s now up to you.”

Top Billing’s injury is a reminder of the risk of making a futures bet four months ahead.   This year’s  Kentucky Derby will be on May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

But consider the possible rewards.
Last week, the Wynn odds were 12-1 on Top Billing.  Wynn sets its odds like a  typical bookmaker -akin to what it views as a fair market price.  Top Billing’s odds dropped during  his series of three strong races at Gulfstream Park.
To bet on Derby futures or other sports events offered at a Las Vegas casino, you have  to be on-site or have a phone account that you can use only in Nevada.

The Kentucky Derby Future Wagers is sponsored by Churchill Downs and is more accessible than Las Vegas sports books.   It is a series of separate mutuel pools on the race.

Bets  can be made at Gulfstream and Calder Casino & Race Course, Tampa Bay Downs and most other thoroughbred tracks and on many Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) services such  as
Each pool has 24 betting  interests, with  23 horses and a field bet where you get all other 3-year-olds.
Betting  is only for win and exacta.  Minimums  are $2 for win and  for straight exactas and $1 for exacta boxes.

This year’s fourth  and final pool will be offered  from Thursday March 27 through Saturday March 29.  Betting will be closed prior to that Saturday’s Florida Derby at Gulfstream and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The  third pool  for this year’s race closed on March 1, with Top Billing at 11-1.   The  favorite at 7-1 is Cairo Prince, the winner of the Holy Bull Stakes (Grade 2) at Gulfstream on Jan. 25

On Friday March 28, we’ll have more about that weekend’s pool and some betting strategies–including exacta boxes.
Churchill Downs has offered its Future Wagers pools  every year since  1999. There is a widespread view that it is  a sucker bet. Yes, there are 23 losers in each pool.  But a look at the record shows that in ten of the 15 years, the winning bet in the final pool paid more than the winning  bet made on Derby day. Last year, Orb paid $29.60 in  the final pool and $12.80 on Kentucky  Derby  day.
I was an early fan of Top Billing based on the advice of a friend who each year does a detailed study of Kentucky Derby contenders.
I watched the replay of his debut race, when he came from last place to win in the slop at Laurel Park on Dec. 6.  I said “there’s my horse,” after viewing  that magical mystery-tour like race.
He gained more fans with his three races at Gulfstream – a win, a second and a third.  His come-from-behind style has made him  a popular horse.  As a son of two-time  Horse of the Year Curlin, he is bred for distance.

His third place finish was in the 1 1/16 mile Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) on Feb. 22.
Wildcat Red and General A Rod were awesome in their gate-to-wire duel. Wildcat Red won in the fast time of 1:41.85 while Top Billing ran out of ground and finished 2 ½ lengths behind.
Racing against that day’s speed bias, Top Billing indicated that he is well suited for the Kentucky Derby’s 1 ¼ mile distance.

Yesterday morning, Top Billing’s trainer Shug McGaughey said :
 “We saw it after he pulled up from the breeze this morning. We took him back to the barn, we x-rayed it and found it.” McGaughey said the long-term prognosis is good, without providing details on when Top Billing  might  be able to resume training and possibly return to racing.
“He’s going to Kentucky today. Hopefully he’ll get operated on tomorrow afternoon or first thing Monday morning,” McGaughey said. Let’s hope that all goes well and that Top  Billing  will be back  to the races this  summer.

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