Updated on 09/16/2011 7:04AM

Triple Crown futures? Why not?


For as far back as I can remember, there has never been such a wide-open Kentucky Derby at this juncture as there seems to be this year.

With less than five weeks before the race, there is no horse to beat, no superhorse to knock off. The juvenile champion has yet to set foot in this country this year.

There is a log-jam of horses that have displayed enough ability to be considered Kentucky Derby contenders.

With such a wide-open Derby, why would any Las Vegas race book venture time and energy for a Triple Crown future book? To win, the bettor must choose a horse who wins not just the Derby, but the Preakness and Belmont as well - something only 11 Thoroughbreds have ever accomplished.

But the Coast Resorts - which comprises the Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, Orleans, and Suncoast - put up a Triple Crown future book last week.

So, one has to ask: Why?

Coast Resorts race book oddsmaker Frank Minervini explained that posting a Triple Crown future book is a way of creating interest in the spring classics after the Derby becomes history.

"We wanted to put up something different, something that would create a little more interest and extend the excitement of the Triple Crown, at least for two more weeks until the Preakness Stakes runs," he said.

How does Minervini determine the opening odds on each horse?

"We take the Derby future odds and times them by at least five, and adjust that number by our opinion," he said. "Then, of course, as the money comes in, we will adjust."

As of Thursday, Repent and Johannesburg are co-favorites in the Coast Resorts Derby future book at 6-1. They are each 40-1 to win the Triple Crown. No serious players are rushing to bet, and Minervini believes that the Triple Crown proposition is more for those who want to make a play for the fun of it.

"This prop is there for those who want to have a little fun with this year's spring classics," Minervini said.

Whoever the Derby winner is - and no matter what price he pays in the Derby - that horse will most likely be the favorite at the Preakness Stakes two weeks down the line. And if the Derby winner turns the trick at Pimlico, then he is certain to be the favorite at Belmont Park.

For example, Affirmed paid $5.60 in the 1978 Derby, $3 in the Preakness Stakes, and $3.20 in the Belmont. Alysheba returned $18.80 in the 1987 Derby, $6 in the Preakness, and then lost the Belmont at 80 cents on the dollar.

Thunder Gulch's surprise 1995 Derby victory was worth $51, and he returned in the Preakness two weeks later at 3.80-1, but was beaten by stablemate Timber Country. Thunder Gulch went on to win the Belmont Stakes and paid $5. Recent Triple Crown near-misses include Silver Charm, who paid $10 in the 1997 Derby, and Real Quiet, who returned $18.80 in the 1998 Derby. Both were shorter prices in their Preakness Stakes victories than in their Belmont Stakes loss.

So, if one has the notion that some horse will blossom in May and make his mark by June 8, then maybe a Triple Crown future bet in a wacky, wide-open year isn't so ridiculous after all.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.