02/15/2013 3:07PM

Steven Crist: Kentucky Derby Future Wager needs fixing

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When Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed last Sunday, there was $481,632 bet to win and another $139,861 in the exacta pool, which adds up to $621,493. That may seem like a robust number, but how grand a total is it?

The same afternoon at Santa Anita, more than $1.1 million was wagered on a field of nine $20,000 maiden claimers, and that doesn’t include an additional $1.6 million on multirace bets running through that race. At Aqueduct, the 5th race exacta pool on seven $12,500 maiden claimers totaled $194,165, despite offering a field of just seven and 42 possible exacta combinations – 35 percent higher than a Derby Futures exacta pool with 24 betting interests and 552 possible exacta combinations.

Obviously, there is a difference between betting an actual race with a potential payoff in minutes and speculating on a hypothetical field for a race 12 weeks away. Still, given how heavily promoted and discussed the Derby picture already has been, compared to the silence surrounding the worst races on the card at other tracks, you might expect the Futures to have fared better. It simply doesn’t. None of the three pools offered each year is growing in popularity, despite more than a decade of marketing and promotion. Were it not for the oodles of free publicity it generates for the race, Churchill would have already pulled the plug on it as a business proposition, the way the Breeders’ Cup did with its Futures betting after a two-year experiment in the early 2000’s.

Is there a way to expand interest in Derby Futures and make them at least as attractive to bettors as a dismal mid-afternoon maiden-claiming race? It’s worth a try, and here are three suggestions:

First, the win pool will remain stagnant until Churchill makes it a true future-book wager by offering every Derby nominee instead of just 23 individual horses and a mutuel field consisting of everyone else. Having more than 350 possible betting interests would lift prices, create numerous 500-1 and 1,000-1 shots, and attract plenty of new business from the connections and fans of those 300 extra horses – potential customers who now either pass or have to take 8-5 on “all others.” Most pass or bet through a real future book in Las Vegas.

Some Churchill officials have said that expanding the betting field is a long-term goal, but they’ve been saying that for years with no progress, citing technical hurdles and possible fan confusion. These excuses are flimsy. Tote systems that routinely handle superfecta and pick-six wagers with tens of thousands of possible combinations can easily be programmed to handle 400 win interests. Bettors understand how to play these bets and are not “intimidated” by three-digit numbers. If you have to call out or click number #347 to bet on Verrazano, they can handle that – as sports bettors do for millions of dollars every day in Las Vegas.

Second, the Futures should be targeted to online bettors and ADW account-holders on all platforms and marketed more aggressively to those customers. Of course, the bet should be available ontrack, but the potential for growth lies in targeting players who can access the necessary information on their computing devices, not in hoping that a live customer might be lucky enough to hear the one announcement a day that such bets exist.

Finally, what about trying a radical takeout reduction in the win pool, especially given that Churchill’s main motivation is kindling interest in the main event rather than making money on the bet itself? The public perception is that the Futures can be a sucker bet, given that you lose if your horse doesn’t make it to the starting gate and that even if he does, he might pay more on Derby Day than he did in the Futures. Making the Futures takeout something around 8 percent instead of the usual 16 percent would in itself spark interest in the wager: Who wouldn’t at least think about playing in the lowest-takeout win pool of the year?

Though such a reduction would generate good will, Churchill would not be performing an entirely charitable act. People who have Futures positions will actually bet more on Derby Day, hedging or pressing their holdings as well as playing the multiple and exotic wagers unavailable in the Futures.

This view runs counter to that of some track executives who still believe that things like Futures and multi-race bets are inherently bad for the game because they “tie up” money that would otherwise be churned repeatedly. This outmoded attitude is contradicted by the growth of exotic wagering and the real world experience of people who actually wager: Once you have a stake in a race, you usually go back for more.

Gary Doernberg More than 1 year ago
Steve- great article...The first time a 500-1 gets home, it will do for the race in terms of publicity what Donerail did in 1913.......350/450 numbers could certainly do that.....What would Canonero ll have been?
joe R More than 1 year ago
This is simple, they need to offer blocks of 5 horses, in a win pool and even a exacta pool. i guarantee they double the handle in the 1st year.
frederick rice More than 1 year ago
(this has nothing to do with the topic, but I don't see another place to ask .) I was wondering why charts do not show the number of Pick-6 winners. If not in the charts (and again, why not?), an article about the number of "winners" each day since the Gulfstream jackpot began its climb would be interesting. I know one can figure it out, and sure it's lots of fun, but what with dental appointments and driver-license renewals, my fun schedule is already crowded. ( For Feb. 21 , subtracting 20% takeout from $415,938 pool leaves $332,750. 40% of that is $133,100,. Adding that to previous $3,107,159 carryover = $3,240,259 new carryover, just what the chart says. Then 60% of the net pool = $199,650,.Dividing that by the $4,327 payout means there were about 46 six-correct tickets? Probably, but without a way to check it I'm not that complacent about my arithmetic .)
Charley More than 1 year ago
Let me know if you would like me to book your future bet.Anyone who bets on the future book is either a idiot or someone who has money to piss away.Your lucky enough even if your horse runs.
ML-NJ More than 1 year ago
Maybe it's racing that needs fixing. How can anyone sensibly bet on a field of 200 horses that have four or five lifetime starts.
Steve S More than 1 year ago
Steve C- I agree with you. I haven't bothered looking at the future pools in quite a while. When I got down to where you mentioned putting all 350 or so nominees in one pool, that really got my interest. Right now the wager is just a cute betting novelty, but expanding the pool opens up so many options, and would inspire people to get involved in researching their picks. I can really picture your suggestion putting much needed life into the wager. There's no need to worry about putting up a 350x350 grid for the exacta bet either. That can be dealt with in any number of ways- for instance, just showing the over/under for one selected horse at a time.
Matthew Romagnoli More than 1 year ago
Racing generally needs to have a changing of the guard, in a sense. All the people who do the talking and writing are more old-timey racing vets or handicappers that the general public can't relate too. If you put younger, more approachable faces to do the talking and reach out to the public I think racing in general would have an increased fan base and general interest.
Howard Warshaw More than 1 year ago
I agree that a lower takeout and more publicity would help, but I disagree with increasing the number of betting interests. Approximately 1/3 of the money in the win pool, $151,000, was bet on "All Others". Do you think people are going to bet enough money on 200-1 or 1000-1 shots to make up for that $151K? I don't. Only a handful of people are even slightly aware of Derby horses that are more remote than the 23 listed ones. Also, greatly increasing the number of horses would invite chaos in the odds. Trying to see exacta odds in a 24 x 24 table is already a challenge. Looking through a 100 x 100 table to find odds would appeal to very few players. People will see their 1000-1 shot drop to 200-1 in the last minute of betting, because someone made a late bet on .their choice. Wiith 100 win choices and 10,000 exacta payoffs, all you'll know when you bet a longshot is you're, hopefully, betting a longshot. Even with the current system of 24 betting interest, several exactas had less than $10 bet on them. The 12,6 exacta appears to have had a whopping $7 on it. If that exacta comes in, a lucky $2 bettor will collect $16,183.60. A last minute $20 bettor would have reduced the payoff by 75% to $4K. And that's with the current "small" number of entries. With more entries, you wouldn't have a clue about most of the exacta odds. Increase the publicity and lower the takeout. Those are sound ideas. HW
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
to me this bet has two completely different components that need to be tackled differently.in the win pool I believe its more for the pros who will see something they like in a horse early on or have some privileged info on a good prospect and place a large bet on the hope that that horse will be one of the favorites on race day and the value will be locked in ,for the small guy its more about the bragging rights and satisfaction of being right very earl on.the exacta pool is where in my opinion the small bettor can get tremendous value by spreading his favorite horses.if you have a horse you really like and he finishes 1st or 2nd on derby day you have a very good chance of making serious money if you've spread that horse over many others in all three pools.animal kingdom over nehro paid 3800 in one of the pools and only 320 on race day if you like either and boxed him over all or even 5 or 6 horses ou would be looking at a nice payout.considering that nehro was one of the more fancied horses it was not that hard to box him.ill have another over bodemeister was also not imposible.i had ill have another over dulahan 5x at 3600 each time dulahan come up a few inches short in 3rd but it was a thrill.i settled for the smaller exacta of 1200.if you don't like the favorites in pool one you can really get value.if you opened the pool up to include every nominated horse you would end up with around 400 entries and then you would have to hope that a late nomination did not take place by a horse whose owner decided to put up big bucks to get him in.maybe the win pool could have 50 horse and then the field but the exacta pool is well served by the current format.no format will please everybody.
Paul More than 1 year ago
You make some very good points about the exacta pool betting. The present 24 is a joke, but there is no need to lisit all 300+ either. There aren't more then a 100 horses who are on anybody's radar as possible Kentucky Derby winners. Just list the top 100 and put the rest in the field. The field would never be under 3 or 4 to 1 again with the top 100 horses listed individually. The 75th best prospect wins the Derby all the time, but the 175th best prospect almost always never does. The exacta pools would be much bettable as the payoffs would skyrocket with the field option not very valuable anymore. Mr. Crist's takeout idea is also a great idea.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
The economic pulse of the Derby Future betting in the past decade reminds me of the one-time robust economy of East Germany, under Communist domination.