05/16/2013 12:36PM

Dave Tuley: Orb's Triple Crown odds trending up


LAS VEGAS – No sooner had Orb crossed the Kentucky Derby finish line two weeks ago than the talk turned to whether he has what it takes to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

I was only 6 when Secretariat captured the nation’s fancy in 1973, so it was Affirmed’s Triple Crown run five years later that gave me my real first exposure to the sport. Of course, with three Triple Crown winners in those six years, no one at that point in time (how’s that for a 1970s/post-Watergate Era reference?) could have predicted we would go on such a long drought.

The Wynn Las Vegas was the first to post odds on the question: “Will Orb win the 2013 Triple Crown?” The “yes” was offered at +240, just short of 5-2 odds, and the “no” was -280 (risk $2.80 for every $1 you want to profit).

If those odds look a little low, you’re right. In the weeks leading up to the Derby, Avello had his generic “Will any horse win the 2013 Triple Crown?” prop at +650 on the “yes.” Obviously, someone has to win the Derby, and with few exceptions the Derby winner continues on the Triple Crown trail, so the odds are usually similar even after the first race. Last year, I’ll Have Another was +700 to win the Triple Crown heading into the Preakness; Animal Kingdom was +600 two years ago; Super Saver was +700 in 2010, all in the neighborhood of the pre-Derby odds in those years.

The odds are impacted by how the Derby winner is viewed beforehand. Mine That Bird, the 50-1 longshot winner of the 2009 Derby, was 15-1 to win the Triple Crown. Most people saw his Derby win as a fluke and had little hope that he had turned into a superhorse overnight. His odds went as high as 20-1 when superfilly Rachel Alexandra was entered in the Preakness and jockey Calvin Borel hopped off the Derby winner.

Orb is the shortest-priced Triple Crown threat since Big Brown in 2008. Avello made Big Brown +170 (with -200 on the “no”) to complete the feat and that wasn’t too prohibitive a price for bettors. They bet it down to a pick-em. Of course, Big Brown won the Preakness but faltered in the Belmont, and the drought continued.

Back to this year, Orb also received support from early bettors at +240 and was bet down to as low as +210. Avello said that’s when the naysayers felt they had value and bet heavily on the “no” at -250 and -260. By Wednesday night, the prop was back up at -270/+230. The “no-vig” would be 250, or 5-2 against; in other words, it would give Orb a 28.6 percent chance that he will complete the Triple Crown and 71.4 percent that he won’t.

Some race books are in a bit of a Catch-22. If Orb wins Saturday and continues to the Belmont, that would lead to a huge betting day in three weeks. If he isn’t still shooting for the Triple Crown, that drops Belmont Day to just another stakes weekend. However, Orb is the biggest liability at those books that offered Triple Crown odds. Orb opened at 15-1 at the Wynn and was bet down to 10-1.

Orb was also the worst-case scenario for Avello’s future book at the Wynn as well as one of the losers for William Hill. He opened at 200-1 at the Wynn, and Avello said he was taking “pretty good-sized bets” on him at 6-1 in April and even at 4-1 leading up to the draw.

But no one is going to cry for the bookmakers, especially when it comes to Triple Crown liability. No bookie has had to pay out on a Triple Crown winner in 35 years (and if Orb wins the Preakness, I’m making it my assignment to find out if anyone offered that prop back in the 1970s).

“We really should have paid out on the Triple Crown a few times in the last decade,” Avello said. “We’ve had some close calls. It’s going to happen, it just takes a special horse, and it helps if the competition isn’t too strong.

“Horse racing is horse racing, so anything can happen,” he said. “But I can only see about three horses with a chance to beat Orb this Saturday: Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents deserve another chance, and maybe Departing. But if he gets past this test, who else is going to challenge him? We might have a very short Belmont field.”

Avello posted Preakness advance odds last week, opening Orb at 7-5 and lowering him to 6-5 and finally to 4-5 before the draw Wednesday.

“There was some money on Orb at 7-5 and 6-5, but most of the movement was due to the defections from the field, especially Vyjack and Normandy Invasion,” Avello said.

We’ll see if any of the remaining horses can spoil Orb’s pursuit of the Triple Crown.

Tuley the Tout’s picks: 1. Goldencents; 2. Orb.; 3, Itsmyluckyday. Longshot: Govenor Charlie.