03/10/2009 11:00PM

Future exacta pool debuts


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - By most accounts, and simply by looking at wagering trends, the Kentucky Derby Future Wager had become a bit passe as a win-only wager. Now in its 11th year, the bet had seen no variation whatsoever in its wagering format since 1999, the first year Churchill Downs offered parimutuel futures.

That all changes Thursday at noon Eastern, when exacta wagering joins win wagering as part of Pool 2 of the Derby futures. Derby Pool 2 will coincide with the only available future wager for this year's Kentucky Oaks.

"Almost all the players we've spoken with seem genuinely interested in the Derby futures exacta pool," said Tom Aronson, a Churchill Downs Inc. vice president overseeing programming and product development. "Our thoughts are, if it looks stale, let's try something different."

As usual, there are 23 separately listed wagering interests in the Derby futures, with all other 3-year-olds being represented in the mutuel field, the 24th interest. The $2-minimum exacta will be paid off on the first two finishers in exact order, and in the case of field horses occupying both spots, the next-highest finisher listed as a separate interest will complete the exacta.

Aronson said he is hopeful the futures exacta pool will be large enough to yield the kind of massive payout that resulted in the 2005 Derby, when Giacomo, a 50-1 shot, combined with Closing Argument (71-1) for a $2 exacta worth $9,814.80. He said that, if nothing else, watching how the availability of exactas is received by futures bettors will be very interesting.

"The great thing about parimutuel pools is they're self-adjusting," Aronson said. "If you're betting an unlikely combination, even if the pool is relatively thin, you're going to take home most of the pool. You have to ask: 'Is this a fun, challenging, and reasonably rewarding exercise?' And I think the answer is, 'Absolutely.' "

If the expansion into exactas is successful, it could lead to other changes in the future wager, such as increasing the field size for win wagers to include all Triple Crown nominees.

"Strictly from a business standpoint, we see this as a small test of the demand for expanded futures bets, some of which might require additional software programming," Aronson said. "We're basically taking a first step to see whether there's demand out there. Eventually, we'd like to see new offerings and increase overall wagering in the futures."

In the prior 10 years, the highest aggregate handle for three pools in one year of the Future Wager was $1,665,990 in 2005. In 2008, the total slipped to $1,056,520, the lowest since the inaugural year. The handle on Pool 1 this year was $478,721, fourth-lowest in 11 years.

Asked whether he believed handle will increase substantially with the introduction of exactas, Aronson said: "We don't really have a projection. As a fan, I do think it'll be really interesting to see how it plays out and what the will-pays look like."

Exacta will-pay combinations will be available on selected television monitors at tracks and wagering sites where futures are offered, as well as on kentuckyderby.com.

Meanwhile, the composition of the lineups from Pool 1 to Pool 2 has been altered by eight new names replacing eight old ones. Among the highly regarded Pool 2 newcomers are Dunkirk and Quality Road, both of whom were very impressive in winning their respective last starts at Gulfstream Park. The other new horses are Bear's Rocket, Desert Party, General Quarters, Imperial Council, Take the Points, and Theregoesjojo.

The displaced horses from Pool 1 are Capt. Candyman Can, Haynesfield, Midshipman, Notonthesamepage, Stardom Bound, Taqarub, This Ones for Phil, and Vineyard Haven. Following her narrow victory in last weekend's Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, Stardom Bound, the lone filly in Pool 1, is now more likely to be pointed to races within her division, according to her connections.

The morning line for Pool 2, as released by Churchill linemaker Mike Battaglia, lists Old Fashioned and the field as 8-1 co-favorites, followed by I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile, and The Pamplemousse, all at 10-1.

Considering that four major Derby preps will be run Saturday, odds fluctuations in Pool 2 are quite possible during the customary four-day run that ends at 6 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.

Pool 1 was held Feb. 12-15, and Pool 3 is set for April 2-5. Exactas also will be available in Pool 3.

For the Oaks futures, Battaglia has listed Stardom Bound as the 5-1 favorite over Rachel Alexandra (6-1), Elusive Heat (10-1), and the field (10-1). In prior years, the Oaks pools have handled only about 15 percent of what is bet into a corresponding Derby pool, a factor that helped lead Churchill to reduce the annual Oaks pools from three to one.

The Oaks futures will close at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Only win wagering is available on the Oaks pool.

Lineups for all future wagers are chosen by John Asher of Churchill Downs and Brad Free and Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form.