02/12/2009 9:00PM

Back to the Futures


Betting started today on Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Futures Bet, and good luck to you if you're playing. It's one of the blindest bets you can make in the parimutuel world, and while the winner often looks like a bargain in retrospect, never forget that you're paying a huge premium by not getting a refund if your horse doesn't make it to the race. Since it seems like only about a third of the 23 individual horses available in Pool 1 make it to the starting gate each year, maybe the rule of thumb should be that you need to get triple the Derby Day price. Funny Cide in 2003 was indeed a bargain at $188.00 in Pool 1 as opposed to $27.60 on Derby Day, but were Monarchos ($36.60 vs. $23.00) and Street Sense ($22.80 vs. $11.80) really worth the additional risk?

Of course it's almost impossible to answer questions of value, since there's no way to guess whether a 3-year-old you're currently fond of is going to be more like 5-1 or 30-1 after a few hundred other things happen over the next 11 weeks.

It seems as if horseplayers have soured on the entire proposition in the last few years. Unrelated to other betting trends, and well in advance of the current economic slowdown, Derby Futures handle began to fall sharply after peaking at $1.66 million for all three pools in 2005. It's been all downhill since then, dropping to $1.47 million in 2006, and $1.36 million in 2007. Last year's total tumbled to just $1.05 million, a 36.5 percent decline in three years.

As someone pointed out in the comments on the last post (sorry it's been a while but it's been a flu week around here), I've written an annual column proposing that the bet be opened up to as many individual betting interests as there are nominees. Having bets available on 400 to 500 horses instead of just 23 plus an all-others mutuel field, would have obscure horses going of at over 1000-1 and practically demand that the connections as well as fans of Derby nominees bet their own horses at outlandish prices.You might have gotten 200-1 on Big Brown last February instead of 3-1 on him as part of the mutuel field.

Churchill Downs has responded to this suggestion by saying the tote companies either can't accomodate such a system or would charge six-figure fees for programming. I've never understood this. A free workaround would be to assign each of the 400 to 500 nominees a three-digit code, and set up the bet using existing pick-three or trifecta systems. If Midshipman is #243 alphabetically, you buy a 2-4-3 ticket just like you can any other day of the year. Someone, anyone, please explain why this wouldn't work.

In last year's version of the annual screed, I proposed an alternative (Download Column020908) that stemmed from this line of thinking: If CD was determined to stick with 24 betting interests, why not sell actual Derby Futures Exactas? At least that way there would be 552 combinations to bet on instead of 24.

Derbyfutureexacta I was happily astonished (at first I thought it was a Benadryl-induced hallucination) earlier this week when Churchill announced it will indeed be trying Derby Futures Exactas on Pools 2 and 3 this year. Their variation on the idea, which probably makes sense, is not to offer the #24/#24 exacta combination ("all others" with "all others") I had initially thought would be necessary. Instead, the #24 entry will be treated like any other coupled entry or mutuel field. If "all others" run 1-2-3-4, the winning exacta combination would be #24 with the fifth-place finisher.

I'd still prefer a win pool with all 401 nominees (and a 402nd interest for late nominees and supplements), but 2.5 cheers to Churchill for trying something new. I have no idea whether the inaugural DFE will handle more like $100,000 or $500,000, but I'll definitely be getting involved, even though I have yet to develop a glimmer of a notion of a Derby horse.

A few related thoughts:

--The DFE will be offered on the weekends of March 12-15 and April 2-4. So we'll get to see the Louisiana Derby, Rebel, Tampa Bay Derby and San Felipe -- all carded for March 14 -- before betting the first exacta pool. The second one closes after the Florida and UAE Derbies (March 28) and the April 4 trio of the Wood, Santa Anita and Illinois Derbies (all April 4), but before the April 11 Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby.

--If you're unlucky enought to live in the only state (New York!) that doesn't permit parimutuel activity on Palm Sunday, don't wait until April 5 to bet the final pool unless you have an out-of-state betting account. Unless regulators or legislators come to their senses, NYRA and the state's OTB's will be closed April 5, even though the state's casinoes and lottery outlets will be open.

--If you're interested in the history of the Futures bet, and even in playing the win-only Pool 1 this weekend, here's a handy page with the current entries and the results dating back to the inception of the bet in 1999.

Steven G. Berry More than 1 year ago
The Derby future book is an utter waste of time. The field will be overbet and the individuals undervalued. I don't care if you collect 1000-1 on a winning Derby favorite -- you can't compare future odds to race odds, they're not the same bet. The vast majority of future bets will be on horses with no chance or on non-starters. The field may appear to be the safest bet, getting 3/2 on eight horses as someone calculated, but the calculation makes a lot of assumptions including that those eight horses will even belong in the Kentucky Derby. Think about this, a field bet is a bet where you don't even know the names of the horses, much less their past performances! Please just call Gambler's Anonymous right now... There are many safer ways to wager my money than predicting results that won't be posted for months. This is a very tough game, why make it harder than the usurious takeout already makes it?
Steve D More than 1 year ago
"options have not been put in place is because CD thinks people would be confused" With all of the industry's ills, I think that this type of thinking is what has truly killed the sport. As someone who has 0 interest in auto racing, I found myself in a social situation this weekend where the Daytona 500 was on and the room was full of die hard NASCAR fans. I can tell you this...at no point did NASCAR or the TV broadcast display any concern for the confusion of the viewers. They explained some of the most confusing stuff I have ever seen, treating their fans as intelligent people who have chosen to be interested in their product, not a bunch idiots that can be taken for granted and duped out of their money.
Arazi More than 1 year ago
If you can't make money on the future wager, that's bad handicapping and betting. The Future Wager is the easiest way to make money every year. If it's so difficult to handicap, then that guarantees the public will get it wrong. And they do every year. Old Fashioned at 7-1. That's awful. But that means there are plenty of overlays. The biggest overlay is always the field in pool 1 and 2. It just comes down to math. You usually get about 8 horses out of 20... at a combined 9-5. People think that 9-5 is lame... and compare the 9-5 winner to what it actually pays. But 9-5 on eight horses with one bet is entirely different than 9-5 on one horse.
C More than 1 year ago
justindew, That's not true if they use the existing P3 system. You can have repeating numbers, no problem. The only issue MAY be dealing with the number zero, but they can do that easily enough by treating '10' as '0', and hiding that from the user in the interface. That's junior-level programming, trust me. evc, I don't buy that either. Las Vegas offers hundreds of side bets during the Super Bowl, so why should this be any different? You don't have to display these odds on a tote board or anything. The odds calculation, whether it's 4 or 400 horses is exactly the same. They could do it completely online if they have to.
Prozac Jack More than 1 year ago
Dear Steve, after playing horses at my home track at Santa Anita for almost 50 years, I give up on that"fake" surface, "all weather" is a great name for it because it's very true, One quarter of the race is run as if they were on ice,the second half, they hit mud, at the three quarter pole they hit a down hill jet- stream, and in mid-stretch they hit QUICKSAND,so you see it's a great idea, everyone who bets WINS a quarter of the race...this is absolutely BRILLIANT,and we as a group of gamblers should salute the USED car salesman that sold them this CRAP.The only thing GOOFIER than this surface is the MANAGEMENT team.....
grasslover More than 1 year ago
Yuwipi- Couldn't agree more about the Calder horse taking up one of the 23 individual spots. I guess it's because of his win in the Delta Jackpot, which, by the way,will gaurantee him a spot, graded stakes money-wise in the gate come Derby day. This, as well as the win and your in race from England means that several deserving horses won't get to start at CD whether or not they should, based on performance. Overpopulated 20 horse field here we go again !
Mike D. More than 1 year ago
I've all but given up on the KY Derby Future Wager. It feels like sucker bet. But it's fun following a few selected horses the next 75 days, so ... Scanning the PPs of all 3-year-olds nominated to the Derby aside from the 23 "individual betting interests," I found 42 potential Derby winners -- roughly twice as many as the anointed 23. So on the pure odds 42 for me, 23 against me, I figure I'm a 2-1 favorite to fall on the Derby winner. So I took 9-5 on "the field." (Two of my 42 guys, Not for Silver and Wildcat Brief, ran a bang-up one-two in the Capossela at the Big A after my bets were in.) I also played four "separate betting interests" based on two criteria: (1) They have yet to show they cannot win the Derby, and (2) they were 40-1 or higher: Big Drama, Notonthesamepage, Taqarub and This Ones for Phil. Just something to do before and after Rachel Alexander ran off the TV screen in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn.
EVC More than 1 year ago
In order to accomodate 400 seperate entry win bets, the house would have to have the display capability to show the 400 current odds real time. It's doubtful they would invest and upkeep their software and administration for a once a year proposition.
bochalls More than 1 year ago
Here's my future bet story.....loved Giacomo a few years back and got 25-1 on him. Then I soured on him and didnt play him in the Derby at 50-1...nuff said. HOWEVER, I do like Hello Broadway, Beethoven, and Silver City as possible future plays. Although 15-1 is way too low for Beethoven, who has yet to run a good fig.
joseph More than 1 year ago
I don't think 6 figures is unreasonable fee for the software changes and debug. It's probably a matter of them fitting it into the budget in the near future. Steve, Do you have similar percentages for the individual betting interests that will make the Derby starting gate from pools 2 & 3?