02/15/2010 12:00AM

Derby future a tough bet to read


NEW YORK - The win pool in this past weekend's Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager wasn't big. A total of $466,048 was bet, the fourth-lowest total for Pool 1 in the 12-year history of the bet. But if you subtract the $80,053 that went toward exactas, the remaining $385,995 would have been the second-lowest win pool total in Pool 1, behind only the $267,748 that was bet when this unique wager was first introduced to an unsuspecting public in 1999. Still, even though the size of the win pool makes drawing firm conclusions concerning the final odds a bit shaky, it is fun to speculate what these final odds might indicate just the same.

Of course, no one was surprised that the "all other 3-year-olds" betting option was the strong favorite at 3-2. As an aside, no matter how much sense it makes backing this option in Pool 1, it is still a dull and uninspired play. Unless you're betting $10,000 or more on the "all others" option - and really, how many of us are doing that? - I fail to see the attraction of tying your betting capital up for almost three months to win $3 for every $2 you wagered. Nevertheless, "all other 3-year-olds" being a strong favorite in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager has almost become as much of a Kentucky Derby tradition as mint juleps and roses.

The interesting thing here is the closing odds on the individual betting interests, and two things here struck me this time. The first concerns Lookin At Lucky. No one should be surprised that last year's champion 2-year-old male, a colt who was very unlucky to lose the Breeders' Cup Juvenile because of a bad trip and thus who should be undefeated, was the lowest price of the individual betting interests. But it does surprise me that Lookin At Lucky's odds drifted from a close at 6-1 on Saturday to a final close on Sunday at 8-1. It would have been one thing if another individual betting interest took an inordinate amount of money because he turned in a monster performance during the future wager betting period, but that did not happen.

The other thing that surprised me concerned the composition of the group whose odds dropped five or more points between Saturday's close and Sunday's final close. Two of the eight such horses ran during the betting period. They were Dave in Dixie, who went from 38-1 on Saturday to closing odds of 28-1 after his willing second in Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in his first start of the year, and Rule, who went from 31-1 on Saturday to close at 24-1 after his successful seasonal bow in Saturday's Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

That there were only two such horses was to be expected, and leads to another aside:

I still don't understand the scheduling of Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager this year. Instead of scheduling it for this weekend, when the bet could have latched onto, and gained momentum from, significant Derby preps like the Fountain of Youth, the Risen Star, and even the El Camino Real Derby and Hutcheson, it was instead scheduled for a comparatively barren weekend when it comes to 3-year-old racing. The only scheduled Derby prep that was going to be run during the future wager period last weekend was the Sam Davis, and the Davis certainly doesn't have the cachet of the Fountain of Youth or the Risen Star. And it was only by accident, thanks to the rainout at Santa Anita the Saturday before, that the Robert Lewis was run during the period.

In any event, it could be argued that three of the other six whose odds dropped five or more points Sunday did so purely on the basis of market correction. Super Saver, who closed at 20-1, was probably just too high at 26-1 after Saturday. The same was probably true of Jackson Bend, who went from 33-1 at Saturday's close to a final close at 27-1. And the same is probably also true of Maximus Ruler. Even though there are questions about whether Maximus Ruler wants to go long and how good he really is, he ran every bit as well if not better than Ron the Greek when he was beaten by that opponent in the Lecomte, considering the strong pace he was forced into setting. So Maximus Ruler going from a Saturday close of 90-1 to final Pool 1 odds of 76-1 was not only an understandable correction, but maybe not even enough of one when Ron the Greek's final odds were 31-1.

The other three who had significant odds drops from Saturday to Sunday attracted action despite very real questions about their form. Dryfly, who went from 56-1 to close at 46-1 (and who was to run in Monday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, after this was written), has yet to show he can with without being on the pace. Drosselmeyer has won both of his starts on dirt, but went from 25-1 to close at 20-1 despite not yet having earned a Beyer Speed Figure above a modest 87. And Stay Put, who went from 59-1 to closing odds of 49-1, has also won two straight, but over fields of dubious quality, and has a best Beyer Figure of a mere 81.

Odds drops on Sunday by horses of questionable merit or because of simple market dynamics, combined with lukewarm support of a favorite in Lookin At Lucky, tell me that whether it's because Lookin At Lucky has yet to race on dirt or has a modest best Beyer of only 91, many bettors are not very comfortable right now with his chances to win the Derby, and are really reaching when it comes to adopting alternatives. I certainly know how they feel. I feel the same way.

One other point about the Kentucky Derby Future Wager: Declining handle, in my opinion, anyway, is as much attributable to the bet not being sexy enough to the betting public anymore as it is to the economy. It is time for Churchill Downs to make all Triple Crown nominees individual betting interests in the future wager, and Churchill should not tolerate a tote company telling them it can't do it. Exacta wagering is already available on the future wager, which means the tote company can handle 552 exacta possibilities. There were 366 nominees to the Triple Crown this year. Handling 366 win possibilities should be a piece of cake.