02/11/2010 12:00AM

Taking a tough look at the Derby futures line

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LAS VEGAS - Everyone complains about the weather (especially this winter), but no one does anything about it. And everyone complains about morning linemakers, but no one in the industry usually says anything about it.

Then the phone rang Wednesday afternoon. The caller ID showed it was John Avello, director of race and sports book operations at Wynn Las Vegas.

"Did you see the morning line for the [Kentucky Derby] Future Wager?" he asked of the Churchill Down parimutuel offering that was set to run this weekend. "It's supposed to have a 16 percent takeout, but Mike Battaglia has it over 30 percent."

Most people know what the morning line is, but not everyone knows how it's made. The linemaker tries to predict how the public will bet a given race, but his job also is to make it balance so that it makes sense mathematically. He uses a chart that helps convert odds to the approximate win percentage. For instance, an even-money shot would be worth 50 percentage points, a 2-1 shot would be worth 33 percentage points, a 10-1 shot is worth 9 points (because it's really 1 in 11, so that's why it's 9 percent instead of 10 percent), a 25-1 shot is worth 4 points, a 50-1 shot only 2 points, etc. The total should add up to about 115 to 125, depending on what the takeout is at that track. After Avello's call, I actually figured the KDFW morning line takeout at 40 percent, using my chart from the American Racing Manual (3+4.5+8+3+8+4.5+4.5+4.5+6+4.5+8+11+2+2+6+3+8+2+6+4.5+2+3+3+29=140).

"I'm not comparing that one to mine," he said. "It's a race with a certain hold percentage. As a bettor, I'd like the morning line to be a guide of where the odds are going to be. No morning line is perfect, and the bettors will push the numbers where they want, but let's start it right off of jump street."

Okay, I don't know where this mythical Jump Street is located (Avello is from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., so maybe that's where), but even if he's not comparing the KDFW to his fixed-odds futures, there's nothing stopping me. The accompanying chart shows the odds as of Wednesday at the Wynn, and I come up with 85 percentage points. Avello's book doesn't have a field bet, but later in the conversation he said it should around 9-5, which is another 35 percentage points to put it right at 120.

Comparing Kentucky Derby futures

No. Horse KDFW Wynn
1 Aikenite 30-1 50-1
2 American Lion 20-1 15-1
3 Buddy's Saint 12-1 10-1
4 Concord Point 30-1 45-1
5 Conveyance 12-1 25-1
6 Dave in Dixie 20-1 40-1
7 Drosselmeyer 20-1 35-1
8 Dryfly 20-1 50-1
9 Dublin 15-1 25-1
10 Eskendereya 20-1 30-1
11 Jackson Bend 12-1 22-1
12 Lookin At Lucky 8-1 6-1
13 Make Music for Me 50-1 85-1
14 Maximus Ruler 50-1 85-1
15 Noble's Promise 15-1 30-1
16 Ron the Greek 30-1 50-1
17 Rule 12-1 30-1
18 Stay Put 50-1 60-1
19 Super Saver 15-1 30-1
20 Tiz Chrome 20-1 14-1
21 Uptowncharlybrown 50-1 30-1
22 Vale of York 30-1 35-1
23 William's Kitten 30-1 60-1
24 All other 3-year-olds 5-2 N/A

Avello says the KDFW morning line has too many horses at too low of prices, especially for what amounts to a 24-horse field.

Avello also took issue with the field opening at 5-2. Last year, the field in Pool 1 was pounded early and closed at 9-5, ending up with the winner in Mine That Bird.

"You know it's going to get bet down, so why not just start out there," he said.

The Kentucky Derby Future Wager is in its 12th year and conducts three pools spread out during the prep races: this year's dates are Feb. 12-14, March 5-7, and March 26-28. The pools run Friday through Sunday, and bettors are able to see some of the horses run before making their wagers before the pools close Sunday. In the past, the third pool has always been held on a weekend with a bunch of major preps, so the logical choice would have been to have it on April 2-4 with the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, but Easter falls on April 4 this year and a lot of tracks don't race that day, so they moved it up a week.

Avello said that's the way it should be anyway.

"It's a true future now," he said. "Let them bet it before the big races and no chances to bet after. That's how we do it with the fixed odds. The reason you get better prices is you're taking a chance on a horse before everyone sees how good it is."

Super Bowl XLIV recap from Vegas

The New Orleans Saints upset the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 last Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV. It was a good result for Nevada sports books as there was a lot of big money on the Colts to win straight-up, but the statewide handle and win wasn't as high as expected in what was seen as a great matchup with two popular, high-scoring teams that were also attractive for prop betting. Nevada took in $82.7 million, up just $1.2 million from last year's $81.5 million. The books won $6.85 million (a hold of 8.3 percent), up just $180,000 from last year's $6.67 million (when the hold was 8.2 percent). The M Resort, which wasn't open at this time last year, reportedly handled nearly $10 million on its own, but even with that there was hardly any difference from last year to this (though an argument could be made that the new property just cannibalized the same money from the rest of the market).

* The Saints' upset and the game staying under was a great result for me, as I had the Saints +5 and under 57 as my two bankroll plays posted in this space last week. For the season, I ended up 37-28 (56.9 percent) for a net profit of 3.8 units.

* The Colts, despite losing, are the Las Vegas Hilton's 6-1 favorite to win Super Bowl XLV in Dallas next year. The Saints are the co-second choice with the Chargers at 8-1, with the Patriots and Steelers at 10-1. After four of the first five teams being from the AFC, the next four at 12-1 are from the NFC: Eagles, Vikings, Packers, and Cowboys.